Mutual fund is a trust that pools money from a group of investors (sharing common financial goals) and invest the money thus collected into asset classes that match the stated investment objectives of the scheme. Since the stated investment objectives of a mutual fund scheme generally forms the basis for an investor’s decision to contribute money to the pool, a mutual fund can not deviate from its stated objectives at any point of time. Every Mutual Fund is managed by a fund manager, who using his investment management skills and necessary research works ensures much better return than what an investor can manage on his own. The capital appreciation and other incomes earned from these investments are passed on to the investors (also known as unit holders) in proportion of the number of units they own.
When an investor subscribes for the units of a mutual fund, he becomes part owner of the assets of the fund in the same proportion as his contribution amount put up with the corpus (the total amount of the fund). Mutual Fund investor is also known as a mutual fund shareholder or a unit holder. Any change in the value of the investments made into capital market instruments (such as shares, debentures etc) is reflected in the Net Asset Value (NAV) of the scheme. NAV is defined as the market value of the Mutual Fund scheme’s assets net of its liabilities. NAV of a scheme is calculated by dividing the market value of scheme’s assets by the total number of units issued to the investors.
Broad Mutual Fund Type
1. Equity Funds
Equity funds are considered to be the more risky funds as compared to other fund types, but they also provide higher returns than other funds. It is advisable that an investor looking to invest in an equity fund should invest for long term i.e. for 3 years or more. There are different types of equity funds each falling into different risk bracket. In the order of decreasing risk level, there are following types of equity funds:
a. Aggressive Growth Funds - In Aggressive Growth Funds, fund managers aspire for maximum capital appreciation and invest in less researched shares of speculative nature. Because of these speculative investments Aggressive Growth Funds become more volatile and thus, are prone to higher risk than other equity funds.
b. Growth Funds - Growth Funds also invest for capital appreciation (with time horizon of 3 to 5 years) but they are different from Aggressive Growth Funds in the sense that they invest in companies that are expected to outperform the market in the future. Without entirely adopting speculative strategies, Growth Funds invest in those companies that are expected to post above average earnings in the future.
c. Specialty Funds - Specialty Funds have stated criteria for investments and their portfolio comprises of only those companies that meet their criteria. Criteria for some specialty funds could be to invest/not to invest in particular regions/companies. Specialty funds are concentrated and thus, are comparatively riskier than diversified funds.. There are following types of specialty funds:
i. Sector Funds: Equity funds that invest in a particular sector/industry of the market are known as Sector Funds. The exposure of these funds is limited to a particular sector (say Information Technology, Auto, Banking, Pharmaceuticals or Fast Moving Consumer Goods) which is why they are more risky than equity funds that invest in multiple sectors.
ii. Foreign Securities Funds: Foreign Securities Equity Funds have the option to invest in one or more foreign companies. Foreign securities funds achieve international diversification and hence they are less risky than sector funds. However, foreign securities funds are exposed to foreign exchange rate risk and country risk.
iii. Mid-Cap or Small-Cap Funds: Funds that invest in companies having lower market capitalization than large capitalization companies are called Mid-Cap or Small-Cap Funds. Market capitalization of Mid-Cap companies is less than that of big, blue chip companies (less than Rs. 2500 crores but more than Rs. 500 crores) and Small-Cap companies have market capitalization of less than Rs. 500 crores. Market Capitalization of a company can be calculated by multiplying the market price of the company’s share by the total number of its outstanding shares in the market. The shares of Mid-Cap or Small-Cap Companies are not as liquid as of Large-Cap Companies which gives rise to volatility in share prices of these companies and consequently, investment gets risky.
iv. Option Income Funds*: While not yet available in India, Option Income Funds write options on a large fraction of their portfolio. Proper use of options can help to reduce volatility, which is otherwise considered as a risky instrument. These funds invest in big, high dividend yielding companies, and then sell options against their stock positions, which generate stable income for investors.
d. Diversified Equity Funds - Except for a small portion of investment in liquid money market, diversified equity funds invest mainly in equities without any concentration on a particular sector(s). These funds are well diversified and reduce sector-specific or company-specific risk. However, like all other funds diversified equity funds too are exposed to equity market risk. One prominent type of diversified equity fund in India is Equity Linked Savings Schemes (ELSS). As per the mandate, a minimum of 90% of investments by ELSS should be in equities at all times. ELSS investors are eligible to claim deduction from taxable income (up to Rs 1 lakh) at the time of filing the income tax return. ELSS usually has a lock-in period and in case of any redemption by the investor before the expiry of the lock-in period makes him liable to pay income tax on such income(s) for which he may have received any tax exemption(s) in the past.
