If you've been listening to the wailing and gnashing of teeth that has been going on among investors since the stock market crash last October, you'd probably think there was no one left with an investment in stocks or mutual funds - that they've all fled to the safer harbors of bonds, CD and T-bills.
Au contraire, reports Roy Jespersen, managing partner of Wasatch Advisors Funds Inc., the Salt Lake-based investment firm which has the distinction of being the only Utah company to offer its own family of mutual funds.True, in the aftermath of the carnage of Black Monday some investors have - for now, at any rate - decided that the equities market is no place for the "little guy" and have moved their hard earned dollars into government-guaranteed securities.
But not all, says Jespersen, whose parent company, 12-year-old Wasatch Advisors, manages $170 million of qualified retirement plan assets for the Utah State Retirement Fund, Baskin Robbins, Trammell Crow and others.
The company's three mutual funds, registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission last March, now have a little over $4 million in assets - not exactly competition for Fidelity or Franklin yet but "we'll be there" assures Jespersen.
Contrary to popular belief that investors have fled the equities market in droves since Black Monday, Jespersen points out that mutual fund assets are down only 5 percent nationwide and Utahns continue to own about $3 billion in mutuals. One in four Utah families own mutual funds today compared with only one in 10 in 1970.
Convinced? No? Well how about this? National sales of mutual funds are running $8 billion a month in 1988, on track to make the year the third best in history.
All this happy news is not to say that Black Monday has been ignored. The bearish side is that mutual funds sales are down dramatically so far this year - more than 50 percent - when compared with the first nine months of 1987. There's not a lot of new money coming in.
So the assets are still there even if growth is not, but 1987 was a hard act to follow in terms of equities investment. People were buying stocks and mutual funds last year who had never played the market before. Such was the buying frenzy of the long bull market.
It's Jespersen's view that, unlike short-term buyers of "hot stocks," most investors in mutual funds, focused on a long-term investment strategy, sat tight and rode out the crash and its aftermath, thus losing little or nothing. Those who did move, tended to move within the funds, say from stock funds to money market or bond funds.
"Some people have stepped to the sidelines but they haven't jumped off the ship," said Jespersen. "Over time, stocks do better than cash or bonds. But people have to lower their expectations for quick profits. In today's climate, 25-30 percent annual returns are not commonplace."
The way to "beat" the market, said Jespersen, is to pick an investment strategy that makes sense for your personal needs and matches your objectives and then find a mutual fund - with the diversity (safety) it provides - that is tailored to those objectives. "Then you grow wealth by sticking to that approach over time."
Those who read - and react - to daily stock quotes, he said, are doomed to lose because they have become short-term oriented.
"If a guy came and stood outside your house each day with a sign saying how much it's worth, you'd be depressed all the time. Same with stocks. If you go after a mutual fund because of its performance, and not because of your investment objective, the minute the waves wash over the ship you will head for the lifeboats."
Interestingly, said Jespersen, over the past few years, if an investor had each year taken all of his money and put it into the previous year's best mutual fund, he would have realized only about 9 percent return instead of the approximately 18 percent that the market returned overall.