How to beat the mutual fund companies at their own game

You’d have had to be living on a desert island with no TV, newspaper or internet connection to have missed hearing about the great mutual fund scandal of 2003.

The issue was that some mutual fund companies allowed certain hedge funds to engage in after-hours trading, sometimes incorrectly referred to as market timing. Unfortunately, some companies have used the confusion about the term “market timing” to further their own cause. How?

They have used this issue to pretty much ban all forms of trading their funds, and some companies are imposing hefty short-term redemption fees—penalties for all intents and purposes—in the name of avoiding impropriety. But the real idea behind it all is: Buy our fund and never sell it!

These companies advocate a stubborn Buy & Hold philosophy despite the devastating effects that approach had on investors’ portfolios during the recent bear market. Performance is immaterial to them—they want your money in their fund whether it’s going up or down.

With all of the negative press over the months you’d think that mutual fund companies would have cleaned up their act and started giving more consideration to the individual investor. Not so.

This was brought home to me when a fund manager of an $800 million mutual fund called me to see what my plans were in respect to holding our positions with his fund (about $2 million).

I explained my trend tracking methodology and he got very angry when he heard I would protect my clients’ accumulated profits by selling his fund if it were to drop 7% off its highs.

His blustering made it quite clear that he did not like anyone managing for the benefit of their clients; he only cared about what was best for him and his company.

So, what can you do to prevent being taken advantage of? For one thing, do what your mutual fund company does — not what they tell you to do. Adopt a strategy for following trends, such as I do, and use the mutual fund manger’s superior stock picking ability to your advantage by buying and holding only as long as the fund is performing well.

Remember, the fund manager has one big disadvantage over you: He always “has to” be invested so that the public can purchase shares in his fund. You don’t!

If market conditions dictate that you are better off in the safety of a money market account because we are in a severe downtrend, then you can take your money and run for cover. He can’t. He is constantly trying to adjust his portfolio to ever-changing economic conditions so that his potential losses are minimized. At the same time you are being told that his fund is the investment for all seasons. Don’t fall for it!

You as an individual investor are really in the driver’s seat. Unfortunately, you have probably been conditioned to think that Buy & Hope is a good investment strategy, when in fact it is a losing proposition.

Bottom line is, use a well performing mutual fund during strong up trends and get over to the sidelines during trend reversals. (That’s exactly what I did for my clients in October, 2001, and we retained the lion’s share of their profits while Buy & Holders kept insisting the emperor was wearing new clothes.) Pretty soon you will feel that you are in charge of your financial destiny and any chosen mutual fund is merely a tool to bring you closer to your goals of maximizing your gain and minimizing your losses.

About the author
Ulli Niemann is an investment advisor and has been writing about objective, methodical approaches to investing for over 10 years. He eluded the bear market of 2000 and has helped countless people make better investment decisions. To find out more about his approach and his FREE Newsletter, please visit: