Friday, February 6, 2004

Prospectus has more than fee info

The Associated Press

A mutual fund prospectus is a good place for shareholders to find out more about the fees they're paying. But they also have other useful information.

Here are some of the prospectus' highlights:

• Goals and Objectives. At the beginning of the prospectus, the fund describes its investment objectives and goals, strategies and risks. For example, a fund might talk about what type of growth it expects and what types of investments it is making to get those results. Perhaps the fund invests only in stocks of the biggest companies, or restricts investments to the U.S. market. Mutual funds must update their prospectuses at least once a year, so always check to make sure you're looking at the most recent version.

• Fee Table. This table provides information about the fund's fees and expenses, which break down into two basic categories: shareholder fees and annual fund operating expenses. Another table shows you the costs associated with investing a hypothetical $10,000 over a one-, three-, five- and 10-year period.

• Risk/Return Bar Chart and Table. This chart examines the fund's annual total returns for each of the last 10 years (or less if a fund is younger). In most cases, funds also must provide a table with returns before and after taxes for the past one, five and 10 years. The returns of an appropriate broad-based index, such as the Standard & Poor's 500 index, are also included for comparison purposes.

• Financial Highlights. This section provides audited information for the fund's financial performance during the previous five years. Here you'll find net asset values - the value of a fund share based on a fund's overall worth - as well as total returns, and various ratios, including the ratio of expenses to average net assets, the ratio of net income to average net assets and the portfolio turnover rate. Those tidbits can be meaningful to educated investors. A high portfolio turnover rate, for example, can signal higher fund expenses because of the cost of buying and selling stocks.

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