Financial advisers and retail investors may force mutual fund managers to permit more scrutiny of their portfolios - whether regulators require it or not.
Advisers and investors want more than a twice-yearly update, the current requirement, on what is in a portfolio and when it was bought, said Dennis Ceru, the director of retail brokerage at the consulting firm TowerGroup, in New York.
The main reason for the pressure, said Norman Boone, a financial adviser in San Francisco, is suspicion that portfolio managers are straying from their stated investment approaches. "Style drift" is his biggest worry when assessing a fund for his high-net-worth clients - a concern shared by many advisers working with the affluent - and stale data make it harder to know what funds to recommend, he said.
The issue is simple, Mr. Boone said: Fund investors "have a right to know what their funds are holding."
But the two differ on whether the industry will change voluntarily. Mr. Ceru predicted that it will - or risk investors' going elsewhere. But Mr. Boone said, "It's going to have to be up to the regulators."
Gary Rathbun, an adviser in Toledo, said fund managers tend to move in the same direction despite their stated investment style. "There's about eight different mutual funds out there, with about 1,200 different names," he said.
Many investors learned this in the past year's downturn, Mr. Rathbun said: many funds invested in the same group of stocks, regardless of their stated approach.
Taxes and technology are adding to the pressure for fresh data, advisers said.
Mr. Ceru said the Internet information smorgasbord has inspired investors to put pressure on mutual funds. And Philadelphia adviser Bayard R. Fiechter said investor sensitivity was heightened by the substantial 2000 tax bills that hit many investors despite portfolio losses. (If portfolio managers sell some of a fund's securities at a profit, investors can get hit with tax bills - even if the fund loses value overall. )
Mr. Fiechter, who works for the high-net-worth adviser Walnut Asset Management, said more frequent disclosure would allow investors to see year round if portfolio managers were considering tax consequences. If they are not, he said, investors may be more inclined to pull out.
A poll commissioned by MetaMarkets.com Inc., a small San Francisco fund company that discloses fund holdings in real time, found that most personal financial advisers think twice-a-year disclosure is inadequate. The poll, published last month, was conducted by Harris Interactive in Rochester, N.Y.; MetaMarkets, which has $15 million of assets under management, specializes in aggressive growth strategies.
Don Luskin, its chief executive officer, said real-time-disclosure funds are attractive to investors and advisers who want a better understanding of the portfolio manager's investment style. "There is a core professional audience that simply wants more information" about the funds their clients' money goes into, he said.
Disclosure keeps portfolio managers disciplined and allows advisers and investors to critique their strategies, Mr. Luskin said. "I want to know how [the portfolio manager's] mind works."
Some larger fund companies have also started revealing their portfolios more often. Last November, for example, Boston's Putnam Investments Inc. began posting the top 10 portfolio holdings in each of its funds on its Web site, according to a spokesman. When posted, the data are 15 days old.
Some advisers see increased disclosure as a potential marketing tool for enterprising mutual funds. "It's a selling point," Mr. Rathbun said. "I'd like to be able to tell my clients I do more than is required."
The Securities and Exchange Commission has not said whether it will act, despite numerous petitions. Paul Roye, the director of investment management at the agency, said last month at a mutual fund trade conference that it is considering the issue. But he also said added requirements could mean "undue burdens" for the mutual fund industry.