Like most developed and developing countries the mutual fund cult has been catching on in India. There are various reasons for this. Mutual funds make it easy and less costly for investors to satisfy their need for capital growth, income and/or income preservation.
And in addition to this a mutual fund brings the benefits of diversification and money management to the individual investor, providing an opportunity for financial success that was once available only to a select few.
Understanding Mutual funds is easy as it’s such a simple concept: a mutual fund is a company that pools the money of many investors — its shareholders — to invest in a variety of different securities. Investments may be in stocks, bonds, money market securities or some combination of these. Those securities are professionally managed on behalf of the shareholders, and each investor holds a pro rata share of the portfolio — entitled to any profits when the securities are sold, but subject to any losses in value as well.
For the individual investor, mutual funds provide the benefit of having someone else manage your investments and diversify your money over many different securities that may not be available or affordable to you otherwise. Today, minimum investment requirements on many funds are low enough that even the smallest investor can get started in mutual funds.
A mutual fund, by its very nature, is diversified — its assets are invested in many different securities. Beyond that, there are many different types of mutual funds with different objectives and levels of growth potential, furthering your chances to diversify.
Investing in mutual has various benefits which makes it an ideal investment avenue. Following are some of the primary benefits.
Professional investment management
One of the primary benefits of mutual funds is that an investor has access to professional management. A good investment manager is certainly worth the fees you will pay. Good mutual fund managers with an excellent research team can do a better job of monitoring the companies they have chosen to invest in than you can, unless you have time to spend on researching the companies you select for your portfolio. That is because Mutual funds hire full-time, high-level investment professionals. Funds can afford to do so as they manage large pools of money. The managers have real-time access to crucial market information and are able to execute trades on the largest and most cost-effective scale. When you buy a mutual fund, the primary asset you are buying is the manager, who will be controlling which assets are chosen to meet the funds’ stated investment objectives.
A crucial element in investing is asset allocation. It plays a very big part in the success of any portfolio. However, small investors do not have enough money to properly allocate their assets. By pooling your funds with others, you can quickly benefit from greater diversification. Mutual funds invest in a broad range of securities. This limits investment risk by reducing the effect of a possible decline in the value of any one security. Mutual fund unit-holders can benefit from diversification techniques usually available only to investors wealthy enough to buy significant positions in a wide variety of securities.
A mutual fund let’s you participate in a diversified portfolio for as little as Rs.5,000, and sometimes less.
Convenience and Flexibility
Investing in mutual funds has it’s own convenience. While you own just one security rather than many, you still enjoy the benefits of a diversified portfolio and a wide range of services. Fund managers decide what securities to trade, collect the interest payments and see that your dividends on portfolio securities are received and your rights exercised. It also uses the services of a high quality custodian and registrar. Another big advantage is that you can move your funds easily from one fund to another within a mutual fund family. This allows you to easily rebalance your portfolio to respond to significant fund management or economic changes.
In open-ended schemes, you can get your money back promptly at net asset value related prices from the mutual fund itself.
Regulations for mutual funds have made the industry very transparent. You can track the investments that have been made on you behalf and the specific investments made by the mutual fund scheme to see where your money is going. In addition to this, you get regular information on the value of your investment.
There is no shortage of variety when investing in mutual funds. You can find a mutual fund that matches just about any investing strategy you select. There are funds that focus on blue-chip stocks, technology stocks, bonds or a mix of stocks and bonds. The greatest challenge can be sorting through the variety and picking the best for you.
Getting a handle on what’s under the hood helps you become a better investor and put together a more successful portfolio. To do this one must know the different types of funds that cater to investor needs, whatever the age, financial position, risk tolerance and return expectations. The mutual fund schemes can be classified according to both their investment objective (like income, growth, tax saving) as well as the number of units (if these are unlimited then the fund is an open-ended one while if there are limited units then the fund is close-ended).
This section provides descriptions of the characteristics — such as investment objective and potential for volatility of your investment — of various categories of funds. These descriptions are organized by the type of securities purchased by each fund: equities, fixed-income, money market instruments, or some combination of these.
Open-ended schemes do not have a fixed maturity period. Investors can buy or sell units at NAV-related prices from and to the mutual fund on any business day. These schemes have unlimited capitalization, open-ended schemes do not have a fixed maturity, there is no cap on the amount you can buy from the fund and the unit capital can keep growing. These funds are not generally listed on any exchange.
Open-ended schemes are preferred for their liquidity. Such funds can issue and redeem units any time during the life of a scheme. Hence, unit capital of open-ended funds can fluctuate on a daily basis. The advantages of open-ended funds over close-ended are as follows:
Any time exit option, The issuing company directly takes the responsibility of providing an entry and an exit. This provides ready liquidity to the investors and avoids reliance on transfer deeds, signature verifications and bad deliveries. Any time entry option, An open-ended fund allows one to enter the fund at any time and even to invest at regular intervals.
