Last Updated on

You might be wondering why the title refers to mutual fund ‘categories’. Would it not be more enticing and perhaps more useful had it read, ‘how to select mutual funds suitable for your financial goals’?

Perhaps so. However, I choose to focus on how to select mutual fund categories first, for two reasons

- I am pained to see investors select mutual funds utterly unsuitable for their goals. For example,
- selecting diversified equity mutual funds or ‘balanced’ funds with significant equity component for goals just a few years away.
- investing in volatile debt funds without understanding the risks involved.

- I strongly believe that if an investor knows how to pick the fund category suitable for her needs, the task of selecting a suitable mutual fund
*from**that*category becomes utterly simple, if not obvious.

Mutual fund returns, and associated volatility (fluctuating returns) can be evaluated in a number of ways. Trouble is very few among us take the trouble to understand these although **they could be understood quite easily**.

When I made a **step-by-step to select a mutual fund**, I used 5 of these risk-return parameters. I am delighted to note that many investors, with a near-zero experience in mutual fund investing, have started using these parameters in choosing mutual funds.

In this post, let us discuss how to select a suitable mutual fund category using just one parameter: **the standard deviation**.

In order to understand what standard deviation is, I will borrow this **wonderful analogy** by Subra.

You are give two sets of numbers:

- Runs scored by Virendra Shewag in his last 25 tests.
- A similar set for Rahul Dravid

We all know how to determine the average: add up all the scores and divide by the number of such scores.

Once we get the average, we immediately recognise that some scores are higher than the average and some lower than the average.

Now if we wish to know, between Dravid and Shewag, whose scores *deviate* *more* from the average, we will need to calculate the deviation of each score wrt the average and take the *average of the deviations*.

This is the **standard deviation**. It is defined such that it is always positive so that we are not confused (assuming we are not thus far!)

Even without any data, we will recognise that Shewag is just about is capable of scoring anything from a duck to a triple hundred. Dravid on the other hand is a lot more sedate, and we can typically expect at least 30-40 runs irrespective of the conditions.

Therefore, Dravid’s scores are expected to deviate very little from the average while Shewag’s scores are expected to deviate substantially.

So we say, Dravid’s batting average has lower standard deviation than Shewag’s.

Such is the power of this analogy that it drives home the point without using any data!

Before we use the standard deviation to select a suitable fund category, let us recognise that mutual funds can be grouped together in several ways. There is no right or wrong way and each fund portal (Value Research, Morning Star, Money Control etc.) have their own categorisation scheme.

In this post, I will use the scheme categorization of VR online.

The category standard deviation, along with the typical asset allocation and maturity of debt paper (for debt funds) is listed below for some of the categories define by VR online.

Category standard deviation refers to the *average* standard deviation in a particular category.

Notice that **returns** are missing from this table.

- As you go down the table, the equity component increases. Obviously, if a fund has more equity allocation, higher would be the fluctuations in return and therefore higher the category standard deviation.
- The debt
*income*category has different kind of debt funds (dynamic bond funds, diversified debt funds, that is funds that invest in paper that matures over different periods etc.). So it is not an exclusive group. This is why there is a huge variation in standard deviation and average maturity. - The red arrows point to the evolution in standard deviation. The average standard deviation of one category is close to the minimum standard deviation of the next category. For the above-mentioned reason, this does not apply to
*income*funds. - I have not included gilt funds as they are specialised funds that resemble equity sector funds – not for everybody.
- Let us consider the first four entries that have no equity. Obviously, these are pure debt funds.
- Notice the average age at which the category debt holdings mature. A debt paper is a simple agreement between two parties:
*‘I will pay an amount Y. You hold it for n days and pay me an interest r’*. Of course, this is an over simplification but should suffice for our purpose. - Liquid debt funds invest in short-term debt paper ranging over a couple of months while
*income*debt funds invest in debt paper that can have an age of several years. - It is clear that,
*higher the age of the maturity, higher is the standard deviation and therefore higher the fluctuations in returns.*Of course, this also means higher returns …. typically!

