Shorter Clearer Mutualfund Disclosure

Mutual-fund investors are about to get shorter and clearer disclosure documents under new rules adopted by the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this week.

But despite all the hoopla surrounding the improvements—including a new "profile" prospectus and an easier-to-read full prospectus—there's still a slew of vital information fund investors don't get from any disclosure documents, long or short.

Of course, more information isn't necessarily better. As it is, investors rarely read fund disclosure documents, such as the prospectus (which funds must provide to prospective investors), the semiannual reports (provided to all fund investors) or the statement of additional information (made available upon request). Buried in each are a few nuggets of useful data; but for the most part, they're full of legalese and technical terms.

So what should funds be required to disclose that they currently don't—and won't have to even after the SEC's new rules take effect? Here's a partial list:

Tax-adjusted returns: Under the new rules, both the full prospectus and the fund profile would contain a bar chart of annual returns over the past 10 years, and the fund's best and worst quarterly returns during that period. That's a huge improvement over not long ago when a fund's raw returns were sometimes nowhere to be found in the prospectus.

But that doesn't go far enough, according to some investment advisers. Many would like to see funds report returns after taxes—using assumptions about an investor's tax bracket that would be disclosed in footnotes. The reason: Many funds make big payouts of dividends and capital gains, forcing investors to fork over a big chunk of their gains to the Internal Revenue Service.

What's in the fund: If you're about to put your retirement nest egg in a fund, shouldn't you get to see what's in it first? The zippy new profile prospectus describes a fund's investment strategy, as did the old-style prospectus. But neither gives investors a look at what the fund actually owns. To get the fund's holdings, you have to have its latest semiannual or annual report. Most people don't get those documents until after they invest, and even then it can be as much as six months old. Many investment advisers think funds should begin reporting their holdings monthly, but so far funds have resisted doing so.

A manager's stake in a fund: Funds should be required to tell investors whether the fund manager owns any of its shares so investors can see just how confident a manger is in his or her own ability to pick stocks, some investment advisers say. As it stands now, many fund groups don't even disclose the names and backgrounds of the men and women calling the shots, and instead report that their funds are managed by a "team" of individuals whose identities they don't disclose.

A breakdown of fees: Investors will see in the profile prospectus a clearer outline of the expenses incurred by the fund company that manages the portfolio. But there's no way to tell whether you are picking up the tab for another guy's lunch.

The problem is, some no-load funds impose a so-called 12b-1 marketing fee on all shareholders. But they use the money gathered from the fee to cover the cost of participating in mutual-fund supermarket distribution program. Only some fund shareholders buy the fund shares through these programs, but all shareholders bear the expense—including those who purchased shares directly from the fund.

objectives and policies in a concise "Statement of Investment Objectives" as well as in lengthy discussions of investment policies and risks. The fund's investment adviser and its portfolio manager are also described. The prospectus also presents the costs associated with purchasing shares in the fund in a fee table. Sales charges such as front-end and back-end loads as well as annual operating expenses such as management fees and 12b-1 fees are detailed in the fee table.

Despite this useful information, there is widespread agreement that until recently most prospectuses have been difficult to read and laden with legalese. In 1999, however, the SEC required firms to prepare easier-to-understand prospectuses using less jargon, simpler sentences, and more charts. The nearby box contains some illustrative changes from two prospectuses that illustrate the scope of the problem the SEC was attempting to address. Still, even with these improvements, there remains a question as to whether these plain-English prospectuses contain the information an investor should know when selecting a fund. The answer, unfortunately, is that they still do not. The nearby box also contains a discussion of the information one should look for, as well as what tends to be missing, from the usual prospectus.

OMIT VITAL INVESTMENT INFORMATION

Nice, Light Read: The Prospectus

Old Language

Plain English

Dreyfus example

The Transfer Agent has adopted standards and procedures pursuant to which signature-guarantees in proper form generally will be accepted from domestic banks, brokers, dealers, credit unions, national securities exchanges, registered securities associations, clearing agencies and savings associations, as well as from participants in the New York Stock Exchange Medallion Signature Program, the Securities Transfer Agents Medallion Program ("STAMP") and the Stock Exchanges Medallion Program.

