Question: Why are there so many mutual funds?
Answer: Mutual fund management is profitable, so Wall Street creates more products to sell.
The large number of mutual funds has little to do with serving your best interests as an investor. I leverage more reliable fundamental data to identify two red flags you can use to avoid the worst mutual funds:
1. High Fees
Mutual funds should be cheap, but not all of them are. The first step is to benchmark what cheap means. To ensure you are paying at or below average fees, invest only in mutual funds with total annual costs below 1.83% – the average total annual costs of the 632 U.S. equity Sector mutual funds my firm covers. The weighted average is lower at 1.14%, which highlights how investors tend to put their money in mutual funds with low fees.
Figure 1 shows Saratoga Trust Financial Services Portfolio (SFPAX, SFPCX) is the most expensive sector mutual fund and Vanguard Real Estate II Index Fund (VRTPX) is the least expensive. Saratoga Trust (SFPAX, SEPCX, SHPAX, STPAX) provides four of the most expensive mutual funds while Vanguard (VRTPX, VFAIX, VITAX, VMIAX, VENAX) mutual funds are among the cheapest.
Figure 1: 5 Most and Least Expensive Sector Mutual Funds
Investors need not pay high fees for quality holdings. Vanguard Financials Index Fund (VFAIX) is the best ranked sector mutual fund in Figure 1. VFAIX’s attractive Portfolio Management rating and 0.12% total annual cost earn it a very attractive rating. Fidelity Brokerage and Investment Management Portfolio (FSLBX) is the best ranked sector mutual fund overall. FSLBX’s attractive Portfolio Management rating and 0.87% total annual cost also earns it a very attractive rating.
On the other hand, Vanguard Real Estate II Index Fund (VRTPX) holds poor stocks and receives a very unattractive rating, despite low total annual costs of 0.10%. No matter how cheap a mutual fund, if it holds bad stocks, its performance will be bad. The quality of a mutual fund’s holdings matters more than its price.
2. Poor Holdings
Avoiding poor holdings is by far the hardest part of avoiding bad mutual funds, but it is also the most important because a mutual fund’s performance is determined more by its holdings than its costs. Figure 2 shows the mutual funds within each sector with the worst holdings or portfolio management ratings.
Figure 2: Sector Mutual Funds with the Worst Holdings
Fidelity (FIJFX, FSAVX, FSVLX, FSDAX, FTUIX, FIUIX) appears more often than any other provider in Figure 2, which means that they offer the most mutual funds with the worst holdings.
Morgan Stanley Vitality Portfolio (MSVOX) is the worst rated mutual fund in Figure 2. Firsthand Technology Opportunities Fund (TEFQX), Manning & Napier Real Estate Series (MNRWX), Fidelity Telecom & Utilities Fund (FIUIX), PGIM Jennison Natural Resources Fund (PJNQX), and Fidelity Defense and Aerospace Portfolio (FSDAX) also earn a very unattractive predictive overall rating, which means not only do they hold poor stocks, they charge high total annual costs.
The Danger Within
Buying a mutual fund without analyzing its holdings is like buying a stock without analyzing its business model and finances. Put another way, research on mutual fund holdings is necessary due diligence because a mutual fund’s performance is only as good as its holdings.
PERFORMANCE OF MUTUAL FUND HOLDINGS – FEES = PERFORMANCE OF MUTUAL FUND
Disclosure: David Trainer, Kyle Guske II, and Matt Shuler receive no compensation to write about any specific stock, sector, or theme.