Let us get to the business at hand, with a few examples.

- I have a lump sum that I wish to invest for a few months. Which fund should I choose?

I understand that equity will be too risky for just a few months. So let me eliminate all fund categories with equity.

This leaves me with the top four categories in the table.

If I choose a debt income fund that matches with the category average standard deviation of 3.71%,

My returns will *typically ( 68% probability!!)* range from

X -3.71% to X+3.71% *before taxes!*

* *Can I afford such a swing in returns?

If the answer is no, we can move on and choose somthing with lower standard deviation. What if the answer is yes?!

What if I say, I don’t mind this fluctuation?

Then you will have to worry about what X is, or what it can be.

Let us now introduce a simple but reliable rule of thumb.

- If the return(X) is greater than the
*corresponding*standard deviation (3.70%), there is little or no chance of losing the capital invested.

- If the return is lesser than the
*corresponding*standard deviation, chances of losing the capital invested are high.

If we adopt this thumb rule, the next question is, what is the kind of returns (X) one can expect from a debt income fund over a few months?

Well, for an *income* fund X should, under normal circumstances, be higher than the standard deviation.

However, as most of us realised in July this year, **debts market can crash too** (has happened many a time before). That is the NAV of a debt fund can sharply decrease in a day or over the course of a few weeks.

If this occurs, *all *debts funds are likely to be affected. Some will bounce back after a few days, some after a few weeks, and some after a few months.

If I want to invest for only a few months in a debt *income* fund, and if bonds crash in the period, will my fund recover?

Chances are, it will not.

I would like to use the following rule of thumb when it comes to loss of capital risk associated with debt funds.

- Longer the average maturity period, higher the
*corresponding*standard deviation and*therefore*longer the time it would take for the debt fund to recover. - If Dravid and Shewag lose form at the same time, who is likely to spring back faster? The batsman who can scratch around at the crease, or someone whose instinct is to whack every ball?
- Higher the standard deviation, bigger would be fall in the event of a crash and therefore longer it would take the debt fund to recover.

Funds with typical maturity period of more than 1 year are likely to take about 6 months to recover from a crash. I have kept track of some income funds and many are yet to recover. Unfortunately, this includes my **NPS subscriptions as well** 🙁

**Debt income funds are well suited only for long term goals (more than 5 years at least). Longer the period, greater is the tax advantage.**

What about the other categories? How soon would they recover?

Liquid funds **over a few days**. Short term funds over a couple of months and ulta-short term funds a little earlier that that.

**ad-free newsletter**and get beautifully formatted full articles delivered to your inbox!

**Therefore, for investment durations of just 1-2 years stick with Short-term/Ultra-short-term/liquid funds. Fixed maturity plans (FMP) are also a good option for such durations.**

**What about an investment duration of 5 years?**

I will choose debt funds with maturity of 1 year or less.

Why? For durations less than or equal to 5 years, the power of compounding is not that important. *Therefore *inflation is not that important. So I will prefer to safeguard the capital, choose debt funds of low risk.

Why not **RDs or Bank FDs**? If the goal is crucial and I know exactly how much I need, I will use these even if I fall in the 30% slab. If the goal is less important, then low-risk debts offer a tax advantage.

**Invest durations between 5-10 years**

Debt income funds that invest in debt paper of short duration with low standard deviation.

Debt-oriented Hybrid-funds with about 20-30% equity . Debt portfolio should have low maturity duration. Equity folio should have a good amount of large cap stocks. Again, both factors lead to low standard deviation (relatively!).

**Invest durations above 10 years**

Asset allocation should be done **considering the risk profile of the goal,** as beating inflation is major goal.

