Mutual Funds…?

Dan Solin: Experience Counts:
Except When Selecting Mutual Fund Managers


Undisclosed Expenses and Issues (The Dirty Dozen!) Mutual funds and variable annuities are plagued with the following ailments.  SMA’s (Separately Managed Accounts) also suffer under the burden of some of these expenses  as well.

1. Undisclosed Brokerage Costs.
The costs of trading securities are not part of the expense ratio or included in the regular prospectus, but are taken into consideration when performance information is calculated. In some cases, according to a 2004 study done by the Zero Alpha Group, brokerage expenses actually exceed the quoted average mutual fund expense ratio. We calculate this average annual expense ratio to be 1.72%. (Calculated using Morningstar Principia software: all funds, includes stock, bond, U.S. foreign and all share classes, 8,670 funds, A, B, C etc.).The Zero Alpha study implies that in a number of instances the total expenses (disclosed plus undisclosed) are in the 3-4% range.

2. Soft Dollar Payments. Payments made by a brokerage firm on behalf of a mutual fund company to cover expenses such as research, phone bills, software, computers, subscription fees and legal fees. In exchange for these payments the mutual fund company directs trades to the brokerage firm and pays a higher than normal commission. While difficult to calculate, these soft dollar arrangements which create a higher commission rate for securities trades can add an estimated 0.10 – 0.40% annually to undisclosed expenses. Source:  2004 Investigations by New York Attorney General, Elliot Spitzer.

3. Shelf Space Payments.
“Extra” marketing fees paid by funds to be included in non-transaction fee mutual fund programs offered by all major firms such as Schwab, Fidelity, Waterhouse, etc. These fees typically range from 0.20% to 0.50% annually.  Sources: Wall Street Journal, Morningstar, and Lipper.

4. Directed Brokerage A brokerage firm agrees to sell a particular mutual fund in exchange for business directed to them by the mutual fund company.  This is related to, but different from soft dollars listed above.  As with soft dollars, the impact is difficult to calculate, since a higher, undisclosed commission rate for securities trades is being charged.  Adds an estimated 0.10 – 0.40% annually to undisclosed expenses. Source:  2004 Investigations by New York Attorney General, Elliot Spitzer.

5. Boards That Do Not Represent The Shareholder The vast majority of mutual fund boards are hand selected via a “good ole boys” network.  The board chairman is usually not independent.  The majority of mutual fund board members don’t own any of the funds they are responsible for. Source: Morningstar

6. Ever Increasing Fees
While fund expenses had been predicted over a decade ago to slowly decline as assets increased, the opposite has taken place due to ever increasing and poorly disclosed expenses such as 12b-1 marketing fees.

7. Poor Performance

  • Fund Performance:  According to sources such as Lipper and Morningstar, the average large company stock fund lagged the S&P 500 index in over 60% of the cases on a before tax basis and over 70% lag on an after tax basis over the twenty year period ending 12/31/2004.
  • Performance Reduction Resulting From Investors “Shooting Themselves In The Foot”: According to the research firm Dalbar, individual investors “actual” returns in mutual funds severely lags the performance of the funds themselves due to the “behavior of the fund investor” – in other words, most fund investors are impatient, chase performance, are emotional and buy into funds “high” and sell their funds “low”.  The negative impact of investor behavior is astounding.  The 2004 Dalbar study indicates that over the 20 years ending 12/31/03 fund investors earned 9.47% less than how the funds did themselves.  The 2001 study for the sixteen years ending 12/31/2000 the performance gap was -10.88%.  To put this in perspective, while the stock market (as measured by the S&P 500 index) earned 16.3% per year over this time period, the average investor earned only 5.3 % per year!

8. Survivorship Bias The performance rankings of mutual funds do not contain the past track records of funds that have been closed, merged, had a name change, etc.  Many of the funds that undergo such changes have been poor performers.  For the 10 years that ended in 2003, a 2004 study by the Center for Research in Security Prices at the University of Chicago shows that if these “missing” funds were included, the average performance of U.S. equity funds would be 1.6% less per year than typically reported, making the performance for the average investor in U.S. equity mutual funds as compared to the S & P 500 index even worse. The study calculated an average annual gain of 8.8 percent using only surviving U.S. stock funds, and 7.2 percent counting funds that no longer exist.  Listed below is a comparison for the ten year time period ending 12/31/03:

  • S&P 500 Index:        11.1% 
  • Vanguard S&P 500 Index Fund      11.0% 
  • “Surviving” U.S. Equity Funds:      8.8% 
  • Actual return of all funds, including funds that no longer exist: 7.2%
    Since the majority of American investors are not invested in the S&P 500 index fund, but managed funds from various mutual fund companies, the above information strongly implies that the average U.S. equity mutual fund investor under-performed the Vanguard S&P 500 index fund by 3.8% per year over the ten year time period ending 12/31/03 according to the Center for Research in Security Prices at the University of Chicago 2004 study.  This is on a “gross” basis; assuming that none of the investors incurred a sales charge and that there was no impact from income taxes.  When you add in the sales loads, taxes and poor timing, their degree of underperformance is even greater.

9. Tax Drag
According to Lipper, the average equity mutual fund loses approximately 1.96% annually to taxes as a result of fund distributions that are subject to tax.  In many cases, fund shareholders are paying taxes on stocks that were bought years before they entered the fund, but due to fund shareholder accounting they are required to pay tax on a gain they never earned. Source: Lipper’s “Taxes in the Mutual Fund Industry – 2004”

10. No Price Advantage For Larger Accounts
Mutual funds have a fixed pricing structure, which charges all shareholders the same annual expenses ratio, regardless of account size.  An investor with $1,000,000 is charged the same rate as the investor with $1,000.

11. Share Class Confusion and Shenanigans With “A”, “B”, “C”, “R” “Q” “Z”, etc. how is an investor to know if they are being sold the best share class.  Multi-million dollar settlements have been extracted from a number of brokerage firms for allowing their brokers (salespeople) to maximize commissions at the expense of the customer by spreading the client’s money across various fund companies and /or share classes.

12. Manager Tenure & Experience The average tenure of a mutual fund manager is 4-5 years, with many fund managers having little experience at managing a mutual fund. Source: Morningstar Principia software.

Summary Commentary on the “Dirty Dozen”

Expenses + Taxes The challenge of undisclosed fund expenses is you simply cannot obtain the information to come up with an exact number.  That said, we estimate the total costs of fund ownership for the average mutual fund investor to be 1.8% -5.0% annually, depending upon the investment, purchase arrangement and taxes.  We have prepared a detailed cost comparison on the following page. Expenses + Taxes + Survivorship Bias + Sales Loads + Negative Investor Behavior Survivorship bias and the Dalbar information shows that worse than the mutual funds themselves, the average investor creates even more damage than any other single element.  A skilled professional advisor can help minimize such losses. Summary
Some combination of the above The Dirty Dozen does impact every mutual fund investor every year. In the end, we expect that the typical fund investor, left to their own self directed mistakes, the products sold by commission based financial advisors and the general undisclosed expense ills we have outlined creates a situation where over a ten year period of time if the expected gross return was 10% for the stock market we suspect that the average fund, variable annuity or broker advised investor may achieve as little as 3-4% per year in the best case scenarios and many would simple have been better off leaving the money in their



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