As the year comes to an end, it’s time to start thinking about investment allocations for 2024. Many of us own mutual funds.
But how do we select the right ones for our goals?
Investing in mutual funds is a common strategy for physicians seeking diversification and professional management of their portfolios. However, with a vast array of mutual funds available, selecting the right ones can be a daunting task. To make informed investment decisions, it’s essential to focus on key metrics that provide insights into a fund’s performance, risk, and suitability for your financial goals.
Here are three key metrics to consider.
Expense ratio: the cost of investment
The expense ratio is a fundamental metric that directly impacts an investor’s returns. It represents the total annual cost of managing and operating a mutual fund, expressed as a percentage of the fund’s average net assets. For example, if a fund has an expense ratio of 1%, it means investors pay $1 for every $100 invested.
Why is it important?
Impact on returns. A high expense ratio can erode returns over time. Even seemingly small differences in expenses can have a significant impact on the overall performance of the fund.
Comparative analysis. Investors should compare expense ratios across similar funds to identify cost-efficient options. Lower expense ratios often correlate with better long-term returns.
Consistency matters. Funds with consistent expense ratios demonstrate good management practices, while erratic or increasing ratios might indicate potential issues.
Consider two mutual funds with similar objectives. Fund A has an expense ratio of 0.5 percent, while Fund B has a ratio of 1.5 percent. If both funds deliver an annual return of 8 percent, investors in Fund A retain more of their earnings, as they incur lower costs.
Risk-adjusted performance: Sharpe ratio
While historical performance is crucial, evaluating a fund’s returns in relation to its risk exposure provides a more comprehensive picture. The Sharpe ratio is a widely used metric for assessing risk-adjusted performance.
How is it calculated?
Sharpe ratio = standard deviation of the fund’s return
(Average return of the fund − risk-free rate)
Average return: the fund’s historical average return.
Risk-free rate: the return on a risk-free investment, often approximated using government bond yields.
Standard deviation: a measure of a fund’s historical volatility.
Why is it important?
Risk consideration. The Sharpe ratio allows investors to evaluate whether a fund’s returns adequately compensate for the risks taken.
Comparative analysis. Investors can compare the Sharpe ratios of different funds to identify those that offer better risk-adjusted returns.
Long-term viability. Funds with consistent, positive Sharpe ratios indicate a potential for sustained performance.
Consider two funds with similar average returns of 10 percent. Fund X has a Sharpe ratio of 1, while Fund Y has a ratio of 0.8. Fund X provides better risk-adjusted returns, suggesting it achieves its performance with less volatility.
Fund manager’s track record: alpha and beta
Evaluating the track record of the fund manager is vital for understanding their ability to generate returns and manage risks. Alpha and beta are two metrics that shed light on a fund manager’s performance in relation to the broader market.
Alpha. Alpha measures a fund’s excess return compared to its expected return based on its beta (volatility relative to the market). A positive alpha indicates the fund has outperformed, while a negative alpha suggests underperformance.
Positive alpha. Indicates the fund has outperformed its benchmark after adjusting for market risk.
Negative alpha. Suggests the fund has underperformed relative to its expected return based on market risk.
Beta. Beta measures a fund’s volatility in relation to the overall market. A beta of 1 suggests the fund tends to move in line with the market, while a beta less than 1 indicates lower volatility, and a beta greater than 1 suggests higher volatility.
Why are they important?
Manager’s skill assessment. Positive alpha suggests the fund manager has added value, showcasing their skill in selecting securities.
Risk understanding. Beta helps investors assess a fund’s sensitivity to market movements. A beta less than 1 indicates lower risk, while a beta greater than 1 implies higher risk.
Consistency in performance. Consistent positive alpha over multiple periods demonstrates the fund manager’s ability to navigate various market conditions.
Consider a fund with an alpha of 2 and a beta of 0.8. The positive alpha suggests the fund manager has consistently outperformed expectations, and the beta indicates the fund is less volatile than the overall market.
When selecting mutual funds, doctors should look beyond historical returns and consider metrics that provide a holistic view of a fund’s performance and suitability for their investment goals. Investors can make more informed decisions by focusing on the expense ratio, risk-adjusted performance, and the fund manager’s track record, aligning their investments with their financial objectives and risk tolerance. It’s crucial to remember that these metrics are tools for analysis and not guarantees of future performance.
Amarish Dave is a board-certified neurologist with over 20 years of experience in both neurology and active stock investing. In addition to his medical career, he holds a background in business from the University of Michigan and has successfully passed the SIE exam administered by FINRA. Dr. Dave is founder, FiscalhealthMD.com, a website dedicated to educating doctors at all stages of their careers, ranging from residents to retirement, about financial planning.