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Whenever I ask mutual fund families why they won't post their holdings and why they don't tell us what we own and at what cost basis, they invariably say it's too much trouble, or that it is too expensive, or that it would hurt long-term investors to let everybody in on the great stocks the company has bought for you.
They get up on the high horse very quickly. They make it clear that the requests are unreasonable: too many investors, too much paperwork.
I understood that at first because, after all, there are 90 million people with mutual funds. But when the Web created this instant way to update holdings, many of these mutual funds still dodged the issue.
But something has emerged from this mutual fund scandal that makes me sick to my stomach, something in many ways just as vile as the postbooking and the NAV-stealing. (Remember, despite
protests, these are not market timing issues. Market timing is a legitimate strategy to move out of one group and into another. These mutual funds stand accused of letting rich people in at stale prices, diluting your position, and then letting them flip right out, risk free when the prices were updated to include the good news that triggered the rich people's buy interest.)
What's come up has put the lie to the notion that it's too difficult to compile up-to-date analysis of what a fund is in. And it puts the lie to the notion that fund companies think it might hurt the little guy to have the current positions known.
What's come up? According to a source,
Bank of America
sold the up-to-date list of holdings of mutual funds to hedge funds,
so they could shoot
against those stocks with impunity when things went bad. I'm not kidding. They facilitated the selling for a fee, according to my source. Not only did Bank of America have an easy time updating holdings, it could update them instantly on the Web (so much for that woe). And it did so for those who wanted to bet
against the funds
. I kid you not.
When I spoke to Eliot Spitzer about this today, he, too, was amazed when he found out about it -- dumbfounded. He confirmed what I had learned, and was looking into the illegality of it as we talked, but it wasn't transparent. But some things are more important than illegality -- like broken promises and lies about why mutual funds won't let us know what we own.
I am heartsick about this whole investigation. The duplicity at the folks of Bank of America as outlined in the investigation is so alarming that it made me think the little guy is a total chump when it comes to the one entity that was set up for him: mutual funds.
I think all mutual funds must now tell us regularly what we own -- not so we can be bet against, but because it's only right. It is our money. Why shouldn't we know?
I've been pushing for this principle for so long that I'd almost given up on it, thinking that the industry is just too powerful to be lectured to and shamed into doing what is right.
No longer. It's time to get that
401(k) Bill of Rights going again, and it is time to get some answers.
James J. Cramer is a director and co-founder of TheStreet.com. He contributes daily market commentary for TheStreet.com's sites and serves as an adviser to the company's CEO. Outside contributing columnists for TheStreet.com and RealMoney.com, including Cramer, may, from time to time, write about stocks in which they have a position. In such cases, appropriate disclosure is made.
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