Given the awful performance that some mutual fund companies have doled out over the past few year, it's high time investors got a decent present from the fund industry this holiday season.
I recently came up with
my own wish list for the fund business -- some practical and fantastical ideas the industry could use to win back the confidence of investors. And readers responded with plenty of their own suggestions.
Jonathan Leitner sent in three wishes that he has for the mutual fund business. "One: I want to know how much did my fund manager make this year? While this information is somewhat public, it should go right into the prospectus. The investor should see exactly how much they are paying the fund manager for their performance."
do a rough calculation to figure out how much a fund company is making in management fees from a fund every year. Just take the assets in the fund and multiply by the management fee, which is part of the expense ratio and broken out in a fund's prospectus. That calculation won't give you an exact dollar amount -- because the assets change over the course of a year. But it will give you a good approximation of how much money the advisor took in.
Need the Info
Nevertheless, there's no way of knowing what the actual manager gets paid. If fund companies won't disclose that tidbit of information, then how about printing the manager's home address? That way, you could at least drive by the guy's house to see how big it is. Or egg it if you're really angry about a fund's performance.
Jonathan also wants to know more about what a fund is holding. "Mutual funds file a bunch of nonsense twice a year. Investors buy all the time. Any information you read is so outdated, it's useless. There should be timely quarterly reporting and statements filed when funds materially change their portfolios. Disclosing a mutual fund's holdings does not give away its strategy. It lets you know whether or not you want to be in the fund."
Thankfully, some fund companies, such as Oakmark, do disclose their holdings more than twice a year and do a fine job of discussing those investments.
Lastly, Jonathan wants to know what a fund is voting for. "Since mutual funds and fund families generally have large positions in companies, it would be nice to see how they are voting with my shares. This fight may never get solved, but it would be nice to see someone step up and set the standard."
Well, this wish might actually come true. The
Securities and Exchange Commission
has proposed a rule that would force fund companies to disclose how they vote on shareholder proxies. The comment period on this proposal ends on Dec. 6. Big fund companies like Vanguard and Fidelity have come out against the SEC's move, pushing to keep those votes confidential. You'll have to wait and see if the weight of these firms shifts this SEC proposal.
Reader Bob Rottmann's hope for the fund industry is, "I wish they treated their stocks as investments in businesses instead of just pieces of paper to be traded at whim."
Luckily, you can find money managers out there who conduct hard-core research on the stocks they buy and think of their investments as ownership interests in a company, which is what they are.
You only have to read a fund's shareholder reports to see how the manager talks about the holdings. That will give you a good indication of the thinking behind those investments. A report that's thoughtful and insightful, like the ones from Tweedy Browne, should tell you how a manager approaches his work.
And that's all you want. Some proof that the manager is actually working for your money.