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Don't just buy mutual funds blindly
Sandeep Shanbhag, Moneycontrol.com | June 26, 2006 14:25 IST
Mutual Funds offer three options:
Which is the best and why?
In my experience as a financial and investment planner, I have largely found that investors tend to give a lot of time and importance to the process of selecting a mutual fund. However, once a particular fund is chosen, choosing an investment option is done on an almost arbitrary basis.
Some like the idea of receiving periodic Dividend, some like recurring investments and hence choose the Dividend Reinvestment option and others choose Growth. And some even leave the entire exercise to the discretion of the agent or distributor.
However, choosing the correct option is perhaps as important to the health of the investment as choosing the particular mutual fund is. What are the various factors one should consider and why?
There are two factors that are of prime importance when choosing an investment option - a. Fiscal policy b. Your investment needs and goals.
Both these factors play an important role and let us see how we can tweak each for the maximum benefit.
Choosing the Dividend Option - Drawbacks
Before considering the drawbacks, let us look at the benefit of choosing the Dividend option.
The foremost and the most obvious benefit is that the dividend is tax-free --- in the real sense of the term. Though all MF dividends are tax-free, dividends received from non equity-oriented schemes are subject to a distribution tax of 14.025%. This means that though such dividend is tax-free in your hands, you are receiving 14.025% less than what you would have otherwise received. This by inference means that it is you who is bearing the 14.025% tax, the MF only pays it on your behalf.
Dividends from equity schemes do not suffer this distribution tax and hence are truly tax-free. Then shouldn't all investors choose the Dividend option? Isn't this entire discussion a non-issue?
Not so fast. Let's consider a live example --- that of Franklin India Prima, a scheme that has been in existence since November 1993.
As on 19th June, 2006, the NAV of the Growth Option of Prima was Rs 153.86 whereas that of the Dividend Option was Rs 48.99 - almost 68% lower. Why is this?
The difference is the dividend received by the investor.
It should be understood that dividend from a mutual fund, unlike stock dividend, is your own money coming back to you. Therefore, had you invested in the Growth option of the scheme, the NAV of Rs 153.86 would apply to you. But since you have chosen the dividend option, periodically, some of your investment amount was paid back to you (by calling it dividend) and hence the market value of your units is Rs 48.99.
Now, also note that the scheme performance is calculated based on the Growth option NAV. Actually, technically, it doesn't matter, which NAV is chosen, as the dividends received are assumed to have been reinvested in the scheme at the Internal Rate of Return or the IRR. But without getting into mathematical jargon, it suffices to say that the Prima performance (which has been nothing less than spectacular) is based on the NAV of Rs 153.86 and not Rs 48.99.
So far so good. As long as you needed the dividend, all this really doesn't matter. But my next question is what one should do when the dividend comes and sits in your bank? Do you reinvest it in the same scheme or for that matter into another scheme? If so, do realize that you are reinvesting the money in the same asset class --- Equity. It needn't have come out of the asset class (in this case Prima) in the first place! Plus you may have to bear a load for the fresh investment. Of course, your distributor is happy since this means extra commission.
The second problem is agility. You may forget that the scheme has paid dividend and the money is lying in your bank. It happens. Or even if you are well aware of the fact, the market is behaving in a whimsical manner and this volatility is delaying your decision to enter. The money again sits in your bank.
All this time, when the money relaxes in your SB account, the rate of return of your investment is falling. The reason is simple arithmetic. The capital that is invested in Prima is growing at the IRR as discussed above (44% for the last year, 69% over 3 years and almost 26% since inception). However, the dividend that is lounging in the bank is growing at just 3.5% p.a, which is the SB interest rate. Over time, this substantial difference in the two rates dilutes the net return on the investment. More the time spent in the bank, more the dilution.
Other Reasons for choosing Dividend
Of course there are a couple of excellent reasons given to me by investors for choosing the dividend option. One is of course, needing the funds for day to day life. The second one was that getting dividend in a rising market is like partial profit booking, which is good form. The funds representing dividend can be invested into fixed income avenues or even fixed maturity plans thereby rebalancing the asset allocation.
Excellent arguments that cannot be argued with, per se. Only one hitch. Unlike fixed income avenues (such as PPF, RBI Bonds etc.) when the interest is fixed, not only in terms of the amount but also the timing thereof, dividends from mutual funds are at the discretion of the mutual funds. One never knows how much would one receive and when. In other words, the fund manager may decide not to distribute dividend. Or he may decide to distribute much less than what you need. Or much more than what your intended shift of the asset allocation dictates. What do you do?
There is a simple solution. Ask for the dividend yourself.
Yes, you read that right. You can ask for the dividend. To put it differently ---
'When the MF pays you money, it is called dividend. When you yourself withdraw an equivalent amount, it is called capital gain!
We all know that after one year, withdrawals (capital gains) from a mutual fund are tax-free. Therefore, for your annual dividend requirement, do not depend upon the whims of the mutual fund concerned, instead withdraw the funds as per your requirement.
This way, you can earn dividend not at the whim of the Mutual Fund, but at your fancy! The value of your investment remains the same, whether dividend is paid to you by the MF or whether you redeem units of an equivalent amount.
To Sum Up
The psychology of investing, fiscal policy and your requirements from your investments, all go hand in hand in deciding the optimal option to choose from. As fiscal policy stands today, the dividend option doesn't stack up against the alternatives. However, if tomorrow, long-term capital gains tax is imposed, this strategy wouldn't work and the dividend option would once again come to the fore.
The writer is Director of A N Shanbhag NR Group, a Mumbai based tax and investment advisory firm. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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