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.
Mutual funds are organized into categories by asset class (stocks, bonds, and cash) and then further categorized by style, objective or strategy. Knowing how mutual funds are categorized aids in choosing the best funds for asset allocation and diversification purposes. For example, there are stock mutual funds, bond mutual funds, and money market mutual funds. Stock and bond funds, as primary fund types, have dozens of sub-categories further describing the investment style of the fund.
Equity and fixed-income funds have subcategories which allow an investor to cast a narrow net with their investment dollars. For example, an equity fund investor might invest in a technology fund that only invests in eco-friendly technology companies. Likewise, a bond fund investor who is seeking current income might invest in a government securities fund that only invests in government securities. A so-called balanced fund is a mutual fund that owns both stocks and bonds.
Building Your Portfolio. Building a mutual fund portfolio is similar to building a house: Many different strategies, designs, tools and building materials exist, and may be applied; but each structure shares some basic features. To build the best mutual funds portfolio, go beyond the sage advice, ”Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” A structure designed to withstand the test of time requires smart design, a strong foundation and a simple combination of mutual funds that works well for your needs.
Balanced Funds: Also called hybrid funds or asset allocation funds, these are mutual funds that invest in a balanced asset allocation of stocks, bonds, and cash. The allocation usually remains fixed and invests according to a stated investment objective or style. For example, Fidelity Balanced Fund (FBALX) has an approximate asset allocation of 65% stocks and 35% bonds. It considered a medium risk or what industry experts might call a moderate portfolio. Vanguard also has an outstanding index balanced fund, Vanguard Balanced Index (VBINX), which is suitable for investors looking for moderate risk. Balanced funds can be ideal for beginning investors because they are well-diversified and can, therefore, be used as stand-alone investments or as core holdings to begin a larger portfolio.