What is a Mutual Fund?
Mutual funds are baskets of stocks or bonds. They come in all different shapes and sizes, from covering broad stock market indexes to focusing on specific sectors.
Mutual funds are investment strategies that allow you to pool your money together with other investors to purchase a collection of stocks, bonds, or other securities that might be difficult to recreate on your own. This is often referred to as a portfolio. The price of the mutual fund, also known as its net asset value (NAV) is determined by the total value of the securities in the portfolio, divided by the number of the fund’s outstanding shares. This price fluctuates based on the value of the securities held by the portfolio at the end of each business day. Note that mutual fund investors do not actually own the securities in which the fund invests; they only own shares in the fund itself.
In the case of actively managed mutual funds, the decisions to buy and sell securities are made by one or more portfolio managers, supported by teams of researchers. A portfolio manager’s primary goal is to seek out investment opportunities that help enable the fund to outperform its benchmark, which is generally some widely followed index, such as the Standard & Poor’s 500. One way to tell how well a fund manager is performing is to look at the returns of the fund relative to this benchmark. Note that while it may be tempting to focus on short-term performance when evaluating a fund, most experts will tell you that it’s best to look at longer-term performance, such as 3- and 5-year returns.
As a mutual fund investor, you get the benefit of having a professional manager reviewing the portfolio on an ongoing basis. Professional portfolio managers and analysts have the expertise and technology resources needed to research companies and analyze market information before making investment decisions. Fund managers identify which securities to buy and sell through individual security evaluation, sector allocation, and analysis of technical factors. For those who have neither the time nor the expertise to oversee their investments, this can potentially be invaluable.
There are a variety of fees that may be associated with mutual funds. Some funds come with transaction charges for buys and sells or commissions known as loads. And there are funds that charge a redemption fee if you sell shares you’ve only owned for a short time. Investors also pay ongoing expenses to cover the cost of operating the fund; this includes investment advisory fees (paying the fund manager and the research staff), as well as transaction costs associated with buying and selling securities within the fund. When evaluating a fund, remember that fees play a factor and may potentially detract from a fund’s performance over time. All Fidelity funds can be bought or sold with no transaction fees when you buy them through Fidelity.