e. Equity Index Funds - Equity Index Funds have the objective to match the performance of a specific stock market index. The portfolio of these funds comprises of the same companies that form the index and is constituted in the same proportion as the index. Equity index funds that follow broad indices (like S&P CNX Nifty, Sensex) are less risky than equity index funds that follow narrow sectoral indices (like BSEBANKEX or CNX Bank Index etc). Narrow indices are less diversified and therefore, are more risky.
f. Value Funds - Value Funds invest in those companies that have sound fundamentals and whose share prices are currently under-valued. The portfolio of these funds comprises of shares that are trading at a low Price to Earning Ratio (Market Price per Share / Earning per Share) and a low Market to Book Value (Fundamental Value) Ratio. Value Funds may select companies from diversified sectors and are exposed to lower risk level as compared to growth funds or specialty funds. Value stocks are generally from cyclical industries (such as cement, steel, sugar etc.) which make them volatile in the short-term. Therefore, it is advisable to invest in Value funds with a long-term time horizon as risk in the long term, to a large extent, is reduced.
g. Equity Income or Dividend Yield Funds - The objective of Equity Income or Dividend Yield Equity Funds is to generate high recurring income and steady capital appreciation for investors by investing in those companies which issue high dividends (such as Power or Utility companies whose share prices fluctuate comparatively lesser than other companies’ share prices). Equity Income or Dividend Yield Equity Funds are generally exposed to the lowest risk level as compared to other equity funds.
2. Debt / Income Funds- Funds that invest in medium to long-term debt instruments issued by private companies, banks, financial institutions, governments and other entities belonging to various sectors (like infrastructure companies etc.) are known as Debt / Income Funds. Debt funds are low risk profile funds that seek to generate fixed current income (and not capital appreciation) to investors. In order to ensure regular income to investors, debt (or income) funds distribute large fraction of their surplus to investors. Although debt securities are generally less risky than equities, they are subject to credit risk (risk of default) by the issuer at the time of interest or principal payment. To minimize the risk of default, debt funds usually invest in securities from issuers who are rated by credit rating agencies and are considered to be of "Investment Grade". Debt funds that target high returns are more risky. Based on different investment objectives, there can be following types of debt funds:
a. Diversified Debt Funds - Debt funds that invest in all securities issued by entities belonging to all sectors of the market are known as diversified debt funds. The best feature of diversified debt funds is that investments are properly diversified into all sectors which results in risk reduction. Any loss incurred, on account of default by a debt issuer, is shared by all investors which further reduces risk for an individual investor.
b. Focused Debt Funds* - Unlike diversified debt funds, focused debt funds are narrow focus funds that are confined to investments in selective debt securities, issued by companies of a specific sector or industry or origin. Some examples of focused debt funds are sector, specialized and offshore debt funds, funds that invest only in Tax Free Infrastructure or Municipal Bonds. Because of their narrow orientation, focused debt funds are more risky as compared to diversified debt funds. Although not yet available in India, these funds are conceivable and may be offered to investors very soon.
c. High Yield Debt funds - As we now understand that risk of default is present in all debt funds, and therefore, debt funds generally try to minimize the risk of default by investing in securities issued by only those borrowers who are considered to be of "investment grade". But, High Yield Debt Funds adopt a different strategy and prefer securities issued by those issuers who are considered to be of "below investment grade". The motive behind adopting this sort of risky strategy is to earn higher interest returns from these issuers. These funds are more volatile and bear higher default risk, although they may earn at times higher returns for investors.
d. Assured Return Funds - Although it is not necessary that a fund will meet its objectives or provide assured returns to investors, but there can be funds that come with a lock-in period and offer assurance of annual returns to investors during the lock-in period. Any shortfall in returns is suffered by the sponsors or the Asset Management Companies (AMCs). These funds are generally debt funds and provide investors with a low-risk investment opportunity. However, the security of investments depends upon the net worth of the guarantor (whose name is specified in advance on the offer document). To safeguard the interests of investors, SEBI permits only those funds to offer assured return schemes whose sponsors have adequate net-worth to guarantee returns in the future. In the past, UTI had offered assured return schemes (i.e. Monthly Income Plans of UTI) that assured specified returns to investors in the future. UTI was not able to fulfill its promises and faced large shortfalls in returns. Eventually, government had to intervene and took over UTI’s payment obligations on itself. Currently, no AMC in India offers assured return schemes to investors, though possible.
e. Fixed Term Plan Series - Fixed Term Plan Series usually are closed-end schemes having short term maturity period (of less than one year) that offer a series of plans and issue units to investors at regular intervals. Unlike closed-end funds, fixed term plans are not listed on the exchanges. Fixed term plan series usually invest in debt / income schemes and target short-term investors. The objective of fixed term plan schemes is to gratify investors by generating some expected returns in a short period.
