The following table compares the compounded annual returns (CARs) for the last 15 years between portfolios comprised of the median (half did better, half did worse) actively managed funds versus similarly weighted portfolios of index funds.

1 
2 
3 
4 
5 
6 
7 
8 
Asset Class 
Index 
Active 
IA 
Margin 
IMER 
IMERA 
Margin 
Cum Diff 

no MER 
with MER 
diff 
diff/Active 
0.5 
diff 
diff/Active 
over 15 yrs 
TSE 100 TR  Canadian Equity 
9.2 
8.6 
0.6 
7.0% 
8.7 
0.1 
1.2% 
4.8% 
SCM Bond Universe  Can Bonds 
9.7 
8.0 
1.7 
21.3% 
9.2 
1.2 
15.0% 
57.2% 
S&P 500  US Equity 
12.0 
10.1 
1.9 
18.8% 
11.5 
1.4 
13.9% 
88.4% 
MSCI EAFE  International Equity 
7.1 
6.2 
0.9 
14.5% 
6.6 
0.4 
6.5% 
14.3% 









increasing Canadian Equity 








20/40/20/20 
9.5 
8.2 
1.4 
16.6% 
9.0 
0.9 
10.5% 
41.0% 
30/40/15/15 
9.5 
8.2 
1.3 
15.6% 
9.0 
0.8 
9.5% 
37.2% 
40/40/10/10 
9.5 
8.3 
1.2 
14.5% 
9.0 
0.7 
8.5% 
33.4% 









increasing US Equity 








20/40/20/20 
9.5 
8.2 
1.4 
16.6% 
9.0 
0.9 
10.5% 
41.0% 
15/40/30/15 
9.9 
8.5 
1.5 
17.5% 
9.4 
1.0 
11.5% 
48.5% 
10/40/40/10 
10.3 
8.7 
1.6 
18.2% 
9.8 
1.1 
12.5% 
56.6% 









increasing International Equity 








20/40/20/20 
9.5 
8.2 
1.4 
16.6% 
9.0 
0.9 
10.5% 
41.0% 
15/40/15/30 
9.2 
7.9 
1.3 
16.8% 
8.7 
0.8 
10.5% 
37.7% 
10/40/10/40 
8.8 
7.6 
1.3 
17.1% 
8.3 
0.8 
10.5% 
34.6% 
[Returns data is from the Financial Post and Globe & Mail 15year mutual fund review for the period ending 31Dec01 (published 07Feb02.) Benchmark returns include reinvested dividends.]
Column 1 shows pure index returns, i.e. without allowing for management expense ratios (MERs.) This is a theoretical rate of return that can be achieved only if all costs are eliminated.
Column 2 shows the performance of the median activelymanaged fund or fund portfolio.
Column 3 indicates by how many percentage points each year a portfolio of indexes outperformed an equivalent actively managed portfolio, i.e. Col3 = Col1  Col2.
Column 4 expresses this annual outperformance as a percentage (margin) over an actively managed portfolio, i.e. Col4 = (Col1  Col2)/Col2. A value of 13.2% means that the margin by which the indexed portfolio outperformed represents 13.2% of the activelymanaged portfolio's annual return.
Column 5 shows the annual performance of a portfolio implemented with index funds after allowing for an average MER of 0.50%.
Column 6 indicates by how many percentage points each year an indexed portfolio outperformed an equivalent actively managed portfolio, i.e. Col6 = Col1  MER  Col2.
Column 7 expresses this annual outperformance as a percentage increase (margin) over an actively managed portfolio, i.e. Col7 = (Col1  MER  Col2)/Col2. This is similar to Column 4 except that it accounts for MERs.
Column 8 shows the total cumulative difference in returns over the entire 15 year period between an indexed portfolio and an activelymanaged portfolio.
Following the data for the individual asset classes is data for typical portfolios. The aa/bb/cc/dd indicates the percentage weightings respectively in Canadian equities, Canadian bonds, US equities and Global equities. The typical Canadian RRSPeligible balanced fund (median 15yr CAR ~8%) has a 40/40/10/10 composition.
One should be hesitant to draw any strong conclusions from just 15 years of data since that's a relatively short period to study. But that's all the data generally available for Canadian mutual funds. This hesitation is especially important considering that the past 15 years has been dominated by (a) a sustained reduction in inflation and interest rates, and (b) the greatest bull market of the century in the US.
That said, the approximately 1 percentage point annual outperformance of indexed portfolios is striking. This represents an approximate 50% cumulative outperformance over actively managed funds. This also demonstrates the powerful effects of compounding over long time periods, even an annual advantage of less than 1 percentage point is significant over time.
Why these numbers are biased against indexed portfolios:
 The 0.50% MER "handicap" imposed on the index portfolios is at the high end of the range. Most investors can reduce the effective MER using a hybrid of ExchangeTraded Funds (ETFs like XIUs and SPYs), lowMER index funds and in the case of fixed income, bond ladders. Those with more than $150K can reduce the total MER to 0.30% or less using CIBC index products, either exclusively or in combination with ETFs.
 The 15year numbers for activelymanaged funds are inflated due to survivorship bias. Many of the poorest performing funds no longer exist so their subpar performance no longer drags down the averages. It's difficult to assess how much an effect this has, however, most academic studies have found that survivorship bias can inflate the compounded annual returns of surviving funds by several percentage points.
 In some asset classes the number of activelymanaged funds that have existed for a full 15 years is quite small.
 In taxable accounts the indexed portfolios will do much better on an aftertax basis due to their generally lower turnover. Again it's hard to assess how much of an effect this has. (In RRSPs this is a lesser issue because the tax effects  but not the transaction costs  can be ignored.)
What these numbers don't tell us:
 Generally speaking, lowMER activelymanaged funds outperform similar highMER funds. How much would the results differ if we excluded the highMER funds from the fund averages?
 Studies have shown that one derives a "rebalancing bonus" by periodically selling the better performing asset classes and using the proceeds to buy more of the laggards. This bonus can add an annual performance improvement of 1% or more. The comparison makes no provision for rebalancing. (The benefits of rebalancing can be better realized inside taxsheltered retirement accounts like RRSPs.)
 Returns are only one dimension of portfolio behaviour. An investor's ability to sleep well during the inevitable market downturns is also important, however the comparison does not address the volatilities (standard deviations) of the various portfolios.
Conclusions:
 Vanguard's John Bogle says, "costs matter." The above numbers provide strong evidence that this is true.
 Small differences add up over time. A 1% improvement in a portfolio's annual return adds ~16% in total return after 15 years. And thanks to the power of compounding, that advantage grows to 22% after 20 years, 35% after 30 years and 49% after 40 years! (A 2% annual advantage grows from 34% after 15 years to a whopping 120% after 40 years.)
 For "typical" asset mixes one could achieve ~9% compounded annual returns over the past 15 years. (40% in bonds may not be "typical" for everyone but it is typical of many balanced funds.)
 A simple RRSPeligible portfolio of activelymanaged funds (40% Canadian equities, 40% bonds, 10% US equities and 10% global equities) seems to beat the average Canadian balanced fund by ~1% per year. An indexed version of the same portfolio wins by an even wider margin.
Previous Comparison Tables:
15 years ending 31Dec00
15 years ending 30Jun00
15 years ending 31Dec99
15 years ending 30Jun99
15 years ending 31Dec98 and In Defense of Index Funds
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