The letters came flooding in last week when Wasatch Advisors announced plans to reopen some of its funds to shareholders.
Alas, the move created a lot of confusion. Here are two common Wasatch questions, plus one other question where consumers may be surprised by the impact of a new rule.
Question: Wasatch is opening four funds at the end of January. Which one should I buy, or should I buy all four?- Jim in Richmond, Va.
Answer: Wasatch is known for running aggressive, successful funds, and then shutting them to both new and current investors once assets reach a comfortable size. It's a trait that, coupled with solid performance, has earned the firm a lot of respect from industry watchers. (Full disclosure: My portfolio includes one Wasatch fund, which is unaffected by the reopenings.)
As for buying all four funds: No way.
Not only would you wind up with a portfolio that is too dependent on one investment style, subjecting your portfolio to heightened "managerial risk," but also just one fund, Wasatch Ultra Growth (WAMCX), will reopen to all investors Jan. 31. The other funds - Wasatch Core Growth (WGROX), Wasatch Small Cap Value (WMCVX) and Wasatch Small Cap Growth (WAAEX) - are opening only to current shareholders and registered investment advisers. If you don't already have an account, you would need to buy the funds through a financial adviser.
That said, the real question is whether to buy Wasatch Ultra Growth, which has a superior long-term record, but a miserable last three years.
"For someone on the outside looking in and wanting a Wasatch fund because they historically have been good small-cap managers, go ahead," said Christine Benz, director of mutual fund analysis at Morningstar Inc. "But if you have not been envious, or have not really wanted to own a Wasatch fund, don't rush. This is a time when a lot of investors are rebalancing away from small caps, and it's not Wasatch's best fund."
Decide if you really want the fund, or just the brand name.
Q: If closing Wasatch Small-Cap Value was good for me, is reopening it bad for me?- Henry in Idyllwild, Calif.
A: Wasatch chairman Sam Stewart said the firm was reopening the funds because additional assets would help the funds more easily "achieve their ongoing investment objectives," while also satisfying demand from brokers and shareholders.
Given the fund's track record, you cannot assume this is an asset grab, which would be bad. And do not expect the funds to stay open for long.
That said, one plus to current shareholders is that they can invest more. Set up automatic monthly deposits, and they will continue even if the funds close again. If you already have automatic deposits, now is the time to raise them, because you cannot do that when Wasatch shutters a fund to new and current investors.
Q: We had our annual meeting with our financial planner, and he said something about one of our funds' doubling its expense ratio, but how it is all on paper and that we have nothing to worry about. I do not understand how someone could double the cost, but not actually charge me for it. Is this possible?- Betty in Albuquerque, N.M.
A: Obviously, you own a fund of funds - a mutual fund that invests in other funds, rather than directly buying stocks or bonds - because that is the only type of fund for which this is happening right now.
Technically, your adviser is right, in that the costs you pay this year will be the same as last, but that does not mean the situation should be ignored.
Until this year, a fund of funds quoted its expense ratio by saying only what it charged for its management services. Underlying management costs - what your fund pays to the funds it invests in - were not part of the expense ratio.
The logic in hiding those fees was that they were reflected in the net asset value - and therefore the performance - of those underlying funds; the argument that got the rule changed is that a fee is a fee, and consumers should know the real costs they are paying.
For funds that invest only inside their own families - like Fidelity's Freedom funds or T. Rowe Price Group Inc.'s Spectrum funds - the change is no big deal. Management in those cases typically charges little or nothing on top, so there is little or no overlapping of fees, and total costs will still look reasonable.
The problem is with independent funds, many of them small, boutique issues with high costs for an all-in-one, asset-allocation strategy. Adding underlying fees to top-line costs will give some of these funds an expense ratio of about 4 percent.