Mutual funds have been in existence since 1924, when the first open-ended mutual fund was created. Since then, the market has grown from having less than $10 million in combined assets to having nearly $10 trillion in combined assets in 2006. Mutual funds are a well-diversified portfolio of investments that include equities, bonds and other securities. Mutual funds have become increasingly popular among investors saving for retirement because of the low risk that they carry, along with their reputation of providing consistently positive long-term returns.

Under the broad category of mutual funds there are three main types, open-end funds, closed-end funds and exchange traded funds (ETFs). The value of a fund is quoted as the net asset value (NAV) of the fund. The NAV for a fund is calculated by taking the total assets of the fund and deducting the total liabilities of the fund. NAV is usually divided by the total shares outstanding for the fund, resulting in NAV per share. This per-share value is, in essence, the price investors must pay for the mutual fund.

In open-end funds, the NAV per share is recalculated at the close of every trading day. This is done because the value of the assets and liabilities underlying the funds are constantly changing. Closed-end funds usually trade at a premium or discount to their NAVs. There are three reasons why this may occur: pressure of supply and demand, fund management and expectation of asset performance. Just like stocks, shares of ETFs are bought and sold in the secondary market every day. Subsequently, the price of an ETF will change throughout the trading day.

When your mutual fund takes a profit, you are realizing capital gains on your investments. When this occurs, all of the capital gains earned on the investment are distributed among the investors in the fund. Because the fund has sold some of its underlying stock and has paid out all of the capital gains to investors, its total assets will decrease. Finally, when the assets of the fund decreases - so does the fund's NAV per share.

To learn more, see the Mutual Fund Basics Tutorial, The ABCs of Mutual Fund Classes and The Truth Behind Mutual Fund Returns.

  1. Can mutual funds invest in hedge funds?

    Mutual funds are legally allowed to invest in hedge funds. However, hedge funds and mutual funds have striking differences ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What are the risks of annuities in a recession?

    Annuities come in several forms, the two most common being fixed annuities and variable annuities. During a recession, variable ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Do financial advisors get paid by mutual funds?

    Financial advisors are reimbursed by mutual funds in exchange for the investment and financial advice they provide. A financial ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Why is fiduciary duty so important?

    Fiduciary duty is one the most important professional obligations. It basically provides a much-needed protection for individuals ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. When are mutual funds considered a bad investment?

    Mutual funds are considered a bad investment when investors consider certain negative factors to be important, such as high ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Why do financial advisors have a fiduciary responsibility?

    Financial advisors governed by fiduciary duty are bound by law to act in the best interests of their clients at all times. ... Read Full Answer >>
Related Articles
  1. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    Top 3 Muni California Mutual Funds

    Discover analyses of the top three California municipal bond mutual funds, and learn about their characteristics, historical performance and suitability.
  2. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    Top 3 Japanese Bond ETFs

    Learn about the top three exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that invest in sovereign and corporate bonds issued by developed countries, including Japan.
  3. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    What Exactly Are Arbitrage Mutual Funds?

    Learn about arbitrage funds and how this type of investment generates profits by taking advantage of price differentials between the cash and futures markets.
  4. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    Top 4 Global Real Estate Mutual Funds

    Read about four of the best global real estate mutual funds, which invest in the securities of real estate companies or real estate investment trusts (REITs).
  5. Savings

    Become Your Own Financial Advisor

    If you have some financial know-how, you don’t have to hire someone to advise you on investments. This tutorial will help you set goals – and get started.
  6. Professionals

    Top 5 Highest Paid Hedge Fund Managers

    Understand what a hedge fund is and why hedge fund managers make so much money. Learn about the top 5 highest paid hedge fund managers.
  7. Investing Basics

    6 Reasons Hedge Funds Underperform

    Understand the hedge fund industry and why it has grown exponentially since 1995. Learn about the top six reasons why the industry underperforms.
  8. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    Mutual Funds Are Not FDIC Insured: Here Is Why

    Find out why mutual funds are not insured by the FDIC, including why the FDIC was created and how to minimize your risk with educated mutual fund investments.
  9. Professionals

    How to Sell Mutual Funds to Your Clients

    Learn about the various talking points you should cover when discussing mutual funds with clients and how explaining their benefits can help you close the sale.
  10. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    Top Three Transportation ETFs

    These three transportation funds attract the majority of sector volume.
  1. Alpha

    Alpha is used in finance to represent two things: 1. a measure ...
  2. Equity

    Equity is the value of an asset less the value of all liabilities ...
  3. Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF)

    A security that tracks an index, a commodity or a basket of assets ...
  4. Series 6

    A securities license entitling the holder to register as a limited ...
  5. Exchange-Traded Mutual Funds (ETMF)

    Investopedia explains the definition of exchange-traded mutual ...
  6. Dividend

    A distribution of a portion of a company's earnings, decided ...

You May Also Like

Trading Center
You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!