There are many different types of mutual funds available to investors. In fact, the industry breaks down mutual funds into 35 categories. For the year 2002, the top performing category was precious metals with a 78.8% return and the worst was the science and tech with a 41.9% loss. The problem with categories that make the top and the bottom is that they are risky. Coincidentally, three years ago (December 1999), these two categories were in the opposite spots where science and tech enjoyed the status of top category (73.5%) while precious metals was second from the bottom (-4.5%). What a difference a few years can make.
The one category that does not often get a lot of attention is the balanced fund categories. The reality is they will never make the top or bottom and rarely make the headlines because they are kind of boring funds.
What is a balanced fund?
A balanced fund is simply a fund that will invest in both equity investments like stocks and fixed income investments like bonds and cash. The idea behind balanced funds is that they appeal to investors who may want a middle ground to safety, growth and income.
Balanced funds are really nothing new to the investment world. Pension funds have been managing money in this manner for a long time. In fact any balanced portfolio should have some stocks and fixed income. Balanced funds simply provide it all in one package.
As a category, here are some of the statistics:
|Fund Name||1 yr return||3 yr return||5 yr return||10 yr return|
|Canadian Asset Allocation||-7.1||-1.1||1.7||6.4|
|Fund Name||Standard Deviation 3 Year||Worst 1 Year Performance||Alpha Ratio||Beta Ratio||MER|
|Canadian Asset Allocation||2.73||-11.92||-0.205||0.799||2.7|
Are all balanced funds the same?
Absolutely not. There are many different variations to balanced funds. Currently if you look at all balanced funds, 922 of the 4497 funds are balanced funds. Of these 922 balanced funds, 306 are global, 616 are Canadian and 106 funds incorporate something called tactical asset allocation where the mix of cash, bonds and stocks will change regularly and sometime dramatically. The other 816 balanced funds keep a fairly stable mix of stocks and fixed income. Typically, most balanced funds have about 60% in equities and 40% in fixed income.
There is also a new breed of balanced funds called income funds. Currently there are 33 of these funds. These funds incorporate a newer asset class called income trusts.
With so many different funds, it is not surprising to see a tremendous variance in performance. In 2002, the best performing balanced fund was the Dynamic Focus + Div Income Trust with a 17.9% return. The worst was the Mavrix Diversified with a -33.6% return.
Even on a 5-year basis, the best performing balanced fund was the Trimark Income and Growth Fund with an 8.0% compound annual return. The worst was the Cambridge Balanced with a -23.5% return.
What should you look for in a balanced fund?
Balanced funds are great for conservative investors who want higher returns than what guarantees are offering today without high-risk exposure to equities. This may be a great time to get into balanced funds because of the uncertainty in the markets. If markets rebound, balanced funds will surely participate. On the other hand, the bonds and cash in these balanced funds will help to mitigate and manage risk of equities. Remember that balanced funds are still mutual funds and there are still no guarantees. Like any other asset class, it is important to look at a multitude of characteristics when trying to pick the right balanced fund.
One of the important aspects of balanced funds is to understand the risk of the fund. According to Bell Charts, Morningstar, the volatility or risk of balanced funds ranges from a low of 0.71 to a high of 7.2. The average standard deviation is about 2.5. In terms of risk, many balanced funds lost money in 2002. In fact, 87.7% of all balanced funds finished the year with a negative return. A good balanced fund should never lose more than 10% to 15% in any 12-month period.
From a performance standpoint, be careful about relying too heavily on snapshot performance. If possible, look at calendar year returns and if you can get the data for trailing returns, it is a good idea.
Choosing the right balanced fund is no easy task. If it were, we would not have 1000 of these funds to choose from. If you need help, be sure to sit down with a financial advisor to help you with the myriad of choices.