Category: Mutual funds

Mutual Funds Guide: What Are They?

A mutual fund is an investment vehicle that is made up of money contributed by many people for the purpose of investing in stocks, bonds, real estate or other kinds of investment vehicles including money market instruments.

Mutual funds are operated by money managers who make the actual investment decisions and who attempt to provide capital gains and income to the investors.

One of the main advantages of mutual funds is that they give small investors access to professionally managed, diversified portfolios of equities, bonds and other securities, which would be quite difficult (if not impossible) to create with a small amount of capital.

When a mutual fund sells a security like a stock or bond or collects income such as a dividend or interest payment these are passed along to the shareholders of the fund.

Passive vs. Active Mutual Funds

A passive mutual fund invests in a portfolio that mirrors the component of a market index. For example, an S&P 500 index fund is invested in the 500 stocks of Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. There is no attempt made to try to determine which stocks are expected to do well and which are not.

Actively managed funds are managed by an individual manager, co-managers, or a team of managers. The mangers try to buy stocks that they think will outperform the market.

The costs associated with passive investing are lower than the costs of active management. Active managers attempt to justify their higher costs by doing better in either up or down markets.

Cost Structure

Sales Charges

Some funds (load funds) sold by brokers, insurance agents or investment advisors have a front-end sales charge which is paid by the investor and passed along to the seller for his services. The charge is deducted from the amount being invested.

Other mutual funds (no load funds) are offered directly to the investing public by fund companies, or they are offered to investors by financial intermediaries who have a compensation arrangement (hourly, flat fee or a percentage of assets) with the purchaser. In this case, a sales charge is not involved, and the investor fully invests his or her available money into funds sponsored by a no-load fund company.

There are several other arrangement by which load mutual fund companies compensate sales people that are less obvious than front end sales charges in a variety of fund share classes – A, B and C. Many fund families offer special no-load share classes (F-1, F-2) for fee-based advisors who want to use their funds but do not want their clients to pay a sales charge. Before anyone invests in a mutual fund it is important that the investor understands how the broker, salesperson or investment advisor is compensated.

Expense Ratio

A mutual fund’s expense ratio is the amount of money that the fund charges for running the fund. It is usually shown as a percentage of the fund assets. All mutual funds charge investors a fee for their services. In general, passively managed index funds have a lower expense ratio than actively managed funds and bond funds have a lower expense ratio than stock funds.

Redemption Fee

Many mutual funds are charging a fee if the investor withdraws his money from a fund within a certain specified time of making an investment. This is designed to discourage market timing which can complicate the process of managing a fund.

Popular Mutual Funds

There are more mutual funds that there are stocks on the NY stock exchange. To make sense of the variety here are some of the most common fund types.

• Money market funds. These are funds that invest in very short term, liquid securities that offer a safe place to put cash. They offer a very low rate of return but try to maintain a net asset value of $1 per share.

Bond funds invest primarily in fixed income securities. These could be government bonds, corporate bonds, municipal bonds, convertible bonds or mortgage backed securities.

Stock funds (equity funds) invest primarily in stocks. They are subdivided into many categories according the size of the companies they invest in (large cap, small cap), the investment style (growth, value) and geography (US, Foreign).

Balanced funds combine the features of stock and bond funds.

Specialty funds may invest in certain industries (technology, drugs), countries (Britain, Korea) or real estate (REITs).

Well balanced portfolios frequently include funds from many of these categories in proportions appropriate to the risk tolerance of the investor.

Traditional Funds vs. ETFs

When people think about traditional mutual funds they typically think about funds known as “open ended funds.” They are the most commons funds. Shares of the fund are bought or sold though the fund company. There are no limits to the number of shares that can be issued and shares prices are determined once a day, after the market closes. At that point the total value of the assets in the mutual fund are determined and divided by the number of shares. This is the “net asset value” (NAV) and everyone who buys a share on that day pays the same price and everyone who sells also gets the same price, not matter what time of the day the order to buy or sell has actually been entered.

“Exchange Traded Funds” (ETFs) are newer but have become popular because they are bought and sold like a stock and are traded on major exchanges. The price of the shares can fluctuate during the day and the price that an investor pays for the shares can be different from minute to minute, just like the price of a stock will fluctuate during the day. That means that an ETF can be bought in the morning and sold in the afternoon for a profit or a loss depending on the change in value. The market price of an ETF is kept near the NAV by large institutional investors who will detect any difference between the NAV and the actual share price and use “arbitrage” to make that difference go away.

