Stocks or mutual funds – in which should we invest?

A stock or a mutual fund --- which one is better? #investment #money #moneysaving #moneymaking #financialplanning

One of the strategies we follow in our financial planning is safe investments. However, investment is never safe. The question is how much risk we should take. Investment is not our main stream of income. We use it as a mean of savings. This is one of the reasons we take low risks in the area of investment. Another reason is, we are not experts; we are learning as we go.One feature that caught our attention while we were doing some extensive research on strategies for saving is the diversity in an investment portfolio.

The dilemma of which stock to own is somewhat addressed by diversification of a portfolio. The term diversification is widely used by financial advisors. We did not have much idea about investment and diversification until a few years back when we started to think about long term financial planning. As the term diversity figuratively suggests, a portfolio should have divergence from different angles. We will explain the details soon in this article.

What are Stocks and Mutual funds

Stock: A stock is a unit of ownership of a company. Another alternative term is share. Stocks do not have annual fees but they have transaction fees. That is, an investor generally has to pay a fee of $5 to $10 to buy or sell stocks. The fee applies to each transaction.

Mutual Fund: A mutual fund is generally composed of stocks of multiple companies. Every mutual fund has a fund manager (to the best of my knowledge). The fund manager makes sure the objective and goals of the mutual fund is maintained. Since there is a fund manager, there is an annual fee. Some mutual funds have minimum investment limits.

For example, consider that a fund manager maintains a mutual fund called, BIOE, composed of stocks of biomedical engineering companies. BIOE may have a restriction that the minimum investment on BIOE can be $3000. Other possible restrictions I remember are, time and balance restrictions. Time restriction is something like this: there will be a penalty of 1% if the investor pulls out any part of the investment before completion of three months. Balance restriction is something like, the balance cannot be any lower than $1500, or so. If it comes below $1500, the annual fee will increase by 0.5%. Please make sure to study the prospectus of every mutual find you invest to. Based on our research, mutual funds offer a good tool for long-term investment.

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Diversification may come from different directions in a portfolio. When I say portfolio, I mean a mix of funds. Diversification is necessary because we really do not know which company will perform well and which company will not do so well. Of course, market analysis and keeping an eye on the news help but the stock market is so unpredictable time-to-time that people doing a full-time job might not have enough time to check the funds and do a market research everyday.

People may be able to check the funds every month or sometimes every few months. We prefer a mix of companies or funds that are historically strong and steady. Investing most of the money in one company, even if the company has a great history, is not a good idea because the fate of a company may depend on many uncertain factors. It is difficult to evaluate the factors for ordinary investors like us. We try to maintain the following diversity features to be in the safe side of the equation.

Stock diversity

The companies you choose must have some diversified area. For example, you can choose areas like entertainment, consumer products, service, technology, energy sector, etc. From each area, you can choose stocks of one or two companies. Some example stocks in the entertainment sector are Netflix (NFLX), Disney (DIS), and Lions Gate Entertainment Corp (LGF). Some consumer product stocks are Procter and Gamble Co (PG), CVS Health Corp (CVS), Coca Cola Co (KO), etc. Service stocks may have many categories like education and training services, consumer services, shipping services, advertising, publishing, broadcasting and many other service providing companies. There can be hundreds of companies under these areas. One may choose a few based on past histories of the companies.

Simply speaking, investing in stocks of multiple companies instead of one refers to stock diversification.

One can easily find a few technology companies based on internet research. Some examples are Apple Inc (AAPL), Microsoft Corporation (MSFT), Google known as Alphabet Inc (GOOGL), and many other stocks. I do not know what category Amazon.com, Inc. falls into. It can be a consumer product company or it can be a service provider. It does not really matter. Amazon has shown steady growth over the past few years.

I am providing some examples NOT because they are good stocks but only as a reference to explain the categories. In practice, one needs to find out which companies she/he should invest in after doing a market research. Along with the growth history, profit is a parameter that one needs to analyze for diversification. I will talk more on this in a few minutes.