Now standard deviation *must be high*!* High volatility is important for beating inflation.*

Tough to choose just one fund. Perhaps if someone monitors the fund regularly, they can pull it off with a fund like HDFC Balanced. However, even for 10-year duration I would be wary of using a *balanced* fund like HDFC Prudence that has a high standard deviation – comparable to many large-cap equity funds!

The point of this post is to share with you how I use standard deviation to select fund categories for my financial goals.

Am I being too conservative? Am I being too risk-averse and missing out on returns?

The way I see it, for short term goals, inflation is not a major issue. So I will not risk losing capital by investing in a fund with large standard deviation.

* If the asset class crashes, there will not be enough time to recover back*.

For a long term goal, inflation *IS *the issue. So one must embrace high standard deviation, bear with short-term loss of capital and invest in mutual funds with high standard deviation. That is, those that have a good amount of equity.

Standard deviation is key to select mutual fund categories suitable for financial goals.

Would you agree?

**Note: ** Standard deviation has some serious technical limitations. Despite that *as a first step*, it is good choice. I am working on suitable alternatives. Watch this space.

____________________

## Ask Questions with this form

And I will respond to them in the coming weekend. I welcome tough questions. Please do not ask for investment advice. Before asking, please search the site if the issue has already been discussed. Thank you. ** PLEASE DO NOT POST COMMENTS WITH THIS** **FORM** it is for questions only.

[contact-form][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Comment’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

**GameChanger**– Forget Startups, Join Corporate & Live The Rich Life You want

My second book, **Gamechanger:** *Forget Start-ups, Join Corporate and Still Live the Rich Life you want*, co-authored with Pranav Surya is **now available at AmazonOpens in a new window** as paperback (₹ 199) and Kindle (free in unlimited or ₹ 99 – you could read with their free app on PC/tablet/mobile, no kindle necessary).

It is a book that tells you how to travel anywhere on a budget and specific investment advice for young earners.

**The ultimate guide to travel by Pranav Surya **is a deep dive analysis into vacation planning, finding cheap flights, budget accommodation, what to do when traveling, how traveling slowly is better financially and psychologically with links to the web pages and hand-holding at every step. **Get the pdf for ₹199 (instant download)**

**You can Be Rich Too with Goal-Based Investing **

My first book with PV Subramanyam helps you ask the risk questions about money, seek simple solutions and find your own personalised answers with nine online calculator modules.

The book is available at:

**Amazon Hardcover Rs. 271. 32% OFF**

**Infibeam Now just Rs. 270 32% OFF. **If you use a mobikwik wallet, and purchase via infibeam, you can get up to 100% cashback!!

**Flipkart** Rs. 279. 30% off

Kindle at **Amazon.in** **(Rs.271) **Read with free app

**Google PlayRs. 271 **Read on your PC/Tablet/Mobile

**Now in Hindi!**

Pre-order the Hindi version via this link

**ad-free newsletter**and get beautifully formatted full articles delivered to your inbox!

**About the Author**

M. 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 LinkedinPattabiraman has co-authored two print-books, You can be rich too with goal-based investing (CNBC TV18) and Gamechanger and seven other free e-books on various topics of money management. He is a patron and co-founder of “Fee-only India” an organisation to promote unbiased, commission-free investment advice.

He conducts free money management sessions for corporates and associations on the basis of money management. Previous engagements include

*World Bank*, RBI,

*BHEL*, Asian Paints, TamilNadu Investors Association etc.

**For speaking engagements write to pattu [at] freefincal [dot] com**

**About freefincal & Content Policy**

Freefincal is a News Media Organization dedicated to providing original analysis, reports, reviews and insights on developments in mutual funds, stocks, investing, retirement and personal finance. We do so without conflict of interest and bias. We operate in a non-profit manner. All revenue is used only for expenses and for the future growth of the site.Freefincal serves more than one million readers a year (2.5 million page views) with articles based only on factual information and detailed analysis by its authors. All statements made will be verified from credible and knowledgeable sources before publication. Freefincal does not publish any kind of paid articles, promotions or PR, satire or opinions without data. All opinions presented will only be inferences backed by verifiable, reproducible evidence/data.