A signature guarantee helps protect against fraud. You can obtain one from most banks or securities dealers, but not from a notary public.

T. Rowe Price example

Total Return. The Fund may advertise total return figures on both a cumulative and compound average annual basis. Cumulative total return compares the amount invested at the beginning of a period with the amount redeemed at the end of the period, assuming the reinvestment of all dividends and capital gain distributions. The compound average annual total return, derived from the cumulative total return figure, indicates a yearly average of the Fund's performance. The annual compound rate of return for the Fund may vary from any average.

Total Return. This tells you how much an investment in a fund has changed in value over a given time period. It reflects any net increase or decrease in the share price and assumes that all dividends and capital gains (if any) paid during the period were reinvested in additional shares. Therefore, total return numbers include the effect of compounding.

Advertisements for a fund may include cumulative or average annual total return figures, which may be compared with various indices, other performance measures, or other mutual funds.

Sources: Vanessa O'Connell, "Shorter, Clearer, Mutual-Fund Disclosure May Omit Vital Investment Information," The Wall Street Journal, March 12, 1999. Reprinted by permission of Dow Jones & Company, Inc., via Copyright Clearance Center, Inc. © 1999 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. "A Little Light Reading? Try a Fund Prospectus," The Wall Street Journal, May 3, 1999. p. R1. Reprinted by permission of Dow Jones & Company, Inc., via Copyright Clearance Center, Inc. © 1999 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Sources: Vanessa O'Connell, "Shorter, Clearer, Mutual-Fund Disclosure May Omit Vital Investment Information," The Wall Street Journal, March 12, 1999. Reprinted by permission of Dow Jones & Company, Inc., via Copyright Clearance Center, Inc. © 1999 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. "A Little Light Reading? Try a Fund Prospectus," The Wall Street Journal, May 3, 1999. p. R1. Reprinted by permission of Dow Jones & Company, Inc., via Copyright Clearance Center, Inc. © 1999 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Funds provide information about themselves in two other sources. The Statement of Additional Information, also known as Part B of the prospectus, includes a list of the securities in the portfolio at the end of the fiscal year, audited financial statements, and a list of the directors and officers of the fund. The fund's annual report, which is generally issued semiannually, also includes portfolio composition and financial statements, as well as a discussion of the factors that influenced fund performance over the last reporting period.

With more than 7,000 mutual funds to choose from, it can be difficult to find and select the fund that is best suited for a particular need. Several publications now offer "encyclopedias" of mutual fund information to help in the search process. Two prominent sources are Wiesenberger's Investment Companies and Morningstar's Mutual Fund Sourcebook. The Investment Company Institute, the national association of mutual funds, closed-end funds, and unit investment trusts, publishes an annual Directory of Mutual Funds that includes information on fees as well as phone numbers to contact funds. To illustrate the range of information available about funds, we consider Morningstar's report on Fidelity's Magellan Fund, reproduced in Figure 4.5.

Figure 4.5 Morningstar report.

Figure 4.5 Morningstar report.

Morningstar Mutual Fund

Source: Morningstar Mutual Funds.© 1999 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved. 225 W. Wacker Dr., Chicago, IL. Although data are gathered from reliable sources, Morningstar cannot guarantee completeness and accuracy.

CHAPTER 4 Mutual Funds and Other Investment Companies 125

Some of Morningstar's analysis is qualitative. The top box on the left-hand side of the page provides a short description of the fund, in particular the types of securities in which the fund tends to invest, and a short biography of the current portfolio manager. The bottom box on the left is a more detailed discussion of the fund's income strategy. The short statement of the fund's investment policy is in the top right-hand corner: Magellan is a "large blend" fund, meaning that it tends to invest in large firms, and tends not to specialize in either value versus growth stocks—it holds a blend of these.

