Essays in Mutual Fund Research
In my doctoral thesis, I demonstrate i) how the demand and supply side respond to the (first time) availability of product information for mutual funds and ii) how actions and personal characteristics of portfolio managers impact investors and fund management. Essays (1) and (2) extend the scarce ev...
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|Summary:||In my doctoral thesis, I demonstrate i) how the demand and supply side respond to the (first time) availability of product information for mutual funds and ii) how actions and personal characteristics of portfolio managers impact investors and fund management. Essays (1) and (2) extend the scarce evidence on the utility of investor information disclosure by means of a comprehensive investigation into the disclosure practices of the mutual fund industry. Using product information with different degrees of salience and obligation, ranging from comprehensive mandatory pre-contractual product information to complementary fund characteristics only disclosed by selective players, the essays document the importance of thoroughly written and designed information. Specifically, on the demand side, I analyze i) whether retail investors can understand mutual fund product information and ii) if investors are able to benefit from novel disclosure initiatives. Moreover, on the supply side, I show if and to what extent mutual fund companies react to novel disclosure regulations. Essays (3) and (4) shift the focus towards the individuals in charge of managing retail investors’ money, i.e. the portfolio managers, analyzing the impact of incentive mechanisms and personality traits on fund management and investor behavior.
The overarching contribution of my research is threefold. First, by addressing information salience and understandability, I shed light on retail investor limitations not explained by the classical efficient market framework assuming investors to be fully rational utility-maximizing decision-makers (e.g., Fama 1970). Thus, my research adds to the rich behavioral finance literature dealing with cognitive capacity and information processing constraints (e.g., Kozup et al. 2012, Agnew and Szykman 2005). Second, by analyzing investor behavior from an objective point of view, I contribute to the understanding of determinants which affect flows of mutual fund investor (e.g., Sirri and Tufano 1998, Barber et al. 2005). Third, methodically my research adds to the quantification of qualitative data in the finance domain (e.g., Loughran and McDonald 2016, 2019) by applying advanced textual analytics (essays (1), (3) and (4)), allowing to investigate large samples of written (verbal) information.
How do policy makers help consumers make sound investment decisions?
Regulations which require disclosure of information are among the most ubiquitous interventions in investor protection. The popularity of mandatory information disclosure follows standard economic theory which suggests that disclosure can help avoid instances of market failure in situations characterized by asymmetric information and a risk of misaligned incentives (e.g., Akerlof 1970, Ross 1973). However, although broadly advocated as an appropriate policy measure, there is a paucity of data supporting the efficiency of mandatory information disclosure. For example, individuals’ information processing abilities have been shown to be limited and, thus, the increasing extent of mandatory information likely leads to an ‘information overload’, where the marginal utility of information for the decision-maker becomes negative (e.g., Eppler and Mengis 2004).
In my dissertation, I focus on investor information disclosed by actively managed equity mutual funds, since holdings in this asset class represent the by far largest fraction of household investments: in 2017, worldwide retail assets under management by equity mutual funds totaled at $21.8 trillion with the large majority being actively managed (Investment Company Institute 2018). Moreover, disclosure requirements are pervasive for fund companies and the market is a prime candidate for unintended consequences of mandatory disclosure such as information overload: investors face a dizzying number of product options and each product carries a host of characteristics, which should be considered in order to make an informed decision. Especially when investing in an actively managed mutual fund which is tantamount to delegating the management of a securities portfolio. I investigate four types of investor information which regulatory authorities have qualified as decision-relevant when it comes to this delegation task.
