Tax considerations have always been important for investors , regardless of their tax bracket, and they’re particularly important this year for investors who hold mutual funds in taxable accounts. That’s because, in addition to high rates, many funds will be nearing the end of their capital loss carry-forwards this year.
Given that 52% of all open-end mutual fund assets are held in taxable accounts, we figured that $6+ trillion-some-odd reasons would justify this tax-focused piece.
Against this backdrop, we wanted to offer thoughts on helping clients navigate this challenging taxable environment. Let’s start at the beginning, though: Why should advisors be in front of taxes.
Why Care About Taxes?
Even before the most recent increase in the top tax bracket, taxes had an out-sized impact on reducing taxable investors’ returns. For the five years ending 2010, taxable equity and fixed income open-end mutual fund shareholders surrendered over 30% and approximately 37%, respectively, of their load adjusted five-year returns because of pre-liquidation taxes.1 Think about these numbers — the power of compounding of the tax drag creates meaningful headwind to your clients’ ability to meet their long-term financial goals.
And there’s more to the story.
Many investors have enjoyed a tax holiday for the last four years: they have experienced very attractive returns since 2008 and have, on average, realized very low capital gain distributions over that period. As a result, many investors and advisors have become complacent about taxes. Particularly investors in mutual funds — since mutual funds are able to carry capital loss carry-forwards into future years to be used to offset future capital gains. The downturn in 2008 was exactly the event that helped create material capital losses that have been used to offset against the attractive returns we’ve seen since 2008. But, for many mutual funds, that’s coming to an end now.
We Have Some Precedent
We’ve seen this pattern before, from 2001 to 2007.
The years 2001 to 2002 saw back-to-back double digit negative returns. This allowed many funds to bank capital loss carry-forwards.For the years 2002 to 2007 you saw attractive U.S. equity returns that line up with increasing capital gain distributions as those losses were used up.
In 2007, the lowest equity return (5.10%) was coupled with the highest capital gain distribution for the period 2001 to 2007. Recall that, by 2007, many investors were much more aware of distributions coming out of mutual funds than today and you may have had some difficult discussions with clients explaining this tax hit. You see a similar trend forming for distributions coming out of 2008. The trend is even more pronounced for many emerging market and sector-specific funds.
So, What Can You Do?