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Index funds are one of the most sought after mutual funds ever since the Coronavirus pandemic has taken over the world. Let us explore index funds in detail and invest in the best index funds in India.
An index fund is a mutual fund that imitates the portfolio of an index. These funds are also known as index-tied or index-tracked mutual funds. These funds are passively managed as the main objective of index funds is to track and emulate the performance of a popular stock market index such as S&P BSE Sensex and NSE Nifty 50. The asset allocation of an index fund would be the same as that of its underlying index. It is for this reason that the returns offered by index funds are comparable with its underlying index.
The following table shows the best index funds in India, based on the past 10-year returns:
Index funds are not actively managed funds, thus incurs low expenses. They do not aim at outperforming the market, but instead to track an index. They help an investor manage or balance the risks in their investment portfolio.
When an index fund tracks a benchmark like the Nifty, its portfolio will have the 50 stocks that comprise Nifty, in the same proportions. An index is a group of securities defining a market segment. These securities can be bond market instruments or equity-oriented instruments like stocks. Some of the most popular indices in India are BSE Sensex and NSE Nifty. Since index funds track a particular index, they fall under passive fund management. The fund manager decides which stocks have to be bought and sold according to the composition of the underlying benchmark. Unlike actively managed funds, there isn’t a standalone team of research analysts to identify opportunities and select stocks as index funds track an index.
While an actively managed fund strives to beat its benchmark, an index fund’s role is to match its performance to that of its index. Index funds typically deliver returns more or less equal to the benchmark. However, there can be a small difference between fund performance and the index. This is referred to as the tracking error. The fund manager must work towards bringing down the tracking error as much as possible.
The investment decision in a mutual fund solely depends upon your risk preferences and investment goals. Index funds are ideal for investors who are risk-averse and expect predictable returns. These funds do not require extensive tracking. For example, if you wish to participate in equities but don’t wish to take risks associated with actively managed equity funds, you can choose a Sensex or Nifty index fund. These funds will give you returns matching the upside that the particular index sees. However, if you wish to earn market-beating returns, then you can opt for actively managed funds.
The returns of index funds may match the returns of actively managed funds in the short run. However, the actively managed fund tends to perform better in the long term. Investing in these funds is suitable for long-term investors who have an investment horizon of at least 7 years. These funds do carry market and volatility risks and hence suits only those willing to take some risk.
Index funds are considered one of the most secure equity funds as their portfolio consists of blue-chip stocks. These are the stocks of well-established companies with an excellent track record. This makes index funds less susceptible to market fluctuations and thereby offering much-needed stability. Indian benchmark indices NSE Nifty 50 and S&P BSE Sensex have performed overwhelmingly over the past three decades.
They have fought several challenges such as the recession in 2008, the outbreak of several viruses (Zika, Ebola, SARS, H1N1, and so on), geopolitical tensions (such as Sino-American trade war) and so on. Despite such difficulties, the indices have gained significantly since their inception.
Index funds come with a comparatively lower expense ratio as they are passively managed, and the asset allocation would more or less remain the same for an extended period. The asset allocation of an index fund would change only when there is a change in the asset allocation of its underlying asset. Therefore, the fund manager would not trade securities now and then, thereby keeping the expense ratio on the lower side.
The stocks constituting an index fund are generally of well-established companies, and they are not affected much by the market fluctuations. This means the returns provided by the index funds are consistent, and the possibility of losing the entire investment is almost negligible. Index funds are apt for those investors that are ready to bear some risk in exchange for restricted returns.
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As index funds are a class of equity funds, they are essentially taxed like any other equity fund plan. The dividends offered by an index fund is added to your overall income and taxed at your income tax slab rate. This is referred to as the classical method of taxing dividends in the hands of investors. The rate of taxation of index funds depends on the holding period. Short-term capital gains are realised on redeeming your units within a holding period of one year. These gains are taxed at a flat rate of 15%. Long-term capital gains are those gains that are realised on selling your fund units after a holding period of one year. These gains of up to Rs 1 lakh a year are made tax-exempt. Any gains above this limit attract a tax at the rate of 10%, and indexation is not allowed.