First and foremost, investor should understand the fund’s key features. For this to be the case, mandatory product information has to be easy to understand for the average investor (essay 1). The introduction of Key Investor Information Documents (KIIDs) for mutual funds in the European Union is the regulator’s response to the quest for a more comprehensible description of the essential product features and we examine if these documents live up to their purpose. Following Loughran and McDonald (2014), we assess the comprehensibility and regulatory compliance of KIIDs and thereby extend the scarce academic evidence on the importance of product information documents (e.g., Habschick et al. 2012, Oehler et al. 2014, Walther 2015). We use a comprehensive sample of roughly 38,000 product information documents for mutual funds pre and post the introduction of KIIDs to capture the regulations impact on fund information comprehensibility. We find that while mutual fund product information remains difficult to read requiring on average 13 years of formal education from readers, textual readability significantly improved with the introduction of KIIDs. Furthermore, we show that the introduction of KIIDs translated into a ‘clearer’ writing style. By contrast, we detect that the relative usage of financial jargon increased in the new short form disclosure document. Moreover, the improvement on readability and the significant reduction in length seem to be achieved at the expense of an appealing font. Only half of the KIIDs comply with regulators’ guidelines on font type and size. Taken together, we document mixed results on the regulations’ effectiveness in creating clear and comprehensible pre-contractual information that enable retail investor to read and understand those documents.
Second, unlike index funds, actively managed funds sell the potential to beat their benchmark (usually a market index) and investors who select this type of mutual fund are typically looking for an opportunity to outperform the market index. However, actively managed funds usually charge significantly higher fees than passive funds (e.g., Morningstar 2018). This cost difference may be justified by the fund manager’s effort to manage the portfolio in a way which creates an opportunity to generate excess returns. Thus, assessing the fees charged by an actively managed fund in light of the actual level of activeness is a worthwhile screening exercise for investors: prior literature documents substantial underperformance for funds with low levels of activeness (e.g., Petajisto 2013, Cremers et al. 2016, Cremers and Pareek 2016). However, and even though fund companies employ Active Share (AS) , a metric to capture the degree to which a fund deviates from its benchmark, for a variety of purposes and provide AS information to institutional investors, they did not disclose it to retail investors and were not required to do so by regulators. The lack of equal access to AS information can be regarded as an information asymmetry, which prevents retail investors from fully evaluating the potential value proposition of an actively managed equity fund. Consequently, the New York Attorney General (NYOAG) revealed dubious index-hugging practices and unequal access to AS information for several of the largest US mutual funds and subsequently imposed disclosure of AS on them (NYOAG 2018). We make use of this unique intervention and thereby extend the few existing studies on funds’ activeness (essay 2). In particular, we are the first to demonstrate if and how individual investors react to AS information once they (can) learn about it. We find that retail investors strongly respond to the NYOAG intervention, but not in the way intended by the regulators. We document a significant increase in investor flows into funds of fund companies affected by the intervention. The effect is most pronounced in the days after the intervention became public. However, rather than ‘rationally’ re-allocating assets away from ‘high fee/low activeness’ and into truly actively managed funds, investors are subject to a media attention bias. Fund companies that are prominently covered in the press following the disclosure intervention experience high net inflows, irrespective of the degree of AS. These ﬁndings are hard to square with the notion that retail investors have understood the concept behind AS and rationally traded on this newly available information. On the supply side, we do not observe a change in portfolio management habits following the intervention. Even for funds with the lowest AS levels—i.e. arguably those funds with the highest pressure to act in an attempt to legitimate ‘active’ fees—we do not observe any measurable eﬀort to increase AS post-intervention. In sum, our evaluation of the NYOAG intervention documents a number of unintended consequences and reveals substantial limits to the eﬀectiveness of this disclosure initiative.
