6 Hot Mutual Fund Trends

The mutual fund industry is never boring.

Even if you approach mutual funds as an auto-pilot investment -- letting a proven money manager dig into the due diligence while you work on your golf game, tend to the kids, or manage your home office -- the sector is always changing.

The mutual fund industry is kind enough to play itself out at a deliberate pace, so you don't have to react to the changes right away. But you aren't doing yourself any favors if you ignore where the industry is heading.

I'm no market swami, but I don't mind hypothesizing about what recent trends will mean for the sector's future. Here are a few things that I see happening over the next few months. Check them out; do you agree?

1. There will be fewer, not more, open-ended mutual funds a year from now.
The mutual fund industry is still booming, but several factors will keep growth in check. The success of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) will limit the appeal of launching more conventionally traded mutual funds for now, which will slow the creation of new funds.

Recent market volatility will also sweep away many of the stinkers, with fund families dusting poor performers under the rug by merging them into more successful funds. That will help consolidate the number of existing vehicles.

2. Expense ratios will fall.
Fewer funds with greater asset bases should create lower expense ratios within the industry, but that is really just the beginning. The growing popularity of ETFs, typically passive vehicles with low management fees, will inspire the actively managed mutual funds to follow suit.

3. Bill Miller will lose to the market in 2008 but bounce back in 2009.
Legg Mason's (NYSE: LM  ) resident rock star has had a rough run lately. His Legg Mason Value Trust (LMVTX) fund beat the market for 15 consecutive years before losing out in 2006. He came up short last year, and is behind the pack yet again in 2008.

I'm not bold enough to predict a recovery in 2008, but I don't have a problem suggesting that Miller will resume his winning ways come next year. Even with the recent string of misfortune, the guy will have beaten the market in 15 of the past 18 years.

4. Actively managed ETFs are coming to an exchange near you.
Bear Stearns (NYSE: BSC  ) was set to launch the first actively managed ETF before its JPMorgan Chase  (NYSE: JPM  ) bailout put those ambitious plans on hold.

Even if the move blurs the distinction between closed-end funds and ETFs, expect others to carry Bear Stearns' baton. The emergence of dirt cheap commissions from discount brokers like E*Trade (Nasdaq: ETFC  ) and TD AMERITRADE (Nasdaq: AMTD  ) make it all too easy to trade an exchange-listed fund during the trading day. It won't be long before star managers hop on the trend.

5. Growth funds will outpace value funds over the next year.
Even if value investing typically has a long-term edge over the go-go growth investors, the market's steepest discounts have been in growth stock darlings like Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) and Baidu.com (Nasdaq: BIDU  ) .

These also happen to be the stocks that are likely to bounce back the strongest in a market recovery. Look for growth funds to lead the way over the next few quarters.

6. More closed funds will open but will disappoint new investors.
Several funds that once closed their doors to new investors have reopened in recent months, led by none other than the mythical Fidelity Magellan (FMAGX). That trend should continue, especially as a sluggish market and investor redemptions have eaten away at the asset bases that are no longer unwieldy.

Be careful, though. I've warned about the perils of buying into Magellan based on the work of its former managers. If you buy into a fund that is cracking open its doors again, make sure that the same management team and philosophy that first attracted you are still in place. That's not always the case, and it's why many funds reopening this year will come up short compared to their peers.

Trends are your friends
The fund industry is in a perpetual state of flux, so even these trends will change over time.

The fund industry is boring? Never!

This makes a subscription to Champion Funds -- our investing service devoted to singling out winning mutual funds in all investing styles -- essential for anyone who owns or is looking to own mutual funds as part of a well-rounded portfolio. A free, 30-day trial is available if you need a few weeks to see if it's right for you.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz invests mostly in stocks but always has a mutual fund or two in his portfolio. He does not own shares in any companies mentioned in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. Legg Mason is an Inside Value choice. JPMorgan is an Income Investor recommendation. Apple is a Stock Advisor recommendation, and Baidu is a Rule Breakers pick. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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