Now that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s historic press conference can be viewed on the home page of the Fed’s website, I decided to watch it again to see what the conflicting opinions were about.
After again finding it interesting and informative, even if it produced no significant news, I toured this rich website and happened to notice, under the News & Events tab, a statement on financial literacy which Bernanke had submitted at a Senate hearing last month.
When an 849-page Act of Congress was dropped in the country’s lap last July, a brief section buried on Page 513 — telling the SEC to further tighten credit quality regulations limiting how taxable money market mutual funds invest your money — may not have gotten your attention.
When the SEC complied last month by adopting a 21-page release that proposed additional changes and invited the fund industry, shareholders and others to submit comments by next Monday, it may not have gotten your attention either.
Can there be a more delicious phrase in the world of finance?
Sure. How about “Double-tax-free income?”
That’s the claim that can be made by about 360 single-state municipal bond mutual funds.
They’re the funds that are invested in securities of state and local governments whose interest payments, passed through to fund shareholders as dividends, are exempt from both federal and state income taxes if the securities are issued in the states where the shareholders live — whether by state or local governments.
When people talk about house values, they say that three words matter the most, “Location, location, location.”
When Maura A. Shaughnessy, manager of MFS Utilities Fund since its inception 19 years ago, thinks about what to invest in, there are also three words that matter the most, “Diversification, diversification, diversification.”
Driving a team of a dozen horses toward the same destination, when they are tied to one another by a strong harness and responsive to commands, may appear to be easy, but it may not be.
Driving a team of a dozen mutual funds toward different distant years, connected by a common investment strategy within the parameters of a finely spun web of government regulations of securities and retirement plans, doesn’t appear to be easy, and it probably isn’t.
“How have my mutual funds performed?”
The easiest answer to the question: Look at their average annual total returns, calculated according to the formula mandated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for all 7,500 money market, equity, bond and mixed-asset mutual funds.
The formula involves calculation of the annual rate of appreciation of an investment in a fund over one, five and 10 years (or other period) in a way that reflects the reinvestment in additional shares — at appropriate prices per share — of all dividends and capital gains distributions.
As you’ve gone through the latest annual reports from your mutual funds and considered how to apply what you learned in your investment strategy and tax planning, have you noted that their basic features are not the same? For example, have you noted that some reports have a feature that others don’t: a comparison of pre-tax and after-tax returns?
Have you wondered why?
The answer lies not only in fund decisions to provide these data elsewhere but also in the apparent ambivalence of the Securities and Exchange Commission, an agency of the government whose taxes are at the heart of the matter, about ensuring that people who own mutual funds in taxable accounts know how much of an impact they have.
With the start of March, your mutual funds’ annual reports for the calendar year 2010 should have landed in your mailbox and/or become accessible to you on your computer’s monitor — if any were due.
I say “if” because only about one-third of all mutual funds have fiscal years ending with December, according to the SEC.
* Confirm that your total fund assets are suitably allocated among the three broad asset classes — stocks, bonds, and cash reserves — for somebody your age and in your circumstances. If they aren’t, your analysis should persuade you to rebalance your portfolio.