Diversity in mutual funds

A mutual fund is a mixture of stocks of many companies. I am providing an example of a mutual fund to ease the explanation: Fidelity’s Select Electronics Portfolio (FSELX) is a mutual fund. FSELX combines stocks of a number of electronics companies including Intel Corp, Qualcomm Inc, and Broadcom Ltd. Mutual funds need not be purchased in share units. That is, an investor does not need to purchase round number of mutual fund shares. If the price of a mutual fund share is $90, an investor may purchase 1.5 of this fund which will cost $135. This sort of purchase in fraction is not possible with regular stocks.

A mutual fund itself is a diversified portfolio, to some extent.

Anyway, a mutual fund itself creates a diversified portfolio since it combines stocks of tens of companies. The fortune of one company can make only a little effect on the price of a mutual fund. However, many mutual funds are sector based. That is, a number of companies are selected within a sector. For example, FSELX combines companies of the technology sector. As a result, all the companies within the mutual fund will tremble if the sector itself shakes for any reason.

There should be some degree of sector diversity.

The diversification in the mutual funds can be done by choosing funds from different sectors. Some example sectors are: Electronics, Retailing, Consumer, Health Care, Real Estate, Technology, Software and IT, Biotechnology, Transportation, Telecommunication, and many others. There are also Municipal and Government bonds that are composed as mutual funds. The basic idea is to make sure that the mutual funds one uses as investment must have diversified sectors.

Sometimes it becomes hard to diversify mutual fund investments from the very beginning of investment because there may be a balance requirement of a few thousand dollars. For example, FSELX has an initial investment requirement of $2500. One can keep investing smaller amounts in FSELX after the initial investment. To diversify a mutual fund account, one has to make multiple initial investments in a number of different mutual funds. It was not possible for us to do a diversification in one fine morning. Rather we slowly built a diversified portfolio of mutual funds over time. We are still in the process of diversifying our mutual fund account. We feel that it is better not to make any sudden investment with a desire to obtain a quick return.

Value versus dividend

Some stocks have proven themselves as value stocks where many others are known as dividend stocks. A value stock tends to increase in its stock-price over time. An example of a value stock is Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN). A dividend stock shows lesser tendency in increased stock-price, rather the trend is to generate steady or higher profit.

For a layman like me, dividend is a synonym of profit. An example of a dividend stock is Ford Motor Company (F). You will find that the price of a stock of Ford has not increased much in last five years but the company has managed to pay a steady annual dividend. Ford’s current dividend yield is 4.93%. One strategy of diversification is to make sure that a portion of the portfolio has some dividend funds. In sickness and in health of the stock market, good dividend funds will keep returning a percent of the investment.

The price of of a value stock is expected to increase. The yearly profit from the company is limited. The price of a dividend stock is not expected to increase but some yearly profit from the company is expected.

Some financial institutions offer Dividend and Income mutual funds. As a part of our diversification strategy of mutual funds, we prefer at least one fund that leverages the power of dividends. The overall growth of dividend intensive mutual funds might be a little lesser than the mutual funds that mostly return based on the value of the underlying funds. However, the dividend funds are steady and seem to be less susceptible to market fluctuations. The frequency of dividend payment to shareholders vary  between company to company. Some pay three times a year, some twice, and some just pay the dividends once a year.

Index fund

There are several traditional indices (scores) that reflect the goodness/badness of the market. One such index is S&P 500 index. S&P 500 is the abbreviation of Standard & Poor’s 500 score. This is a stock market index computed based on the market capitalizations of five hundred large companies. The companies are listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) or National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations (NASDAQ). The equation to compute the S&P 500 index is not a subject of this article but the basic idea is that the index expresses how well the market is doing. A higher S&P value indicates a better market, indicating that stock prices are increasing. In Google search, if you just write S&P 500 Index and hit enter, you will be able to see a curve reflecting the fluctuation of the index over time. You can change the timeframe (day, week, month, year, five-year, etc.) to get a feeling about the market in past times.

Index funds perform like the overall stock market itself.

