Mutual Funds: Evaluating Performance
AAA
  1. Mutual Funds: Introduction
  2. Mutual Funds: What Are They?
  3. Mutual Funds: Different Types Of Funds
  4. Mutual Funds: The Costs
  5. Mutual Funds: Picking A Mutual Fund
  6. Mutual Funds: How To Read A Mutual Fund Table
  7. Mutual Funds: Evaluating Performance
  8. Mutual Funds: Conclusion

Mutual Funds: Evaluating Performance

Perhaps you've noticed all those mutual fund ads that quote their amazingly high one-year rates of return. Your first thought is "wow, that mutual fund did great!" Well, yes it did great last year, but then you look at the three-year performance, which is lower, and the five year, which is yet even lower. What's the underlying story here? Let's look at a real example from a large mutual fund's performance:

1 year 3 year 5 year
53% 20% 11%

L

ast year, the fund had excellent performance at 53%. But, in the past three years, the average annual return was 20%. What did it do in years 1 and 2 to bring the average return down to 20%? Some simple math shows us that the fund made an average return of 3.5% over those first two years: 20% = (53% + 3.5% + 3.5%)/3. Because that is only an average, it is very possible that the fund lost money in one of those years.

It gets worse when we look at the five-year performance. We know that in the last year the fund returned 53% and in years 2 and 3 we are guessing it returned around 3.5%. So what happened in years 4 and 5 to bring the average return down to 11%? Again, by doing some simple calculations we find that the fund must have lost money, an average of -2.5% each year of those two years: 11% = (53% + 3.5% + 3.5% - 2.5% - 2.5%)/5. Now the fund's performance doesn't look so good!

It should be mentioned that, for the sake of simplicity, this example, besides making some big assumptions, doesn't include calculating compound interest. Still, the point wasn't to be technically accurate but to demonstrate the importance of taking a closer look at performance numbers. A fund that loses money for a few years can bump the average up significantly with one or two strong years.

It's All Relative
Of course, knowing how a fund performed is only one third of the battle. Performance is a relative issue, literally. If the fund we looked at above is judged against its appropriate benchmark index, a whole new layer of information is added to the evaluation. If the index returned 75% for the 1 year time period, that 53% from the fund doesn't look quite so good. On the other hand, if the index delivered results of 25%, 5%, and -5% for the respective one, three, and five-year periods, then the fund's results look rather fine indeed.

To add another layer of information to the evaluation, one can consider a fund's performance against its peer group as well as against its index. If other funds that invest with a similar mandate had similar performance, this data point tells us that the fund is in line with its peers. If the fund bested its peers and its benchmark, its results would be quite impressive indeed.

Looking at any one piece of information in isolation only tells a small portion of the story. Consider the comparison of a fund against its peers. If the fund sits in the top slot over each of the comparison periods, it is likely to be a solid performer. If it sits at the bottom, it may be even worse than perceived, as peer group comparisons only capture the results from existing funds. Many fund companies are in the habit of closing their worst performers. When the "losers" are purged from their respective categories, their statistical records are no longer included in the category performance data. This makes the category averages creep higher than they would have if the losers were still in the mix. This is better known as survivorship bias. (Learn more about survivorship bias in The Truth Behind Mutual Fund Returns.)

To develop the best possible picture of fund's performance results, consider as many data points as you can. Long-term investors should focus on long-term results, keeping in mind that even the best performing funds have bad years from time to time. (Dig into the numbers in Mutual Fund Ratings: Are They Deceiving?)

Mutual Funds: Conclusion

  1. Mutual Funds: Introduction
  2. Mutual Funds: What Are They?
  3. Mutual Funds: Different Types Of Funds
  4. Mutual Funds: The Costs
  5. Mutual Funds: Picking A Mutual Fund
  6. Mutual Funds: How To Read A Mutual Fund Table
  7. Mutual Funds: Evaluating Performance
  8. Mutual Funds: Conclusion
RELATED TERMS
  1. Discretionary Investment Management

    A form of investment management in which buy and sell decisions ...
  2. Account Minimum

    The minimum balance required to be maintained in an investment ...
  3. Capital Growth

    The increase in value of an asset or investment over time. It ...
  4. Absolute Percentage Growth

    An increase in the value of an asset or account expressed in ...
  5. Historic Pricing

    A method for calculating the value of an asset using the last ...
  6. Compound Annual Growth Rate - CAGR

    The year-over-year growth rate of an investment over a specified ...
  1. How are Morning Star patterns interpreted by analysts and traders?

    Understand the elements of the morning star candlestick pattern and how this reversal signal is interpreted by traders and ...
  2. What are the best indicators to identify overbought and oversold stocks?

    Learn about the interpretation of the relative strength index and stochastics, two of the most popular indicators of overbought ...
  3. How effective is creating trade entries after spotting a Golden Cross pattern?

    Explore the components of the golden cross pattern for elements of effective trading strategy based on this pattern, including ...
  4. Are continuation patterns most useful when looking at Candlesticks?

    Learn the basics of using candlesticks to confirm continuation or reversal patterns and the vital role this plays in establishing ...

You May Also Like

Related Tutorials
  1. Bonds & Fixed Income

    Investing For Safety and Income Tutorial

  2. Economics

    American Depositary Receipt Basics

  3. Investing Basics

    Stock Basics Tutorial

  4. The New York Stock Exchange
    Mutual Funds & ETFs

    Top ETFs And What They Track: A Tutorial

  5. Retirement

    Analyzing The Best Retirement Plans And Investment Options

Trading Center