Blogs & Comment

“I thought I wanted a mutual fund”

Oh my! Mackenzie Financial, the biggest mutual-fund family in Canada, has fired a broadside at exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Financial columnists Ellen Rosemanand Jon Chevreauhaverecently commented on the critique, which can be found on the Mackenzie Financial website under the title I thought I wanted an ETF. Here are some thoughts inspired by the piece.
Cost of advice embedded in mutual funds:
The mutual fund vs. ETF debate often overlooks the fact asthe MacKenzie Financial piece points out ( and I have too) — that the cost of most mutual funds contains the cost of financial advice (i.e. trailer fees paid to financial advisors), so comparing the costs of ETFs to mutual funds is comparing apples to oranges. Fair enough. But are investors getting service commensurate to the fees? And, do advisers put their clients in the best funds or the funds that pay the best trailer fees?
A survey sponsoredby the Financial Planners Standards Council (FPSC) showed only 40% of certified financial planners did financial plans for most of their clients in 2006, down from 53% in 2002
At least five studies from the academic communityconclude financial advisers dont add value to the selection of mutual funds indeed, it appears they subtract value (a grey area is ancillary services like tax and estate planning)
Portfolio turnover costs and sales loads:
The mutual fund vs. ETF debate often focuses just on MERs and commissions to buy or sell ETFs asMacKenzie Financial does. Other expenses to consider are portfolio turnover costs and front- or rear-end sales loads. The latter can add another 1.5% to the average annual MER of 2.5% in Canada for an equity mutual fund, bringing the total all-in annual cost to 4%
John Bogle in The Little Book of Common Sense Investingestimates the cost of portfolio turnover of the average equity mutual fund adds 1% in annual costs (cost of broker fees, bid-ask spreads, and market impact costs)
Front- or rear-end loads can add up to 5% to costs, which for a 10-year holding period, averages out to 0.5% annually (to use John Bogles figure); ETFs do have brokerage fees but for order sizes over $3,000, they generally average less than 1% to buy or sell
Bond and money market funds:
The mutual fund vs. ETF debate often just focuses on stocks funds and so does the MacKenzie Financial article. There are also money market and bond funds. And they are where mutual funds fees really hurt, as Rob Carrick says in his book, How to Pay Less and Keep More for Yourself. Money market funds charge MERs that average half or more the interest earned, while bond funds MERs average close to 1.5% when yields currently range 2% to 4.5%. One could also add balanced mutual funds. In non-equity funds, the comparison of long run returns more clearly favor ETFs.
Heterogeneity in product classes and investors:
The mutual-fund vs. ETF debate tends to overlook the high level of heterogeneity in product classes and investors
Not all ETFs are good — for example, sector and leveraged ETFs may raise questions.
Not all mutual funds are bad for example, mutual-fund families without marketing and advertising overheads can keep MERs low while providing advice through in-house reps; other useful mutual fund categories may be corporate class (tax advantages) and F-class (no trailer fees); closet-indexing mutual funds would definitely not be on the good list.
Since mutual funds reinvest dividends and allow regular deposits without commissions, they could be more cost effective for the small investor with regular, small amounts to contribute
Some investors dont have the time or desire to manage their personal finances so would be not be deterred by extra costs
To be continued .