Every company and all fund managers try to (and many times struggle and fail) to maintain a growth rate higher than the growth rate reported by S&P 500. The basic idea is to be able to say this: My company or my mutual fund is doing better than the average of the top 500 companies. The historic data of s&p 500 is impressive. S&P 500 index was around 1100 five years ago. It is above 2180 as of today. That means, if someone had a mutual fund that mixes S&P 500 companies in the ratio used to compute S&P 500 index, the person could double her/his money in five years. Although not every five year is the same but historic data suggests that long term S&P index is quite promising.

There are mutual funds that follow the proportions of stocks in S&P 500 index. These funds are called index funds. One way of extreme diversification is the use of index funds. Another good thing about index fund is that its annual fee is very low because the fund manager only needs to maintain the ratio of the stocks of the top 500 listed companies. The basic objective is already given. A portion of a family’s mutual fund investment can be some kind of Composite Index Fund. As an example of an index fund, Fidelity has an index fund called Nasdaq Composite Index Fund (Symbol: FNCMX) that follows the NASDAQ composition.

Time diversity

The market fluctuates throughout the entire year. The prices of stocks and mutual funds change everyday, more or less. Our observation is that it is not a good idea to invest all the intended savings at the same time. If someone starts with $20,000, it is better to invest it slowly over time, may be in a year or so. By time diversity, we refer to slow investment. The basic idea is to diversify (spread) investment over time.

It would be the best if an oracle could tell us when a stock price would be minimum and when it would reach its peak. In that case, we could buy the stocks when they are inexpensive and sell them when they are over-priced. Unfortunately, the success rate of stock market oracles is not that impressive. Therefore, it is better to keep buying throughout the entire year slowly, steadily, and frequently to make sure that an average buying price is obtained overall.

Diversity through periodic investment

This is basically another form of time diversity. Invest everyday, if possible. If not, invest every week. If that is not possible, invest every month. Make sure that a percentage of your paycheck regularly goes to an investment account.  All investment accounts now-a-days have systems to set automatic transfer of funds from any bank to the investment company. We generally set up an automatic transfer on a certain day of the month and an automatic distribution of the transferred funds to multiple mutual funds.

Verify diversification periodically

You can come up with many strategies that you are comfortable with and suit your needs. The main idea is diversification of the investment portfolio. One thing we need to make sure time to time is that the diversification strategy used is still a valid one. For example, we may think that we have enough dividend stocks but over time the companies we selected for our dividend stocks might not be performing well to return the same rate of dividends. Or, the mutual funds we selected in the IT sector might be performing poorly because of worldwide go-green campaign (a hypothetical scenario). Checking all the funds periodically, a number of times throughout the year, helps in planning the family finance a lot.

A portfolio that was thought to be diversified a year ago might not be diversified today.

We are currently comfortable with analyzing company stocks and mutual funds. As stated in our previous article regarding investment, we prefer to use transaction fee-less financial institutions for company stock investments. The reason is, fees are sometimes too large for small amount of frequent transactions. Transaction fee-less institutions like Robinhood generally do not have mutual funds because of their slim profit margin. Mutual funds are managed by an expert appointed by a financial institution. Example of financial institutions that have mutual funds are: Fidelity Investments, Voya Financial, Lincoln Financial Group, Vanguard Group, Prudential, and many other companies. Investors generally do not pay transaction fees for mutual funds but there is an annual fee which may be as high as 1%, or such. We must check if historic data suggests that the annual growth of the fund is higher than the annual fee.

Some mutual funds may have transaction fees but most financial institutions have ample mutual funds that do not require any fees for transactions. Some mutual funds may have short-term redemption fee. A short-term redemption fee is something like the following: there will be a redemption fee of 1% if the investor withdraws the money within three months after the investment. 

We should read terms and conditions carefully before purchasing mutual funds (as well as stocks).

Concluding remarks

Financial planning of a family is a continuous process, not just an activity. The goals and objectives change over time. Example of different goals are: save for an emergency fund, save for down payment to purchase a house, save for college fund, send kids to college, plan for retirement, move investment portfolio to lower risk category as retirement nears, etc. Therefore all family leaders (dear wife and dear husband) need to stay on top of the analysis and planning.

