Think of mutual funds as investment baskets of securities. Each basket has its own objective and manager (or management team). The manager also has a team of analysts that assist in doing the research. Also keep in mind that, when it comes to management, mutual funds fall into two primary categories — one is active management and the other is passive management. Managers of actively-managed funds will use their resources to try and ”beat the market,” which is to say that they’ll attempt to outperform a certain benchmark, such as the S&P 500 index. However, the manager of a passively-managed mutual fund will not try to beat the index but will instead buy and hold a basket of stocks that will replicate the holdings and performance of the index.
If you’re new to investing, you might be wary of buying individual stocks. Mutual funds offer an alternative way to build your portfolio. But just what are they? Mutual funds offer a way for a group of investors to effectively pool their money so they can invest in a wider variety of investment vehicles and take advantage of professional money management through the purchase of one mutual fund share. When you buy a mutual fund share, you’re investing in stocks, bonds and other securities that are held within the fund.
Mutual funds give investors the ability to diversify across a wide variety of investments that they otherwise may not carry in their portfolio as individual securities. Since mutual funds invest in a diverse range of securities and investment options, one mutual fund share actually represents proportionate ownership in each and every investment in the mutual fund’s portfolio. Of most interest to investors is that each share also proportionately represents the profits of those investments as mutual funds are required to pass along profits to their investors by way of mutual fund distributions, which come in several forms.
The reason why diversification is important is that investing in just one or two securities can be too risky. For example, if an investor buys just a few stocks and those stocks see significant declines in price over a short period of time, the investor’s portfolio can drop dramatically in value. But if the investor buys a mutual fund that holds 100 stocks, and a few of those stocks see price declines, the impact on the investor’s account value is less.
Knowing Your Risk Tolerance. Before choosing funds, it’s important to know your risk tolerance—a measure of the level of fluctuation (a.k.a. volatility—ups and downs) or market risk to which you’re willing to subject your portfolio. If you are just getting started investing with mutual funds, or if you get highly anxious when your $10,000 account value falls by 10 percent (to $9,000) in a one-year period, your risk tolerance is relatively low—high-risk investments probably aren’t for you. You might consider starting with a balanced or ”hybrid” fund.
The mutual fund then passes along the profits (and losses) of those investments to its shareholders. So if a mutual fund does well, you benefit. But, they’re not risk-free. Read on to learn more about how mutual funds work.