RACE HORSES AND MUTUAL FUNDS

By Al Thomas

For years investors have been taught to look into the composition of a mutual funds. In other words the "experts" want you to take the time to analyze the stocks within the mutual fund portfolio, categorize them by industry group and try to understand the objective of the fund manager. This is nonsense.

When I go the track I look to see what the horse has been doing for the last several races. I don't give a hoot what he had for breakfast. All I want to know is has he been fast? Is there a good chance he will finish in the money in the next race? I only want to know how he has been performing.

Most mutual fund managers, except those who follow index funds, are always trading. You have no idea that what is in the portfolio today was there yesterday or will be tomorrow. Some fund managers trade more than others, but you can prove this to yourself by looking at the fund prospectus at the beginning of the year and one of the updates that funds publish quarterly. Many of the stocks will still be there, however, you don't know if the percentage holdings are the same.

By the way, don't bother reading a mutual fund prospectus. They are worthless when it comes to making you money. Consider that most of the information in it is about a year old by the time you read it. Think about this seriously for a minute. Is there anything you can find out in the document that will show up in your bottom line? I'll wait while you think. OK? There really wasn't anything was there? All prospectuses are basically worthless.

But you say the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) in Washington approved this. No, they did NOT. They don't approve of anything; they just read it to be sure it meets the regulatory requirements for disclosure. There is almost no difference between the prospectus for the worst mutual fund and the best mutual fund and both of them may have been read by the same Dilbert in his cubicle at the SEC.

There is one excellent way to find out which fund to buy. It is based on performance. How much has the fund increased in price during the past 12 months? Just 12 months. Many financial analysts want you to look at 3-year, 5-year and 10-year performance. Remember that horse? I don't care how many races he won 3 or 5 years ago. Can he run NOW? There are many publications and web sites that tell you the best performers. Investor's Business Daily prints a list of best performing funds each day. You might have to see the paper every day as they sometimes just tell about the long-term performance. You want the last 12 months and the last 3 months.

Three years ago you could have bought the best performing fund on the street and today have a dog. I call a dog any mutual fund that is not outperforming the S&P500 index.

If you were a jockey you would want to ride the fastest horses because in many races you get a percentage of the purse. The same applies to mutual funds. You must own only the best performing funds at all times. Like the jockey you must pick the fastest horse if you want to be a winner.

You should review your fund holdings monthly to see that you are only in the best funds. It might take you an hour, but you will find that you will double the current return on your mutual fund investments. Do it!

Copyright 1999 Albert W. Thomas All rights reserved. Author of "IF IT DOESN'T GO UP, DON'T BUY IT!"

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