More mutual funds play both sides of the market
130/30 funds try to profit from winners and losers alike.
If you've been itching to play the market like the big pros, but lack their megabuck accounts, more mutual-fund providers have something that might catch your eye: 130/30 funds.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
These offerings, which use a form of long-short investing, have left some observers debating whether they make good investments in today's topsy-turvy market.
Fund-tracker Morningstar Inc. counted 20 such funds as of April 4, but more are being rolled out. This month, for example, Fidelity Investments launched its version, a 130/30 Large Cap Fund, and Nicholas-Applegate Capital Management undraped its 130/30 global equity offering. American Century Funds plans to unveil two 130/30 equity funds this year, a spokesman says.
As for their strategy, these funds take long and short positions at the same time. Long positions are stock holdings that investors expect to rise in price; conversely, short positions are bets that the price of a security will drop.
Here's how a 130/30 fund works: A fund manager invests in a portfolio of stocks, and then takes short positions of up to 30 percent of the value of those invested assets. Proceeds from that short-selling are used to buy more stock for the fund, bringing the "long" portion of the fund to 130 percent of the initial invested capital. As these extra-long positions offset the shorts, it creates a portfolio that is net 100 percent invested.
The process presents a "triple bet," says financial planner Steven Kaye. He illustrates the point this way: Say you gave a 130/30 fund manager $10,000. You're actually betting that he will fare well with $13,000 of stock holdings and $3,000 of short positions. So, with that $10,000 investment, "the manager is really handling $16,000 of positions for you," says Mr. Kaye, president of American Economic Planning Group in Watchung, N.J.
Since this structure creates what some call "an exaggerated account," its outcomes can also be magnified – for better or worse. While on the bright side, it could be a home run for the manager who picks the right stocks both to buy and sell short, it could also be a wipeout if he doesn't. As Kaye explains, "If the $13,000 of stocks don't go up, but the $3,000 of shorted stocks do rise, the result will be crushing on the fund."
Short sales not for the faint-hearted
To be sure, short-selling is risky. To do this, an investor borrows stock from a broker, sells it, and then buys it back later – hopefully at a lower price – and gives the security back to the broker. But if the price of the shorted stock rises instead of falls, losses mount until the position is covered. With shorting, experts say, the loss potential is unlimited.
That's not the only concern with 130/30 funds. Other considerations include fund fees that often exceed those of traditional stock funds, and above-average portfolio-turnover ratios. In the latter case, hefty turnover could produce higher income taxes for investors if the portfolio is held in a taxable account.