High Fees Are a Drag on Mutual Fund Performance
High Mutual Fund Fees Limit Investors' Returns
A recent unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision in Jones v. Harris provided a bit of relief for mutual fund investors victimized by high fees but did not go far enough. The court's decision said that when retail mutual fund directors bargain with advisers over their charges they should compare the fees with "relevant" fees paid by "different types of clients," i.e., institutional clients like pension funds, as well as with other retail funds purchased by small investors. The defendant in the case, Harris Associates, a Chicago mutual fund adviser and Fidelity Management and Research in an amicus brief, claimed that "apples-to-oranges comparisons between fees paid by mutual funds and those paid by institutional clients, such as pension funds" were inappropriate. The plaintiffs, investors in Oakmark funds pointed to the fact that pension funds typically pay only about half the fees charged mutual funds, even when the mutual funds are much larger than the pension funds and even when the portfolios recommended by the advisers are virtually identical.
For example, one study showed that public pension funds compared with mutual funds using similar investment strategies paid fees paid half the fees paid by mutual funds. The mutual funds had average assets of $1.3 billion compared with $443 billion in the pension funds. Despite the mutual fund's much larger size it paid advisory fees of 0.05 percent, twice that of the pension funds. In raw dollars, the mutual funds (i.e., the investors) paid six times as much on average, $7.28 million compared to $1.2 million paid by the pension fund. The study included only investment advisory fees not administrative costs brokerage fees or any other costs, according to Professor John P. Freeman of the University of South Carolina, co-author of the study.
However, the Supreme Court decision stopped short of ordering comparable fees for mutual funds. The decision provided only that mutual fund directors have breached their fiduciary duty only when an adviser's fee is "so disproportionately large that it bears no reasonable relationship to the services rendered and could not have been the product of arms-length bargaining." Nevertheless, mutual fund directors are now on notice that they should be doing a better job of looking after the interests of mutual fund investors.
John Bogle, originator of the index fund and founder of the Vanguard mutual funds, which is owned by fund investors and operated in their interest, has been a thorn in the mutual fund industry's side for many years, never passing up an opportunity to criticize industry practices including excessive advisory fees which he believes are not in the interest of investors. He has long been an advocate of no-load, low cost, tax efficient mutual funds like the ones offered by Vanguard which are the lowest in the industry. Sales charges or loads, high advisory fees and other costs add up to significant performance penalties in retirement or any long-term investment account.
[I'm indebted to an article in the NY Times, May 7, 2010, entitled "That Nagging Question Of Mutual Fund Fees" by Jeff Sommer. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/09/business/09stra.html?scp=1&sq=Jefrf%20sommer&st=cse]
5-13-11NYTimes--Does Your 401k Offer Index Funds? It Should!
- Index Funds Should Be Offered in 401(k) Plans - NYTimes.com
Index mutual funds are not required to be offered in 401(k) plans, but they should be, because of their many advantages over actively managed funds.
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