**Contact information:**letters {at} freefincal {dot} com (sponsored posts or paid collaborations will not be entertained)

**Connect with us on social media**

**Twitter @freefincal****Facebook**- Subscribe to our
**Youtube Videos** - Posts feed via:
**Feedburner** **Pinterest**

**Our Publications**

**You Can Be Rich Too with Goal-Based Investing**

**My first book is meant to help you ask the right questions, seek the right answers and since it comes with nine online calculators, you can also create custom solutions for your lifestyle!**

**Get it now**. It is also available in Kindle format.

**Gamechanger: Forget Startups, Join Corporate & Still Live the Rich Life You Want**

**My second book is meant for young earners to get their basics right from day one! It will also help you travel to exotic places at low cost!**

**Get it or gift it to a young**

**earner**

**The ultimate guide to travel by Pranav Surya**

This is a deep dive analysis into vacation planning, finding cheap flights, budget accommodation, what to do when travelling, how travelling slowly is better financially and psychologically with links to the web pages and hand-holding at every step. **Get the pdf for ₹199 (instant download)**

**Free Apps for your Android Phone**

All calculators from our book, “You can be Rich Too” are now available on Google Play!Install Financial Freedom App! (Google Play Store)

Install Freefincal Retirement Planner App! (Google Play Store)

Find out if you have enough to say "FU" to your employer (Google Play Store)

**Comment Policy**

Your thoughts are the driving force behind our work. We welcome criticism and differing opinions.**Please do not include hyperlinks or email ids in the comment body**. Such comments will be moderated and I reserve the right to delete the entire comment or remove the links before approving them.

nicely explained , otherwise boring species of mutual fund community! thank you.

Thank you.

nicely explained , otherwise boring species of mutual fund community! thank you.

Thank you.

Thank You so much for a detailed post. This gives the better idea of investing; who understand simple maths!

Thank you very much.

Thank You so much for a detailed post. This gives the better idea of investing; who understand simple maths!

Thank you very much.

thanks for the post, will appreciate if we explain wrt to any four particular MFs say may be Top200, SBI emerging, HDFC Midcap and may be ICICI Pru focussed. will wait for the post-cheers

Thank you. Not sure what you want. If you want analysis on these funds, you can do it yourself with the tools available.

If you want an explanation in terms of standard deviation, then not much to explain. It will be quite high. So they are suitable only for long term (min 10Y).

thanks for the post, will appreciate if we explain wrt to any four particular MFs say may be Top200, SBI emerging, HDFC Midcap and may be ICICI Pru focussed. will wait for the post-cheers

Thank you. Not sure what you want. If you want analysis on these funds, you can do it yourself with the tools available.

If you want an explanation in terms of standard deviation, then not much to explain. It will be quite high. So they are suitable only for long term (min 10Y).

Hi

Most mutual funds give standard deviation in their fact sheets but not the mean returns for the period under consideration. SD without a mean has no meaning and is not a useful tool to select any fund.

Bharat D Shah

The post is about using SD for choosing fund categories and not for choosing funds. So returns are immaterial. SD gives an idea about volatility and this is good enough for choosing fund categories.

If you look at my step by step guide to choosing my mutual fund, I would have used all risk return parameters together.

http://freefincal.com/step-by-step-guide-to-selecting-a-mutual-fund/

Hi

Most mutual funds give standard deviation in their fact sheets but not the mean returns for the period under consideration. SD without a mean has no meaning and is not a useful tool to select any fund.

Bharat D Shah

The post is about using SD for choosing fund categories and not for choosing funds. So returns are immaterial. SD gives an idea about volatility and this is good enough for choosing fund categories.