Third, investors face ongoing uncertainty about the standard of care fund managers exercise when managing their savings and whether they act in their best interest. Following the rationale "(…) that a portfolio manager's ownership of a fund provides a direct indication of his or her alignment with the interests of shareholders in that fund" (SEC 2004, section II, part D), managers of US mutual funds are required to disclose the amount of their private investments in all funds they manage. However, information about the beneficial holdings of portfolio managers (their skin-in-the-game) is far from readily accessible for the average retail investor. Instead, managers’ private investments are disclosed in a supplementary fund information document that is only provided upon request and, at best, can be considered a secondary source for the average investor. Yet, interestingly, fund managers regularly use another medium to voluntarily disclose skin-in-the-game to their investors: the Letter to the Shareholder (LS). The LS is a non-mandatory–however commonly enclosed–component of the mutual fund's semi-annual or annual report. It is typically authored by the fund management, addresses the fund shareholders directly and thus constitutes a key element in communication with their shareholders (e.g., Hillert et al. 2016, Chu and Kim 2019). Unlike prior studies (e.g., Khorana et al. 2007, Ma et al. 2019, Evans 2008, Ibert 2018), who find that funds with managerial ownership yield higher risk-adjusted returns, I exploit verbal signaling of the managers in the LS to analyze aggregate investor fund flows applying advanced textual analytics (essay 3). With this, I contribute to prior research on the effects of fund manager skin-in-the-game by observing how retail investors respond to their managers’ signaling activities. I find that signaling of skin-in-the-game in the LS triggers substantial net inflows from retail investors. The effect is most sizeable in the days after investors receive the LS and persistent throughout time. On the other side, I show that retail investors’ asset allocation is unaltered by the actual amount invested by fund managers –an information the average retail investors most probable is unable (or unwilling) to find. Finally, I document that signaling of fund managers in the LS affects only retail investors. Professional investors, on the other hand, regularly have access to licensed fund data providers and potentially can easily obtain valuable information on fund manager investments.
Fourth and lastly, we explore the consequences of a well-researched personality trait –narcissism– on fund managers’ portfolio management. Unlike ‘hard facts’ of a fund, such as past performance, cost or investment style, investors do know little about their fund managers personality. Yet, looking into the literature on corporate managers (e.g., Chatterjee and Hambrick 2007, Kumar and Goyal 2015, Aktas et al. 2016), personality traits might also affect the job of fund managers. Applying text-mining techniques on verbatim fund manager interviews retrieved from The Wall Street Transcript, we find that narcissism is even more severe among professional fund managers than in the corporate context. We show that narcissistic fund managers are significantly more likely to deviate from their advertised investment style. Moreover, we document that while the realized performance of narcissistic fund manager is virtually identical to their non-narcissistic counterparts, we find that they exhibit a worse risk-return profile. Furthermore, we identify that large funds, i.e. those associated with higher compensation and prestige in the business, are more often managed by narcissistic managers, which is in line with prior literature documenting ‘empire-building’ behavior of narcissists. Given our evidence pointing to a rather negative relation of narcissism on portfolio management, we would expect investors to refrain investing with a narcissistic manager. However, we find that this is not the case. Most probable, investors do not know about personal traits of their fund managers and consequently are unable to act upon this information.
Taken together, the findings of my essays stress the importance of salient information disclosure in order for retail investors to arrive at a wise investment decision. The empirical evidence provided highlights certain shortcoming in current disclosure practices and regulations. Essay (1) indicates that summary product information accompanied by formatting and language guidelines are a first step in the right direction to ensure investors comprehensibility of product information for mutual funds. However, we still detect linguistic barriers that potentially prevent investors from reading and understanding relevant product characteristics. Essay (2) provides insights on the effect of a non-standardized information disclosure intervention. As can be inferred from investors’ (non-) response to the availability of information on funds’ activeness, we observe that local interventions that address information asymmetries and therefore should benefit retail investors decision making, proof almost inefficient when not requiring a standardized, comparable and well-thought through information layout. Essay (3) supports this notion in documenting a prevalent mismatch between information availability and information usage. Finally, essay (4) points on the importance of personality traits. For retail investors it might be important to know more about the character of their fund managers given the evidence that personality traits, such as narcissism, affect day-to-day portfolio management. In sum, decision relevant information for investors, from the explanation of funds’ investment style in the prospectus (essay 1), funds’ ‘true’ degree of activeness (essay 2), an indication of manager private wealth investment (essay 3) or hints on the managers personality (essay 4), remains useless as long as the understandability, salience and transparency of disclosure stays low.|
|Physical Description:||190 Pages|