Fund Ka Funda
The article mentioned below, is for the investors who have not yet started investing in mutual funds, but willing to explore the opportunity and also for those who want to clear their basics for what is mutual fund and how best it can serve as an investment tool.
 
Before we move to explain what is mutual fund, it’s very important to know the area in which mutual funds works, the basic understanding of stocks and bonds. 
 
Stocks represent shares of ownership in a public company. Examples of public companies include Reliance, ONGC and Infosys. Stocks are considered to be the most common owned investment traded on the market. 
 
Bonds are basically the money which you lend to the government or a company, and in return you can receive interest on your invested amount, which is back over predetermined amounts of time. Bonds are considered to be the most common lending investment traded on the market. 

There are many other types of investments other than stocks and bonds (including annuities, real estate, and precious metals), but the majority of mutual funds invest in stocks and/or bonds.
 
WORKING OF MUTUAL FUNDS
 
To protect the interest of the investors, SEBI formulates policies and regulates the mutual funds. It notified regulations in 1993 (fully revised in 1996) and issues guidelines from time to time. MF either promoted by public or by private sector entities including one promoted by foreign entities is governed by these Regulations. 

SEBI approved Asset Management Company (AMC) manages the funds by making investments in various types of securities. Custodian, registered with SEBI, holds the securities of various schemes of the fund in its custody. 

According to SEBI Regulations, two thirds of the directors of Trustee Company or board of trustees must be independent. The Association of Mutual Funds in India (AMFI) reassures the investors in units of mutual funds that the mutual funds function within the strict regulatory framework. Its objective is to increase public awareness of the mutual fund industry. AMFI also is engaged in upgrading professional standards and in promoting best industry practices in diverse areas such as valuation, disclosure, transparency etc. 
 
A mutual fund is just the connecting bridge or a financial intermediary that allows a group of investors to pool their money together with a predetermined investment objective. The mutual fund will have a fund manager who is responsible for investing the gathered money into specific securities (stocks or bonds). When you invest in a mutual fund, you are buying units or portions of the mutual fund and thus on investing becomes a shareholder or unit holder of the fund. 

Mutual funds are considered as one of the best available investments as compare to others they are very cost efficient and also easy to invest in, thus by pooling money together in a mutual fund, investors can purchase stocks or bonds with much lower trading costs than if they tried to do it on their own. But the biggest advantage to mutual funds is diversification, by minimizing risk & maximizing returns.
 
Diversification is nothing but spreading out your money across available or different types of investments. By choosing to diversify respective investment holdings reduces risk tremendously up to certain extent. 

The most basic level of diversification is to buy multiple stocks rather than just one stock. Mutual funds are set up to buy many stocks. Beyond that, you can diversify even more by purchasing different kinds of stocks, then adding bonds, then international, and so on. It could take you weeks to buy all these investments, but if you purchased a few mutual funds you could be done in a few hours because mutual funds automatically diversify in a predetermined category of investments (i.e. - growth companies, emerging or mid size companies, low-grade corporate bonds, etc). 
 
Wide variety of Mutual Fund Schemes exists to cater to the needs such as financial position, risk tolerance and return expectations etc. thus mutual funds has Variety of flavors, Being a collection of many stocks, an investors can go for picking a mutual fund might be easy. There are over hundreds of mutual funds scheme to choose from. It is easier to think of mutual funds in categories, mentioned below 

Overview of existing schemes existed in mutual fund category.
 
  • Close-ended Fund/ Scheme : 
    A close-ended fund or scheme has a stipulated maturity period e.g. 5-7 years. The fund is open for subscription only during a specified period at the time of launch of the scheme. Investors can invest in the scheme at the time of the initial public issue and thereafter they can buy or sell the units of the scheme on the stock exchanges where the units are listed. In order to provide an exit route to the investors, some close-ended funds give an option of selling back the units to the mutual fund through periodic repurchase at NAV related prices. SEBI Regulations stipulate that at least one of the two exit routes is provided to the investor i.e. either repurchase facility or through listing on stock exchanges. These mutual funds schemes disclose NAV generally on weekly basis.

