Smarter Money: When to Dump Your Mutual Fund - TheStreet

Despite yesterday's respite, this has been a terrible year for a lot of mutual funds, a year they would rather forget. But should you forget them? Should you cashier your manager because he or she is not making you money?

I always look at an issue like this from the perspective of my own job. I don't think that one year's time is enough time to measure greatness or failure, especially if that manager has made me money in the past. Someone who performed well for the last five years but stumbled this year should not be written off.

However, I would mentally put the manager on probation after one year of failing to make you money. Even in a hard market. It is a manager's job to find ways to make money and, as long as there are lots of stocks that are going up (as there have been this year), then it was in their ken to beat the averages.

Two years ago, I had a positive but tough year. In the annals of marketing, I think most managers would say, "Stop talking about it already; you had a bang-up year before and a bang-up year after." But a year is like a season in the pros, and we sure as heck didn't make the playoffs. I urged those who wanted to depart that I deserved more than a year's worth of measure to come back. Many people disagreed. The simple and empirical fact about their decision was that it was wrong. Those who left lost out big.

That's a reminder to me that if you have a manager that is having a tough year this year, perhaps you should wait till next year to make a decision as drastic as abandoning a fund that has done well for you. A month ago I started my mutual fund program, where I purchased 50 funds through the

Schwab

One Source program. I know that in some cases, there are already some folks who are lagging and having a tough time. I selected these managers after examining some long-term records of outperformance. I cannot suddenly switch my prism to short-term. If I do, I will simply miss these fine managers when they eventually get it right, as they have have so many other times.

So, patience. If they don't come back next year, it might be time to bolt. But to bolt now? That just seems too harsh and, yes, too wrong, for me to counsel.

James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of TheStreet.com. At time of publication, his fund had no positions in any stocks mentioned. His fund often buys and sells securities that are the subject of his columns, both before and after the columns are published, and the positions that his fund takes may change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Cramer's writings provide insights into the dynamics of money management and are not a solicitation for transactions. While he cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites you to comment on his column at

jjcletters@thestreet.com.