What are Mutual Funds?
Mutual funds are investment strategies that allow you to pool your money together with other investors to purchase a collection of stocks, bonds, or other securities that might be difficult to recreate on your own. This is often referred to as a portfolio. The price of the mutual fund fluctuates based on the value of the securities held by the portfolio at the end of each business day. Note that mutual fund investors do not actually own the securities in which the fund invests; they only own shares in the fund itself. Mutual funds are a type of financial vehicle made up of a pool of money collected from many investors to invest in securities like stocks, bonds, money market instruments, and other assets. Mutual funds are operated by professional money managers, who allocate the fund’s assets and attempt to produce capital gains or income for the fund’s investors. A mutual fund’s portfolio is structured and maintained to match the investment objectives stated in its prospectus.
Why are mutual funds worthwhile?
Mutual funds are a popular choice among investors because they generally offer the following features:
- Professional Management. The fund managers do the research for you. They select the securities and monitor the performance.
- Diversification or “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Mutual funds typically invest in a range of companies and industries. This helps to lower your risk if one company fails.
- Affordability. Most mutual funds set a relatively low dollar amount for initial investment and subsequent purchases.
- Liquidity. Mutual fund investors can easily redeem their shares at any time, for the current net asset value (NAV) plus any redemption fees.
Mutual funds pool money from the investing public and use that money to buy other securities, usually stocks and bonds. The value of the mutual fund company depends on the performance of the securities it decides to buy. So, when you buy a unit or share of a mutual fund, you are buying the performance of its portfolio or, more precisely, a part of the portfolio’s value. Investing in a share of a mutual fund is different from investing in shares of stock. Unlike stock, mutual fund shares do not give its holders any voting rights. A share of a mutual fund represents investments in many different stocks (or other securities) instead of just one holding. Outstanding shares are those held by all shareholders, institutional investors, and company officers or insiders.
A mutual fund is both an investment and an actual company. This dual nature may seem strange, but it is no different from how a share of AAPL is a representation of Apple Inc. When an investor buys Apple stock, he is buying partial ownership of the company and its assets. Similarly, a mutual fund investor is buying partial ownership of the mutual fund company and its assets. The difference is that Apple is in the business of making innovative devices and tablets, while a mutual fund company is in the business of making investments.
Investors typically earn a return from a mutual fund in three ways:
- Income is earned from dividends on stocks and interest on bonds held in the fund’s portfolio. A fund pays out nearly all of the income it receives over the year to fund owners in the form of a distribution. Funds often give investors a choice either to receive a check for distributions or to reinvest the earnings and get more shares.
- If the fund sells securities that have increased in price, the fund has a capital gain. Most funds also pass on these gains to investors in a distribution.
- If fund holdings increase in price but are not sold by the fund manager, the fund’s shares increase in price. You can then sell your mutual fund shares for a profit in the market.
Researching and comparing funds can be difficult. Unlike stocks, mutual funds do not offer investors the opportunity to juxtapose the price to earnings (P/E) ratio, sales growth, earnings per share (EPS), or other important data. A mutual fund’s net asset value can offer some basis for comparison, but given the diversity of portfolios, comparing the proverbial apples to apples can be difficult, even among funds with similar names or stated objectives. Only index funds tracking the same markets tend to be genuinely comparable.
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