  • Growth / Equity Oriented Scheme :
    The aim of growth funds is to provide capital appreciation over the medium to long- term. Such schemes normally invest a major part of their corpus in equities. Such funds have comparatively high risks. These schemes provide different options to the investors like dividend option, capital appreciation, etc. and the investors may choose an option depending on their preferences. The investors must indicate the option in the application form. The mutual funds also allow the investors to change the options at a later date. Growth schemes are good for investors having a long-term outlook seeking appreciation over a period of time.

  • Interval Schemes :
    Interval Schemes are that scheme, which combines the features of open-ended and close-ended schemes. The units may be traded on the stock exchange or may be open for sale or redemption during pre-determined intervals at NAV related prices 
 
The risk return trade-off indicates that if investor is willing to take higher risk then correspondingly he can expect higher returns and vise versa if he pertains to lower risk instruments, which would be satisfied by lower returns. For example, if an investors opt for bank FD, which provide moderate return with minimal risk. But as he moves ahead to invest in capital protected funds and the profit-bonds that give out more return which is slightly higher as compared to the bank deposits but the risk involved also increases in the same proportion. 

Thus investors choose mutual funds as their primary means of investing, as Mutual funds provide professional management, diversification, convenience and liquidity. That doesn’t mean mutual fund investments risk free. This is because the money that is pooled in are not invested only in debts funds which are less riskier but are also invested in the stock markets which involves a higher risk but can expect higher returns. Hedge fund involves a very high risk since it is mostly traded in the derivatives market which is considered very volatile. 
 
  • Equity fund : 
    These funds invest a maximum part of their corpus into equities holdings. The structure of the fund may vary different for different schemes and the fund manager’s outlook on different stocks. The Equity Funds are sub-classified depending upon their investment objective, as follows :
    • Diversified Equity Funds
    • Mid-Cap Funds
    • Sector Specific Funds
    • Tax Savings Funds (ELSS)
    Equity investments are meant for a longer time horizon, thus Equity funds rank high on the risk-return matrix.

  • Debt funds : 
    The objective of these Funds is to invest in debt papers. Government authorities, private companies, banks and financial institutions are some of the major issuers of debt papers. By investing in debt instruments, these funds ensure low risk and provide stable income to the investors. Debt funds are further classified as :
    • Gilt Funds :
      Invest their corpus in securities issued by Government, popularly known as Government of India debt papers. These Funds carry zero Default risk but are associated with Interest Rate risk. These schemes are safer as they invest in papers backed by Government.
    • Income Funds : 
      Invest a major portion into various debt instruments such as bonds, corporate debentures and Government securities. 
    • MIPs :
      Invests maximum of their total corpus in debt instruments while they take minimum exposure in equities. It gets benefit of both equity and debt market. These scheme ranks slightly high on the risk-return matrix when compared with other debt schemes. 
    • Short Term Plans (STPs): 
      Meant for investment horizon for three to six months. These funds primarily invest in short term papers like Certificate of Deposits (CDs) and Commercial Papers (CPs). Some portion of the corpus is also invested in corporate debentures. 
    • Liquid Funds :
      Also known as Money Market Schemes, These funds provides easy liquidity and preservation of capital. These schemes invest in short-term instruments like Treasury Bills, inter-bank call money market, CPs and CDs. These funds are meant for short-term cash management of corporate houses and are meant for an investment horizon of 1day to 3 months. These schemes rank low on risk-return matrix and are considered to be the safest amongst all categories of mutual funds.

  • Balanced funds :
    As the name suggest they, are a mix of both equity and debt funds. They invest in both equities and fixed income securities, which are in line with pre-defined investment objective of the scheme. These schemes aim to provide investors with the best of both the worlds. Equity part provides growth and the debt part provides stability in returns.

Further the mutual funds can be broadly classified on the basis of investment parameter viz,
Each category of funds is backed by an investment philosophy, which is pre-defined in the objectives of the fund. The investor can align his own investment needs with the funds objective and invest accordingly. 
 
  • Growth Schemes Growth Schemes are also known as equity schemes. The aim of these schemes is to provide capital appreciation over medium to long term. These schemes normally invest a major part of their fund in equities and are willing to bear short-term decline in value for possible future appreciation.

