Mutual Funds Probably Should Stay Open



Yacktman Focused (YAFFX), a fund we recently deleted from the AAII Model Fund Portfolio, is one of a relatively small group of value-oriented mutual funds to close last year. When a mutual fund closes, it either stops accepting investment dollars from new investors or stops accepting any new investment dollars, be it from new or existing shareholders. Some funds may partially close by removing themselves from broker networks and requiring new investors to directly go through the fund. The latter is what the Sequoia Fund (SEQUX), which I own, did for a while before completing closing its doors to new investors at the end of last year.

Mutual funds, like many other investment products, earn money based on a percentage of assets managed. In concept, a mutual fund manager would want his assets under management (AUM) to be as high as possible to maximize his profits. With the average domestic large-cap fund charging nearly 1% in annual expenses, every extra billion dollars’ worth of AUM adds up to a lot of profits.

In practice, there can be a limit to what level of AUM makes sense. A fund manager with a very targeted strategy can end up with more investment dollars than good ideas. This is particularly the case if a fund invests in a country with a comparatively small securities market or follows a restrictive strategy. It can also make sense to place a cap on a fund’s AUM to prevent it from becoming so large that it is difficult to do anything but essentially mimic an index fund, albeit at a higher cost.

Funds may close, however, because a manager simply believes the prevailing market environment doesn’t offer enough attractive investment opportunities. Investors may see a preliminary sign that this is occurring by monitoring the fund’s cash balance. For example, Yacktman Focused ended 2013 with a 20.8% cash allocation, up from 16.3% a year prior.

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