A mutual fund is an investment vehicle, which pools money from investors with common investment objectives. It then invests their money in multiple assets, in accordance with the stated objective of the scheme. The investments are made by an ‘asset management company’ or AMC.
For example, an equity fund would invest in stocks and equity-related instruments, while a debt fund would invest in bonds, debentures, etc.
- As an investor, you put your money in financial assets like stocks and bonds. You can do so by either buying them directly or using investment vehicles like mutual funds.
- In this segment, we will understand mutual funds and how to trade in them.
- History of mutual funds in India
By the end of 1988, UTI had total assets worth Rs 6,700 crore. Soon after, eight funds were established by banks, LIC and GIC between 1987 and 1993. The total number of schemes went up to 167 and total money invested – measured by Assets under Management (AUM) – shot up to over Rs 61,000 crore.
In 1993, private and foreign players entered the industry, marking the third phase. The first entrant was Kothari Pioneer Mutual fund, which launched in association with a foreign fund.
The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) formulated the Mutual Fund Regulation in 1996, which, for the first time, established a comprehensive regulatory framework for the mutual fund industry. Since then, several mutual funds have been set up by the private and joint sectors.
Currently there are around 45 mutual fund organizations in India together handling assets worth nearly Rs 10 lakh crore. Today, the Indian mutual fund industry has opened up many exciting investment opportunities for investors. As a result, we have started witnessing the phenomenon of savings now being entrusted to the funds rather than in banks alone. Mutual Funds are now perhaps one of the most sought-after investment options for most investors.
As financial markets become more sophisticated and complex, investors need a financial intermediary who can provide the required knowledge and professional expertise on taking informed decisions. Mutual funds act as this intermediary.
Why invest in mutual funds
Investing in mutual funds offers a multitude of benefits. Lets have a look:
Professional Investment Management:
When you invest in a mutual fund, your money is managed by professional experts. This is one of the primary benefits of investing in mutual funds. Being full-time, high-level investment professionals, a good investment manager is more resourceful and capable of monitoring the companies the mutual fund has invested in, rather than individual investors.
The managers have real-time access to crucial market information and are able to execute trades on the largest and most cost-effective scale. Simply put, they have the know-how to trade in the markets that retail investors may not possess.
Low investment threshold
A mutual fund enables you to participate in a diversified portfolio for as little as Rs 5000, and sometimes even lesser. And with a no-load fund, you pay little or no sales charges to own them.
For example, some bonds and fixed deposits have a minimum investment amount of Rs 25,000. Instead, you can give your money to a mutual fund, which will in turn invest in the bonds and fixed deposits. This could be done for as little as Rs 1000.
Investing in mutual funds has its own convenience. You save up on additional paper-work that comes with every transaction, the amount of energy you invest in researching for the stocks, as well as actual market-monitoring and conduction of transactions. With a mutual fund, you don’t have to do any of that.
Simply go online or place an order with your broker to buy a mutual fund. Another big advantage is that you can move your funds easily from one fund to another, within a mutual fund family. This allows you to easily rebalance your portfolio to respond to significant fund management or economic changes.
In open-ended schemes, you can get your money back at any point in time at the prevailing NAV (Net Asset Value) from the Mutual Fund itself.
This makes mutual fund investments highly liquid. Compare that with a fixed deposit or a bond which may have a fixed investment duration.
While investing in mutual funds, you are spoilt for choice. You have a number of mutual fund schemes to choose from, which may invest in a whole range of industries and sectors, different kinds of assets, and so on. You can find a mutual fund that matches just about any investment strategy you select.
There are funds that focus on blue-chip stocks, technology stocks, bonds, or a mix of stocks and bonds. In fact, the greatest challenge can be sorting through the variety and picking the best for you.
SEBI regulations for mutual funds have made the industry very transparent. You can track the investments that have been made on your behalf to know the sectors and stocks being invested in.
In addition to this, you get regular information on the value of your investment. Mutual funds are mandated to publish the details of their portfolio regularly.
How to choose a fund
Money is precious. It is hard-earned. You cant just put your money in an investment vehicle or mutual fund without some research.
Here are some things to keep in mind while choosing a fund:
History is important. Before investing, check the historic performance of the mutual fund scheme, the asset managers investment decisions, fund returns and so on. While the past performance is not an indicator of the future, it could help you figure out what to expect in the future. You can understand the investment philosophies of the fund and the kind of returns it is offering to investors over a period of time. It would also make sense to check out the two-year and one-year returns for consistency.
Statistics such as how the fund had performed in the bull and bear markets of the immediate past would help you understand the strength of a fund. Tracking the funds performance in the bear market is particularly important because the true test of a portfolio is often revealed in how little it falls during a bearish phase.
Match the schemes risk with your profile:
Even though a mutual fund diversifies its portfolio to reduce risk, they may eventually invest in a single type of asset. The risk of the fund varies with the kind of assets it is invested in. For this reason, check if the mutual fund fits your risk profile and investment horizon. For example, certain sector-specific schemes come with a high-risk, high-return tag. Such plans are suspect to crashes in case the industry or sector loses the markets fancy. If the investor is risk-averse, he could instead opt for a debt scheme with little risk.
However, if you are a long-term investor, who doesnt mind risk, you could go ahead with the sector-specific mutual fund scheme. For this reason, most investors prefer balanced schemes, which invest in a combination of equities and debts. They are less risky that pure equity or growth funds, which are likely to give greater returns, but more risky than pure debt plans.
While choosing a mutual fund, one should always consider factors like the extent of diversification that a mutual fund offers to your portfolio. A mutual fund can offer diversification either by investing in multiple assets, or by balancing your overall portfolio.
For example, suppose your portfolio contains 70% exposure to stocks from different industries, then it makes sense to invest the 30% in a debt fund to balance the portfolio. Similarly, if your portfolio has a lot of exposure to a particular sector like IT, then avoid investing in a mutual fund that also invests in IT. This way, you can balance your exposure to a similar kind of risk.
Know your fund manager:
The success of a fund, to a great extent, depends on the fund manager. Some of the most successful funds are run by the same managers. It would be sensible to always ask about the fund manager before investing as well as knowing about changes in the fund managers strategy or any other significant developments that an AMC may have undergone.
For instance, if the portfolio manager, who generated the funds successful performance, is no longer managing that particular fund, you may do well to wait and analyze the pros and cons of investing in that fund.
Read the fine print:
The prospectus says a lot about the fund. Reading the funds prospectus is a must to learn about its investment strategy and the risk that it is prone to. Funds with higher rates of return may carry a higher element of risk. Hence, it is of utmost importance that an investor always chooses a particular scheme after considering his financial goals and weighs them against the mutual funds risk.
That said, remember that all funds carry some level of risk. Just because a fund invests in government or corporate bonds does not mean that it does not have any risk.
A fund with high costs must perform better than a low-cost fund to generate returns for you. Even small differences in fees can translate into large differences in returns over a period of time.
So, ensure the costs and returns tally. There is no point in spending extra if it is delivering the same kind of returns like a low-cost fund.
Finally, an investor must not enter and exit mutual funds as and when the market turns. Market cycles are natural. Be patient. Like stocks, mutual funds too pay off only if you have the patience to wait. This applies for both buying and selling. Don’t pick a fund simply because it has shown a spurt in value in the current rally.
Ensure its returns are consistent. Similarly, dont sell off a mutual fund just because it is not performing well due to poor market conditions. However, it makes little sense to hold on to a fund that lags behind the market year after year.