  • Income Schemes 
    Income Schemes are also known as debt schemes. The aim of these schemes is to provide regular and steady income to investors. These schemes generally invest in fixed income securities such as bonds and corporate debentures. Capital appreciation in such schemes may be limited.

  • Balanced Schemes
    Balanced Schemes aim to provide both growth and income by periodically distributing a part of the income and capital gains they earn. These schemes invest in both shares and fixed income securities, in the proportion indicated in their offer documents (normally 50:50).

  • Money Market Schemes
    Money Market Schemes aim to provide easy liquidity, preservation of capital and moderate income. These schemes generally invest in safer, short-term instruments, such as treasury bills, certificates of deposit, commercial paper and inter-bank call money.
 
  • Tax Saving Schemes :
    Tax-saving schemes offer tax rebates to the investors under tax laws prescribed from time to time. Under Sec.88 of the Income Tax Act, contributions made to any Equity Linked Savings Scheme (ELSS) are eligible for rebate.

  • Index Schemes :
    Index schemes attempt to replicate the performance of a particular index such as the BSE Sensex or the NSE 50. The portfolio of these schemes will consist of only those stocks that constitute the index. The percentage of each stock to the total holding will be identical to the stocks index weightage. And hence, the returns from such schemes would be more or less equivalent to those of the Index.

  • Sector Specific Schemes :
    These are the funds/schemes which invest in the securities of only those sectors or industries as specified in the offer documents. e.g. Pharmaceuticals, Software, Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), Petroleum stocks, etc. The returns in these funds are dependent on the performance of the respective sectors/industries. While these funds may give higher returns, they are more risky compared to diversified funds. Investors need to keep a watch on the performance of those sectors/industries and must exit at an appropriate time.
 
There are three ways, where the total returns provided by mutual funds can be enjoyed by investors :
  • Income is earned from dividends on stocks and interest on bonds. A fund pays out nearly all income it receives over the year to fund owners in the form of a distribution.
  • If the fund sells securities that have increased in price, the fund has a capital gain. Most funds also pass on these gains to investors in a distribution.
  • If fund holdings increase in price but are not sold by the fund manager, the fund's shares increase in price. You can then sell your mutual fund shares for a profit. Funds will also usually give you a choice either to receive a check for distributions or to reinvest the earnings and get more shares.
For investments in mutual fund, one must keep in mind about the Pros and cons of investments in mutual fund.

Advantages of Investing Mutual Funds :
  • Professional Management - The basic advantage of funds is that, they are professional managed, by well qualified professional. Investors purchase funds because they do not have the time or the expertise to manage their own portfolio. A mutual fund is considered to be relatively less expensive way to make and monitor their investments.
  • Diversification – purchasing units in a mutual fund instead of buying individual stocks or bonds, the investors risk is spread out and minimized up to certain extent. The idea behind diversification is to invest in a large number of assets so that a loss in any particular investment is minimized by gains in others.
  • Economies of Scale - Mutual fund buy and sell large amounts of securities at a time, thus help to reducing transaction costs, and help to bring down the average cost of the unit for their investors.
  • Liquidity - Just like an individual stock, mutual fund also allows investors to liquidate their holdings as and when they want.
  • Simplicity – Investments in mutual fund is considered to be easy, compare to other available instruments in the market, and the minimum investment is small. Most AMC also have automatic purchase plans whereby as little as Rs. 2000, where SIP start with just Rs.50 per month basis.
  • Professional Management - Some funds doesn’t perform in neither the market, as their management is not dynamic enough to explore the available opportunity in the market, thus many investors debate over whether or not the so-called professionals are any better than mutual fund or investor him self, for picking up stocks.
  • Costs – The biggest source of AMC income, is generally from the entry & exit load which they charge from an investors, at the time of purchase. The mutual fund industries are thus charging extra cost under layers of jargon.
  • Dilution - Because funds have small holdings across different companies, high returns from a few investments often don't make much difference on the overall return. Dilution is also the result of a successful fund getting too big. When money pours into funds that have had strong success, the manager often has trouble finding a good investment for all the new money.
  • Taxes - when making decisions about your money, fund managers don't consider your personal tax situation. For example, when a fund manager sells a security, a capital-gain tax is triggered, which affects how profitable the individual is from the sale. It might have been more advantageous for the individual to defer the capital gains liability.