investing

The Case for Closed-End Funds

The "orphan children" of the fund management industry, some CEFs are worth considering in a diversified portfolio.

Amidst the excess of investment vehicles today, closed-end funds (CEFs) have lost their allure with many investors, yet can present very good opportunities for particular asset classes, namely fixed income. While CEFs may not be right for every investor, there are potential opportunities to explore when designing a portfolio.

Throughout its history, the fund management industry has been creative at introducing pooled investment vehicles in pursuit of its primary goal—gathering assets. Today, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are all the rage and are taking share from commonly known open-end mutual funds, which achieved their prime from the post-WWII era through the 1990s. As for CEFs, their start dates back to the late 1800s when money managers created trusts or corporate equivalents that took stakes in a variety of companies.

CEFs have a well-defined strategy and a manager whose job is to seek the best return possible given the strategy. Unlike open-end mutual funds, which are called open because shares issued can fluctuate daily on the basis of investors redeeming or adding capital to the fund, CEF shares are fixed. While an investor can redeem capital from a mutual fund at the net asset value (NAV) of the fund at the daily closing market prices, CEF investors must trade the CEF shares on an exchange to invest or redeem their capital. As a result, CEF shares can trade at a discount or a premium to the NAV of the fund. Throughout history, CEFs have traded at a small, single-digit-percentage discount to their NAVs. A discount can be justified for the following reasons:

1) illiquidity of trading the shares;

2) bid-ask spreads that are too large;

3) captive management fees; and

4) presence of financial leverage.

However, recently the average industry CEFs discount has widened to nearly 9%. In other words, if the markets shut down the CEF industry tomorrow, investors would make 9% returns (less the costs of closing all positions).

In the fixed income realm of CEFs, credit analysis is the key. Investors and their advisers need to look for well-trained managers with a discerning eye, who can evaluate balance sheet and cash flow analysis when picking one bond versus another.

We can already see the result today in the high-yield fixed-income markets, where well-thought-out research can help a manager avoid the near-certain bankruptcies of some companies in the energy markets. Additionally, since CEFs do not need to manage inflows and outflows of assets, they can generally remain fully invested at all times. This helps investors in CEFs avoid redemption risk and creates more efficient management than open-end funds, which must manage continuous cash flows from investors in the fund.

With "safe-haven" investments such as U.S. Treasuries posting low rates of return, CEFs can be structured to provide attractive monthly or quarterly income for retirees and other investors seeking yields. Just be aware that CEFs are more volatile than traditional fixed-income securities because of the leverage mentioned above. Additionally, when the market turns against dividend-paying securities, CEFs can be negatively impacted.

At Barron's 2016 Roundtable, noted bond expert Jeffrey Gundlach of DoubleLine Capital made the case for deeply discounted closed-end bond funds: "If the [Standard & Poor's 500-stock index] rises 10%, closed-ends could return 20%," he said. "If the stock market falls 30%, a decline is already priced into these funds."

For investors with at least a five-year time horizon and the ability to ride out volatility, picking CEFs from well-respected managers is worth considering in a diversified portfolio. Buying low at a discount with cash flow potential over the long term is a compelling choice in today's low-rate market environment.

Robert Altshuler, JD CLU CHFC, founder of PlanningCore Wealth Advisors, LLC, provides investment and estate strategies to entrepreneurs, executives and affluent families in Phoenix, Arizona.

About the Author

Robert K. Altshuler, JD CLU CHFC

Partner, Chief Operating Officer, PlanningCore Wealth Advisors LLC

Robert Altshuler, JD, CLU, CHFC, is founding partner of PlanningCore Wealth Advisors, LLC. PlanningCore, a registered investment advisory firm headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona creates individualized investment and estate strategies to help clients navigate risk. PlanningCore clients have already achieved success and our highly credentialed professionals advise them to make smart decisions to protect their core wealth. Every client's financial journey is different, but PlanningCore's mission is always the same, to know and understand the destination.

Most Popular

Your Guide to Roth Conversions
Special Report
Tax Breaks

Your Guide to Roth Conversions

A Kiplinger Special Report
February 25, 2021
The 25 Cheapest U.S. Cities to Live In
places to live

The 25 Cheapest U.S. Cities to Live In

Take a look at our list of American cities with the lowest costs of living. Is one of the cheapest cities in the U.S. right for you?
October 13, 2021
4 Big Retirement Blunders (and How to Avoid Them)
retirement

4 Big Retirement Blunders (and How to Avoid Them)

It’s too bad, but financial advisers see these four mistakes all the time. Don’t fall into the same traps.
October 6, 2021

Recommended

The Pros and Cons of Target Date Funds with Tony Drake
Financial Planning

The Pros and Cons of Target Date Funds with Tony Drake

The simplicity of target date funds has made them popular, particularly among 401(k) savers. But investors may be paying a price.
October 19, 2021
Robo-Advisers: Weighing the Worth of Automated Advice
investing

Robo-Advisers: Weighing the Worth of Automated Advice

Some people do just fine with bare-bones advice that’s essentially generated by an algorithm. Until your financial life gets more complicated, you mig…
October 17, 2021
Yogi Berra Quotes Investors Can Live By
investing

Yogi Berra Quotes Investors Can Live By

Baseball legend Yogi Berra was wise, in his own muddled way, about more than just sports. His words hold truth in life – and in investing. Here are th…
October 13, 2021
Is Stagflation a Serious Market Risk?
investing

Is Stagflation a Serious Market Risk?

High inflation and corporate warnings of supply chain issues have brought stagflation fretting to a fever pitch.
October 12, 2021