Friday, May 9, 2008

Mutual Funds - Do's and Don'ts

In the past few weeks I have written two posts on mutual funds, namely “Mutual Funds – What Are They?and “Mutual Funds - Part II. After those two posts I felt as if there was still a lot more that regular investors need to know about mutual funds. And that is why I am here. I will be writing about some things that an investor should remember/know before investing in a fund. Also, I notice, that there are a lot of myths associated with mutual funds which I would like to clear here.

Things to Remember

Diversify: Remember to diversify your portfolio. Invest in 3-4 different funds out of which at least 60-70% of your money is in well diversified funds. DO NOT put all your eggs in one basket. Do not invest all your money in only sectoral/thematic funds.

Portfolio of the Fund: Before investing your money, see the portfolio of the fu
nd you are investing in. Make sure that about 80% of the fund’s total corpus is invested in fundamentally strong blue chip companies and only about 20% is invested in opportunistic/risky stocks. Once you have examined the portfolio, you should have conviction in it. Growth can sometimes be painfully slow but over the longer term, blue chips are more likely to outperform than any other class of stocks. All information about mutual funds is available on the internet and a screenshot of the portfolio finder section on one such site is given here.

Past Performance: While past performance is no guarantee to future performance, it acts as a good indication. A fund which has consistently performed well in the past is also likely to do so in the future. Odd spikes like an annualized return of 70% in 15 days or 30 days is not a very reliable indicator but a return of 30% annualized in a period of 3 or 5 years is usually a good indication. Invest your money in funds showing good consistent growth rates. A screenshot to check the past performance is shown here. Also important to look at is the rating of the fund given by various rating agencies.

Choose Undervalued Funds: Mutual Funds can also be overvalued or undervalued and NAV is not the deciding factor. A fund may have an NAV of 20 and still be overvalued as compared to another fund which may have an NAV of 200 and be undervalued. The important factor is the Price to Earnings (P/E)
of the fund. Funds also have P/Es and a fund with a lower P/E will be considered as undervalued as compared to a fund with a higher P/E. Compare the fund’s P/E with the P/E of the benchmark index, namely Sensex or the Nifty. P/E of a fund is nothing but the weighted average of the P/Es of all individual stocks in the fund’s portfolio. If you go to this site you can see various attributes, of any mutual fund in India, like the rating of the fund, fund facts, NAV, risk and return and the portfolio of the fund. The P/E of the fund can be found in the portfolio section, as can be seen in the screenshot with the portfolio write-up.

Monitor Your Performance: Once you have done the above things and have invested the money into mutual funds of your choice, just sit back and relax. All you have to do is to come out of your slumber at least once a month and see the performance of your funds. If your funds are not giving you any returns or have returns much lower than the broader market then it may be time to change your fund. A good way of comparing the returns of your fund is to compare it with the returns of the Nifty or the Sensex (if your fund is an equity fund).


Some Common Myths

Dividends Give Extra Money: All dividends are tax free. So, all the money that you get from dividends is tax free. That is good, but then why do I say that dividends giving extra money is a myth? Let us understand with a simple example. I have invested Rs.20000/- in a fund at an NAV of Rs.150/- and the fund has now declared a dividend of 20%. Since the dividend is on the face value, which happens to be Rs.10/-, I would get a dividend of Rs.2/- per unit. I had only 133.3333 units with me (20000/150) and I would get a cheque of Rs.266.67 as dividend, which works out as 1.33% of Rs.20000/-. At the same time the NAV would also come down by Rs.2/-. So, effectively I’m withdrawing a small amount from my own funds, contrary to the notion that I had that I was getting something extra. I can’t put these Rs.267/- to any productive use. Had I left them in the mutual fund and withdrawn after 20 years, they probably would have become Rs.10000/- which would both be substantial and at the same time could be put to some productive use too. Some people instead opt for dividend reinvestment option so that the dividend amount can be used to purchase additional units in the same fund so that the money remains in the fund. But on this purchase you have to pay an entry load of 2.25% again thus paying Rs.3.55 as charges. So you end up withdrawing Rs.266.67 and reinvest only Rs.263.12. In my opinion, it is anyday better to let your money stay invested in the growth option.

NAV is Immaterial: A lot of people I have come across prefer to invest in funds whose NAV is lower, rather than investing in high NAV mutual funds. That is a myth. They do not want to invest in a scheme having a history of 8 years and whose NAV is Rs.200/- per unit but they don’t mind investing in a similar scheme with a similar portfolio having an NAV of Rs.25/- per unit with negligible history. The NAV, as mentioned in the earlier post, is calculated as the Sum of the Value of all stocks held by the fund and then divided by the total number of units issued by the fund. Thus, two fund schemes having exactly the same portfolio with equal weights will deliver exactly the same return. Let us assume that both the schemes talked about above earn a return of 28% in two years. And if Rs.20000/- were invested in both today then we would be issued 100 units in the first scheme and 800 units in the second. The NAV of both schemes 2 years hence would be 256 and 32 respectively. The value of the first scheme would be Rs.25,600/- (100*256) two years from now and the value of the second scheme would be …. Any guesses??? Yes, Rs.25,600/-.

NFOs Give Better Returns: NFOs mean New Fund Offers. All NFOs are priced at Rs.10/- and that is an arbitrary figure. They could have very well priced it at Rs.1/- or Rs.100/- or Rs.1000/- and it would have made no difference to them. As mentioned in the point above, the NAV does not matter but it is the performance of the fund over a period of time that matters. And why would anyone want to invest in a fund with no history rather than in a fund having an excellent three year track record? In the 1980s and early 1990s, all shares in the equity markets were also issued at Rs.10/- or Rs.100/- depending on the book value of the shares. Irregular pricing (at discount or premium) or via the book building route was not there. So, it used to make sense in those days to buy shares in the Initial Public Offer (IPOs) at Rs.10/- and sell it in the markets when they listed for Rs.50/-. Nowadays, most IPOs are so heavily overpriced that it does not make sense to invest in them at all. Holders of Reliance Power IPO shares would vouch for it. These days almost 90% of the IPOs do trade below their issue price within 6 months of listing. An NFO at Rs.10/- is neither overvalued nor undervalued. In fact it has no value at all till the time the NFO closes and it constructs a portfolio. This is exactly the reason why the NAV is declared 30 days after the NFO closes, because till that time there is no portfolio, hence no change in value and hence no NAV. It is a total myth that at Rs.10/- the NFO is highly undervalued.

Timing the Market Can Save Money: This is, probably, the biggest myth of all times. It is impossible to time the markets. You may be successful in catching the exact highs or the lows one or two times but will be wrong in the remaining 8-9 times. If you have conviction that markets will do well in the next two years then today is the time to invest. The key point is the ‘time in the market’, not ‘timing the market’. This article
will help you more to understand about investing for the long term. And since timing the markets is impossible, the best route to invest at the cheapest rates is to continue investing small amounts for a longer time, in short – follow the SIP route.

I hope that clears all doubts regarding mutual funds. In case you still have any questions, you can post them in the comments section and I’ll answer them there. And if there are too many questions, I’ll probably write another post answering all the questions.

More tomorrow.

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Happy Investing!!!