Market Extra: The real winners of the 8-year-old bull market? ETFs and passive investing

Since the S&P 500 bottomed in the wake of the financial crisis, equity investors have been rewarded with a bull market that has tripled stock prices from that 12-year low. But the real winner over the past eight years has been behind the scenes: a fundamental change in the way people invest.

Exchange-traded funds and passive index-based investing have been around for decades—the first ETF launched in 1993, nearly 20 years after the first index mutual fund—but adoption of both has skyrocketed since the crisis, as part of a broader move toward simpler and lower-cost vehicles. The scale of the market’s advance since the March 2009 bottom, which has lifted every sector and nearly every stock, has exacerbated this trend by making the investor who does nothing an investor who does very well.

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