Because ETFs are more flexible in terms of trading strategy, they have become very popular with many active investors and speculators. In addition, because many ETFs are “passive” funds they often have lower expense ratios than many traditional mutual funds.

There are a number of other issues that an investor should be aware of with ETFs such as liquidity, commissions to trade, the bid-asked spread, and the viability of any specific ETF.

Final Thoughts on Mutual Funds

That wraps up our guide on mutual funds, what they mean, the most popular types of mutual funds, and traditional funds vs ETFs.  As always, consult your investment advisor for more information. You can also contact us through our contact page.

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Can You Answer These Basic Money Questions?

The NY Post published an article Most Americans can’t answer these 4 basic money questions.   They questioned “Millennials” and “Boomers” to see who were most knowledgeable about investing.
Here are the questions – see how well you do.

  1. Which of the following statements describes the main function of the stock market?
    A) The stock market brings people who want to buy stocks together with people who want to sell stocks.
    B) The stock market helps predict stock earnings
    C) The stock market results in an increase in the price of stocks
    D) None of the above
    E) Not sure
  2. If you had $100 in a savings account and the interest rate was 2 percent per year, after 5 years, how much do you think you would have in the account if you left the money to grow?
    A) Exactly $102
    B) Less than $102
    C) More than $102
    D) Not sure
  3. If the interest rate on your savings account was 1 percent per year and inflation was 2 percent per year, after 1 year, how much would you be able to buy with the money in this account?
    A) More than today
    B) Exactly the same as today
    C) Less than today
    D) Not sure
  4. Which provides a safer return, buying a single company’s stock or a mutual fund?
    A) Single company’s stock
    B) Mutual fund
    C) Not sure
    D) Not sure

 
 
The correct answers are

  1. A
  2. C
  3. C
  4. B

If you had trouble getting the right answers you could benefit from the guidance of a good RIA (Registered Investment Advisor).

Mutual Fund Shares and Why They’re Important

Mutual fund share classes are little understood by the investing public, but they are important because they determine how much the investor pays in fees.

Fund classes are identified by an alphabetical letter that follows a mutual fund’s name in most newspapers.

Mutual fund “A” share classes typically have a “front-end load,” a sales charge payable when you buy the fund. This fee is used to pay the brokerage firm and part of it goes to the broker who sells the fund.

The amount of the load depends on the kind of fund – bond funds generally have lower loads than stock funds – and the amount of money invested. The more money that’s invested, the lower the fee. Known as “break points,” they refer to points at which front-end charges go down. For example, the front-end load for the Growth Fund of America class A shares is 5.75% on investments up to $25,000. But if you invest $1 million dollars or more the front-end load is 0%.

Mutual fund “B” shares typically have a “back end load” payable when you redeem the shares. These decline over a period of years (usually 6 to 8 years) until they finally disappear.

Both “A” and “B” shares usually have an “12b-1” marketing fee, generally 0.25%, charged annually.

Class “C” shares have no front-end load, a small back end load, usually 1%, that goes away after 1 year. However, they have higher 12b-1 fees, typically 1%.

There are other share classes such as I, Y, F-1, F-1, F-2. In fact, some funds have as many as 18 share classes. They are all the same fund; the only difference is the fee charged to the investor.

Many fund families offer “institutional” share classes that are only available to certain investors. Institutional shares are purchased by businesses who are in the investing business such as banks, pension funds, insurance companies and registered investment advisors (RIAs) who buy them as agents for their clients. This is one of the benefits of working with an independent RIA who has access to lower cost funds, load waived funds and no-load funds that are often not offered by the major Wall Street firms.

Contact us for more information.

What does “diversification” mean?

To many retail investors “diversification” means owning a collection of stocks, bonds, mutual funds or Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs).  But that’s really not what diversification is all about.

What’s the big deal about diversification anyhow?

Diversification means that you are spreading the risk of loss by putting your investment assets in several different categories of investments.  Examples include stocks, bonds, money market instruments, commodities, and real estate.  Within each of these categories you can slice even finer.  For example, stocks can be classified as large cap (big companies), mid cap (medium sized companies), small cap (smaller companies), domestic (U.S. companies), and foreign (non-U.S. companies).

