Many investors today utilize mutual funds as part of their overall investment plan. Whether you must make your own mutual fund selections for your 401(K) or employer sponsored retirement plan, or use a professional investment advisor for other types of investment accounts, mutual funds can be an effective way to own baskets of stocks or bonds, with a small amount of investment dollars.
Alpha - measures the performance of a fund on a risk-adjusted basis. Alpha calculates a risk factor relative to a fund, and then compares that risk-adjusted performance to a benchmark (such as the S&P 500). A number is then assigned that reflects how that fund performs, relative to the amount of risk the investment is exposed to. For example, a positive alpha of 1.0 means the fund has outperformed its benchmark index by 1%, or a negative alpha of -1.0 would indicate an underperformance compared to the benchmark of 1%.
Some specialty funds are going to be higher, but for the most part you should try to buy funds that are under 1%. Funds are required by law to produce a document called a prospectus, which no one ever reads, that tells you important information about the fund. Fortunately, Morningstar reports most of this same information in a much easier to understand way. The best mutual funds will keep these internal costs to a minimum.
Mutual funds are divided into two categories: closed-end funds and open-end funds. Closed-end funds have a fixed number of shares issued to the public. If you want to purchase a piece of the fund, you have to purchase an existing share from a shareholder that is selling.
By law, a mutual fund company must outline all of the above expense information, and a great deal more, in their prospectus. A funds prospectus will specify a funds objectives and its past performance, information about the fund manager and the fees associated with the fund.
A mutual fund is the most popular form of a pooled investment known today. They are designed for people who want to have their money professionally managed at a fairly reasonable cost. In addition to professional management, they give an investor convenience, diversification, record keeping, tax reporting, and safekeeping of securities.
A common mistake for novice investors is to select a mutual based solely on its past performance record. Past performance may not be a food indicator of future performance, given possible changes in the global or domestic economy, the markets, or specific sectors the fund invests in. While past performance is a useful tool and one item to consider, it should not be the sole criteria. In many cases last years winners are next years underperformers.
Mutual funds are managed by a portfolio manager, or in some cases, by a team of portfolio managers. The success of a fund by an individual fund manager may be largely dictated by his performance. That is important to know, because a fund with a good track record historically, may perform differently in the future if the fund manager changes. It is always prudent to review the tenure of the fund manager in concert with past performance.
A mutual fund is a company that gathers money from many investors, and allocates that money by buying stocks, bonds or other assets. A mutual fund is like a big basket which holds a number of investments like stocks or bonds. When you buy a mutual fund, you actually buy a piece of the basket. In this way, you can own a small percentage of many different assets that you might not otherwise be able to afford on an individual basis.
Another point to consider when investing in mutual funds is taxes. When a fund manager sells a stock or bond within the basket for a gain, IRS regulations provide that this gain be taxed to the shareholders of the fund. This means that a fund with a high turnover (a fund that buys and sells a lot within the basket each year) could have a great deal of gains that will be taxable to the shareholders. The tax gains are passed through to the shareholders who own the fund as of a specific date each year. This means that someone buying the fund just before the taxable distribution date, will pay the tax on the gain for the entire year, even though they did not own the fund all year. For more tax efficient funds, look for funds that have a low turnover rate.
Open-end funds have an unlimited number of shares. If you want to purchase a piece of the fund, the fund creates a new share and sells it to you. There are significantly more open-end funds than there are closed-end funds. Closed end funds can trade at values that are above or below their NAV, while open end funds only trade at their end of day NAV.
A fund that has been in existence five to ten years or more has a much better track record to assess than a relatively new fund that have not necessarily had performance measured during various economic or market periods. The longer the period of history you have to review, the higher the quality of historical performance data.