Taxes take a large bite out of taxable mutual funds (MF). Recent tax break laws will eventually come to an end and it would be smart for investors to keep an eye on one of the main drags on performance, taxes.
One key reason why mutual funds paid out such hefty taxable distributions in recent years is because they can no longer carry forward the steep losses incurred during the 2000-2002 bear market, which had been used to offset gains in recent years.
The estimated taxes paid by taxable mutual funds investors increased 42 percent from those paid in 2006. Buy-and-hold taxable (MF) holders surrendered a record-setting $33.8 billion in taxes to the government, surpassing 2000’s record amount of $31.3 billion!
Over the past 20 years, the average investor in a taxable stock fund gave up the equivalent of between 17 percent and 44 percent of their returns to taxes. In 2006, the tax bite amounted to a hefty 1.3 percent of assets, which surpasses the average stock fund expense ratio of 1.2 percent.
Mutual funds probably have no place in high-net-worth client portfolios. There are many strong reasons in favor of this position but most immediately – you have probably noticed that every year when you receive your statements with end-of-year form 1099s in the mailbox and discover that a sizeable amount of your hard-earned cash is going to Uncle Sam.
If you were to subtract 50 percent (93 million plus) of mutual fund holders who hold stock fund assets in tax-free accounts such as 401(k) plans and IRAs, and a small number in institutional and trust funds that make a few investors tax-exempt, this would leave around 48 percent of the nation’s (MF) investors in taxable funds.
The SEC says the average investor in this taxable group loses 2.5 percent of annual returns to taxes each year, while other research puts it at 3 percent. Throughout your lifetime you can see that capital gains taxes will reduce invest-able income substantially when you retire.
You know the figures. Sure, during the 1980s and 1990s, people made money by selectively investing in mutual funds. Even today, it still can be done; however, more than 90 percent of them have underperformed the stock market as a whole for the past five years. You can get better odds at the horse track.
It works like this: An (MF) with higher trading costs and built-in high tax limitations create a post-tax return that potentially delivers fewer returns than a similar separate account.
These funds kill their potential for becoming performance superstars by their high volume of trading and killer fee structure. Too much trading causes increased taxes, while high fees reduce performance return on investment (ROI) – period.
If you own your own stocks, you are in control. With a (MF) there is: no control over which securities fund managers buy and sell, no purchases of one particular type of stock to balance out a portfolio and no opt-out of any particular asset class or company.
On the other hand, if you put yourself in a separate account, you are the boss. Having a separate account means you are in charge. You set the strategy and decide what stocks or bonds make up the portfolio. You also have access to top money managers and can even change a manager if you wish.
The mix-and-match of separately managed accounts (SMAs) makes them attractive to the new breed of investor who wants more control and input into their portfolio. Don’t you want more control after the Madoff escapade and the Wall Street blowup?
With mutual funds, you should be advised early that you do not own the stocks in the portfolio, but merely have shares of stocks along with a large pool of people. So what do you give up when investing in mutual funds? Control.
The individual who controls the (MF) is the fund manager. Too often, this manager is tasked with dozens or even hundreds of stocks residing in one fund. This is exactly the situation in many of the 8,000 or more funds out there on the market – span, or lack of control.
In addition, you are tied to the whims of fund managers, who are often known to depend on “style drift” (buying securities that have no relationship to fund objectives), excessive trading (to pump up a fund’s value as a means of boosting commissions), and other nefarious actions – first uncovered by the Attorney General of New York State in 1993 and reoccurring ever since.
The MF companies are good at cloaking information and spinning their marketing pitches to prevent investors from figuring out exactly what they are paying to own such a fund.
Space limits us to expand on all the fees you pay for the privilege of owning mutual funds, but management fees, distribution or service fees (12b-1), expense ratios, trading costs, commissions, purchase fees, exchange fees, load charges (load funds), account fees, custodial expenses, and so on, are a part of the mix that the mutual fund companies utilize to nickel and dime you to death without most of them ever knowing the billing score.
The SEC wants every investor to be fully equipped to make informed decisions before they hand over their hard-earned cash. The SEC requires all corporations to disclose any and all information impacting their financial positions so investors can make prudent decisions. Transparency is most important due to the recurring events of the last 18 months.
MF companies provide notoriously slow reporting. It’s most difficult to find out about all the real nuts and bolts (specific equities, bonds, or cash holdings) of the fund. A (MF) gives you data twice annually – sometimes quarterly – so the data is out-of-date long before you receive it. Most investors do not read their prospectus reports and fund companies know this fact. Even with the introduction of the Internet, which has sped up the tracking for securities immensely, the major fund companies have been painfully slow to keep investors current as to what stocks the investors hold, and if and when those stocks are being traded.
Nowhere is the lack of transparency more apparent among fund companies than in costs and fees. Most investors are aware of management fees and commissions, but other fund fees like the 12b-1 and trading fees are sublimated. Other fees are hidden and, therefore, keep investors completely in the dark as to what they are paying.
With companies being so slow on reporting fund results; the investor seldom knows in real time what stocks are in his account and companies are known to hype performance results.
Unless Congress steps up and puts mutual funds on a level playing field with other investment strategies, taxable fund investors will have to fend for themselves.