Mutual Funds

What is Mutual Funds?

A vehicle for investing in stocks and bonds

A mutual fund is not an alternative investment option to stocks and bonds, rather it pools the money of several investors and invests this in stocks, bonds, money market instruments and other types of securities.

Buying a mutual fund is like buying a small slice of a big pizza. The owner of a mutual fund unit gets a proportional share of the fund’s gains, losses, income and expenses.

Each mutual fund has a specific stated objective

The fund’s objective is laid out in the fund’s prospectus, which is the legal document that contains information about the fund, its history, its officers and its performance.

Some popular objectives of a mutual fund are –

Fund ObjectiveWhat the fund will invest in
Equity (Growth)Only in stocks
Debt (Income)Only in fixed-income securities
Money Market (including Gilt)In short-term money market instruments (including government securities)
BalancedPartly in stocks and partly in fixed-income securities, in order to maintain a ‘balance’ in returns and risk

Managed by an Asset Management Company (AMC)

The company that puts together a mutual fund is called an AMC. An AMC may have several mutual fund schemes with similar or varied investment objectives.

The AMC hires a professional money manager, who buys and sells securities in line with the fund’s stated objective.

All AMCs Regulated by SEBI, Funds governed by Board of Directors

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) mutual fund regulations require that the fund’s objectives are clearly spelt out in the prospectus.

In addition, every mutual fund has a board of directors that is supposed to represent the shareholders’ interests, rather than the AMC’s.

Basics of Mutual funds

Net Asset Value or NAV

NAV is the total asset value (net of expenses) per unit of the fund and is calculated by the AMC at the end of every business day.

How is NAV calculated?

The value of all the securities in the portfolio in calculated daily. From this, all expenses are deducted and the resultant value divided by the number of units in the fund is the fund’s NAV.

Expense Ratio

AMCs charge an annual fee, or expense ratio that covers administrative expenses, salaries, advertising expenses, brokerage fee, etc. A 1.5% expense ratio means the AMC charges Rs1.50 for every Rs100 in assets under management.

A fund’s expense ratio is typically to the size of the funds under management and not to the returns earned. Normally, the costs of running a fund grow slower than the growth in the fund size – so, the more assets in the fund, the lower should be its expense ratio.

Load

Some AMCs have sales charges, or loads, on their funds (entry load and/or exit load) to compensate for distribution costs. Funds that can be purchased without a sales charge are called no-load funds.

Open- and Close-Ended Funds

1) Open-Ended Funds

At any time during the scheme period, investors can enter and exit the fund scheme (by buying/ selling fund units) at its NAV (net of any load charge). Increasingly, AMCs are issuing mostly open-ended funds.

2) Close-Ended Funds

Redemption can take place only after the period of the scheme is over. However, close-ended funds are listed on the stock exchanges and investors can buy/ sell units in the secondary market (there is no load).

Important documents

Two key documents that highlight the fund’s strategy and performance are 1) the prospectus (legal document) and the shareholder reports (normally quarterly).

Why invest in mutual funds?

Professional Money Management

Fund managers are responsible for implementing a consistent investment strategy that reflects the goals of the fund. Fund managers monitor market and economic trends and analyze securities in order to make informed investment decisions.

Diversification

Diversification is one of the best ways to reduce risk (to understand why, read The need to Diversify). Mutual funds offer investors an opportunity to diversify across assets depending on their investment needs.

Liquidity

Investors can sell their mutual fund units on any business day and receive the current market value on their investments within a short time period (normally three- to five-days).

Affordability

The minimum initial investment for a mutual fund is fairly low for most funds (as low as Rs500 for some schemes).

Convenience

Most private sector funds provide you the convenience of periodic purchase plans, automatic withdrawal plans and the automatic reinvestment of interest and dividends.

Mutual funds also provide you with detailed reports and statements that make record-keeping simple. You can easily monitor the performance of your mutual funds simply by reviewing the business pages of most newspapers or by using our Mutual Funds section.

Flexibility and variety

You can pick from conservative, blue-chip stock funds, sectoral funds, funds that aim to provide income with modest growth or those that take big risks in the search for returns. You can even buy balanced funds, or those that combine stocks and bonds in the same fund.

Tax benefits on Investment in Mutual Funds

1) 100% Income Tax exemption on all Mutual Fund dividends

2) Equity Funds – Short term capital gains is taxed at 15%. Long term capital gains is not applicable.
Debt Funds – Short term capital gains is taxed as per the slab rates applicable to you. Long term capital gains tax to be lower of – 10% on the capital gains without factoring indexation benefit and 20% on the capital gains after factoring indexation benefit.