And within each of these categories you can look for industry diversification.  Many people lost their savings in 2000 when the “Tech Bubble” burst because they owned too many technology-oriented stocks.  Others lost big when the real estate market crashed in late 2007 because they focused too much of their portfolio in bank stocks.

The idea behind owning a variety of asset classes is that different asset classes will go in different directions independent of each other.  Theoretically, if one goes down, another may go up or hold it’s value.  There is a term for this: “correlation.”  Investment assets that have a high correlation tend to move in the same direction, those with a low correlation do not.  These assumptions do not always hold true, but they are true often enough that proper diversification is a valuable tool to control risk.

Many investors believe that if they own a number of different mutual funds they are diversified.  They are, of course, more diversified than someone who owns only a single stock.  But many funds own the same stocks.  We have to look within the fund, to the things they own, and their investment styles, to find out if your funds are merely duplicates of each other or if you are properly diversified.

You need to look at a “portfolio x-ray” which will show you how much overlap there is between two or more mutual funds.

Only by looking at your portfolio with this view of diversification can you determine if you are diversified or if you have accidentally concentrated your portfolio without realizing it.

The Trouble with 401(k) Plans

assets.sourcemedia.com

The 401(k) plan is now the primary retirement plan for employees in the private sector and Ted Benna isn’t happy.  Benna is regarded as the “father” of the 401(k) plan but now he calls his child a “monster.”

There are several problems modern with 401(k) type plans.

  1. They are too complicated. The typical 401(k) plan has dozens of investment options. These are often included to satisfy government regulatory demands for broad diversification.  For the plan sponsor, who has a fiduciary responsibility, more is better.  However, for the typical worker, this just creates confusion.  He or she is not an expert in portfolio construction.  Investment choices are often made when an employee gets a new job and there are other things that are more pressing than creating the perfect portfolio.  Which leads to the second problem.
  1. Employees are given too little information. Along with a list of funds available to the employee, the primary information provided is the past performance of the funds in the plan.  However, we are constantly reminded that past performance is no guarantee of future results.  But if past performance is the main thing that the employee goes by, he or she will often invest in high-flying funds that are likely to expose them to the highest risk, setting them up for losses when the market turns.
  1. There are no in-house financial experts available to employees. Employee benefits departments are not equipped to provide guidance to their employees; that’s not their function.  In fact, they are discouraged from providing any information beyond the list of investment options and on-line links to mutual fund prospectuses.  Doing more exposes the company to liability if the employee becomes unhappy.

What’s the answer?  Until there are major revisions to 401(k) plans, it’s up to the employee to get help.  One answer is to meet with a financial advisor – an RIA – who is able and willing to accept the responsibility of providing advice and creating an appropriate portfolio using the options available in the plan.  There will probably be a fee associated with this advice, but the result should be a portfolio that reflects the employee’s financial goals and risk tolerance.

Separately Managed Account

A Separately Managed Account (SMA) is an investment account managed by a professional investment manager that can be used as an alternative to a mutual fund.  They provide diversification and professional management.  But they differ from mutual funds in that an SMA investor owns individual stocks instead shares in a fund.

Here are some of the benefits of SMAs.

  • Customization: Investors in SMAs can usually exclude certain stocks from their portfolio.  They may have an aversion to certain stocks, such as tobacco or alcohol.  Or they may have legal restrictions on owning certain stocks.  SMAs allow some customization that’s not available in mutual funds.
  • Taxes: Investors in SMAs can take advantage of tax loss harvesting at the end of the year by instructing a manager to sell certain stocks to reduce capital gains taxes. In addition, an SMA has another advantage over mutual funds in that each stock in an SMA is purchased separately.  Mutual fund investors are liable for “embedded capital gains” even if the shares were purchased before the investor bought the fund shares.
  • Transparency: You know exactly what you own and can see whenever a change is made in your account.  Mutual fund investors don’t see the individual securities they own or what changes are being made by the portfolio manager.

These are features that are attractive to certain investors.  However, they are not for everyone.  Most SMAs require minimum investments of $100,000.  That means that they are only appropriate for high net worth investors who will typically use several SMA managers for purposes of diversification.  In addition, the fees associated with SMAs are often higher than fees for mutual funds.

For more information, please contact us.

Is your money going in the right direction?

