A good article on unit trust investment by Ooi Kok Hwa, published in The Star Online (source)
UNIT trust funds offer an attractive alternative to retail investors, especially those looking for the benefit of diversification with a small pool of capital while enjoying the possibility of earning higher returns compared with conventional savings.
However, a lot of people have the misconception that the diversification nature of these funds means that the risk of investing in unit trust is low and they can just close their eyes and simply pick any of the funds that come along.
This misconception has led to many paying high prices in learning that as in any type of investments, investing in unit trust funds requires some basic understanding and research before we commit our hard earned money to it.
In general, we can classify the unit trust funds in the market into two major categories: income funds and growth funds.
·Income funds usually are characterised as providing consistent income to the investors. These funds invest in income-producing stocks or bonds or a combination of both. Bond funds, equity income funds and money market funds are included in this category.
·Growth funds generally are more aggressive than income funds but have the possibility of earning higher returns by focusing on the objective of long-term capital appreciation rather than income producing or short-term gain. Examples of growth funds are small-cap funds, commodity funds, index funds and gold funds.
Before we start evaluating the funds to invest in, there are two main considerations which are our investment objectives and risk tolerance level.
Every investor invests for his own purpose. If you are investing for your retirement and are already close to retirement age, you should look for income funds that are more predictable.
However, if you are still young and want to save for your children’s higher education, which will be 10 or 15 more years, you may want to look for growth funds that generate higher return but with higher level of risk.
Once we are clear on what we are looking for in the investment, we can narrow down our selection to either income or growth category and move to the next step of identifying the most suitable funds within the selected category.
Here are a few key factors to look into when evaluating unit trust funds:
·Investment strategy, policy and holdings: Every fund has its own investment profile. Investors should have a clear understanding of the investment strategy taken in each fund that they are considering to ensure it is consistent with their personal investment objective and risk tolerance level.
Even the funds within the same category may have significant differences in risk exposure due to the difference in the investment holdings.
For example, the risk exposure in large-cap growth companies is definitely much lower than for penny stock funds.
·Past performance: Investors may look into the past performance trend of the fund to gauge its future performance.
However, do bear in mind that good past performance may not be repeated in the future and we should not be overly excited to see one year of good results if the fund is only newly established.
A good fund should be the one that has been consistently out-performing its peers, be it during good or bad times.
·Cost: Investors must be aware that when they buy or sell the funds, there are fees and expenses embedded in every transaction.
For example, the expense ratio of a small fund tends to be higher than a large fund while a regional or global fund usually will carry higher costs compared with a domestic fund.
·Fund management: The fund management is very important to ensure continuity and consistent performance.
If a fund changes management too frequently, it will be very difficult for us to gauge the performance of the fund as different managers will have different styles which may affect the performance of the fund.
For example, if the manager tends to have higher portfolio turnover, then the expense ratio of the fund may increase even though the nature of the fund holdings remains the same.
By having good understanding of the above factors, we may be able to make meaningful comparisons among funds that we are interested in to identify the ones that suit us most.