Enhanced Indexing

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Written By
Contributor Image
Written By
Dan Buckley
Dan Buckley is an US-based trader, consultant, and part-time writer with a background in macroeconomics and mathematical finance. He trades and writes about a variety of asset classes, including equities, fixed income, commodities, currencies, and interest rates. As a writer, his goal is to explain trading and finance concepts in levels of detail that could appeal to a range of audiences, from novice traders to those with more experienced backgrounds.

Enhanced indexing is a strategy that looks to outperform a traditional index by making minor adjustments to its composition while maintaining a similar risk profile. 

It combines passive and active management techniques to achieve better returns without significantly deviating from the original index’s structure.


Key Takeaways – Enhanced Indexing

  • Strategic Adjustments
    • Enhanced indexing involves making minor adjustments to index weights based on quantitative models and market analysis to exploit inefficiencies.
    • Aims for higher returns while maintaining a similar risk profile to the original index.
  • Balanced Approach
    • Combines passive and active management techniques.
    • Enhanced indexing fulfills the market for a cost-effective strategy to potentially outperform traditional indexing without the higher risks and costs associated with full active management.
  • Risk Management
    • Enhanced indexing maintains broad diversification and stability, such that the adjustments don’t introduce significant tracking error or increased volatility.
    • Preserves the portfolio’s alignment with the benchmark index.


Key Concepts

Traditional Indexing

Traditional indexing involves creating a portfolio that mimics the performance of a market index, such as the S&P 500.

The goal is to match the returns of the index by holding the same securities in the same proportions.

This passive investment strategy offers diversification, low costs, and predictable performance relative to the index.

Active Management

Active management involves selecting securities based on research, analysis, and the portfolio manager’s judgment to achieve higher returns than a benchmark index.

This strategy can lead to higher returns but also comes with increased costs and risks due to frequent trading and the potential for underperformance.


The Strategy of Enhanced Indexing

Minor Adjustments

Enhanced indexing involves making slight adjustments to the weights of individual securities within the index.

These adjustments are based on factors such as valuation, earnings growth, momentum, or other financial metrics.

The goal is to capitalize on perceived inefficiencies while maintaining a risk profile similar to the index.

Quantitative Models

Many enhanced indexing strategies rely on quantitative models to identify opportunities for adjustment.

These models use statistical and mathematical techniques to analyze historical data and predict future performance.

By systematically applying these models, managers look to achieve consistent, incremental improvements over the index.

Risk Management

A critical aspect of enhanced indexing is managing risk to be sure that the portfolio doesn’t deviate significantly from the benchmark.

This involves setting constraints on the maximum allowable deviation for individual securities and sector weights.

This way it won’t be out of balance relative to the index.

The goal is to capture additional returns without introducing substantial tracking error or increased volatility.

Example #1

An example would be tilting the portfolio toward lower volatility stocks that provide better return relative to risk (historically).

Example #2

Another example would be let’s say 20% of the index is comprised of unprofitable companies, which forecast to remain that way.

The trader could then short 20% of the index made up of those companies and weight profitable companies by a factor of 1.2x each.

This nets the exposure back to 1x, with a potentially healthier mix relative to the index.

Example #3

A “naive” type of enhanced indexing strategy is just to equal-weight the S&P 500 to down-weight the momentum factor (which can cause some components to have outsized impact on the weighting and performance of the index).


Benefits of Enhanced Indexing

Potential for Higher Returns

Enhanced indexing looks to deliver higher returns than traditional indexing by exploiting inefficiencies in the market.

Managers try to capture incremental gains that, over time, can lead to superior performance.

Lower Costs Compared to Active Management

While enhanced indexing involves more active decision-making than traditional indexing, it typically incurs lower costs than fully active management.

The strategy requires less frequent trading and lower management fees, making it a cost-effective way to seek higher returns.

Diversification and Stability

Enhanced indexing maintains the broad diversification and stability of traditional index funds.

The index is “tried and true” and has shown to be a pretty decent outcome historically.

The idea is just to make small improvements on it.

By adhering closely to the composition of the benchmark index, the strategy provides a diversified portfolio that reduces the risk of significant underperformance.


