The Reality of Mutual Fund Returns
Buying at peaks and selling in troughs is all too common
Investors typically pay attention to funds' published returns to gauge their performance over time periods such as one, three, and five years. But there's another measure of performance that tells a different story.
Morningstar> calculates what it calls investor returns, which reveal how much money investors actually make or lose in a fund over time. And the difference can be huge. That's because, by using "dollar-weighted" returns to measure how your own dollars fared while in the fund, Morningstar takes into account an all-too-common investing error: buying funds when they're flying high and dumping them when they fall behind.
The more volatile a fund is, the lower its investor returns tend to be. Take CGM Focus. The fund has gained a whopping 18
percent per year, on average, over the past 10 years, placing it in the top 1 percent of its large-cap growth category as of
Although the behavior of bond funds is generally more tame, the behavior of investors doesn't necessarily change. The
"You do have these shocks to the systems every five or seven years and when they do happen, you'll often have people getting
out right at the bottom or coming in right after a rally, so some of the same rules apply with bonds as well as stocks,"
There are some cases in which published returns and the amount that investors actually earn is about even.
This tends to happen in less volatile funds that take some of the emotion out of investing, such as index funds (the Schwab S&P 500 Index fund's 10-year annualized returns and its investor returns are both virtually zero) and balanced funds. Over the past 10 years, on average, Vanguard Wellington's total returns and investor returns were virtually even. In any given year over the past decade, the fund never gained more than 20 percent, but it also never lost more than 23 percent, which made for a smoother ride than many other funds experienced.
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(c) 2010 Andrew Leckey