For the busy individual with little time to oversee investments adequately, investing in fixed-income securities and stocks can be a headache. Although the problems are many, one basic problem is that investors really do not know what they want from their investments.
For many who purchase stocks the objective is "to make money" and so buying stocks can become a crap shoot. Single equities are purchased and sold quickly as soon as profits appear.
In the bond area, many people want income, so debt securities are purchased and in most cases held to maturity. The prices may go up or down and no investiment strategy is utilized.
With this type of experience, many investors soon turn off from their unfortunate encounter with capitalism. Others rebel when they see the high commissions they must pay on stocks, while many who purchase large price declines when they try to sell their bonds. An odd-lot charge, they are told.
Outside of the safety of U.S. Treasury securities, investor knowledge of different bonds is extremely spotty, including the terms of the different issues that are contained in the bond indentures.
Consequently it would seem to make a great deal of sense to invest with definite intelligent objectives, utilizing professional management, while benefiting from no commission fees and enjoying the safety of diversified assets.
Those are the benefits of no-load mutual funds, in which on purchases not just one fund, but a "family of funds."
The family of funds concept simply includes under one umbrella various individual funds: money market fund, short-term tax-exempt fund, long-term taxable and tax-exempt funds, various types of equity funds and, in some cases, a high return "junk bond" fund, all under the guidance of a single investment adviser. r
These individual funds have stated objectives and offer professional management plus the diversification of assets within the fund. In no-load funds, commissions are not paid. A management fee -- which may vary, such as 0.25 percent, 0.5 percent -- is charged and may be paid monthly or quarterly, depending on the practice of the fund's adviser. Shares are pruchased and redeemed at the fund, based on the daily evaluation of the securities held in the fund.
By staying within a "family of funds" investors are able to make moves from one fund to another that best suits their own investment needs or to take advantage of swings in the marketplace.
For instance, if an investor had been in an income fund a year and a half ago and thought interest rates were going to rise (and bond prices fall) the investor could have switched into a short money market fund to perserve the value of his shares.
Then last March when it looked as if rates were going to decline, the investor could switch back into the income fund to try to take advantage of the price appreciation of the longer bonds in the fund.
These moves may be accomplished in most cases by simply telephoning the fund. No commissions are charged and all the benefits of owning a fund are obtained.
Another point to be made is that individual investors should know their own threshold of pain -- the amount of losses or the amount of gains they wish to take. A fund manager cannot help you here.
Since price quotations of the various funds appear daily in the newspapers, investors can track their profits or losses and make their buy or sell determinations based on their individual needs. Timing becomes the investor's only consideration.
Currently, many investors are taking tax losses to offset gains or ordinary income as the situation may warrant. Because of the scarcity of bonds in the secondary market as well as the volatiility of the market itself, dealers are making unusually wide spreads between their bids and offerings, especially on lots under $100,000.
A good spread formerly was 1 to 2 points. Today that spread is closer to 3 to 5 points and is most unfair to investors.
To counter this, the investor should consider selling his bonds and buying shares in a no-load mutual fund. And this points up the attractiveness of having one's funds in a professionally managed fund where the buy and sell price is simply the net asset value of the fund: one price, no wide spreads.
Once in a fund, an investor also may take losses (if they exist) by selling shares of the fund. Proceeds may be reinvested in shares of another fund in the family, or after waiting 31 days, buying back shares of the original fund.
If you purchase a bond at $1,000 and it goes up in price 5 points to $1,050, you have had a 5 percent move. If you own a fund in which shares are valued, for example, at $8 apiece, a 5 percent move would make the share worth $8.40. You can experience the same percentage gain in a fund. But the extent of the price movement will be determined by the structure of the bond portfolio or the various equities within the stock portfolio.
A particularly desirable feature is that these funds are sanctioned by the Internal Revenue Service to set up tax-sheltered retirement plans. As a result, a Keogh plan or an Individual Retirement Account and other retirement plans may be utilized.
So if you are a serious investor and would like a more interesting approach to investing, it would be worth your while to investigate the different family of funds and to look carefully at the track record of the management groups who run these funds.
Various sources of information are available. Wiesenberger's "Investment Companies Service" provides a wealth of information about the mutual fund industry. This 600-odd page book is available at most public libraries and many brokerage houses. Wiesenberger's and the Lipper "Analytical Report" record the performance of the various funds. The Lipper report is available only to institutions.