Nobody needs another reminder of how lousy aggressive funds have performed over the last two-and-a-half years.
If the amount of money you've lost isn't already burned into your memory, you can always look at your fund account statement before you ball it up and throw the thing in the trash.
What you really want to know: Should you sell one or all of your broken-down, busted tech funds?
Here's a short list of questions that you can use to tell if a risky fund deserves to stay or go.
1. Should I even own speculative investments in the first place?
You've probably heard that you shouldn't invest your money in the stock market unless you have at least five years to keep it there. The idea is that you have enough time to make back any money you might lose.
But when it comes to particularly aggressive investments -- say tech or biotech funds -- you've got to give yourself even more time than that. Think 10 years or more.
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These are often small, new, unproven companies in emerging industries. They frequently don't have earnings. The growth (and profit) potential is enormous. But so is the possibility of failure.
And this isn't a late 90s phenomenon that grew out of the Internet. Just think about all the computer companies that were hot in the early 80s that are no longer around: Atari, Commodore. The list goes on.
But for every 100 Ataris, there's a Dell. That's why you might want to keep some of your money in emerging, high-risk stocks. But you've got to be prepared to lose most, if not all, of your investment.
If you can tolerate that kind of unpredictability, then you have to decide how much of your portfolio should be in these unpredictable parts of the market.
Someone who is young with no family and lots of disposable income might be able to keep up to 20% of a portfolio in emerging-growth investments. But if you aren't quite that free-wheelin', then limit that allocation to 10% or less.
2. Is this fund run by a decent manager or a talentless sucker who fell for every half-baked, new economy idea?
doesn't sell an idiot-meter, you'll have to rely on a fund's performance to tell you whether a manager knows what he's doing.
This exercise certainly isn't perfect. The average tech fund is down more than 42% in the last year alone. But the returns can tell you something about the amount of risk a fund is taking and give you some idea of how many now-worthless companies in which the manager invested
First look at how a fund has performed relative to its peers and an appropriate benchmark -- like the
rather than the
if it's a tech fund. The idea is to find a fund that ranks in the top half of its category in good markets and bad.
If your fund is alarmingly below its category average over the past three years, you should sell it. It's not worth hanging on to if its three- and five-year performance ranks in the bottom 25% of its peer group.
And yes, some funds have done that badly. Just take a look at
Hancock Technology or
A fund's standard deviation (a measure of its own volatility) is one way to judge how risky a fund is compared to its peers and even the overall market.
You can also get rid of a fund that's down more than 90% from its peak. That kind of plunge tells you that the vast majority of the manager's picks are now worthless or close to it. That's inexcusable.
Every stock didn't go to zero. There are still
3. Is this still an aggressive fund?
If you've decided that you want to keep some money in tech or aggressive stocks, you then have to make sure that's where the manager is investing your money.
A fund that's held up spectacularly well in recent years may have been playing it a little too safe.
The Kinetics Internet fund has gotten praise for holding up so well in the last two years. But the fund only has about 60% of its money in stocks. And that might not be aggressive enough for an investor who wants a speculative play.
You can always fall back on some of the tried-and-true reasons to jettison a fund from your portfolio. Maybe you just want to take a tax loss this year. Or you're just trying to cut the shear number of funds that you own.
A more manageable portfolio will help make your life easier. And if you get rid of some riskier investments, that may make it more peaceful as well.