The table on the left labeled "Performance" reports on the fund's returns over the last few years and over longer periods up to 15 years. Comparisons of returns to relevant indexes, in this case, the S&P 500 and the Wilshire top 750 indexes, are provided to serve as benchmarks in evaluating the performance of the fund. The values under these columns give the performance of the fund relative to the index. For example, Magellan's return was 0.20% below the S&P 500 over the last three months, but 1.69% per year better than the S&P over the past 15 years. The returns reported for the fund are calculated net of expenses, 12b-1 fees, and any other fees automatically deducted from fund assets, but they do not account for any sales charges such as front-end loads or back-end charges. Next appear the percentile ranks of the fund compared to all other funds (see column headed by "All") and to all funds with the same investment objective (see column headed by "Obj"). A rank of 1 means the fund is a top performer. A rank of 80 would mean that it was beaten by 80% of funds in the comparison group. You can see from the table that Magellan has had an excellent year compared to other growth and income funds, as well as excellent longer-term performance. For example, over the past five years, its average return was higher than all but 8% of the funds in its category. Finally, growth of $10,000 invested in the fund over various periods ranging from the past three months to the past 15 years is given in the last column.

More data on the performance of the fund are provided in the graph at the top right of the figure. The bar charts give the fund's rate of return for each quarter of the last 10 years. Below the graph is a box for each year that depicts the relative performance of the fund for that year. The shaded area on the box shows the quartile in which the fund's performance falls relative to other funds with the same objective. If the shaded band is at the top of the box, the firm was a top quartile performer in that period, and so on.

The table below the bar charts presents historical data on characteristics of the fund. These data include return, return relative to appropriate benchmark indexes such as the S&P 500, the component of returns due to income (dividends) or capital gains, the percentile rank of the fund compared to all funds and funds in its objective class (where, again, 1% is the best performer and 99% would mean that the fund was outperformed by 99% of its comparison group), the expense ratio, and turnover rate of the portfolio.

The table on the right entitled "Portfolio Analysis" presents the 25 largest holdings of the portfolio, showing the price-earning ratio and year-to-date return of each of those securities. Investors can thus get a quick look at the manager's biggest bets.

Below the portfolio analysis is a box labeled "Investment Style." In this box, Morn-ingstar evaluates style along two dimensions: One dimension is the size of the firms held in the portfolio as measured by the market value of outstanding equity; the other dimension is a value/growth continuum. Morningstar defines value stocks as those with low ratios of market price per share to earnings per share or book value per share. These are called value stocks because they have a low price relative to these two measures of value. In contrast, growth stocks have high ratios, suggesting that investors in these firms must believe that the firm will experience rapid growth to justify the prices at which the stocks sell. The shaded box for Magellan shows that the portfolio tends to hold larger firms (top row) and blend stocks (middle column). A year-by-year history of Magellan's investment style is presented in the sequence of such boxes at the top of the figure.

The center of the figure, labeled "Risk Analysis," is one of the more complicated but interesting facets of Morningstar's analysis. The column labeled "Load-Adj Return" rates a fund's return compared to other funds with the same investment policy. Returns for periods ranging from 1 to 10 years are calculated with all loads and back-end fees applicable to that investment period subtracted from total income. The return is then divided by the average return for the comparison group of funds to obtain the "Morningstar Return"; therefore, a value of 1.0 in the Return column would indicate average performance while a value of 1.10 would indicate returns 10% above the average for the comparison group (e.g., 11% return for the fund versus 10% for the comparison group).

The risk measure indicates the portfolio's exposure to poor performance, that is, the "downside risk" of the fund. Morningstar focuses on periods in which the fund's return is less than that of risk-free T-bills. The total underperformance compared to T-bills in those months with poor portfolio performance divided by total months sampled is the measure of downside risk. This measure also is scaled by dividing by the average downside risk measure for all firms with the same investment objective. Therefore, the average value in the Risk column is 1.0.

The two columns to the left of Morningstar risk and return are the percentile scores of risk and return for each fund. The risk-adjusted rating, ranging from one to five stars, is based on the Morningstar return score minus the risk score.

