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|The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (September 2011)|
A mutual fund is a type of professionally managed collective investment scheme that pools money from many investors to purchase securities. While there is no legal definition of the term mutual fund, it is most commonly applied only to those collective investment vehicles that are regulated and sold to the general public. They are sometimes referred to as "investment companies" or "registered investment companies". Most mutual funds are open-ended, meaning stockholders can buy or sell shares of the fund at any time by redeeming them from the fund itself, rather than on an exchange. Hedge funds are not considered a type of mutual fund, primarily because they are not sold publicly.
In the United States, mutual funds must be registered the Securities and Exchange Commission, overseen by a board of directors (or board of trustees if organized as a trust rather than a corporation or partnership) and managed by a registered investment adviser. Mutual funds, like other registered investment companies, are also subject to an extensive and detailed regulatory regime set forth in the Investment Company Act of 1940. Mutual funds are not taxed on their income and profits if they comply with certain requirements under the U.S. Internal Revenue Code.
Mutual funds have both advantages and disadvantages compared to direct investing in individual securities. They have a long history in the United States. Today they play an important role in household finances, most notably in retirement planning.
There are 3 types of U.S. mutual funds: open-end, unit investment trust, and closed-end. The most common type, the open-end fund, must be willing to buy back shares from investors every business day. Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are open-end funds or unit investment trusts that trade on an exchange. Open-end funds are most common, but exchange-traded funds have been gaining in popularity.
Mutual funds are generally classified by their principal investments. The four main categories of funds are money market funds, bond or fixed income funds, stock or equity funds and hybrid funds. Funds may also be categorized as index or actively managed.
Investors in a mutual fund pay the fund’s expenses, which reduce the fund's returns and performance. There is controversy about the level of these expenses. A single mutual fund may give investors a choice of different combinations of expenses (which may include sales commissions or loads) by offering several different types of share classes.
In the US, a mutual fund is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and is overseen by a board of directors (if organized as a corporation) or board of trustees (if organized as a trust). The board is charged with ensuring that the fund is managed in the best interests of the fund's investors and with hiring the fund manager and other service providers to the fund.
The fund manager, also known as the fund sponsor or fund management company, trades (buys and sells) the fund's investments in accordance with the fund's investment objective. A fund manager must be a registered investment advisor. Funds that are managed by the same fund manager and that have the same brand name are known as a fund family or fund complex.
Mutual funds are not taxed on their income and profits as long as they comply with requirements established in the U.S. Internal Revenue Code. Specifically, they must diversify their investments, limit ownership of voting securities, distribute a high percentage of their income and capital gains (net of capital losses) to their investors annually, and earn most of the income by investing in securities and currencies.
Mutual funds pass taxable income on to their investors by paying out dividends and capital gains at least annually. The characterization of that income is unchanged as it passes through to the shareholders. For example, mutual fund distributions of dividend income are reported as dividend income by the investor. There is an exception: net losses incurred by a mutual fund are not distributed or passed through to fund investors but are retained by the fund to be able to offset future gains.
Mutual funds may invest in many kinds of securities. The types of securities that a particular fund may invest in are set forth in the fund's prospectus, which describes the fund's investment objective, investment approach and permitted investments. The investment objective describes the type of income that the fund seeks. For example, a capital appreciation fund generally looks to earn most of its returns from increases in the prices of the securities it holds, rather than from dividend or interest income. The investment approach describes the criteria that the fund manager uses to select investments for the fund.
Hedge funds are not considered a type of (unregistered) mutual fund. While they are another type of collective investment vehicle, they are not governed by the Investment Company Act of 1940 and are not required to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission (though many hedge fund managers must register as investment advisers).
|This article contains a pro and con list, which is sometimes inappropriate. (November 2012)|
Mutual funds have advantages compared to direct investing in individual securities. These include:
Mutual funds have disadvantages as well, which include:
The first mutual funds were established in Europe. One researcher credits a Dutch merchant with creating the first mutual fund in 1774. The first mutual fund outside the Netherlands was the Foreign & Colonial Government Trust, which was established in London in 1868. It is now the Foreign & Colonial Investment Trust and trades on the London stock exchange.
Mutual funds were introduced into the United States in the 1890s. They became popular during the 1920s. These early funds were generally of the closed-end type with a fixed number of shares which often traded at prices above the value of the portfolio.
The first open-end mutual fund with redeemable shares was established on March 21, 1924. This fund, the Massachusetts Investors Trust, is now part of the MFS family of funds. However, closed-end funds remained more popular than open-end funds throughout the 1920s. By 1929, open-end funds accounted for only 5% of the industry's $27 billion in total assets.
