Mutual Fund Investing Use Basic Arithmetic Before Investing

By | February 6, 2013

Its Febuary and People will be rushing to Buy Mutual Funds so as to save Rs 1 Lakh, Please go through the tricks the MF sellers might use to lure you.

Consider fund ‘X’, which was one of the worst-performing funds from the markets’ January 2008 peak to their March 2009 bottom.

During this period, this fund was down about 81 per cent. Then came the markets’ recovery. From the low-point in March to last week’s peak, this fund gained 48 per cent. This was almost the best performance of any mutual fund during this period. There’s nothing remarkable about this worst-to-best transition. This fund. and others like it, is heavily invested in speculative mid-cap stocks. When such stocks started moving, these funds started doing well.

Considered in isolation, a 48 per cent gain sounds phenomenal. It even sounds as if the fund should be well on its way to wiping out the blot of the 81 per cent decline. However, the arithmetic implication of an 81 per cent drop followed by a 48 per cent rise is rather severe. The fund made your Rs 100 into Rs 19 (81 per cent down) and then increased the Rs 19 to Rs 28 (48 per cent up). Overall, it has taken your Rs 100 to Rs 28, which is a 72 per cent drop. Not so good. To get back to Rs 100, this fund will have to gain 360 per cent more. And that’s going to take some doing, recovery or no recovery.

Tragically, the implication of this simple arithmetic is not appreciated by many investors. What this means is that for any non-professional investor who is putting his or her savings in mutual funds, the only sound strategy is to chase stability and not recent returns. In general, funds that have done the best during the recent good times dropped the most during the crash. More than half of the funds that are in the top quartile in recent times were in the bottom quartile during the crash. Mutual fund investors who chase recent performance generally get nothing but funds that do very well when the going is good, but wipe out huge chunks of wealth when the markets crash. The losses are so severe that it is impossible to recover from them in any reasonable time frame. It’s easy to sell and buy based on the latest performance alone.

Unfortunately, this sort of investing is creating a Darwinian bias against conservatism in investment management. Short term performance sells when the markets are rising. And when they are falling, then nothing sells anyway. All investors need to do is a little bit of basic arithmetic to avoid falling into this trap.

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