Resolution season is right around the corner, but why put off 'til tomorrow what you can get done today, particularly when it concerns your financial future? With that in mind, here are three points that fund investors -- a group that included more than 90 million of us at last count -- should ponder as they prepare for a happy financial New Year.
1. Focus on fees
The typical fund investor is paying an expense ratio of roughly 1.4% for a dog that underperforms such market trackers as Vanguard 500 Index
As an investing cheapskate, I love those rock-bottom expense ratios, but make no mistake: As the guy who runs point on the Fool's Champion Funds newsletter service, I'm a big fan of actively managed funds, too. On my beat, though, I'm on the lookout for funds that outperform the market while charging shareholders far less than the typical fund does. Indeed, on average, our Champs will ding you less than 1% each year despite beating the market over the last three- and five-year periods by more than six and 10 percentage points, respectively.
Not too shabby, right?
2. Management matters
Don't be overly impressed by any mutual fund's five-star rating or Lipper Leader score, which are purely backward-looking, quantitative measures.
Those metrics -- helpful though they may be -- are only meaningful to the extent that they help you understand how a fund has performed on its current manager's watch. For example, Fidelity Magellan
Indeed, after several years of underperforming the S&P despite an R-Squared score of 98, Fidelity recently opted to install Harry Lange -- one of the Boston-based behemoth's very best money managers -- as the skipper of the now-closed Magellan fund.
(Not sure what an R-Squared score is? Not to worry: It's a staple of what's called Modern Portfolio Theory, and it simply expresses in numerical form how much of a fund's performance can be explained by movements in a given benchmark.)
3. It pays to be picky
The hypothesis we use at Champion Funds is a simple one: If you apply the same level of rigor and analysis that stock jocks use when trying to pick the right stock, you can also choose the right fund -- and outperform the market while taking on less risk.
We're doing just that over at Champion Funds right now. All of our model portfolios -- three baskets of funds designed with Aggressive, Moderate, and Conservative investors in mind -- are beating their benchmarks. All told, our complete list of recommendations is beating the market by more than seven percentage points. And while I don't want to belabor the point (OK, maybe I do), that showing comes amid far fewer stomach-churning performance gyrations than a stocks-only portfolio would likely provide.
But who has a stock-only portfolio? Not me, and I'm guessing not you, either. Chances are strong, in fact, that you own mutual funds as well as stocks. If so, I encourage you to resolve to make the most of your mutual funds in 2006. Focus on expenses, management, and performance -- at least that part of the fund's performance history that can be attributed to the current manager's buying and selling acumen.
I also encourage you to take a completely risk-free trial of the Fool's Champion Funds newsletter service, where you can see all the above in practice. Our recommendations list, back-issue archives, and members-only discussion boards are yours free for 30 days. Click here to get started now -- and to get a jump-start on your portfolio planning for 2006.
It's right around the corner, you know!
Shannon Zimmerman is the lead analyst for Champion Funds and doesn't own any of the securities mentioned. Dell is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. The Motley Fool has a strictdisclosure policy.