I had my first can of Rockstar while I was in Austin last week. I go down there to learn to become a better investor coach and end up with a new drink. I learned later that the main ingredient in Rockstar is one of the same components of Prozac. Who would have guessed?
Not to worry. My obsession was short-lived, so there’s no need to build any mental pictures of your advisor on Prozac. I’ve since gone back to my staple – Biggby Butter Bear, grande, with a single shot. It’s safer to stick with what you know.
But it did get me thinking about mutual funds. Weird, I know, but most things do that. Hang with me on this one.
Suppose you go to the store and pick up a four pack of low-cal Rockstar. All the energy with none of the calories, right? You drink one on the way home and put the rest in the fridge for later. You like it, you feel great – no guilt. The next morning you go for another. But this time, overnight, the active ingredients have changed. Plain old sugar has replaced the sweetener, and instead of caffeine, you’re drinking Benadryl.
No memo about the change, no tweet or text. Not even a new label to replace the old. The ingredients have simply switched. You drink the can on the way to work and by 10:15 your tummy is in such turmoil you don’t know which way is up. You’re as jumpy as a kid the day after Halloween, but you can’t keep your eyes open. You know you shouldn’t be feeling this way but have no explanation for it.
This is a lot like what happens in the mutual fund industry year after year. You pick a few mutual funds for your 401k or your ROTH IRA and build your portfolio. You choose them based on what you see written on the label: the kinds of companies they hold and the name on the fund. You choose a small cap fund, add a large international, and then pick an intermediate-term bond fund to add some sanity to the mix. You’re feeling good. “I’m building a portfolio and diversifying,” you think to yourself. You are really in charge.
There’s just one thing you forgot to do. You didn’t find out in advance what the investment policy of the manager was. You don’t know what the turnover ratio is in your funds. By the end of the year, your small company fund contains Abbott Labs and Apple, Inc. (two very large companies), and your International Fund is loaded with the S&P 500. Your short bonds are being traded out for longs, and soon your expertly crafted portfolio is no longer what it was. Yet no update is given to you. No warning is issued about the overweighting in large cap or the additional risk of long bonds. Your caffeine-injected portfolio has just been given a shot of Benadryl, and no one looked for your consent in the matter. Soon the stock market will shift and your portfolio will not be ready for it.
This kind of behavior is routine for the active fund manager. And unless you know what you are looking for, active managed funds are almost the only choices available to you as an investor.
But if you’re with CWP, you do know what you’re looking for and you can know what you own. You can know that your fund is not turning you over all year long. You can know what you are doing and why you are doing it. It’s all in your investment policy statement, and with us the ingredients don’t change at the whim of a stressed-out fund manager.
Stay the course, your portfolio is ready for anything. If you are at all unsure about that, call me. We can discuss it over a Biggby.