After the stock market crash of 1929, Congress passed a series of acts regulating the securities markets in general and mutual funds in particular. The Securities Act of 1933 requires that all investments sold to the public, including mutual funds, be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission and that they provide prospective investors with a prospectus that discloses essential facts about the investment. The Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 requires that issuers of securities, including mutual funds, report regularly to their investors; this act also created the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is the principal regulator of mutual funds. The Revenue Act of 1936 established guidelines for the taxation of mutual funds, while the Investment Company Act of 1940 governs their structure.
When confidence in the stock market returned in the 1950s, the mutual fund industry began to grow again. By 1970, there were approximately 360 funds with $48 billion in assets. The introduction of money market funds in the high interest rate environment of the late 1970s boosted industry growth dramatically. The first retail index fund, First Index Investment Trust, was formed in 1976 by The Vanguard Group, headed by John Bogle; it is now called the Vanguard 500 Index Fund and is one of the world's largest mutual funds, with more than $100 billion in assets as of January 31, 2011.
Fund industry growth continued into the 1980s and 1990s, as a result of three factors: a bull market for both stocks and bonds, new product introductions (including tax-exempt bond, sector, international and target date funds) and wider distribution of fund shares. Among the new distribution channels were retirement plans. Mutual funds are now the preferred investment option in certain types of fast-growing retirement plans, specifically in 401(k) and other defined contribution plans and in individual retirement accounts (IRAs), all of which surged in popularity in the 1980s. Total mutual fund assets fell in 2008 as a result of the credit crisis of 2008.
In 2003, the mutual fund industry was involved in a scandal involving unequal treatment of fund shareholders. Some fund management companies allowed favored investors to engage in late trading, which is illegal, or market timing, which is a practice prohibited by fund policy. The scandal was initially discovered by then-New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and resulted in significantly increased regulation of the industry.
At the end of 2011, there were over 14,000 mutual funds in the United States with combined assets of $13 trillion, according to the Investment Company Institute (ICI), a trade association of investment companies in the United States. The ICI reports that worldwide mutual fund assets were $23.8 trillion on the same date.
Mutual funds play an important role in U.S. household finances and retirement planning. At the end of 2011, funds accounted for 23% of household financial assets. Their role in retirement planning is particularly significant. Roughly half of assets in 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts were invested in mutual funds.
At the end of October 2011, the top 10 mutual fund complexes in the United States were:
Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are open-end funds or unit investment trusts that trade on an exchange; they have gained in popularity recently. While the term "mutual fund" may refer to all three types of registered investment companies, it is more commonly used to refer exclusively to the open-end type.
Open-end mutual funds must be willing to buy back their shares from their investors at the end of every business day at the net asset value computed that day. Most open-end funds also sell shares to the public every business day; these shares are also priced at net asset value. A professional investment manager oversees the portfolio, buying and selling securities as appropriate. The total investment in the fund will vary based on share purchases, share redemptions and fluctuation in market valuation. There is no legal limit on the number of shares that can be issued.
Open-end funds are the most common type of mutual fund. At the end of 2011, there were 7,581 open-end mutual funds in the United States with combined assets of $11.6 trillion.
Closed-end funds generally issue shares to the public only once, when they are created through an initial public offering. Their shares are then listed for trading on a stock exchange. Investors who no longer wish to invest in the fund cannot sell their shares back to the fund (as they can with an open-end fund). Instead, they must sell their shares to another investor in the market; the price they receive may be significantly different from net asset value. It may be at a "premium" to net asset value (meaning that it is higher than net asset value) or, more commonly, at a "discount" to net asset value (meaning that it is lower than net asset value). A professional investment manager oversees the portfolio, buying and selling securities as appropriate.
At the end of 2011, there were 634 closed-end funds in the United States with combined assets of $239 billion.
Unit investment trusts or UITs issue shares to the public only once, when they are created. UITs generally have a limited life span, established at creation. Investors can redeem shares directly with the fund at any time (as with an open-end fund) or wait to redeem upon termination of the trust. Less commonly, they can sell their shares in the open market.
Unit investment trusts do not have a professional investment manager. Their portfolio of securities is established at the creation of the UIT and does not change.
At the end of 2011, there were 6,022 UITs in the United States with combined assets of $60 billion.
A relatively recent innovation, the exchange-traded fund or ETF is often structured as an open-end investment company, though ETFs may also be structured as unit investment trusts, partnerships, investments trust, grantor trusts or bonds (as an exchange-traded note). Most ETFs are index funds that combine characteristics of both closed-end funds and open-end funds. Ideally, ETFs are traded throughout the day on a stock exchange at a price that is close to net asset value of the ETF holdings. ETF shares may be created or liquidated during the trading day by the fund manager working with specialist and institutions that profit from arbitrage trading the slight differences between the ETF trading price and the price of the ETF holdings. This arbitrage is supposed to keep the ETF market price close to net asset value of its holdings, but there is no guarantee especially with thinly traded ETFs. As of March 2014, more than half of ETFs have less than $100 million in assets, and about 20% have assets less than $10 million. ).
ETFs have been gaining in popularity. As of March 2014, there were over 1,500 ETFs in the United States with combined assets of in excess of $2.7 trillion.
Mutual funds are normally classified by their principal investments, as described in the prospectus and investment objective. The four main categories of funds are money market funds, bond or fixed income funds, stock or equity funds and hybrid funds. Within these categories, funds may be subclassified by investment objective, investment approach or specific focus. The SEC requires that mutual fund names not be inconsistent with a fund's investments. For example, the "ABC New Jersey Tax-Exempt Bond Fund" would generally have to invest, under normal circumstances, at least 80% of its assets in bonds that are exempt from federal income tax, from the alternative minimum tax and from taxes in the state of New Jersey.
Bond, stock and hybrid funds may be classified as either index (passively managed) funds or actively managed funds.
Money market funds invest in money market instruments, which are fixed income securities with a very short time to maturity and high credit quality. Investors often use money market funds as a substitute for bank savings accounts, though money market funds are not government insured, unlike bank savings accounts.
Money market funds strive to maintain a $1.00 per share net asset value, meaning that investors earn interest income from the fund but do not experience capital gains or losses. If a fund fails to maintain that $1.00 per share because its securities have declined in value, it is said to "break the buck". Only two money market funds have ever broken the buck: Community Banker's U.S. Government Money Market Fund in 1994 and the Reserve Primary Fund in 2008.
At the end of 2011, money market funds accounted for 23% of open-end fund assets.
Bond funds invest in fixed income or debt securities. Bond funds can be subclassified according to the specific types of bonds owned (such as high-yield or junk bonds, investment-grade corporate bonds, government bonds or municipal bonds) or by the maturity of the bonds held (short-, intermediate- or long-term). Bond funds may invest in primarily U.S. securities (domestic or U.S. funds), in both U.S. and foreign securities (global or world funds), or primarily foreign securities (international funds).
At the end of 2011, bond funds accounted for 25% of open-end fund assets.
Stock or equity funds invest in common stocks which represent an ownership share (or equity) in corporations. Stock funds may invest in primarily U.S. securities (domestic or U.S. funds), in both U.S. and foreign securities (global or world funds), or primarily foreign securities (international funds). They may focus on a specific industry or sector.
A stock fund may be subclassified along two dimensions: (1) market capitalization and (2) investment style (i.e., growth vs. blend/core vs. value). The two dimensions are often displayed in a grid known as a "style box".
Market capitalization ("cap") indicates the size of the companies in which a fund invests, based on the value of the company's stock. Each company's market capitalization equals the number of shares outstanding times the market price of the stock. Market capitalizations are typically divided into the following categories:
While the specific definitions of each category vary with market conditions, large cap stocks generally have market capitalizations of at least $10 billion, small cap stocks have market capitalizations below $2 billion, and micro cap stocks have market capitalizations below $300 million. Funds are also classified in these categories based on the market caps of the stocks that it holds.
Stock funds are also subclassified according to their investment style: growth, value or blend (or core). Growth funds seek to invest in stocks of fast-growing companies. Value funds seek to invest in stocks that appear cheaply priced. Blend funds are not biased toward either growth or value.
At the end of 2011, stock funds accounted for 46% of the assets in all U.S. mutual funds.
Hybrid funds invest in both bonds and stocks or in convertible securities. Balanced funds, asset allocation funds, target date or target risk funds and lifecycle or lifestyle funds are all types of hybrid funds.
Hybrid funds may be structured as funds of funds, meaning that they invest by buying shares in other mutual funds that invest in securities. Most fund of funds invest in affiliated funds (meaning mutual funds managed by the same fund sponsor), although some invest in unaffiliated funds (meaning those managed by other fund sponsors) or in a combination of the two.
At the end of 2011, hybrid funds accounted for 7% of the assets in all U.S. mutual funds.
An index fund or passively managed fund seeks to match the performance of a market index, such as the S&P 500 index, while an actively managed fund seeks to outperform a relevant index through superior security selection.
Investors in a mutual fund pay the fund's expenses. These expenses fall into five categories: distribution charges (sales loads and 12b-1 fees), the management fee, other fund expenses, shareholder transaction fees and securities transaction fees. Some of these expenses reduce the value of an investor's account; others are paid by the fund and reduce net asset value.
Recurring fees and expenses—specifically the 12b-1 fee, the management fee and other fund expenses—are included in a fund's total expense ratio, or simply the "expense ratio". Because all funds must compute an expense ratio using the same method, it allows investors to compare costs across funds.
Distribution charges pay for marketing, distribution of the fund's shares as well as services to investors.
A front-end load or sales charge is a commission paid to a broker by a mutual fund when shares are purchased. It is expressed as a percentage of the total amount invested or the "public offering price", which equals the net asset value plus the front-end load per share. The front-end load often declines as the amount invested increases, through breakpoints. The front-end load is paid by the shareholder; it is deducted from the amount invested.