Please let us know if you have any question or comments.

Settle in El Paso team

Note: We first published this post on August 9, 2016. We have re-published this after some updates.

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Comments

24 thoughts on “Stocks or mutual funds – in which should we invest?

  1. Mutual funds, what are they? We don’t have an option t invest in mutual funds here in our country. Investing in stock is considered one of the best investments option in our country. However, I have never taken interest in investing in stocks. I cannot take risk with newly established companies and the share prices in well-established companies are so high that it is not an option for me.

  2. For me, stocks are probably the best types of investment, as long as you know what you are doing. The problem is that it is actually quite hard to figure out what company to buy stocks in because most of the big ones like Netflix or even Apple have shares that are worth a lot so it’s difficult to buy shares in those companies.

  3. I would have to say that it depends on the one that pays better in your country. over here in Nigeria, we believe more in buying of stocks especially the ones sold by the government. It is a great way to prepare for the future. However, I think the mutual fund is okay as well.

  4. Just like you, I use stocks and mutual funds for saving money. I learned this saving while investing style from my favorite motivational speaker here. He is a successful businessman who educates people financially. With this approach, I treat my investments like a savings account that pays bigger interests plus dividends. As the saying goes, “Don’t just put your eggs in one basket”, so I personally, invest in mutual funds and stocks but I focus more on stocks. I put more money on stocks and just a few in mutual funds. It may have the biggest risk, but it pays the biggest interest. It’s just a matter of looking at a long perspective. I invest my money on the so called, “blue chip companies”. These are the top 30 companies in our stock market. I choose the ones with the lowest unit price. I’ve been investing in the stock market for four years now and it really paid off. My money grew 96% interest now. It’s almost doubled, which I don’t get from mutual funds. I hope my story can help you decide.

  5. Great information provided in lucid language. Your blogs are a great source of information for me. Personally I invest my money in mostly 3 things- 1) Mutual funds, 2)Stocks and 3)Crypto-currency.
    I have been investing in Mutual funds for nearly 6 years. The risk factor is less as compared to the other two mentioned above. Getting satisfied returns every year. I like to invest in large cap and multi cap funds.
    I have been investing in stocks for 1 year. It is a bit risky but I diversify my stocks to get maximum benefits.
    And lastly Bitcoin, the mysterious crypto-currency which has crossed the $4400 limit and expected to reach even higher limits. It is highly risky, so I have invested only a small amount hoping to get higher returns.

    1. It is great that you diversify your stocks to reduce the risk factors. Definitely, your are a cautious investor — that is what is necessary. Thank you for providing a lot of information regarding your investment strategies. I am learning from your comments as well. Best regards.

  6. Hello, I am not a trader, but I am also planning on investing, and I have been doing some research on where should I invest my money and I want to share some of the things I have found out. As you have said, winning in the stock market is really hard especially for a newbie who hasn’t done much research and no experience in trading. I found out that if a person still doesn’t know much about the stock market , it is better to invest in a mutual fund, and while you are in a mutual fund, you will slowly get a better understanding of the market, giving you an edge in stock market investing. Another good option other than mutual fund and direct stock market investment is the VUL it is just like a mutual fund, but you get a bonus life insurance, and it is long term. this is recommended for people with dependents like parents since you get an investment, at the same time you get a life insurance when something happens to you, your dependents will get something. So far I am convinced to invest in VUL since you have a lower premium when you are younger, then invest in a mutual fund, then lastly invest on my own in the stock market.

    1. Hmm. That is a very informative comment. I read about VUL but I never researched the topic. I will definitely check this. Thank you so much for taking time to give a great feedback. Have a wonderful weekend.

  7. You have posted a lot of good information there, but I would not invest in any of these. The economy in my country is not very stable at the moment, and I would avoid investing in anything for at least a year. But if the things will go well I would choose to invest in a stock market.

  8. Ah, I have to admit that I personally have no clue when it comes to investing in stocks or mutual funds. So, at first, reading your post, I felt like a fish out of the water! But then I slowly started to grasp the main ideas behind these two things.