3) Open-end funds with equity exposure of more than 65% (Revised from 50% to 65% in Budget 2006) are exempt from the payment of dividend tax for a period of 3 years from 1999-2000.

Note: Equity Funds are those where the investible funds are invested in equity shares in domestic companies to the extent of more than 65% of the total proceeds of such funds.

Types of Mutual Funds

The most popular types of mutual funds in India are listed below:

  • Equity funds
  • Debt funds
  • Money market funds
  • Index funds
  • Balanced funds
  • Income funds
  • Fund of funds
  • Specialty funds

There are several other types of funds offered by the asset management companies in the country. We have segregated the same based on structure, asset class, investment objective, specialty, and risk, in the sections below.

Types of Mutual Funds based on structure

  • Open-Ended Funds: These are funds in which units are open for purchase or redemption through the year. All purchases/redemption of these fund units are done at prevailing NAVs. Basically these funds will allow investors to keep invest as long as they want. There are no limits on how much can be invested in the fund. They also tend to be actively managed which means that there is a fund manager who picks the places where investments will be made. These funds also charge a fee which can be higher than passively managed funds because of the active management. THey are an ideal investment for those who want investment along with liquidity because they are not bound to any specific maturity periods. Which means that investors can withdraw their funds at any time they want thus giving them the liquidity they need.
  • Close-Ended Funds: These are funds in which units can be purchased only during the initial offer period. Units can be redeemed at a specified maturity date. To provide for liquidity, these schemes are often listed for trade on a stock exchange. Unlike open ended mutual funds, once the units or stocks are bought, they cannot be sold back to the mutual fund, instead they need to be sold through the stock market at the prevailing price of the shares.
  • Interval Funds: These are funds that have the features of open-ended and close-ended funds in that they are opened for repurchase of shares at different intervals during the fund tenure. The fund management company offers to repurchase units from existing unitholders during these intervals. If unitholders wish to they can offload shares in favour of the fund.

Types of Mutual Funds based on asset class

  • Equity Funds: These are funds that invest in equity stocks/shares of companies. These are considered high-risk funds but also tend to provide high returns. Equity funds can include specialty funds like infrastructure, fast moving consumer goods and banking to name a few. THey are linked to the markets and tend to
  • Debt Funds: These are funds that invest in debt instruments e.g. company debentures, government bonds and other fixed income assets. They are considered safe investments and provide fixed returns. These funds do not deduct tax at source so if the earning from the investment is more than Rs. 10,000 then the investor is liable to pay the tax on it himself.
  • Money Market Funds: These are funds that invest in liquid instruments e.g. T-Bills, CPs etc. They are considered safe investments for those looking to park surplus funds for immediate but moderate returns. Money markets are also referred to as cash markets and come with risks in terms of interest risk, reinvestment risk and credit risks.
  • Balanced or Hybrid Funds: These are funds that invest in a mix of asset classes. In some cases, the proportion of equity is higher than debt while in others it is the other way round. Risk and returns are balanced out this way. An example of a hybrid fund would be Franklin India Balanced Fund-DP (G) because in this fund, 65% to 80% of the investment is made in equities and the remaining 20% to 35% is invested in the debt market. This is so because the debt markets offer a lower risk than the equity market.

Types of Mutual Funds based on investment objective

  • Growth funds: Under these schemes, money is invested primarily in equity stocks with the purpose of providing capital appreciation. They are considered to be risky funds ideal for investors with a long-term investment timeline. Since they are risky funds they are also ideal for those who are looking for higher returns on their investments.
  • Income funds: Under these schemes, money is invested primarily in fixed-income instruments e.g. bonds, debentures etc. with the purpose of providing capital protection and regular income to investors.
  • Liquid funds: Under these schemes, money is invested primarily in short-term or very short-term instruments e.g. T-Bills, CPs etc. with the purpose of providing liquidity. They are considered to be low on risk with moderate returns and are ideal for investors with short-term investment timelines.
  • Tax-Saving Funds (ELSS): These are funds that invest primarily in equity shares. Investments made in these funds qualify for deductions under the Income Tax Act. They are considered high on risk but also offer high returns if the fund performs well.
  • Capital Protection Funds: These are funds where funds are are split between investment in fixed income instruments and equity markets. This is done to ensure protection of the principal that has been invested.
  • Fixed Maturity Funds: Fixed maturity funds are those in which the assets are invested in debt and money market instruments where the maturity date is either the same as that of the fund or earlier than it.
  • Pension Funds: Pension funds are mutual funds that are invested in with a really long term goal in mind. They are primarily meant to provide regular returns around the time that the investor is ready to retire. The investments in such a fund may be split between equities and debt markets where equities act as the risky part of the investment providing higher return and debt markets balance the risk and provide lower but steady returns. The returns from these funds can be taken in lump sums, as a pension or a combination of the two.

