Moneycontrol
Dec 22, 2016 04:56 PM IST IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

How to validate the underperformance of a mutual fund?

It is essential to understand the scheme‘s investment strategy and compare the performance with the right benchmark over a fairly long period of time.

Ramalingam K

Each one of us loves a winner. It is a psychological need perhaps that gives us faith and confidence in the choices we make. But then, just as day has night, crests have troughs, and rise has fall, good performance is pitted against underperformance. Life needs to balance and mastering the ups and downs is the key to every win.

As investors in the financial market we need to be able to cope with underperformance. Handling underperformance in an able manner will ensure that the financial goals are not jeopardized. Analysis and constant review of investments are two troubleshooting techniques that will help in detecting the right trajectory that an underperforming mutual fund is heading.

By remembering the golden rule – past performance is no guarantee for future returns, investors should be ready to monitor and analyze the performance of mutual funds on a regular basis.

Here are three potent indicators that need to be kept in focus:

Indicator # 1: Strategy Check

When a mutual fund slows down or does not perform as expected, look at it closely and analyze it.

Trending strategy vs Time tested Strategy

It is likely that the mutual fund manager is following a time-tested strategy that may not be in sync with the current trends but could prove to be vindicated over time. This would be similar to the strategy that some managers adopted at the time of the “.com” boom in 1990s’ by choosing to go with companies that offered values as compared to high priced tech stocks.

Check mutual fund’s history

Delve deeper into the mutual fund’s history. Investigate why it is losing steam and whether the mutual fund is experiencing a temporary crisis much like the sudden burst of mid-air turbulence faced by aircrafts during bad weather patches. Else if the problems are more serious then steps need to be taken accordingly.

Is the same mutual fund manager continuing?

It is often that investors exit a mutual fund abruptly and then find that the same has come back more strongly than before. So it is necessary to check and see if the same mutual fund manager is continuing and it is possible that his strategy will yield better results in the long run when compared to its peers.

Is it really Underperforming because of size?

There might be genuine problems with the mutual fund in the long-term perspective. It could be situation where the mutual fund manager, who had produced brilliant performances in the past, is unable to do so because the same mutual fund scheme has become too big. The edge and efficiency, which was the hallmark of the mutual fund earlier, has now disappeared, and it has become sloth and is merely meandering around.

Indicator # 2: Performance Reality Check

Underperformance over short period or long term?

Researching and investigating a mutual fund can be a long-drawn exercise. It would be needless for the investor to investigate short-term bouts of underperformance; rather a concerted attempt should be made to carefully examine the mutual fund during sustained underachievement over a long period of time.

Underperformance when compared to Peers

Particular focus should be on the mutual fund’s performance during the period when it was expected to do well but did not. It is possible that a particular mutual fund was chosen due to its resilience and consistency during market downturns. However, it is found that it lost more than its peers during such a situation. This may thus be the right time to exit the mutual fund. The mutual fund may still be good but may not fit into the plans of the investor.

Have you checked the consistency?

While carrying out this analysis there might be a situation when a mutual fund is found to have performed badly in the most recent past year and is lagging behind its peers currently. However when the same mutual fund is checked for consistency over a three-year period, it might turn out to be one of the best overall. It is therefore imperative to remember that assessing a mutual fund for too short a period term could prove to be misleading.

Indicator # 3: Picking the Right Parameters for Performance Check

While it would be acceptable to lag behind other mutual funds in the short run on the performance perspective, it could be disheartening to see the chosen mutual fund fall behind consistently on a year-on-year basis for a few years at a stretch.

However, utmost care should be taken for selecting appropriate benchmark and relevant peers while comparing.

It may so happen that the investor cuts loose a particular mutual fund and later finds that the parameters and peers selected are mismatching and the mutual fund just disposed was actually a good one. For instance, a mid-cap mutual fund should never be compared to a flexi or large-cap mutual fund. In the same vein, the mutual fund should not be compared to the performance of the Sensex, but rather to the more appropriate BSE Midcap index.

Conclusion

Proper comparison of mutual funds will yield relevant results only when data analysis is carried out over a reasonable acceptable timeline and is also accompanied with the understanding of the mutual fund strategy followed by its managers.

Just because a mutual fund is not at the top of the table in the performance chart it should not be ousted from the overall portfolio.

The author is Director and Chief Financial Planner of Holistic Investment Planners, a firm that offers Financial Planning and Wealth Management.
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