An acquaintance recently asked me how his money should be invested.  With banks paying virtually zero on savings, it’s a question on everyone’s mind.  Should he invest in stocks or bonds? If it’s stocks, what kind: Growth, Value, Small Cap or Large Cap, U.S. or Foreign?  The same can be asked of bonds: government or corporate, high yield or AAA, taxable of tax free?  That’s a question that faces many people who have money to invest but are not sure of where.

It’s a dilemma because we can’t be sure what the future holds. Is this the time to put money into stocks or will the market go down? If we invest in bonds will interest rates go up … or down? How about investing in some of those Asian “Tigers” where economic growth has been higher than in more developed countries?

There is no perfect answer. We are not gifted with the ability to read the future. And what is this “future” anyway? Next week? Next year? Or 20 years from now when we will need the money for retirement?

We know that generally, people who own companies usually make more money that people put their money in the bank. Another word for “people who own companies” is “stockholders.” That’s why, over the long term, stockholders do better than bondholders. On the other hand, bonds produce income and are generally lower risk than stocks. So my first answer to the question I was asked is: invest in both stocks and bonds.

Choosing the right stocks and bonds is a job that is best left to professionals. That’s the benefit of mutual funds. Mutual funds pool the money of many investors to create professionally managed portfolios of stocks and bonds. They are an easy way of creating the kind of diversification that is important for reducing risk.

To circle back to the original question our friend asked: the answer is to create a well diversified portfolio. We know that some of the time stocks will do better than bonds, and vice versa. We know that some of the time foreign markets outperform the U.S. market. We know that some the time Growth stocks will do better than Value stocks. We just don’t know when. So we select the best funds in each category and measure the over-all result. With so many funds to choose from, the smart investor will get help from a Registered Investment Advisor like the folks at Korving & Company.

Call us for more details.

Are fees really the enemy?

The popular press puts a great deal of emphasis on the costs and expenses of mutual funds and investment advice. I am price conscious and shop around for many things. All things being equal, I prefer to pay less rather than more. However, all things are rarely equal. Hamburger is not steak. A Cadillac is not the same as a used Yugo.

The disadvantage facing most investors is that today’s investment market is not your father’s market. Those words are not even mine; they come from a doctor I was speaking to recently who uses an investment firm to manage his money. His portfolio represents his retirement, and it is very important to him. He knows his limitations and knows when to consult a professional. It’s not that he isn’t smart; it’s that he’s smart enough to realize that he doesn’t have the expertise or the time to do the job as well as an investment professional.

As Registered Investment Advisors, we are fiduciaries; we have the legal responsibility to abide by the prudence rule (as opposed to brokers, who only have to abide by a suitability rule). Some interpret our responsibility as meaning that we should choose investments that cost as little as possible, going for the cheapest option. But do you always purchase something exclusively on the lowest cost without taking features, quality, or your personal preferences into consideration?

As I drive to work each day, I pass an auto dealership featuring a new car with a price tag of $9,999 prominently displayed. I’m never tempted to stop in and buy this car, despite its low price. It does not meet my needs nor does it have the features that I’m looking for in a new car. Why would an investment be any different? Too many investors believe that there is no difference between various stocks, mutual funds or investment advisors. They focus exclusively on price and ignore risk, diversification, asset allocation and quality. People who go to great lengths to check out the features on the cars they buy often don’t know what’s in the mutual funds they own. Yet these are the things that often determine how well they will live in retirement. It’s this knowledge that professional investment managers bring to the table.

People who would never diagnose their own illness or write their own will are too often persuaded to roll the dice on their retirement. Don’t make that same mistake with your investments.

Why roll your 401(k) over when you retire?

According to an article in 401(k) Specialist Magazine, 401(k) providers favor proprietary products. What does this mean to the typical worker? Here’s the bottom line:

“Mutual fund companies that are trustees of 401(k) plans must serve plan participants’ needs, but they also have an incentive to promote their own funds.
The analysis suggests that these trustees tend to favor their own funds, especially the poor-quality funds.”

The article goes on to say that these fund companies often make decisions that appear to have an adverse affect on employees’ retirement security.

The investment industry is, unfortunately, rife with conflicts of interest and bad apples. That is why a prudent investor should work with a trusted investment professional who is a fiduciary. A fiduciary has an obligation to place the client’s interests ahead of his own. As a rule of thumb, a fee-only, independent, Registered Investment Advisor, who does not work for one of the large investment firms that have to answer to public shareholders, and who has access to virtually all investment vehicles, has fewer conflicts.

