August 26, 2005
There's a great scene in the 1976 movie All The President's Men where Hal Holbrook, playing the infamous informant "Deep Throat" -- now revealed as W. Mark Felt -- tells Robert Redford's Bob Woodward to "follow the money" to break the Watergate case.
I think the same is true when investigating mutual funds, because it pays to know how your fees are being used. It may be for something you could easily do without. Consider the case of Alabama-based bank and Motley Fool Income Investor pick AmSouth (NYSE: ASO ) , which also has a family of funds. Thursday, the Securities and Exchange Commission sent the bank a Wells notice, which suggests a civil lawsuit could be forthcoming.
At issue is the relationship between AmSouth funds and BISYS (NYSE: BSG ) , which has been the distributor of AmSouth fund shares. Its press announcement on the matter says AmSouth believes the investigation " ... relates to past arrangements under which BISYS used a portion of the fees paid to it by AmSouth Funds to pay for marketing and other expenses."
I'll let the SEC do the finger-pointing, yet this is but one piece of evidence that suggests AmSouth funds were and may still be a waste of your time as far as I'm concerned. Consider this: Of the 19 class "A" funds I found listed for AmSouth at Yahoo! Finance, only two are rated above industry average by researcher Morningstar (Nasdaq: MORN ) -- that is, four stars or better. Moreover, AmSouth charges one-time sales fees (otherwise known as loads) as high as 5% for equity funds and 4% for bond funds (though these fees are waived for exceptionally large investments). AmSouth's two best-rated funds also charge at least 1.2% in expenses annually in addition to the pricey loads. That's a hefty price for the investor seeking market-beating performance. Investigation or no, you're likely to do better elsewhere.
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Fool contributor Tim Beyers isn't fond of loads, especially those related to mutual funds. Tim didn't own shares in any of the funds or companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what's in his portfolio by checking Tim's Fool profile, which is here. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.