(p. A15) The First Index Investment Trust, which tracks the returns of the S&P 500 and is now known as the Vanguard 500 Index Fund, was founded on December 31, 1975. It was the first “product,” as it were, of a new mutual fund manager, The Vanguard Group, the company I had founded only one year earlier.
The fund’s August 1976 initial public offering may have been the worst underwriting in Wall Street history. Despite the leadership of the Street’s four largest retail brokers, the IPO fell far short of its original $250 million target. The initial assets of 500 Index Fund totaled but $11.3 million–falling a mere 95% short of its goal.
The fund’s struggle for the attention (and dollars) of investors was epic. Known as “Bogle’s folly,” the fund’s novel strategy of simply tracking a broad market index was almost totally rejected by Wall Street. The head of Fidelity, then by far the fund industry’s largest firm, put the kiss of death on his tiny rival: “I can’t believe that the great mass of investors are [sic] going to be satisfied with just receiving average returns. The name of the game is to be the best.”
(p. B4) Almost a decade passed before a second S&P 500 index fund was formed, by Wells Fargo in 1984. During that period, Vanguard’s index fund attracted cash inflow averaging only $16 million per year.
Now let’s advance the clock to 2018. What a difference 42 years makes! Equity index fund assets now total some $4.6 trillion, while total index fund assets have surpassed $6 trillion. Of this total, about 70% is invested in broad market index funds modeled on the original Vanguard fund.
For the full commentary, see:
John C. Bogle. “The Father of the Index Fund Sees a Reckoning Ahead.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018): B1 & B4.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 29, 2018, and has the title “Bogle Sounds a Warning on Index Funds.”)
Bogle’s commentary is based on his book:
Bogle, John C. Stay the Course: The Story of Vanguard and the Index Revolution. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2018.