When people say, “Breaking up is hard to do,” they may be talking about one of their actively managed mutual funds.
We’ve highlighted four traits that signal it may be time to sell.
Any one of them might not be a sufficient cause to call it quits, but if a fund you hold has two or more of these qualities, you probably have reason to dump it.
1. Returns are disappointing: Poor performance shouldn’t be an automatic trigger to boot a fund from your portfolio.
Consider first why the fund is lagging. Is the slump tied to the manager’s bad investment choices? Or is the lull a periodic time-out because the fund’s investment style is out of favor?
However, if a fund consistently struggles to keep up with its peers on a year-to-year basis, it’s time to look for alternatives, said Todd Rosenbluth, head of fund research at CFRA.
Give a manager some leeway; even the best ones stumble for a time. But if short-term sluggishness starts to drag down a fund’s long-term returns, it’s time to cut and run. That’s a sign of sustained underperformance.
Lew Altfest of Altfest Personal Wealth Management in New York said he starts to get “very concerned” after a fund lags for two consecutive years. And if underperformance continues through a third year, “there’s a good chance we’ll be getting out,” he says.
2. A manager leaves: When a key manager quits or retires, it’s a “red flag,” said Rosenbluth, because the new honcho may shift strategies or sell chunks of the portfolio.
At the very least, be prepared for a period of growing pains when a new manager arrives. Challenges can come in the form of lackluster returns or big capital-gains distributions as the new manager reshapes the portfolio.
3. Assets explode: The bigger a fund gets, the less nimble it can be and that can hurt returns.
Small-company stock funds and concentrated funds, which tend to hold fewer than 30 stocks, can be particularly sensitive to asset bloat.
But large-company funds have fallen victim to asset bloat, too.
The legendary Fidelity Magellan is a classic example. As assets topped $100 billion in 2000, the fund’s performance relative to Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index deteriorated.
4. The fund’s job changes: David Mendels, an adviser with Creative Financial Concepts, said he views fund analysis as a job-performance evaluation. “I’m hiring a manager to do a job,” he says.
A big shift in holdings should be a wake-up call to rethink how a fund fits into your overall portfolio and whether you need to make any adjustments.
“That’s where I’d say, ‘You’re no longer doing what I hired you to do,’” Mendels said. “You’re outta here.”