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Bledsoe Multual Funds: 401k, Money Market Funds

A job at S&S Air

You recently graduated from college, and your job search led you to S&S Air. Because you felt the company's business was taking off, you accepted a job offer. The first day on the job, while you were finishing your employment paperwork, Chris Guthrie, who works in finance, stops by to inform you about the company's 401(k) plan.

A 401(k) plan is a retirement plan offered by many companies. Such plans are tax-deferred savings vehicles, meaning that any deposits you make into the plan are dedicated from your current pre-tax income, so no current taxes are paid on the money. For example, assume your salary will be $50,000 per year. If you combine $3,000 to the 401(k) plan, you will pay taxes on only $47,000 in income. There are also no taxes paid on any capital gains or income while you are invested in the plan, but you do pay taxes when you withdraw money at retirement. As is fairly common, the company also has a 5 percent match. That means that the company will match your contribution up to 5 percent of your salary, but you must contribute to get the match.

The 401(k) plan has several options for investments, most of which are mutual funds. A mutual fund is a portfolio of assets. When you purchase shares in a mutual fund, you are actually purchasing partial ownership of the fund's assets. The return of the fund is the weighted average of the return of assets owned by the fund, minus any expenses. The largest expense is typically the management fee, paid to the fund manager. The management fee is compensation for the manager, who makes all of the investment decisions for the fund.

S&S Air uses Bledsoe Financial Services as its 401(k) plan administrator. Here are the investment options offered for employees:

Company Stock One option in the 401(k) plan is stock in S&S Air. The company is currently privately held. However, when you interviewed the owners, Mark Sexton and Todd Story, they informed you the company stock was expected to go public in the next three years. Until then, a company stock price is simply set each year by the board of directors.
Bledsoe S&P 500 Index Fund This mutual fund tracks the S&P 500. Stocks in the fund are weighted exactly the same as the S&P 500. This means the fund return is approximately the return on the S&P 500, minus expenses. Because an index fund purchases assets based on the composition of the index it is following, the fund manager is not required to research stocks and make investment decisions. The result is that the fund expenses are usually low. The Bledsoe S&P 500 Index Fund charges expenses of .15 percent of assets per year.

Bledsoe Small-Cap Fund This fund primarily invests in small capitalization stocks. As such, the returns of the fund are more volatile. The fund can also invest 10 percent of its assets in companies based outside of the United States. This fund charges 1.70 percent in expenses.

Bledsoe Large-Company Stock Fund This fund invests primarily in large capitalization stocks of companies based in the United States. The fund is managed by Evan Bledsoe and has outperformed the market in six o f the last eight years. The fund charges 1.50 percent in expenses.

Bledsoe Bond Fund This fund invests in long-term corporate bonds issued by U.S.-domiciled companies. The fund is restricted to investments in bonds with an investment-grade credit rating. This fund charges 1.4 percent in expenses.

Bledsoe Money Market Fund This fund invests in short-term, high credit-quality debt instruments, which include Treasury bills. As such, the return on the money market fund is only slightly higher than the return on Treasury bills. Because of the credit quality and short-term nature of the investments, there is only a very slight risk of negative return. The fund charges .60 percent in expenses.

1. What advantages do the mutual funds offer compared to the company stock?
2. Assume that you invest 5 percent of your salary and receive the full 5 percent match from S&S Air. What EAR do you earn from the match? What conclusions do you draw about matching plans?
3. Assume you decide you should invest at least part of your money in large-capitalization stocks of companies based in the United States. What are the advantages and disadvantages of choosing the Bledsoe Large-Company Stock Fund compared to the Bledsoe S&P 500 Index Fund?
4. The returns on the Bledsoe Small-Cap Fund are the most volatile of all the mutual funds offered in the 401(k) plan. Why would you ever want to invest in this fund? When you examine the expenses of mutual funds, you will notice that this fund also has the highest expenses. Does this affect your decision to invest in this fund?
5. A measure of risk-adjusted performance that is often used is the Sharpe ratio. The Sharpe ratio is calculated as the risk premium of an asset divided by its standard deviation. The standard deviation and return of the funds over the past 10 years are listed in the following table. Calculate the Sharpe ratio for each of these funds. Assume that the expected return and standard deviation of the company stock will be 18 percent and 70 percent, respectively. Calculate the Sharpe ratio for the company stock. How appropriate is the Sharpe ratio for these assets? When would you use the Sharpe ratio?

10-year Annual Return Standard Deviation
Bledsoe S&P 500 Index Fund 11.48% 15.82%
Bledsoe Small-Cap Fund 16.68 19.64
Bledsoe Large-Company Stock Fund 11.85 15.41
Bledsoe Bond Fund 9.67 10.83

6. What portfolio allocation would you choose? Why? Explain your thinking carefully.

Solution Preview

1. The main advantage of mutual funds over company stock is diversification. As a company employee, the 401(k) holder is already risking his or her entire compensation stream (frequently one's largest source of income) on the fortunes of the company. By investing in the company's stock, the employee is risking two losses, his or her wages and retirement income, by investing in a single company. This company stock presents a further hazard; because the company is privately-held, its stock is not readily marketable. Therefore, if the company runs into trouble, the employee could not easily liquidate the stock.

2. You earned a 100% effective annual return. Matching plans are always good deals; even the slightest match increases the employee's return on his or her investment in the plan. It also buffers the employee from losses. For example, if you invest $100 in a mutual fund at $10 per share (i.e., the employee buys 10 shares), which the company matches 100 percent (another 10 shares at $10 each), and the fund price increases to $15 per share, the you have earned (($15*20)-$100)/$100, or a 200 percent return. Had the you bought the fund without a match, your return would be (($15*10)-$100)/$100, or 50 percent. The match protects you if the shares drop, as well. For example, if you invest $100 in a mutual fund at $10 per share (i.e., the employee buys 10 shares), which the company matches 100 percent (another 10 shares at $10 each), and the fund price decreases to $5 per share, the you have earned (($5*20)-$100)/$100, or a 0 percent return (i.e., you broke even). Had the you bought the fund without a match, your loss would be (($5*10)-$100)/$100, or 50 ...

Solution Summary

Using the widely-used Bledsoe Mutual Funds case, this solution explains the benefits of investing in mutual funds over company stock, the value of a company match, the advantages of an actively-managed fund over an index fund, the relationship of management expenses to possible return, and the computation of the Sharpe ratio. This solution is 1078 words.

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