If you look at my step by step guide to choosing my mutual fund, I would have used all risk return parameters together.

http://freefincal.com/step-by-step-guide-to-selecting-a-mutual-fund/

Nice Pattu. Your post answers a number of questions which an investor must ask himself before investing. And good information about Debt fund behaviour, which in my opinion are tougher to understand than the equity funds.

Thank you very much. I agree with you reg. debt fund behaviour.

Nice Pattu. Your post answers a number of questions which an investor must ask himself before investing. And good information about Debt fund behaviour, which in my opinion are tougher to understand than the equity funds.

Thank you very much. I agree with you reg. debt fund behaviour.

Enriching post.. Thank you…. Needs to be bookmarked…

Thank Viren.

Enriching post.. Thank you…. Needs to be bookmarked…

Thank Viren.

Thanks Pattu once again for answering a question for which I would have visited many sites and spent hours…

Thank you very much.

Thanks Pattu once again for answering a question for which I would have visited many sites and spent hours…

Thank you very much.

Thanks Pattu Sir, very nicely written article.

I have a query on debt funds. If all my financial goals (atleast the ones I have thought of), are minimum 15 years away, is there any point in having a debt fund in the portfolio at all? I have PPF, EPFas my debt category, will that be alright? I understand that both PPF n EPF are not flexible and cannot be converted to liquid cash when required.

Thanks Pattu Sir, very nicely written article.

I have a query on debt funds. If all my financial goals (atleast the ones I have thought of), are minimum 15 years away, is there any point in having a debt fund in the portfolio at all? I have PPF, EPFas my debt category, will that be alright? I understand that both PPF n EPF are not flexible and cannot be converted to liquid cash when required.

Sir, if i have Rs 100,000 today– n i want to invest it in mf– say, i have 4 scenarios- for 1.5 year, for 3.5 years, for 6years, and for 9 years- with moderate risk capacity n specific target goals-aim fr tax savings- which all specific funds do u seggest?

i mean Rs 100,000 is fixed for different scenarios- how to put Rs 100,000 for 1.5 years period, than again where to put Rs 100,000 for 3.5 years period, etc etc-

all seperately.

Sir, if i have Rs 100,000 today– n i want to invest it in mf– say, i have 4 scenarios- for 1.5 year, for 3.5 years, for 6years, and for 9 years- with moderate risk capacity n specific target goals-aim fr tax savings- which all specific funds do u seggest?

i mean Rs 100,000 is fixed for different scenarios- how to put Rs 100,000 for 1.5 years period, than again where to put Rs 100,000 for 3.5 years period, etc etc-

all seperately.

Also can there be a fund- to keep lumpsum money –for say 6 month to 2 years to 3 years…may need it..may not need it also.. just to keep aside..?? no specific time, just safety n return n tax efficiency??

Also can there be a fund- to keep lumpsum money –for say 6 month to 2 years to 3 years…may need it..may not need it also.. just to keep aside..?? no specific time, just safety n return n tax efficiency??

Hello Sir Ji,

It was nicely explained. When i tried to come to conclusion, bit confused.

Example, I am a kind of investor who want to achieve child education goal which is 20 yrs down to line, with only one fund. So it become confusing, to go with only large cap, large & mid cap, or multicap?

I hve investment in some funds like hdfct200, QLTEF, FIBCF,IDFC premier equity. Now Should i put my current requirement in one of this or should go with one as explained by your procedure ( UTI OPP, UTI mid cap, uti Equity, )???

Need ur view as i wana start SIP ASAP for my 1 year old.

Thanks.

If you already have funds tagged to these goals. Please continue in the same funds. If you are starting fresh, use a single balanced fund or 1 large and mid-cap fund with PPF. Down the line you can use a debt fund.

Thanks Mudir….( Its Arabic word of Sir).

Hello Sir Ji,

It was nicely explained. When i tried to come to conclusion, bit confused.

Example, I am a kind of investor who want to achieve child education goal which is 20 yrs down to line, with only one fund. So it become confusing, to go with only large cap, large & mid cap, or multicap?