Implementation of Enhanced Indexing

Factor-Based Investing

Enhanced indexing often employs factor-based investing, where securities are selected or weighted based on specific factors such as value, size, momentum, or quality.

By focusing on these factors, managers try to enhance returns while maintaining a broadly diversified portfolio.

Smart Beta Strategies

Smart beta strategies are a popular form of enhanced indexing that try to capture the performance of specific investment factors systematically.

These strategies use alternative weighting methods, such as equal weighting or fundamental weighting, to improve returns and manage risk.

Performance Monitoring and Adjustment

Managers regularly review the portfolio’s performance relative to the benchmark and make adjustments as needed to maintain the intended risk-return profile.

Let’s look at some trades involving enhanced indexing.


To illustrate specific trades involving enhanced indexing, we’ll use a hypothetical example where an investor aims to outperform the S&P 500 index by making slight adjustments to its composition.

For simplicity, let’s assume the trader manages a portfolio with $1,000,000 in assets and uses enhanced indexing to overweight stocks with strong momentum and underweight stocks with weak momentum.

Example: Overweighting Apple Inc. (AAPL)

Initial Setup

  1. Determine the Current Weight: Assume the current weight of Apple (AAPL) in the S&P 500 is 6%. For a $1,000,000 portfolio, this means an initial trade of $60,000 in AAPL.
  2. Analyze Momentum: Using quantitative models, determine that AAPL has strong momentum and is expected to outperform.

Adjusting the Weight

  1. Decide on Overweight: Decide to overweight AAPL by increasing its weight to 7% of the portfolio.
  2. Calculate New Exposure:
    • New exposure in AAPL = 7% of $1,000,000 = $70,000
    • Additional amount needed = $70,000 – $60,000 = $10,000

Executing the Trade

  1. Buy Additional Shares: Purchase additional shares of AAPL worth $10,000.
    • Assume AAPL’s current price is $250 per share.
    • Number of additional shares to buy = $10,000 / $250 = 40 shares
  2. Place the Order: Execute a buy order for 40 shares of AAPL at $250 per share.


Example: Underweighting ExxonMobil (XOM)

Initial Setup

  1. Determine the Current Weight: Assume the current weight of ExxonMobil (XOM) in the S&P 500 is 2%. For a $1,000,000 portfolio, this means an initial exposure of $20,000 in XOM.
  2. Analyze Momentum: Using quantitative models, determine that XOM has weak momentum and is expected to underperform.

Adjusting the Weight

  1. Decide on Underweight: Decide to underweight XOM by reducing its weight to 1.5% of the portfolio.
  2. Calculate New Amount to be Traded:
    • New exposure in XOM = 1.5% of $1,000,000 = $15,000
    • Amount to be sold = $20,000 – $15,000 = $5,000

Executing the Trade

  1. Sell Shares: Sell shares of XOM worth $5,000.
    • Assume XOM’s current price is $100 per share.
    • Number of shares to sell = $5,000 / $100 = 50 shares
  2. Place the Order: Execute a sell order for 50 shares of XOM at $100 per share.


Balancing the Portfolio

After adjusting the weights of AAPL and XOM, make sure the portfolio remains balanced and adheres to the enhanced indexing strategy’s constraints.

  1. Reallocate Proceeds: Reallocate the proceeds from selling XOM ($5,000) to other underweighted stocks or reinvest in other stocks that are identified as having strong momentum or potential for outperformance.
  2. Monitor and Adjust: Monitor the portfolio’s performance and make adjustments as needed to maintain the desired risk-return profile.

Summary of Trades

  1. Buy 40 shares of AAPL at $250 per share:
    • Amount: $10,000
  2. Sell 50 shares of XOM at $100 per share:
    • Sell amount: $5,000

These trades represent minor adjustments to the portfolio.

It tries to capitalize on the momentum of AAPL while reducing the expected underperformance of XOM.

The trader is looking to enhance the overall return of the portfolio while maintaining a risk profile similar to the S&P 500.



Enhanced indexing offers a balanced approach that combines the benefits of passive and active management.

Through informed, minor adjustments to an index portfolio, traders/investors can potentially achieve higher returns while maintaining a similar risk profile.

This strategy provides an attractive option for those seeking to outperform the market without the higher costs and risks associated with fully active management.