As we mentioned in a recent article:

A fee-only RIA works for you. Stockbrokers, insurance agents, even mutual fund managers, work for the companies that pay them. They are legally required to work in the best interest of their employers, not their clients. Some of them do try to work in their clients’ best interests, but there can be large financial incentives to do otherwise. A fee-only RIA works only for you. We act in your best interest and use our expertise to allow you to take advantage of opportunities in good markets and weather the bad ones.

This gets back to the original question. Rolling your 401(k) into an IRA with someone who isn’t trying to get you to invest in “poor quality funds,” does not have a conflict of interest, and is legally obligated to put your interests ahead of his own is a good reason to roll your 401(k) into an IRA.

Successful and investing and emotional control

One of the big benefits of professional money management is “emotional control.”

Emotional control is the ability to control one’s emotions in times of stress. Napoleon once said that “The greatest general is he who makes the fewest mistakes.” There is a similarity between war and successful investing. Both require the ability to keep a cool head at times of high stress.

There is another old saying in the investment world: “Don’t confuse brains with a Bull Market.” When the market is going up, it’s easy to assume that you are making smart investment decisions. But your decisions may have nothing to do with your success; you may simply by riding the crest of a wave.

That’s when people become overconfident.

When the market stops going up, or the next Bear Market begins, the amateur investor allows fear to dominate his thinking. The typical investor tend to sell as the stock market reached its bottom. In fact, following the market bottom in early 2009, even as the stock market began to recover, investors continued to sell stock funds.  Since then the market has doubled.

Professional investors are not immune to emotion, but the good ones have developed investment models that allow them to ride through Bear Markets with moderate losses and ride the rebound up as the market recovers. It is that discipline that allows them to make fewer mistakes and, like Napoleon’s general, come out ahead.

Creating a better investment portfolio

For many people, “investing their portfolio” means picking out some mutual funds and then leaving them alone. With tens of thousands of funds available most people find selection too confusing. As a result, they “outsource” their investments to a few well know names in the mutual fund industry. But there is a better alternative to turning your financial future over to an organization at the other end of an 800 number or an Internet connection.

The decisions you make as you grow your retirement portfolio has a profound effect on your future. It will determine how well you will live in retirement. It will determine whether you spend your retirement sitting on your porch in a rocking chair, or vacationing in Hawaii. It’s the difference between steak or hot dogs for your cookout.
There is lots of “professional” advice out there. Much of that advice is offered by people who are not trained investment professionals. They are salesmen for large investment firms. Their pay is based on how much they sell. Many of these same salesmen often fail to understand the products they sell, with disastrous results.

Korving & Company is different. We are a team of professional investment managers with decades of experience managing the portfolios of clients ranging from young couples to wealthy families and institutions. We do the “heavy lifting” for those who want professionally managed portfolios.

We’re a father-son team who care for – and take care of – our clients. We are fiduciaries; we put our clients’ interest ahead of our own. We specialize retirement investing, provide estate planning assistance, and help prepare the next generation for the challenges ahead. If your financial future is important to you, check us out. For more information, send us a message or give us a call. We would like to hear from you.

Market Myth #2: It’s all about beating the market.

For many amateur investors the object is to beat the market.  They are abetted in this belief by the many magazines and newsletters that make the market the benchmark of what a successful investor should emulate.  People spend hours scouring the media looking for stock tips and investing ideas as if investing was a sport, like horse race, where the object is to beat the others to the finish line.

The fact is that “beating the market” does not address any individual’s actual financial goals.  It’s a meaningless statistic.  And it’s dangerous.

The fact is that most professional investors don’t beat the market on a consistent basis.  Even index funds, designed to replicate the market, don’t actually beat the market.  At best they provide market rates of return minus a fee.  Attempting to beat the market exposes the investor to more risk than is prudent.

Your portfolio should be built around your needs and consistent with your risk tolerance.

What does this mean?  Your portfolio should provide a return that’s keeping you ahead of the cost of living, that allows you to retire in comfort, and is conservative enough that you will not be scared out of the market during the inevitable corrections.

Want to create a portfolio that’s right for you?  Contact us.

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