    But still, I was never a huge fan of investing in stocks. It just seems very risky… especially if it’s the whole family’s money. Stocks can be quite unpredictable even if you know what you’re doing.

    I feel much safer simply storing our hard earned money inside a bank. That way, I can go to sleep without a worry!

    1. I completely understand. Retirement funds in the US are all investment funds. Many employers including the State will send a percentage of the salary of each employee to investment funds. This is why many people prefer to have an understanding of the stocks and mutual funds.

      I completely agree with you that it is never a good idea to invest majority of the income.

      Thank you so much for visiting and writing your thoughts on the topic. I appreciate the kind words. Have a wonderful Sunday.

  9. One thing no one does is read terms and conditions but just sign on the dotted line. Terms and conditions are no doubt boring but they contain a lot of information that can help an investor decide. And you are reading them I see.
    Finally putting one’s eggs in one basket could be avoided at all costs and this approach is sure to yield results.

    1. Aha … It is very important to study the terms and conditions. Thank you for reminding this. Another very important item, as you mentioned, is the portfolio diversity. I totally agree with you. Thank you for visiting and commenting. Have a wonderful week.

  10. Wining a stock market game never be so easy. Once you have entered it will jerk the money lawfully with so much tactics. Really it must be powerful to analyze the function of market. Within the moving time closely look to the markets. If anyone never buys any share then invest in mutual fund will be lot better. Its a kind of experience and also a dream to get money. Mutually invested amount is more easier to reap out. So, kind of a game i am verbally spoken here that it is advisable for better tommorow. Stay invested. Good luck.

    1. Agreed. Mutual funds are easier to operate. Even with mutual funds, it is better to spread the portfolio on multiple sectors. Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. Have a great weekend.

  11. I’m a trader and find the stocks a really great place to invest my money. It’s most important to not approach it as some guessing game and to really not only invest your money but also invest the time to learn how to invest the right way. I have met a couple of people who seem to think it’s a lottery game and treat it as such and never really get any rewards from there investments. But by putting it the time and and gaining the knowledge too make accurate decisions when investing will always turn into a success! I’m glad to see that you are a serious investor and I find you to be very knowledgeable on the subject.
    This is a great post and I hope you have many successes.

    1. I totally agree with you. Trading is not a magic toolbox for a get-rich-quick scheme. Investment requires knowledge and the time to learn the field.

      Thank you very much for your kind words, the visit, and a great comment.

  12. Lots of information here! Thanks for sharing. Investing is tough, but it can be beneficial. You have to do your homework and it looks like you did! Have a wonderful weekend!

    1. I am with you; investment is tough but can be beneficial in the long run. At first we were enthusiastic but given that it requires constant monitoring, we had to set monthly automatic transfers to a number of stable mutual funds. We check the status every few months now. You too have a wonderful weekend!

    1. Your blog if full of life. A must follow as well. We are happy to know that you liked the post. Thank you for visiting, following, and commenting.

  13. You recently said you liked my post on https://elspethc.wordpress.com/2016/10/06/realize-get-out-of-the-box/
    Did you like it? Really? Or just think it was about finance and make a quick click?
    I see a lot of good things on your other posts, childbirth, post-partum depression etc. So I want to ask you to tell me what you really think about our current monetary system, and whether you will be acting to push – somehow – for reform. I do know that in the meantime we are all in “the system” within which you are suggesting a variety of choices.
    Out of the Box – let me know what you really think about monetary reform. You can write effectively, it would be good to have you campaigning.

    1. Dear Elspeth,
      Thank you very much for your comment. We have left a comment in your post a few minutes ago. We did read your post. It is excellent and fosters thoughts about monetary systems. The fact is that we do not have much knowledge on the topic. Thank you very much for your thoughtful post and your invitation to participate in your campaign. While we loved your appreciation regarding our writing, we are not worthy of participating in your campaign because of our lack of knowledge regarding monetary systems, macroeconomics, or even finance. We have been writing based on our experience. Both of us (dear wife and dear husband) have different professional background than what have written so far in our blog.

      Have a wonderful evening.

      Settlers, Settle in El Paso

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