I hve investment in some funds like hdfct200, QLTEF, FIBCF,IDFC premier equity. Now Should i put my current requirement in one of this or should go with one as explained by your procedure ( UTI OPP, UTI mid cap, uti Equity, )???

Need ur view as i wana start SIP ASAP for my 1 year old.

Thanks.

If you already have funds tagged to these goals. Please continue in the same funds. If you are starting fresh, use a single balanced fund or 1 large and mid-cap fund with PPF. Down the line you can use a debt fund.

Thanks Mudir….( Its Arabic word of Sir).

Are you suggesting to go for equity mutual funds only for goals more than 10 years?

I have realised that most of the advice is from a risk averse perspective but have I understood the above post correctly

On a diff note I really appreciate all the efforts taken by you to simplify the overall process…

Thank you. Yes, I am in favour of significant equity allocation only for 10Y plus goals.

Are you suggesting to go for equity mutual funds only for goals more than 10 years?

I have realised that most of the advice is from a risk averse perspective but have I understood the above post correctly

On a diff note I really appreciate all the efforts taken by you to simplify the overall process…

Thank you. Yes, I am in favour of significant equity allocation only for 10Y plus goals.

Dear Sir,

I couldn’t export this page to PDF using the embedded Print/PDF link (which points to http://www.printfriendly.com/print?headerImageUrl=&headerTagline=&pfCustomCSS=&imageDisplayStyle=right&disableClickToDel=0&disablePDF=0&disablePrint=0&disableEmail=0&hideImages=0&url=http%3A%2F%2Ffreefincal.com%2Fselect-mutual-fund-categories-suit-goal%2F). I’m getting an empty page.

Is this broken?

Perhaps it is an issue with the plugin. Try using the print option in Chrome.

Dear Sir,

I couldn’t export this page to PDF using the embedded Print/PDF link (which points to http://www.printfriendly.com/print?headerImageUrl=&headerTagline=&pfCustomCSS=&imageDisplayStyle=right&disableClickToDel=0&disablePDF=0&disablePrint=0&disableEmail=0&hideImages=0&url=http%3A%2F%2Ffreefincal.com%2Fselect-mutual-fund-categories-suit-goal%2F). I’m getting an empty page.

Is this broken?

Perhaps it is an issue with the plugin. Try using the print option in Chrome.

Dear Sir,

Thanks a lot for explaining in detail regarding choosing fund categories.

You have mentioned that gilt funds are like equity sector funds.could you please elaborate on that.Are they suitable for long term debt portion of asset allocation (along with PPF).would they help in balancing a scenario where interest rates for PPF may fall?

Thanks

Dear Sir,

Thanks a lot for explaining in detail regarding choosing fund categories.

You have mentioned that gilt funds are like equity sector funds.could you please elaborate on that.Are they suitable for long term debt portion of asset allocation (along with PPF).would they help in balancing a scenario where interest rates for PPF may fall?

Thanks

Thank you so much sir. Very clear explanation.

Thank you

Thank you so much sir. Very clear explanation.

Thank you

Great Post Sir. Please Continue your Great Work.

Great Post Sir. Please Continue your Great Work.

Sir, How did you get this figure "My returns will typically (68% probability!!) " ?

Sir, How did you get this figure "My returns will typically (68% probability!!) " ?

Thank you

Thank you

That is from the definition of the normal distribution or the bell curve.

That is from the definition of the normal distribution or the bell curve.

chief, thanks for the wonderful write up. u write so clearly. pl keep it up

chief, thanks for the wonderful write up. u write so clearly. pl keep it up

Great post.

it is indeed a pleasure to read an article written by someone who has understood the subject well.

Keep up the good work really appreciate your enthusiasm in spreading awareness in these dense topics

Sir,

These investments for equal to 5yrs, u preferred debt fund. The investment u considered is lump-sum only or SIP also?