The tax analysis box on the left provides some evidence on the tax efficiency of the fund by comparing pretax and after-tax returns. The after-tax return, given in the first column, is computed based on the dividends paid to the portfolio as well as realized capital gains, assuming the investor is in the maximum tax bracket at the time of the distribution. State and local taxes are ignored. The "tax efficiency" of the fund is defined as the ratio of after-tax to pretax returns; it is presented in the second column, labeled "% Pretax Return." Tax efficiency will be lower when turnover is higher because capital gains are taxed as they are realized.

The bottom of Morningstar's analysis provides information on the expenses and loads associated with investments in the fund, as well as information on the fund's investment adviser. Thus Morningstar provides a considerable amount of the information you would need to decide among several competing funds.

SUMMARY

1. Unit investment trusts, closed-end management companies, and open-end management companies are all classified and regulated as investment companies. Unit investment trusts are essentially unmanaged in the sense that the portfolio, once established, is fixed. Managed investment companies, in contrast, may change the composition of the portfolio as deemed fit by the portfolio manager. Closed-end funds are traded like other securities; they do not redeem shares for their investors. Open-end funds will redeem shares for net asset value at the request of the investor.

2. Net asset value equals the market value of assets held by a fund minus the liabilities of the fund divided by the shares outstanding.

3. Mutual funds free the individual from many of the administrative burdens of owning individual securities and offer professional management of the portfolio. They also offer advantages that are available only to large-scale investors, such as discounted trading costs. On the other hand, funds are assessed management fees and incur other expenses, which reduce the investor's rate of return. Funds also eliminate some of the individual's control over the timing of capital gains realizations.

4. Mutual funds are often categorized by investment policy. Major policy groups include money market funds; equity funds, which are further grouped according to emphasis on income versus growth; fixed-income funds; balanced and income funds; asset allocation funds; index funds; and specialized sector funds.

5. Costs of investing in mutual funds include front-end loads, which are sales charges; back-end loads, which are redemption fees or, more formally, contingent-deferred sales charges; fund operating expenses; and 12b-1 charges, which are recurring fees used to pay for the expenses of marketing the fund to the public.

6. Income earned on mutual fund portfolios is not taxed at the level of the fund. Instead, as long as the fund meets certain requirements for pass-through status, the income is treated as being earned by the investors in the fund.

7. The average rate of return of the average equity mutual fund in the last 25 years has been below that of a passive index fund holding a portfolio to replicate a broad-based index like the S&P 500 or Wilshire 5000. Some of the reasons for this disappointing record are the costs incurred by actively managed funds, such as the expense of conducting the research to guide stock-picking activities, and trading costs due to higher portfolio turnover. The record on the consistency of fund performance is mixed. In some sample periods, the better-performing funds continue to perform well in the following periods; in other sample periods they do not.

KEY TERMS

investment company net asset value (NAV) unit investment trust open-end fund closed-end fund load

12b-1 fees soft dollars turnover exchange-traded funds

WEBSITES

http://www.brill.com

http://www.mfea.com

http://www.morningstar.com

The above sites have general and specific information on mutual funds. The Morn-ingstar site has a section dedicated to exchange-traded funds.

http://www.vanguard.com http://www.fidelity.com

The above sites are examples of specific mutual fund organization websites.

PROBLEMS

1. Would you expect a typical open-end fixed-income mutual fund to have higher or lower operating expenses than a fixed-income unit investment trust? Why?

2. An open-end fund has a net asset value of $10.70 per share. It is sold with a front-end load of 6%. What is the offering price?

3. If the offering price of an open-end fund is $12.30 per share and the fund is sold with a front-end load of 5%, what is its net asset value?

4. The composition of the Fingroup Fund portfolio is as follows:

Stock

Shares

Price

A

200,000

$35

B

300,000

$40

C

400,000

$20

D

600,000

$25

The fund has not borrowed any funds, but its accrued management fee with the portfolio manager currently totals $30,000. There are 4 million shares outstanding. What is the net asset value of the fund?

5. Reconsider the Fingroup Fund in the previous problem. If during the year the portfolio manager sells all of the holdings of stock D and replaces it with 200,000 shares of stock E at $50 per share and 200,000 shares of stock F at $25 per share, what is the portfolio turnover rate?

