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Mutual Funds Better than Individual Stocks?

By Charles Hopkins Published 03/13/2006 | Finance

Though it cannot be said in general that mutual funds are always better than individual stocks, it still cannot be denied that they usually involve lower risks, less money and generally yield lower but safe returns.

It all depends on the risk attitude of the investor. This is understood clearly by looking at the disclaimer attached with any mutual fund options that are nearly identical with that applicable to any other (kind of) stock. They have their advantages and loopholes like any other form of investment. And as in other forms of investment, one has to be fully aware of potential pitfalls and while driving high with mutual funds, has to be alert enough to avoid them.

Mutual funds are seemingly the easiest and least stressful way to invest in the stock market. Quite a large amount of new money has been put into mutual funds during the past few years.

Briefly put, a mutual fund is a pool of money contributed to by individual investors, companies, and other organizations. There will be a fund manager hired to invest this cash with a primary goal that depends upon the type of fund. The manger usually diversifies in a manner such that the net average earning is expected to be considerably positive. S/he may be a fixed-income fund manager. In that case s/he would work hard to provide the highest return at the lowest risk. On the other hand a long-term growth manager should try at least to beat the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the S&P 500 in a given fiscal year.

But that is what any successful investor attempts to do, and anyone with a similar approach can be expected to make the same earnings.

It all depends really on the overall investment climate and the sectors in which funds are flowing in. Diversification is definitely a good approach when it comes to successful investing by a reasonable investor. But with mutual funds, there is that the controllers may over-diversify.

Diversification minimizes the inherent risks of stock trading by spreading out the capital over many stocks. But over-diversification is again a bad thing.

First, an investor gets into many funds that have significant mutual implications, thereby losing out on the full benefits of risk stretching that diversification affords.

Secondly, over-diversification may decrease your overall return. By hitting too many poor through mediocre funds, the investor reduces the return by missing the potential of a few well-managed funds.

It is true that mutual funds play it safe. This is because mutual funds are actively organized by a professional money manager who keeps constant checks on the stocks and bonds in the fund's portfolio. As this is her/his primary occupation, s/he can devote much more time to choosing investments than an individual investor. This provides the investor with the peace of mind that comes with informed investing without the stress of analyzing financial statements or calculating financial ratios.

But on the negative side, a mutual fund, unless open-ended, must remain confined within a fixed portfolio. Even with open ended mutual funds, the range of potential is often low as compared to what is available to an investor free to choose any stock s/he likes.

Besides, mutual funds some times come as load funds in which the investor has to pay the sales commission on top of the net asset value of the funds shares. Also, the dollar-cost averaging strategy is just the same with mutual funds as to any common stock.

Of course, fixing such a plan can substantially reduce your long-term market risk and result in a higher net worth over a period of ten years or more.

Hence considering the stress, agony and risk that any stock may involve, mutual funds look a shade better than independent trading, if low but steady is ok for you.