When to choose what mutual fund?

Published: September 2, 2017 at 11:36 am

Last Updated on

In this post, I discuss a simple way to find out if a certain fund or a certain fund category is suitable for our need. We shall the use often-mentioned idea of standard deviation as a simple measure of volatility. Although not perfect, it is good enough to differentiate type based on daily market risk (there are other types of risk that cannot be quantified on a daily basis like credit risk).

Go to the Value research fund page of Quantum Liquid fund and click on the “performance” tab. If you scroll down that page, you will see this box:

The mean represents the average of the last 36 month returns of the fund =6.99%.

The Std Dev is the standard deviation of the above mean. That is, it is a measure of much each monthly return has deviated from the average.

It is incorrect to show the mean alone. The right representation is

mean +/- std deviation.

So for quantum liquid, it is 6.99 + 0.29.

For the liquid fund category, it is 7.42 +/- 0.34

Since the standard deviation is significantly lower than the average, each month return does not deviate much from the average. Meaning the volatility over the measure 3 year period is quite low. Therefore liquid funds can be safely used for a 3-year investment.

Of course, if your investment duration is 6 months or one year, you will have to repeat this exercise over that period. This data is not available online. So you can simply plot all possible  6 month or 1Y returns (your duration)  over the last 3Y or so to get a visual measure of volatility. See this post for an example: Are Debt Mutual Funds an Alternative to Fixed Deposits? and you can use this tool to calculate for yourself: Mutual Fund SIP and Lump Sum Rolling Returns Calculators

Now suppose we plot the category average 3Y monthly return and its standard deviation for all Value Research categories with the understanding that such categorization is arbitrary and dynamic, we would get the following graph.

The red balls represent the 3Y monthly average and the blue line the spread (+/- standard deviation) in returns.

Notice how the spread increase as we move from:

liquid funds —-> Ultra short term funds —> Gilt short term —> and so on.

This is the data:

I have added some arbitrary colours (like a signal) and risk grades over a 3 year period. you will have to look at individual funds before deciding.

Notice the data for Pharma and IT funds!!

As a thumb rule, a 3Y standard deviation in double digits or close to it, implies the fund or the fund category is only suitable for long-term (10+) or at least medium term (7+) durations. You can see this post for more details: What Return Can I Expect From Equity Over the Long term? Part 2

This is a simple way for the interested investor to figure out “when to choose what”.

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M Pattabiraman author of freefincal.comM. Pattabiraman(PhD) is the founder, managing editor and primary author of freefincal. He is an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. since Aug 2006. Connect with him via Linkedin
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12 Comments

  1. Just fantastic analysis sir. This should allay all doubts regarding investment horizons we all have but get confused by experts giving out conflicting reports.

  2. Thank you. Being a new entrant to MF field, found it quite useful info.

    Also, sorry that I posted this in the question form and read the text around that form only later 🙂

  3. Hello Professor
    Nice one again.
    I have two queries
    1) Can credit opportunity fund be bracketed in low risk category in all conditions? What would be the Role of fund manager vis-vis risk
    2) (similar one though)as the above risk statistics (for 3 years) may represent certain period in the interest rate cycle, risk statistics for the adverse interest rate cycle(to that of above 3 yrs cycle) can also be drawn?
    I wanted to invest in gilt short term but cant decide as interest rate changes are expected.
    Is there any all weather (decent ?) debt fund, other than liquid and UST, for horizon of 3-5 years, through SIP route.
    Thanks in advance

    1. Can credit opportunity fund be bracketed in low risk category in all conditions?
      —–> NO credit risk cannot be quantified until it manifests

      similar one though)as the above risk statistics (for 3 years) may represent certain period in the interest rate cycle, risk statistics for the adverse interest rate cycle(to that of above 3 yrs cycle) can also be drawn?

      —–> Yes but that would require many 3Y cycles

      I wanted to invest in gilt short term but cant decide as interest rate changes are expected.
      —-> Use them for parking money not investing

      Is there any all weather (decent ?) debt fund, other than liquid and UST, for horizon of 3-5 years, through SIP route.
      —-> short term gilt will work others will have credit risk. You can consider Quantum Dynamic bond if you can hold for at least 5Y

  4. Fabulous, it clears a lot of doubt regarding debt instruments which I found quite difficult to understand. I will be revisiting this article regularly and am sure other debt articles will make sense to me now.

  5. I will retire shortly with a retirement corpus (CPF,VPF and Gratuity) of about Rs. 2.50 crore. Out of this, 70% or so I plan to invest in Bank FDs for my regular income for monthly expenses and emergency needs.
    Balance 30% i.e. about Rs. 75.00 lakhs in mutual funds; Rs. 25.00 lakhs in growth option at least for 10 years and 50.00 lakhs in Annual Dividend option to utilise the annual dividend for yearly vacation with my family.
    Which fund category should I invest for (I) The Growth Option and (II) The Annual Dividend Option.
    Regards

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