Some funds have a back-end load, which is paid by the investor when shares are redeemed. If the back-end load declines the longer the investor holds shares, it is called a contingent deferred sales charges (or CDSC). Like the front-end load, the back-end load is paid by the shareholder; it is deducted from the redemption proceeds.
Some funds charge an annual fee to compensate the distributor of fund shares for providing ongoing services to fund shareholders. This fee is called a 12b-1 fee, after the SEC rule authorizing it. The 12b-1 fee is paid by the fund and reduces net asset value.
A no-load fund does not charge a front-end load under any circumstances, does not charge a back-end load under any circumstances and does not charge a 12b-1 fee greater than 0.25% of fund assets. An example of this type of fund is a Real estate fund.
The management fee is paid to the fund manager or sponsor who organizes the fund, provides the portfolio management or investment advisory services and normally lends its brand name to the fund. The fund manager may also provide other administrative services. The management fee often has breakpoints, which means that it declines as assets (in either the specific fund or in the fund family as a whole) increase. The management fee is paid by the fund and is included in the expense ratio.
The fund's board of directors reviews the management fee annually. Fund shareholders must vote on any proposed increase in the management. However, the fund manager or sponsor may agree to waive all or a portion of the management fee in order to lower the fund's expense ratio.
A mutual fund may pay for other services including:
The fund manager or sponsor may agree to subsidize some of these other expenses in order to lower the fund's expense ratio.
Shareholders may be required to pay fees for certain transactions. For example, a fund may charge a flat fee for maintaining an individual retirement account for an investor. Some funds charge redemption fees when an investor sells fund shares shortly after buying them (usually defined as within 30, 60 or 90 days of purchase); redemption fees are computed as a percentage of the sale amount. Shareholder transaction fees are not part of the expense ratio.
A mutual fund pays expenses related to buying or selling the securities in its portfolio. These expenses may include brokerage commissions. Securities transaction fees increase the cost basis of investments purchased and reduce the proceeds from their sale. They do not flow through a fund's income statement and are not included in its expense ratio. The amount of securities transaction fees paid by a fund is normally positively correlated with its trading volume or "turnover".
Critics of the fund industry argue that fund expenses are too high. They believe that the market for mutual funds is not competitive and that there are many hidden fees, so that it is difficult for investors to reduce the fees that they pay. They argue that the most effective way for investors to raise the returns they earn from mutual funds is to invest in funds with low expense ratios.
Fund managers counter that fees are determined by a highly competitive market and, therefore, reflect the value that investors attribute to the service provided. In addition, they note that fees are clearly disclosed.
A single mutual fund may give investors a choice of different combinations of front-end loads, back-end loads and 12b-1 fees, by offering several different types of shares, known as share classes. All of the shares classes invest in the same portfolio of securities, but each has different expenses and, therefore, a different net asset value and different performance results. Some of these share classes may be available only to certain types of investors.
Funds offering multiple classes often identify them with letters, though they may also use names such as "Investor Class", "Service Class", "Institutional Class", etc., to identify the type of investor for which the class is intended. The SEC does not regulate the names of share classes, so that specifics of a share class with the same name may vary from fund family to fund family.
Typical share classes for funds sold through brokers or other intermediaries are as follows.:
No-load funds often have two classes of shares:
Neither class of shares typically charges a front-end or back-end load.
Definitions of key terms.
A fund's net asset value or NAV equals the current market value of a fund's holdings minus the fund's liabilities (sometimes referred to as "net assets"). It is usually expressed as a per-share amount, computed by dividing net assets by the number of fund shares outstanding. Funds must compute their net asset value according to the rules set forth in their prospectuses. Funds compute their NAV at the end of each day that the New York Stock Exchange is open, though some funds compute their NAV more than once daily.
Valuing the securities held in a fund's portfolio is often the most difficult part of calculating net asset value. The fund's board typically oversees security valuation.
The expense ratio allows investors to compare expenses across funds. The expense ratio equals the 12b-1 fee plus the management fee plus the other fund expenses divided by average daily net assets. The expense ratio is sometimes referred to as the "total expense ratio" or TER.
The SEC requires that mutual funds report the average annual compounded rates of return for 1-year, 5-year and 10-year periods using the following formula:
ERV = ending redeemable value of a hypothetical $1,000 payment made at the beginning of the 1-, 5-, or 10-year periods at the end of the 1-, 5-, or 10-year periods (or fractional portion).
Turnover is a measure of the volume of a fund's securities trading. It is expressed as a percentage of average market value of the portfolio's long-term securities. Turnover is the lesser of a fund's purchases or sales during a given year divided by average long-term securities market value for the same period. If the period is less than a year, turnover is generally annualized.