6. The Closed Fund is a closed-end investment company with a portfolio currently worth $200 million. It has liabilities of $3 million and 5 million shares outstanding.

a. What is the NAV of the fund?

b. If the fund sells for $36 per share, what is the percentage premium or discount that will appear in the listings in the financial pages?

7. Corporate Fund started the year with a net asset value of $12.50. By year end, its NAV equaled $12.10. The fund paid year-end distributions of income and capital gains of $1.50. What was the rate of return to an investor in the fund?

8. A closed-end fund starts the year with a net asset value of $12.00. By year end, NAV equals $12.10. At the beginning of the year, the fund was selling at a 2% premium to NAV. By the end of the year, the fund is selling at a 7% discount to NAV. The fund paid year-end distributions of income and capital gains of $1.50.

a. What is the rate of return to an investor in the fund during the year?

b. What would have been the rate of return to an investor who held the same securities as the fund manager during the year?

9. What are some comparative advantages of investing in the following:

a. Unit investment trusts.

b. Open-end mutual funds.

c. Individual stocks and bonds that you choose for yourself.

10. Open-end equity mutual funds find it necessary to keep a significant percentage of total investments, typically around 5% of the portfolio, in very liquid money market assets. Closed-end funds do not have to maintain such a position in "cash-equivalent" securities. What difference between open-end and closed-end funds might account for their differing policies?

11. Balanced funds and asset allocation funds invest in both the stock and bond markets. What is the difference between these types of funds?

12. a. Impressive Fund had excellent investment performance last year, with portfolio re turns that placed it in the top 10% of all funds with the same investment policy. Do you expect it to be a top performer next year? Why or why not? b. Suppose instead that the fund was among the poorest performers in its comparison group. Would you be more or less likely to believe its relative performance will persist into the following year? Why?

13. Consider a mutual fund with $200 million in assets at the start of the year and with 10 million shares outstanding. The fund invests in a portfolio of stocks that provides dividend income at the end of the year of $2 million. The stocks included in the fund's portfolio increase in price by 8%, but no securities are sold, and there are no capital gains distributions. The fund charges 12b-1 fees of 1%, which are deducted from portfolio assets at year-end. What is net asset value at the start and end of the year? What is the rate of return for an investor in the fund?

The New Fund had average daily assets of $2.2 billion in 2000. The fund sold $400 million worth of stock and purchased $500 million during the year. What was its turnover ratio?

If New Funds's expense ratio (see Problem 14) was 1.1% and the management fee was .7%, what were the total fees paid to the fund's investment managers during the year? What were other administrative expenses?

16. You purchased 1,000 shares of the New Fund at a price of $20 per share at the beginning of the year. You paid a front-end load of 4%. The securities in which the fund invests increase in value by 12% during the year. The fund's expense ratio is 1.2%. What is your rate of return on the fund if you sell your shares at the end of the year?

17. The Investments Fund sells Class A shares with a front-end load of 6% and Class B shares with 12b-1 fees of .5% annually as well as back-end load fees that start at 5% and fall by 1% for each full year the investor holds the portfolio (until the fifth year). Assume the portfolio rate of return net of operating expenses is 10% annually. If you plan to sell the fund after four years, are Class A or Class B shares the better choice for you? What if you plan to sell after 15 years?

18. Suppose you observe the investment performance of 350 portfolio managers for five years, and rank them by investment returns during each year. After five years, you find that 11 of the funds have investment returns that place the fund in the top half of the sample in each and every year of your sample. Such consistency of performance indicates to you that these must be the funds whose managers are in fact skilled, and you invest your money in these funds. Is your conclusion warranted?

19. You are considering an investment in a mutual fund with a 4% load and expense ratio of .5%. You can invest instead in a bank CD paying 6% interest.

a. If you plan to invest for two years, what annual rate of return must the fund portfolio earn for you to be better off in the fund than in the CD? Assume annual compounding of returns.

b. How does your answer change if you plan to invest for six years? Why does your answer change?

c. Now suppose that instead of a front-end load the fund assesses a 12b-1 fee of .75% per year. What annual rate of return must the fund portfolio earn for you to be better off in the fund than in the CD? Does your answer in this case depend on your time horizon?