3. Gilt Funds- Also known as Government Securities in India, Gilt Funds invest in government papers (named dated securities) having medium to long term maturity period. Issued by the Government of India, these investments have little credit risk (risk of default) and provide safety of principal to the investors. However, like all debt funds, gilt funds too are exposed to interest rate risk. Interest rates and prices of debt securities are inversely related and any change in the interest rates results in a change in the NAV of debt/gilt funds in an opposite direction.
4. Money Market / Liquid Funds- Money market / liquid funds invest in short-term (maturing within one year) interest bearing debt instruments. These securities are highly liquid and provide safety of investment, thus making money market / liquid funds the safest investment option when compared with other mutual fund types. However, even money market / liquid funds are exposed to the interest rate risk. The typical investment options for liquid funds include Treasury Bills (issued by governments), Commercial papers (issued by companies) and Certificates of Deposit (issued by banks).
5. Hybrid Funds As the name suggests, hybrid funds are those funds whose portfolio includes a blend of equities, debts and money market securities. Hybrid funds have an equal proportion of debt and equity in their portfolio. There are following types of hybrid funds in India:
a. Balanced Funds - The portfolio of balanced funds include assets like debt securities, convertible securities, and equity and preference shares held in a relatively equal proportion. The objectives of balanced funds are to reward investors with a regular income, moderate capital appreciation and at the same time minimizing the risk of capital erosion. Balanced funds are appropriate for conservative investors having a long term investment horizon.
b. Growth-and-Income Funds - Funds that combine features of growth funds and income funds are known as Growth-and-Income Funds. These funds invest in companies having potential for capital appreciation and those known for issuing high dividends. The level of risks involved in these funds is lower than growth funds and higher than income funds.
c. Asset Allocation Funds - Mutual funds may invest in financial assets like equity, debt, money market or non-financial (physical) assets like real estate, commodities etc.. Asset allocation funds adopt a variable asset allocation strategy that allows fund managers to switch over from one asset class to another at any time depending upon their outlook for specific markets. In other words, fund managers may switch over to equity if they expect equity market to provide good returns and switch over to debt if they expect debt market to provide better returns. It should be noted that switching over from one asset class to another is a decision taken by the fund manager on the basis of his own judgment and understanding of specific markets, and therefore, the success of these funds depends upon the skill of a fund manager in anticipating market trends.
6. Commodity Funds - those funds that focus on investing in different commodities (like metals, food grains, crude oil etc.) or commodity companies or commodity futures contracts are termed as Commodity Funds. A commodity fund that invests in a single commodity or a group of commodities is a specialized commodity fund and a commodity fund that invests in all available commodities is a diversified commodity fund and bears less risk than a specialized commodity fund. "Precious Metals Fund" and Gold Funds (that invest in gold, gold futures or shares of gold mines) are common examples of commodity funds.
7. Real Estate Funds - Funds that invest directly in real estate or lend to real estate developers or invest in shares/securitized assets of housing finance companies, are known as Specialized Real Estate Funds. The objective of these funds may be to generate regular income for investors or capital appreciation.
8. Exchange Traded Funds (ETF) - Exchange Traded Funds provide investors with combined benefits of a closed-end and an open-end mutual fund. Exchange Traded Funds follow stock market indices and are traded on stock exchanges like a single stock at index linked prices. The biggest advantage offered by these funds is that they offer diversification, flexibility of holding a single share (tradable at index linked prices) at the same time. Recently introduced in India, these funds are quite popular abroad.
9. Fund of Funds - Mutual funds that do not invest in financial or physical assets, but do invest in other mutual fund schemes offered by different AMCs, are known as Fund of Funds. Fund of Funds maintain a portfolio comprising of units of other mutual fund schemes, just like conventional mutual funds maintain a portfolio comprising of equity/debt/money market instruments or non financial assets. Fund of Funds provide investors with an added advantage of diversifying into different mutual fund schemes with even a small amount of investment, which further helps in diversification of risks. However, the expenses of Fund of Funds are quite high on account of compounding expenses of investments into different mutual fund schemes. * Funds not yet available in India