Dump Your Funds
In July 2007 (just as the market was peaking…was he ever lucky), a new friend asked me to look at his portfolio. Except for some shares of Bank of Nova Scotia, it was all put into mutual funds by his financial planner. Funds generate ongoing fees for the advisor, stocks don't. As a result, financial planners put your money into mutual funds. Wouldn't you, if you were a financial planner? Here are some comments I wrote out for him. He's about 40.
First, you need to be convinced of your need to dump your mutual funds…that you can do much better with dividend-paying common stocks.¹ Canadian dividend stocks which increased their dividends once a year, returned 19.6% a year (that's annually) in the decade ending December 2006. At this rate, money doubles every five years. Is your money in mutual funds doubling that often?
Deferred Sales Charge - Mutual fund investors usually have the right to withdraw their capital but are subject to a hefty fine if they do it early. Imagine, mutual funds charge you a fee to get your own money back. Would you deal with a bank which did that? Do not hesitate to get out of your funds because there is a termination/exit fee. You do not want to continue with sub-par returns. And, the termination fee decreases with time. Say the termination fee is now 5%. If you stay in funds for two more years, you'll pay a fee anyway because your annual fee is most likely close to 2½% (2½ + 2½ = 5%). If you stay in funds your pay a 2.5% fee yearly. On $60,000, you'll pay $1,500 a year to your financial planner. Most mutual fund holders do not even realize there is such a high fee: fees are not shown on your statements. Funds have a powerful lobby.
39% fee: Long term, mutual fund fees can be crippling. “After 25 years, a 2.1% mutual fund management expense ratio (MER) will gobble up 39% of the value of an investor's registered retirement savings plan.” This data was from a column by Jonathan Chevreau in the Financial Post of November 22 1997 reporting on a study by William Merser Ltd. I mentioned it in my Connolly Report of December 1997, p.398
If you've held your funds for seven years, the get-out-of-the-fund fee might be less than the annual fee. These people are feeding on you. In The Investment Zoo, Stephen Jarislowsky, one of Canada's most famous money managers, puts it this way: “If you have a broker, chances are the mutual fund also pays him 0.5 to 0.75% per year just to make sure you don't sell the fund, so that they can continue to feast on you.” You could start by withdrawing 10% of your money without paying any fee. Tell them you need the money for some emergency. See what reaction your get. First off, I recommend that you stop the automatic transfers of your hard-earned money into their coffers. Then halt the dividend re-investment and other transfers. Ask them to switch it so that your money from the dividend re-investment goes into a money market fund. That will be easier to switch to your new account.
You are going to be opening an account at a discount broker to buy your dividend growth stocks, right. Get the discount broker to help you make the transfer. They'll be anxious to help you as they'll get your account. For instance, funds can be transfered 'in'kind to your new discount broker account. (Don't tell your new discount broker that you don't plan to trade very much When to sell your funds? You want to sell when the market is high, of course. The problem is one can't easily determine if the market is high. Look at a graph of the index which most closely tracks your fund, the TSX, perhaps. Is the index high? It's a judgement call. I don't know. No one else does either. This sentence might help. I carry this sentence from page 94 of Capital Ideas Evolving around in my wallet. I read it every now and then: “As we never know with certainty what the future holds all we have to rely on is a sense of the probabilities of future events”. As I key these last few sentences on April 25 2008, I'd say, in retrospect, the market was high in July 2007. It sank in August 2007 and then rallied, it dropped again in January and March 2008. Now the market up somewhat. Will it go back down? It might. “As we never know with certainty what the future holds all we have to rely on is a sense of the probabilities of future events.” Good luck with your guess. The market dropped again big time in early September 2008…mostly commodity stocks though. Drats. I still have money to invest. Waiting is hard…but worth it.
What ever else comes into your decision, do not let the tax tail wag the dog. I know lots of people who did not sell Nortel when Nortel was near $100 in 2000. They did not want to pay tax on the gain. From time to time, investors get over-excited about stocks. While each case is different, it's best to take advantage of over-exuberance. I have framed my three Nortel sell slips from 2000: 300 shares sold at $81.55 on May 30, two hundred at $115.70 on July 26 and 100 more sold at $120.75 on August 24th 2000. That was just about NT's high ². Talk about lucky on that last 100 shares. But there was lots of time to sell…months. Only half the gain is taxable, remember. That's a lot of tax free money. (I still own 200 Nortel shares which I purchased at $4.46 a share. I shouldn't have: NT has not paid a dividend since 2001. With the 1 for 10 consolidation in December 2006, I'm underwater. Serves me right for buying a non-dividend paying stock. It's hard to stay on the 'dividend stock only' path.) ² post-consolidation adjusted, NT's high price was $1,245 in 2001.
Other people dump their funds. The average holding period of mutural fund investors is around four years currently. Behavioural Investing 2007, by James Montier p.179
¹ Still not convinced to dump your funds? Here's another example. This example is one of six provided in a column in the Report on Business on Monday October 29th 2007. If you were convinced to invest $10,000 in the CI Global mutual fund at the end of 1994, your money would have doubled (to $20,916) by the end of September 2007. Great, eh! Well…maybe not. It's all in the comparison. If you had put the same $10,000 into the stock of the company that that runs the fund, CI Financial, your capital would have grown to $246,426 by the end of September this year. Quite a difference, eh. The title of Ms. Won's column was “Buy the fund, buy the company?”. The answer is clear. Still not convinced? Read what Stephen Jarislowsky has to say about mutual funds in The Investment Zoo: pages 80 and 81, 84, 149-150, 93, 8, 27, 63