Mutual Fund Characteristics
A mutual fund is a collection or group of stocks, bonds, or some combination of the two. In certain ways, mutual funds have revolutionized the way investors are able to participate in the markets by giving them the ability to pool their monies together in order to invest the way the very wealthy has done for years.
There are certain key characteristics of mutual funds:
Mutual Fund Diversification – Most individual investors are unable to purchase 50 or 60 different issues of stocks. They typically have to rely on a few selections, and hope for the best. An investor in a mutual fund gets the advantage of being invested in the entire fund’s portfolio. This helps lower the exposure to problems with any individual issue.
Mutual Fund Professional Management – The fund employs professionals to manage the fund's investments. Most small investors can’t possibly spend their days researching individual stocks or bonds and market trends. By owning a fund, investors can take advantage of the abilities of the fund’s management team. The fund charges a fee to cover the cost of management.
Mutual Fund Affordability – Investments in mutual funds can often be opened with small investments. Sometimes the initial investment may be as low as $100, and subsequent investments into the fund may be made with similar small amounts.
Mutual Fund Liquidity - Mutual funds are liquid on every business day. They are sold at their net asset value which is computed on every business day after the close of the markets. The price you receive depends on the value of the securities in the fund.
There are different classes of mutual fund shares:
Mutual Fund Class A shares: These usually impose a front-end sales load and no (or a low) ongoing fee to pay for sales and marketing expenses (Rule 12b-1 fees). Usually the front-end sales load will decrease at certain breakpoints depending on certain criteria set up by the fund.
Mutual Fund Class B shares: These normally charge a contingent deferred sales charge (CDSC) when the shares are sold. Typically, they would charge a relatively high 12b-1 or other asset-based fees.
Mutual Fund Class C shares: Usually there is no front or back-end load or a small back-end load but would charge higher 12b-1 or other asset-based fees.
Mutual Fund Breakpoints:
Mutual funds often offer the investor in Class A shares a discount on the price when certain investment amounts have been reached. For example, a fund that carried a 5.25% sales charge may reduce that charge to 4.75% on investments of $100,000 or more. Information on breakpoints is usually found in the fund’s prospectus, statement of additional information, and on the fund’s website.
One way to reach a breakpoint is through Rights of Accumulation. In this case, the investor receives the quantity discount on all investments above a predetermined amount.
A second method is to sign a Letter of Intent. Typically, the fund will reduce the current sales charge based on the investor’s agreement to purchase enough additional shares to qualify for the lower, up front fee over the next 13 months. LOIs can usually be back-dated for three months to capture previous investments. If the investor does not fulfill the agreement, his account would be adjusted to reflect the appropriate sales charge.
The third way to qualify for a breakpoint is, of course, to invest enough funds at the initial purchase to attain the breakpoint level.
Mutual Fund Returns
There are two important measures of a fund’s performance which should not be confused. The first is current yield which measures the return a fund’s dividend or interest is giving. The second is total return which measures the overall return of the fund over a given time period. Investors should examine current yield when available, and always look at a fund’s total return to get the overall view of a fund’s performance.
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