Close ended schemes
Close-ended schemes have fixed maturity periods. Investors can buy into these funds during the period when these funds are open in the initial issue. After that such schemes can not issue new units except in case of bonus or rights issue. However, after the initial issue, you can buy or sell units of the scheme on the stock exchanges where they are listed. The market price of the units could vary from the NAV of the scheme due to demand and supply factors, investors’ expectations and other market factors
Classification according to investment objectives
Mutual funds can be further classified based on their specific investment objective such as growth of capital, safety of principal, current income or tax-exempt income.
In general mutual funds fall into three general categories:
1] Equity Funds are those that invest in shares or equity of companies.
2] Fixed-Income Funds invest in government or corporate securities that offer fixed rates of return are
3] While funds that invest in a combination of both stocks and bonds are called Balanced Funds.
Growth funds primarily look for growth of capital with secondary emphasis on dividend. Such funds invest in shares with a potential for growth and capital appreciation. They invest in well-established companies where the company itself and the industry in which it operates are thought to have good long-term growth potential, and hence growth funds provide low current income. Growth funds generally incur higher risks than income funds in an effort to secure more pronounced growth.
Some growth funds concentrate on one or more industry sectors and also invest in a broad range of industries. Growth funds are suitable for investors who can afford to assume the risk of potential loss in value of their investment in the hope of achieving substantial and rapid gains. They are not suitable for investors who must conserve their principal or who must maximize current income.
Growth and Income Funds
Growth and income funds seek long-term growth of capital as well as current income. The investment strategies used to reach these goals vary among funds. Some invest in a dual portfolio consisting of growth stocks and income stocks, or a combination of growth stocks, stocks paying high dividends, preferred stocks, convertible securities or fixed-income securities such as corporate bonds and money market instruments. Others may invest in growth stocks and earn current income by selling covered call options on their portfolio stocks.
Growth and income funds have low to moderate stability of principal and moderate potential for current income and growth. They are suitable for investors who can assume some risk to achieve growth of capital but who also want to maintain a moderate level of current income.
Fixed income funds primarily look to provide current income consistent with the preservation of capital. These funds invest in corporate bonds or government-backed mortgage securities that have a fixed rate of return. Within the fixed-income category, funds vary greatly in their stability of principal and in their dividend yields. High-yield funds, which seek to maximize yield by investing in lower-rated bonds of longer maturities, entail less stability of principal than fixed-income funds that invest in higher-rated but lower-yielding securities.
Some fixed-income funds seek to minimize risk by investing exclusively in securities whose timely payment of interest and principal is backed by the full faith and credit of the Indian Government. Fixed-income funds are suitable for investors who want to maximize current income and who can assume a degree of capital risk in order to do so.
The Balanced fund aims to provide both growth and income. These funds invest in both shares and fixed income securities in the proportion indicated in their offer documents. Ideal for investors who are looking for a combination of income and moderate growth.
Money Market Funds/Liquid Funds
For the cautious investor, these funds provide a very high stability of principal while seeking a moderate to high current income. They invest in highly liquid, virtually risk-free, short-term debt securities of agencies of the Indian Government, banks and corporations and Treasury Bills. Because of their short-term investments, money market mutual funds are able to keep a virtually constant unit price; only the yield fluctuates.
Therefore, they are an attractive alternative to bank accounts. With yields that are generally competitive with – and usually higher than — yields on bank savings account, they offer several advantages. Money can be withdrawn any time without penalty. Although not insured, money market funds invest only in highly liquid, short-term, top-rated money market instruments. Money market funds are suitable for investors who want high stability of principal and current income with immediate liquidity.
These funds invest in securities of a specific industry or sector of the economy such as health care, technology, leisure, utilities or precious metals. The funds enable investors to diversify holdings among many companies within an industry, a more conservative approach than investing directly in one particular company.
Sector funds offer the opportunity for sharp capital gains in cases where the fund’s industry is “in favor” but also entail the risk of capital losses when the industry is out of favor. While sector funds restrict holdings to a particular industry, other specialty funds such as index funds give investors a broadly diversified portfolio and attempt to mirror the performance of various market averages.
Index funds generally buy shares in all the companies composing the BSE Sensex or NSE Nifty or other broad stock market indices. They are not suitable for investors who must conserve their principal or maximize current income.
Having understood the basics of mutual funds the next step is to build a successful investment portfolio. Before you can begin to build a portfolio, one should understand some other elements of mutual fund investing and how they can affect the potential value of your investments over the years. The first thing that has to be kept in mind is that when you invest in mutual funds, there is no guarantee that you will end up with more money when you withdraw your investment than what you started out with. That is the potential of loss is always there. The loss of value in your investment is what is considered risk in investing.
Even so, the opportunity for investment growth that is possible through investments in mutual funds far exceeds that concern for most investors. Here’s why.
At the cornerstone of investing is the basic principal that the greater the risk you take, the greater the potential reward. Or stated in another way, you get what you pay for and you get paid a higher return only when you’re willing to accept more volatility.
Risk then, refers to the volatility — the up and down activity in the markets and individual issues that occurs constantly over time. This volatility can be caused by a number of factors — interest rate changes, inflation or general economic conditions. It is this variability, uncertainty and potential for loss, that causes investors to worry. We all fear the possibility that a stock we invest in will fall substantially. But it is this very volatility that is the exact reason that you can expect to earn a higher long-term return from these investments than from a savings account.
