Mutual Funds | Disappointment Yes or No

Few would dispute that the year 2008 has been tough on investors. This holds especially true for first-time investors i.e. the ones whose tryst with equity markets only began in the last few years. After having seen the markets surge to record highs, the downturn has certainly caught several investors off-guard.

And the despondency is not restricted only to those who have participated in equity markets via the direct equity investment route. Even investors in equity mutual funds have borne the brunt of falling markets. As a result, several investors are in panic mode. Some are even contemplating redeeming all their mutual fund investments and instead making investments in risk-free avenues like fixed deposits and bonds.

But is that the right course of action? We don’t think so. To begin with, investors must conduct an honest appraisal of their risk profile and investment horizon. Also, they must candidly answer the question – why did I get invested in a given mutual fund?
If an investor truly believes that he can take on higher risk and is willing to stay invested for the long-haul (at least 3-5 years), then we believe there is no reason to panic. In fact, given the attractive valuations, investors should consider adding to their investment portfolios. As regards, the reasons for getting invested – if it was to achieve a predetermined investment objective, then it’s all the more reason to stay the course.

Conversely, if the answers are on the lines of ‘have a low risk appetite’, ‘wanted to make a quick buck’ or ‘to ride the rising markets for the short-term’, there is a cause for concern. Such investors got invested in avenues that were wrong for them or made investments for the wrong reasons. In either case, they would do well to work out an exit strategy in consultation with their investment advisors.
As for investors who have the requisite risk-taking ability, investment horizon and clearly defined objectives backed by investment plans, it’s a good time to evaluate if they are invested in the right avenues i.e. in this case, the right mutual funds. Even the best of plans will not deliver if poorly-managed funds are deployed to achieve them. However the evaluation process needs to be a proper one.

To begin with, investors would do well to understand the fund’s nature and investment style, before evaluating its performance. For example, an aggressively-managed equity fund that professes to take stock and sector bets should be expected to deliver above-average results in rising markets. On the other hand, when markets move southwards, such a fund is likely to be worse hit as well. This is keeping in line with the fund’s high risk – high return investment proposition. Comparing the fund’s performance on the downturn with that of a conservatively-managed equity fund would be unfair, akin to comparing apples with oranges.
Similarly, understanding the fund’s investment universe is vital as well. For instance, a professed mid cap fund would be predominantly invested in stocks from the mid cap segment. Expecting it to feature among the top performers at a time when large caps are rallying would be unfair.

Another common mistake is considering funds in isolation. Any advisor worth his salt will emphasise on the importance of diversification. Hence the norm is existence of investment portfolios, instead of investments in single funds in a standalone manner. The key to a well-constructed portfolio is that the downturn in an investment avenue can be offset by an upturn in another. Similarly in a mutual fund portfolio, the presence of diverse investment propositions and styles should help the investor’s cause. Broadly speaking, so long as the investment portfolio is on course to accomplish the predetermined investment objectives, investors should be fine.

Clearly conducting an appropriate evaluation is easier said than done. Hence investors would do well to engage the services of their investment advisors for the evaluation exercise. The next step is to take corrective measures.
Now depending on the specifics of each case, it could vary right from altering the allocations to various funds, exiting some funds and investing in new ones to doing nothing. Surprised? Don’t be. It’s possible that investors are already invested in funds that are right for them and in the right allocation as well. And it is not uncommon even for the best of funds to hit a rough patch. If no material changes have occurred in a fund’s investment proposition and its ability to deliver over the long-term is undiminished, keeping the faith and staying put wouldn’t be a bad idea.

The importance of the evaluation exercise, especially in testing times cannot be overstated. From an investor’s perspective, the key lies in striking a balance between pressing the panic buttons and being complacent. Also, engaging the services of a competent investment advisor is vital.

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