20. Suppose that every time a fund manager trades stock, transaction costs such as commissions and bid-asked spreads amount to .4% of the value of the trade. If the portfolio turnover rate is 50%, by how much is the total return of the portfolio reduced by trading costs?

21. You expect a tax-free municipal bond portfolio to provide a rate of return of 4%. Management fees of the fund are .6%. What fraction of portfolio income is given up to fees? If the management fees for an equity fund also are .6%, but you expect a portfolio return of 12%, what fraction of portfolio income is given up to fees? Why might management fees be a bigger factor in your investment decision for bond funds than for stock funds? Can your conclusion help explain why unmanaged unit investment trusts tend to focus on the fixed-income market?

SOLUTIONS TO CONCEPT CHECKS

$135.33

2. The net investment in the Class A shares after the 4% commission is $9,600. If the fund earns a 10% return, the investment will grow after n years to $9,600 X (1.10)n. The Class B shares have no front-end load. However, the net return to the investor after 12b-1 fees will be only 9.5%. In addition, there is a back-end load that reduces the sales proceeds by a percentage equal to (5 - years until sale) until the fifth year, when the back-end load expires.

E-INVESTMENTS:

Go to: http://morninsstar.com. From the home page select the Funds tab. From this lo-

MUTUAL FUND

cation you can request information on an individual fund. In the dialog box enter the

REPORT

ticker JANSX, for the Janus Fund, and enter Go. This contains the report information

on the fund. On the left-hand side of the screen are tabs that allow you to view the var

ious components of the report. Using the components of the report answer the follow-

ing questions on the Janus Fund.

Report Component

Questions

Morningstar analysis

What is the Morningstar rating? What has been the fund's

year-to-date return?

Total returns

What is the 5- and 10-year return and how does that compare

with the return of the S&P?

Ratings and risk

What is the beta of the fund? What is the mean and standard

deviation of returns? What is the 10-year rating on the fund?

Portfolio

What two sectors weightings are the largest? What percent of

the portfolio assets are in cash?

Nuts and bolts

What is the fund's total expense ratio? Who is the current

manager of the fund and what was his/her start date? How

long has the fund been in operation?

SOLUTIONS TO CONCEPT CHECKS

Class A Shares

Class B Shares

Horizon

$9,600 x (1.10)"

$10,000 x (1.095)" x (1 - percentage exit fee)

1 year 4 years 10 years

$10,560 $14,055 $24,900

$10,000 X (1.095) X (1 -.04) = $10,512 $10,000 X (1.095)4 X (1 - .01) = $14,233 $10,000 X (1.095)10 = $24,782

For a very short horizon such as one year, the Class A shares are the better choice. The front-end and back-end loads are equal, but the Class A shares don't have to pay the 12b-1 fees. For moderate horizons such as four years, the Class B shares dominate because the front-end load of the Class A shares is more costly than the 12b-1 fees and the now-smaller exit fee. For long horizons of 10 years or more, Class A again dominates. In this case, the one-time front-end load is less expensive than the continuing 12b-1 fees.

3. a. Turnover = $160,000 in trades per $1 million of portfolio value = 16%.

b. Realized capital gains are $10 X 1,000 = $10,000 on Microsoft and $5 X2,000 = $10,000 on Ford. The tax owed on the capital gains is therefore .20 X $20,000 = $4,000.

4. Out of the 100 top-half managers, 40 are skilled and will repeat their performance next year. The other 60 were just lucky, but we should expect half of them to be lucky again next year, meaning that 30 of the lucky managers will be in the top half next year. Therefore, we should expect a total of 70 managers, or 70% of the better performers, to repeat their top-half performance.

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Responses

  • Hilda Burrows
    What is your rate of return on the fund if you sell your shares at the end of the year?
    4 years ago

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