# How To Dissect Mutual Fund Returns

Mar 29
21:34

2006

Sam Subramanian

While total and compound annual returns are useful, savvy investors will look deeper, using a variety of metrics, to get a more complete picture on mutual fund performance.

On January 1, 2006, a leading financial daily reported the trailing 1-year and 5-year returns of Fidelity Contrafund (Nasdaq: FCNTX), a no-load mutual fund, as 16.23% and 6.21% respectively. While the financial daily’s return information is useful, there is more to mutual fund returns.

Is the performance of the fund superior or inferior?

How tax-efficient is the fund in delivering these returns?

Are the returns of the fund commensurate with the risk the fund manager has taken to achieve them?

Savvy investors will seek answers to such questions when evaluating mutual fund returns. Before getting into the nitty-gritty of mutual fund returns, it is good to understand what the data reported in the financial daily really mean.

Total Return

Fidelity Contra’s reported 16.23% 1-year return is the fund’s total return for the December 31, 2004 to December 31, 2005 period. In practical terms, \$10,000 invested in the fund on December 31, 2004 is worth \$11,623 on December 31, 2005. The total return includes more than the increase (or decrease) in the fund’s share price. It also assumes reinvestment of all dividends as well as short- and long-term capital gain distributions into the fund at the price at which each distribution is made.

Compound Annual Return

The reported 6.21% 5-year return is the fund’s compound annual return (also called the average annual return). The compound annual return is a calculated number that describes the rate at which the investment has grown assuming uniform year-over-year growth during the 5-year period.

A \$10,000 investment in the Contrafund on December 31, 2000 has grown to \$13,515.34 on December 31, 2005. The ending value of \$13,515.34 = \$10,000[(1 + 0.0621)^5] where 6.21% is the compound annual return. The investment in the fund grew at an implied annual growth rate of 6.21% over the 5-year period.

While total return and compound annual return are useful, they do not tell how a particular mutual fund has performed compared to its peers. They also do not provide information on the return actually earned by investors after accounting for taxes. Finally, they do not offer insight on how well the fund manager has managed risk while achieving the returns.

Relative Return

Relative return compares the performance of a mutual fund against its peers. It is the difference between the total return of the fund and the total return of an appropriate benchmark over the same period.

Fidelity Contra is a large-cap growth fund that primarily invests in U.S.-based companies. It is therefore appropriate to compare its performance with that of an average large-cap growth fund. It is also relevant to benchmark the fund against the Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 index, comprising of large U.S.-based companies.

While Fidelity Contra has a compound annual return of 6.21% for the 5-year period ending December 31, 2005, Morningstar reports the average large-cap growth fund has an average annual loss of 8.48% over the same period. The S&P 500 index has an average annual return of 0.54% over the same period. Fidelity Contra has outperformed with a relative return of 14.69% over the average large-cap growth fund and with a relative return of 5.67% over the S&P 500 index.

After-Tax Return

Unlike assets held in qualified accounts such as 401k plans or individual retirement accounts (IRA), assets held in regular individual or joint accounts are not tax-deferred. For such non-qualified accounts, after-tax return is the return realized after accounting for taxes.

Short-term capital gains and short-term capital gain distributions from a mutual fund are currently taxed at the same rate as earned income. Dividends, long-term capital gain distributions, and long-term capital gains realized from the sale of fund shares are currently taxed at a lower rate.

Fidelity states the compound annual return for Fidelity Contra before taxes is 6.21% for the 5-year period ending on December 31, 2005. When all distributions are taxed at the respective maximum possible federal income-tax rate, the after-tax return dips to 6.10%. The after-tax return drops further to 5.33% after accounting for the long-term capital gain tax due on sale of the fund shares.

Some fund managers take more risk than others. It is important to assess a fund’s return in light of the amount of risk the fund manager takes to deliver that return.

Risk-Adjusted Return is commonly measured using the Sharpe Ratio. The ratio is calculated using the formula (mutual fund return - risk free return)/standard deviation of mutual fund return. The higher the Sharpe ratio, the better is the fund’s return per unit risk.

Based on returns for the 3-year period ending on November 30, 2005, Morningstar reports Fidelity Contra’s Sharpe ratio as 1.74. The fund’s Sharpe Ratio may be compared with those of similar funds to determine how the fund’s risk-adjusted return compares with those of its peers.

Beyond Mutual Funds

Return concepts such as relative return, after-tax return, and risk-adjusted return may also be used for evaluating separately-managed accounts, hedge funds, and investment newsletter model portfolios.

The AlphaProfit Sector Investors’ Newsletter, for example, tracks the total return and compounded annual return of its Core and Focus model portfolios. To provide Subscribers with a more complete picture of model portfolio returns, this newsletter also tracks the relative and risk-adjusted returns of the model portfolios. The newsletter’s model portfolios are constructed and repositioned with a view to maximizing after-tax returns.

Summary

While total return and compound annual return are useful, they do not provide a complete picture of a mutual fund’s performance. Metrics such as relative return and after-tax return offer insights on the fund’s relative performance and tax-efficiency. Risk-adjusted returns enable investors to assess how a fund’s returns stack up when risk is factored in.

Article "tagged" as:

Categories: