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Newsletter Archive
Q1/6 Focus on ETFs
Q4/5 LW Canadian Equity
Q4/5 Saxon High Income
Q3/5 Saxon Small Cap
Q3/5 BG Income
Q2/5 Trimark Canadian
Q2/5 MB Fixed Income
Q1/5 BG Canadian Intrinsic
Q1/5 MB American Equity
Q1/5 Mawer N.C. Closure
Q4/4 Mawer Cdn Equity
Q4/4 Mawer Balanced RSP
Q3/4 Sceptre Equity Growth
Q3/4 Saxon World Growth
Q2/4 BG Small Cap
Q2/4 Mawer U.S. Equity
Q1/4 PH&N Cdn Growth
Q1/4 Leith Wheeler US Eq
Q4/3 iShares S&P500
Q4/3 BG Canadian Equity
Q3/3 North Growth US Eq
Q3/3 HSBC Mortgage
Q2/3 MB Cdn Eq Growth
Q2/3 Batterymarch US Eq
Q1/3 Saxon Stock
Q1/3 BG Balanced
Q4/2 Mawer New Canada
Q4/2 Perigee T-Plus
Q3/2 PH&N Dividend Inc
Q3/2 PH&N Bond
Q2/2 Leith Wheeler Cdn Eq
Q2/2 Perigee Diversifund
Q1/2 PH&N Cdn Equity
Q1/2 Mawer U.S. Equity

The Frugal Fund Way

At Frugal Funds we believe that investment success can be achieved by following a low-cost long-term approach.

Core Factors
  • Good Performance
  • Good Portfolios
  • Good Managers
  • Low Management Expense Ratios
  • Low Market Impact Costs
  • Low Brokerage Costs
  • Low Taxes
  • No Loads

Fees Matter

Costs matter and when it comes to mutual funds the fees are largely combined into a fund's Management Expense Ratio or MER. To see how fees affect performance consider an index fund with a MER of 0.5% where the underlying index has risen by 10%. In this case the index investor's return would be 10% less 0.5% or 9.5%. Similarly, if a mutual fund charges a MER of 2.5% and its clever portfolio manager gained 12% then the investor would achieve an annual gain of 9.5% (12% less 2.5%).

The average equity fund charges a MER of about 2.5%, and, at first blush, this rate might not seem to be very high. After all, until recently, many fund investors were rewarded by returns of 20% and 2.5% seemed like a small price to pay. However, under most circumstances a 2.5% annual fee is actually quite high. Let's consider investing $100,000 in Fund A (with a MER of 0.5%) and Fund B (with a MER of 2.5%). In the next five years both funds gain the same amount before fees and achieve annual returns of 10%, 5%, -5%, 15% & 0%. After the five years, Fund A's investors take home $123,194 and Fund B's investors get to keep $111,797. The 2% fee difference nets $11,397 more for the low cost investor!

Past Performance A Poor Guide

Most fund investors pick their funds by focusing on past performance. Various mutual fund rating guides cater to this desire and use past performance as their sole selection criteria. More advanced services tweak things a bit by incorporating fund volatility or some measure of performance consistency. However, in the end, it is all about past prices. If a fund has done well then it is assumed it will do well in the future and the role of luck is ignored.

Regrettably, past performance has long been shown to be a poor predictor of future success when it comes to mutual funds. With the aid of I looked at the top ten performing Canadian growth funds of 1999. All had achieved stunning gains of over 31% but investing in them at the end of 1999 would have been a poor decision. In 2000 eight out of ten of the funds did worse than average and only two did marginally better. The ten 1999 winners fared even worse in 2001 (January 1 to December 7) with nine out of ten doing worse than average. It should be noted that the one fund that did better than average in 2001 was not one of the two that did better than average in 2000. This example provides just a taste of the evidence against buying the best past performers and is illustrative of the dangers associated with performance chasing.

Should performance be totally ignored? No, it turns out that really bad performance is a fairly good indicator of unskilled management. If a fund has been in the bottom 25% of performers with a high degree of regularity then it is best avoided. Regrettably you can only weed out about 10% to 15% of managers this way. One can cut out the truly horrible managers, but it is hard to tell the difference between mediocre and good.

Turnover and Taxes

Taxes are also a big issue for regular investment accounts. Consider a portfolio manager who gains 15% annually before taxes over a twenty-year period and pays 27% on realized gains. If they didn't buy or sell a single stock in that twenty-year period then they would have an after tax return of 15%. However, if they bought and sold their entire portfolio each year then they would have achieved a much lower return of 11% after tax. Tax minimization is a key advantage of the buy and hold approach and is ignored by many actively managed mutual funds. Recently funds have been forced to publish portfolio turnover in their prospectuses. Lower turnover funds are generally better performers because they trigger less tax and incur lower brokerage fees.

Initial Investment Compounded at a 15% Pre-Tax Annual Rate of Return over a 20-Year Period, assuming a 27% Tax Rate on all Realized Gains
Pre-Tax ReturnAnnual TurnoverAfter-Tax Return
15% 0% 15.0%
15% 3% 14.4%
15% 10% 13.4%
15% 30% 12.0%
15% 85% 11.1%
15% 100% 10.95%

Our Method

When selecting mutual funds, investors should first minimize fees which means low MERs and low turnovers. Furthermore, investors should stick to no-load funds or buy load funds without the load through a discount broker. Secondly, managers with a horrible long-term track record should be shown the door. These factors form the core of our approach, but, as with many investment approaches, implementation is easier said than done. There are thousands of funds to choose from and we spend a great deal of time weeding out the numerous high-cost funds to provide a short list of the most attractive Frugal Funds. Furthermore, the many tricks that funds use to disguise poor performance, or to hide high fees, need to be avoided.

In the end, we believe that investors are much more likely to achieve satisfactory performance by sticking to a low-cost long-term approach. Although no one can guarantee future performance, our method has worked admirably in 2002 with 75% of Frugal Funds posting above average performance.



Disclaimers: Consult with a qualified investment advisor before trading. Past performance is a poor indicator of future performance. The information on this site, and in its related newsletters, is not intended to be, nor does it constitute, investment advice or recommendations. The information on this site is in no way guaranteed for completeness, accuracy or in any other way. More...