Welcome to our first weekly fund review, in which we'll take a look back at some of the notable happenings in the fund world over the past week, and tell you what this news means to Foolish investors.
American Century loads up
American Century recently announced some changes to its fund lineup. Roughly a dozen more of its funds will be charging loads going forward. Loads are insidious sales charges that investors sometimes incur for buying shares of a mutual fund. The funds affected by the change include Ultra and Equity-Income, the firm's two largest mutual funds by measure of net assets.
Right now, investors can buy these two funds without loads, gaining exposure to top holdings Cisco Systems
American Century states that it is making the change in order to simplify its complicated share class structure. While I agree that its share class structure is a bit muddled, I fail to see how tacking load charges onto funds actually benefits anyone other than American Century. In my view, there is no reason why any investor should have to shoulder these loads. There are plenty of good funds out there that do not charge load fees, which are basically a charge for the pleasure of purchasing the fund in the first place. You still have to pay ongoing management and administrative expenses.
If you already own shares of any of the affected American Century funds, it may make sense for you to stay put. But if you're looking to add more money to these funds, or any fund that charges a load, keep walking. You don't need to throw your money away on sales loads.
Fund markets in Southeast Asia heat up
It looks like some of the countries in Southeast Asia have been generating some heat -- at least as far as their mutual fund markets are concerned. According to data from Cerulli Associates, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam are looking like the new fund hot spots.
Assets held in locally domiciled mutual funds have jumped an annualized 31% since 2002. Despite potential political instabilities and the worry over the currency crisis, the area is looking more and more attractive to international fund managers. Can more investor inflows into this emerging area be far behind?
Foolish investors know that different areas of the globe will experience highs and lows at different times, and that there will always be one or more "hot" regions or countries that people just can't get into fast enough. But these areas can go cold just as quickly as they heated up. The way to approach global investing is not to invest narrowly, trying to latch on to outsized returns in individual countries by investing in country-specific or region-specific mutual funds. Instead, take a broad, diversified approach and find a fund that invests across many different countries and regions, and across developed and emerging markets.
So while the countries of Southeast Asia may in fact provide the next wave of international growth, don't put all your chips on the table in a bet that they will. Get some exposure to the area, but do it in the context of a broader international mutual fund.
Vanguard, Barclays duke it out
Lastly, it looks like the race to stake out market share in the ETF world continues at a frenzied pace. Exchange-traded funds, which started out by investing in common equity indices such as the S&P 500 or Nasdaq 100, have exploded in popularity in recent years. As with any successful idea on Wall Street, variations on the theme are inevitably right around the corner. And so it is with the next wave of products, bond ETFs.
Vanguard, which has jumped onto the ETF bandwagon with surprising speed, launched its first four bond ETFs earlier this week. Not to be outdone, Barclays Global Investors announced that it will launch another bond ETF within the next week. Of course, this rivalry has only been fed by the announcement that Barclays recently hired away a second high-level Vanguard employee. Meow! The claws are out!
After all the fur settles, the important thing for Fools to keep in mind here is this: Just because multiple bond ETFs are now available doesn't mean you should run right out and buy them. If such an investment makes sense for you after carefully considering all your options, then you can feel more confident about making the decision to buy. However, given the fact that these are new investments with new ideas and new management at the helm, it may not make sense to try to rush to be the first person in the door. Stick with your current investment program and re-evaluate a year from now. If the new bond ETFs can prove their mettle, then you might want to take a second look.
Now that you know what's been happening in the world of mutual funds, take the next step and find out which funds represent compelling investments. The Fool's Champion Funds newsletter brings that information right to your doorstep. Fool fund expert Shannon Zimmerman shows you how to find the winning funds you've been looking for. Start your free 30-day trial today.