NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS
While The Grinch may have tapped into mutual fund total returns in 2000, some New Year's resolutions might help to keep him at bay in aught one.
Most investment pros aren't looking for hearty returns from the stock market in 2001. Instead, they are telling stock fund investors to expect historic-type returns from their funds. That would mean total returns in the neighborhood of 10 to 13 percent. Bond fund investors, they say, might reap single- to double-digit rewards depending upon the type of bond fund selected and provided interest rates head lower.
But no matter what the markets bring in the New Year, here are a handful of resolutions that won't guarantee any better fund returns but could make you a more savvy---and in control--- mutual fund investor:
Resolution #1: I promise to learn from the past. If there is anything the past couple of years have taught me, it is that mutual fund investing comes with no guarantees. Invest in any kind of long-term mutual fund, ( A long-term mutual fund includes all types of funds from aggressive growth to specialty sector funds but NOT money market mutual funds), and the reality is the fund I've selected may or may not earn a positive total return for me over a given time period.
Another is volatility. With the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S & P 500 off in double-digit land, and NASDAQ's volatility exceeding that of the S & P's performance in 1932, I've also learned that creating wealth via investing comes with high and low points. And, that if I can't take the market's mood swings, perhaps I'd better investigate another venue.
Resolution #2: I promise to remember. With so many accounts, like my 401 k's, IRAs and personal holdings, it's been easy to get confused about which funds I've selected and why. But no more. In the New Year, I'm going to remember the little things---- like the full name(s) of the mutual funds that I've invested in and the reason why I chose them.
In January, I'm also going to organize my mutual fund investments, keeping the ones in my qualified retirement accounts separate from the ones held in my personal accounts. And, maintain a running log of the particulars in each.
Included in that log will be the name of the fund family each fund is a part of, when the fund purchases were made and its terms. For example, if I'm making monthly contributions to the fund, how much I add. Or, if I'm taking money out, how often I do that and how do much I take out. I'm also going to note what type of fund it is, like balanced, health care, money market, global bond, small-cap value, etc.; and, its performance at various intervals beginning with year-end 2000.
If my fund investments change, I'll write that down, too. And as big of a pain in the neck as all this record keeping might seem, I know that doing this is not only worth the time but will make me Queen of my investment domain: I'll be an active manager of my own mutual fund portfolio.
Resolution #3: I promise to learn how to research. If I'm out shopping for new mutual funds to invest in 2001, I promise to do a little research and not depend on the investment tips I've overheard at a cocktail party, at the water cooler or in some on-line chat room. So even though it might seem like a drag or feel as though it takes too much of my precious time, I'm not going to invest in another mutual fund until I've personally researched it.
That means, I'll do things like see if there's a Morningstar or Wiesenberger report on the fund I like. I'll also not hesitate to call the fund family and request the fund's prospectus and read it--- no matter how long that may take. After doing that, if I've got questions, I'll either ask my investment advisor for the answers, or, phone the fund family and ask them.
I'll also look at the fund's long-term past performance figures knowing that Lipper, Inc., Barron's and The Wall Street Journal, frequently carry this kind of data.
After that, if I still have an interest in the fund, I'll look at my other fund holdings to see if, or how, this one might fit into my portfolio. Or, if it overlaps or is similar any of my other fund holdings.
Finally, even if I always work with a financial advisor, I'll still take the time to do this research. It is my money, after all, and in the end it's me who is ultimately responsible for how I use, and invest, it.
Resolution #4: I promise to learn about benchmarks. Instead of driving myself crazy trying to compare my fund's performance with other like funds when not all publications classify, rate, or rank funds alike, I'm going to find out which index my fund(s) uses as its benchmark. Then, I'll note that in my log and use it to gauge my fund's performance. That will help me to stay focused on how my particular fund(s) is performing and ought to help keep me from getting caught up in all the market's hoopla.( The index a fund uses as its benchmark can be found in the fund's prospectus or by calling the fund family and asking.) One great place to look at S & P benchmarks online is at www.spglobal.com/currentindexstat.html.
Resolution #5: I promise not to invest money that I can't afford to lose. Money that I absolutely positively need in the immediate future, or am likely to need over the next couple of years, is best invested safely. Within the mutual fund arena, I have learned that the least risky place to invest my money is in market mutual funds. While they might not be very sexy, they will provide me a respectable return on my money no matter what's happening in the stock market.
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