Monday, April 22, 2024

Decoding direct indexing: a critical analysis

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In the ever-evolving world of finance, investment strategies are constantly changing and adapting. Direct or custom indexing is one such strategy that has been making waves in 2024. This investment approach is being heavily marketed to wealthy clients by financial advisors. But, despite its allure, it may not be the golden ticket it’s often portrayed to be. Let’s dive deep into the world of direct indexing, its potential pitfalls, and why it may not be the best investment strategy for everyone.

Unraveling the concept of direct indexing

Direct indexing, also known as custom indexing, is an investment strategy where instead of buying a low-cost Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) that any regular investor can buy, the financial advisor buys each underlying stock individually that would make up that ETF. This could mean purchasing hundreds of different stocks. The idea behind this strategy is that it offers an exclusive investment process that an average investor couldn’t possibly execute independently.

The primary advantage of owning each underlying stock is tax loss harvesting. If a stock goes down, it can be sold to capture the loss. On the surface, this strategy sounds exclusive and appealing. However, the reality of direct indexing can be quite different.

The not-so-rosy side of direct indexing

While direct indexing may sound attractive, it can create a confusing mess with hundreds of stocks in a portfolio. Over time, this can become a static portfolio where the stocks will never change. Initially, some stocks may decrease in value and get sold, but there are two significant issues with this.

First, selling a stock after a drop in value means missing out on the subsequent increase that often comes after a sell-off. This means investors capture the down but not the up. Secondly, over time, stocks generally increase in value. This means the whole portfolio will eventually be at gains, preventing any selling because it would result in a hefty tax bill.

For instance, if an investor had directly indexed three years ago, they would have owned Tesla, which immediately went up about 300%. This would have tied the investor to that name, not allowing them to sell it because of tax purposes. And they would sit in it right now as it draws down 65%. This scenario illustrates the potential pitfalls of direct indexing.

Why ETFs may be a better choice

In contrast to direct indexing, owning a blend of active, passive, and factor ETFs can be a more beneficial strategy. Inside these ETFs, stocks can be bought and sold numerous times at massive gains without a capital gain being distributed to shareholders. ETFs are a magnificent tax wrapper, providing a more flexible and tax-efficient investment strategy.

Wrapping it up

While direct indexing is being pitched as an exclusive and advantageous investment strategy, the reality can differ. It can create a confusing and static portfolio, potentially leading to significant tax implications. On the other hand, ETFs offer a more flexible and tax-efficient investment strategy. Therefore, investors must be cautious if they’re being pitched or own direct indexing. The longer they wait, the worse the tax nightmare gets. Understanding the potential pitfalls of direct indexing and considering whether it’s the right investment strategy for their specific circumstances is crucial.


Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is direct indexing?

Direct indexing, also known as custom indexing, is an investment strategy where instead of buying a low-cost Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) that any regular investor can buy, the financial advisor buys each underlying stock individually that would make up that ETF. This could mean purchasing hundreds of different stocks. The idea behind this strategy is that it offers an exclusive investment process that an average investor couldn’t possibly execute independently.

Q. What is the primary advantage of direct indexing?

The primary advantage of owning each underlying stock is tax loss harvesting. If a stock goes down, it can be sold to capture the loss.

Q. What are the potential pitfalls of direct indexing?

While direct indexing may sound attractive, it can create a confusing mess with hundreds of stocks in a portfolio. Over time, this can become a static portfolio where the stocks will never change. Additionally, selling a stock after a drop in value means missing out on the subsequent increase in value that often comes after a sell-off. This means investors capture the down but not the up. Over time, stocks generally increase in value. This means the whole portfolio will eventually be at gains, preventing any selling because it would result in a hefty tax bill.

Q. Why might ETFs be a better choice than direct indexing?

In contrast to direct indexing, owning a blend of active, passive, and factor ETFs can be a more beneficial strategy. Inside these ETFs, stocks can be bought and sold numerous times at massive gains without a capital gain being distributed to shareholders. ETFs are a magnificent tax wrapper, providing a more flexible and tax-efficient investment strategy.

Q. What should investors be cautious about when considering direct indexing?

Investors must be cautious if they’re being pitched or own direct indexing. The longer they wait, the worse the tax nightmare gets. Understanding the potential pitfalls of direct indexing and considering whether it’s the right investment strategy for their specific circumstances is crucial.

The post Decoding direct indexing: a critical analysis appeared first on Due.



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