Different types of mutual funds have different levels of volatility or potential price change, and those with the greater chance of losing value are also the funds that can produce the greater returns for you over time. So risk has two sides: it causes the value of your investments to fluctuate, but it is precisely the reason you can expect to earn higher returns.
You might find it helpful to remember that all financial investments will fluctuate. There are very few perfectly safe havens and those simply don’t pay enough to beat inflation over the long run.
All investments involve some form of risk. Consider these common types of risk and evaluate them against potential rewards when you select an investment.
At times the prices or yields of all the securities in a particular market rise or fall due to broad outside influences. When this happens, the stock prices of both an outstanding, highly profitable company and a fledgling corporation may be affected. This change in price is due to “market risk”. Also known as systematic risk.
Sometimes referred to as “loss of purchasing power.” Whenever inflation rises forward faster than the earnings on your investment, you run the risk that you’ll actually be able to buy less, not more. Inflation risk also occurs when prices rise faster than your returns.
In short, how stable is the company or entity to which you lend your money when you invest? How certain are you that it will be able to pay the interest you are promised, or repay your principal when the investment matures?
Interest Rate Risk
Changing interest rates affect both equities and bonds in many ways. Investors are reminded that “predicting” which way rates will go is rarely successful. A diversified portfolio can help in offseting these changes.
A number of companies generate revenues in foreign currencies and may have investments or expenses also denominated in foreign currencies. Changes in exchange rates may, therefore, have a positive or negative impact on companies which in turn would have an effect on the investment of the fund.
The sectoral fund schemes, investments will be predominantly in equities of select companies in the particular sectors. Accordingly, the NAV of the schemes are linked to the equity performance of such companies and may be more volatile than a more diversified portfolio of equities.
Changes in the Government Policy
Changes in Government policy especially in regard to the tax benefits may impact the business prospects of the companies leading to an impact on the investments made by the fund
Effect of loss of key professionals and inability to adapt business to the rapid technological change.
An industries’ key asset is often the personnel who run the business i.e. intellectual properties of the key employees of the respective companies. Given the ever-changing complexion of few industries and the high obsolescence levels, availability of qualified, trained and motivated personnel is very critical for the success of industries in few sectors. It is, therefore, necessary to attract key personnel and also to retain them to meet the changing environment and challenges the sector offers. Failure or inability to attract/retain such qualified key personnel may impact the prospects of the companies in the particular sector in which the fund invests.
Mutual fund is the best investment tool for the retail investor as it offers the twin benefits of good returns and safety as compared with other avenues such as bank deposits or stock investing. Having looked at the various types of mutual funds, one has to now go about selecting a fund suiting your requirements. Choose the wrong fund and you would have been better off keeping money in a bank fixed deposit.Keep in mind the points listed below and you could at least marginalise your investment risk.
While past performance is not an indicator of the future it does throw some light on the investment philosophies of the fund, how it has performed in the past and the kind of returns it is offering to the investor over a period of time. Also check out the two-year and one-year returns for consistency. How did these funds perform in the bull and bear markets of the immediate past? Tracking the performance in the bear market is particularly important because the true test of a portfolio is often revealed in how little it falls in a bad market.
Know your fund manager
The success of a fund to a great extent depends on the fund manager. The same fund managers manage most successful funds. Ask before investing, has the fund manager or strategy changed recently? For instance, the portfolio manager who generated the fund’s successful performance may no longer be managing the fund.
Does it suit your risk profile?
Certain sector-specific schemes come with a high-risk high-return tag. Such plans are suspect to crashes in case the industry loses the marketmen’s fancy. If the investor is totally risk averse he can opt for pure debt schemes with little or no risk. Most prefer the balanced schemes which invest in the equity and debt markets. Growth and pure equity plans give greater returns than pure debt plans but their risk is higher.
Read the prospectus
The prospectus says a lot about the fund. A reading of the fund’s prospectus is a must to learn about its investment strategy and the risk that it will expose you to. Funds with higher rates of return may take risks that are beyond your comfort level and are inconsistent with your financial goals. But remember that all funds carry some level of risk. Just because a fund invests in government or corporate bonds does not mean it does not have significant risk. Thinking about your long-term investment strategies and tolerance for risk can help you decide what type of fund is best suited for you.
How will the fund affect the diversification of your portfolio?
When choosing a mutual fund, you should consider how your interest in that fund affects the overall diversification of your investment portfolio. Maintaining a diversified and balanced portfolio is key to maintaining an acceptable level of risk.
What it costs you?
A fund with high costs must perform better than a low-cost fund to generate the same returns for you. Even small differences in fees can translate into large differences in returns over time.
Finally, don’t pick a fund simply because it has shown a spurt in value in the current rally. Ferret out information of a fund for atleast three years. The one thing to remember while investing in equity funds is that it makes no sense to get in and out of a fund with each turn of the market. Like stocks, the right equity mutual fund will pay off big — if you have the patience. Similarly, it makes little sense to hold on to a fund that lags behind the total market year after year.