Types of Mutual Funds based on specialty

  • Sector Funds: These are funds that invest in a particular sector of the market e.g. Infrastructure funds invest only in those instruments or companies that relate to the infrastructure sector. Returns are tied to the performance of the chosen sector. The risk involved in these schemes depends on the nature of the sector.
  • Index Funds: These are funds that invest in instruments that represent a particular index on an exchange so as to mirror the movement and returns of the index e.g. buying shares representative of the BSE Sensex.
  • Fund of funds: These are funds that invest in other mutual funds and returns depend on the performance of the target fund. These funds can also be referred to as multi manager funds. These investments can be considered relatively safe because the funds that investors invest in actually hold other funds under them thereby adjusting for risk from any one fund.
  • Emerging market funds: These are funds where investments are made in developing countries that show good prospects for the future. They do come with higher risks as a result of the dynamic political and economic situations prevailing in the country.
  • International funds: These are also known as foreign funds and offer investments in companies located in other parts of the world. These companies could also be located in emerging economies. The only companies that won’t be invested in will be those located in the investor’s own country.
  • Global funds: These are funds where the investment made by the fund can be in a company in any part of the world. They are different from international/foreign funds because in global funds, investments can be made even the investor’s own country.
  • Real estate funds: These are the funds that invest in companies that operate in the real estate sectors. These funds can invest in realtors, builders, property management companies and even in companies providing loans. The investment in the real estate can be made at any stage, including projects that are in the planning phase, partially completed and are actually completed.
  • Commodity focused stock funds: These funds don’t invest directly in the commodities. They invest in companies that are working in the commodities market, such as mining companies or producers of commodities. These funds can, at times, perform the same way the commodity is as a result of their association with their production.
  • Market neutral funds: The reason that these funds are called market neutral is that they don’t invest in the markets directly. They invest in treasury bills, ETFs and securities and try to target a fixed and steady growth.
  • Inverse/leveraged funds: These are funds that operate unlike traditional mutual funds. The earnings from these funds happen when the markets fall and when markets do well these funds tend to go into loss. These are generally meant only for those who are willing to incur massive losses but at the same time can provide huge returns as well, as a result of the higher risk they carry.
  • Asset allocation funds: The asset allocation fund comes in two variants, the target date fund and the target allocation funds. In these funds, the portfolio managers can adjust the allocated assets to achieve results. These funds split the invested amounts and invest it in various instruments like bonds and equity.
  • Gilt Funds: Gilt funds are mutual funds where the funds are invested in government securities for a long term. Since they are invested in government securities, they are virtually risk free and can be the ideal investment to those who don’t want to take risks.
  • Exchange traded funds: These are funds that are a mix of both open and close ended mutual funds and are traded on the stock markets. These funds are not actively managed, they are managed passively and can offer a lot of liquidity. As a result of their being managed passively, they tend to have lower service charges (entry/exit load) associated with them.

Types of Mutual Funds based on risk

  • Low risk: These are the mutual funds where the investments made are by those who do not want to take a risk with their money. The investment in such cases are made in places like the debt market and tend to be long term investments. As a result of them being low risk, the returns on these investments is also low. One example of a low risk fund would be gilt funds where investments are made in government securities.
  • Medium risk: These are the investments that come with a medium amount of risk to the investor. They are ideal for those who are willing to take some risk with the investment and tends to offer higher returns. These funds can be used as an investment to build wealth over a longer period of time.
  • High risk: These are those mutual funds that are ideal for those who are willing to take higher risks with their money and are looking to build their wealth. One example of high risk funds would be inverse mutual funds. Even though the risks are high with these funds, they also offer higher returns.

How to choose the right mutual fund

With so many different types of mutual funds available in the market, picking one that suits specific investment needs the most is not an easy task. The simplest advice that can be given in that regard is to first understand your own needs. The next step would be to figure out what your goal is? Is it to build wealth quickly, at a moderate pace or at a slow pace. Once that is decided the last main thing to consider is the risk you are willing to take. The highest returns are general observed to come from the funds offering the highest risks. So if you want returns quickly and are willing to take risks than that is the fund to go for. If your objective is to build wealth slowly then going in for a medium or low risk mutual fund is ideal.

Since mutual funds always come with a factor of risk associated with them, no matter how small, it is imperative that investors read their policy documents carefully before investing. It would also be a good idea to read the document to ensure that they, the investors, have understood exactly what they have invested in and all the facilities that are available to them with that investment.