Opinions in the active-passive investment debate have drifted poles apart over recent years. We revisit this discussion by contrasting equity and bonds. We look at performance numbers and find that, unlike their stock counterparts, active bond mutual funds have largely outperformed their median passive peers over our sample period. We offer conjectures as to why bonds and stocks differ. Differences may be due to:

  • The large proportion of noneconomic bond investors
  • Benchmark rebalancing frequency and turnover
  • Structural tilts in fixed income space
  • The wide range of financial derivatives available to active bond managers
  • Security-level credit research and new issue concessions

At a macro level, we believe that a purely passive market would cause severe market risk and resource misallocations. Realistically, neither passive nor active investors can fully dominate at equilibrium. Of course, passive management has its virtues. Yet there is reason to believe that, unchecked, passive management may encourage free riding, adverse selection and moral hazard.

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The Author

Jamil Baz

Global Head of Client Analytics

Ravi K. Mattu

Global Head of Analytics

James Moore

Product Manager, Head of Investment Solutions

Helen Guo

Quantitative Research Analyst, Client Analytics



This paper contains hypothetical analysis. Hypothetical and simulated examples have many inherent limitations and are generally prepared with the benefit of hindsight. There are frequently sharp differences between simulated results and the actual results. There are numerous factors related to the markets in general or the implementation of any specific investment strategy, which cannot be fully accounted for in the preparation of simulated results and all of which can adversely affect actual results. No guarantee is being made that the stated results will be achieved.

Management risk is the risk that the investment techniques and risk analyses applied by an active manager will not produce the desired results, and that certain policies or developments may affect the investment techniques available to active manager in connection with managing the strategy.

Performance results for certain charts and graphs may be limited by date ranges specified on those charts and graphs; different time periods may produce different results. Charts are provided for illustrative purposes and are not indicative of the past or future performance of any PIMCO product.

All investments contain risk and may lose value. Investing in the bond market is subject to risks, including market, interest rate, issuer, credit, inflation risk, and liquidity risk. The value of most bonds and bond strategies are impacted by changes in interest rates. Bonds and bond strategies with longer durations tend to be more sensitive and volatile than those with shorter durations; bond prices generally fall as interest rates rise, and the current low interest rate environment increases this risk. Current reductions in bond counterparty capacity may contribute to decreased market liquidity and increased price volatility. Bond investments may be worth more or less than the original cost when redeemed. Swaps are a type of derivative; swaps are increasingly subject to central clearing and exchange-trading. Swaps that are not centrally cleared and exchange-traded may be less liquid than exchange-traded instruments. Derivatives may involve certain costs and risks, such as liquidity, interest rate, market, credit, management and the risk that a position could not be closed when most advantageous. Investing in derivatives could lose more than the amount invested.

There is no guarantee that these investment strategies will work under all market conditions or are suitable for all investors and each investor should evaluate their ability to invest long-term, especially during periods of downturn in the market. Investors should consult their investment professional prior to making an investment decision.

The correlation of various indexes or securities against one another or against inflation is based upon data over a certain time period. These correlations may vary substantially in the future or over different time periods that can result in greater volatility. It is not possible to invest directly in an unmanaged index.

This material contains the current opinions of the manager and such opinions are subject to change without notice. This material is distributed for informational purposes only and should not be considered as investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but not guaranteed.