Mutual Fund Picks: Best Stock and Bond Index Funds

Elements of Investing excerpt

Last Updated Mar 16, 2010 9:50 AM EDT

In The Elements of Investing, co-author Burton Malkiel, the Princeton University economics professor who is considered the philosophical father of index funds, argues that you should use these funds to invest in U.S. and international stocks, as well as bonds. In this excerpt, he explains why — and picks eight funds for you to consider.

Great coaches all agree with a simple summary of how to succeed in athletics: Plan your play and play your plan. That’s why you’ll want to develop a clear and simple financial plan and stay the course.

Low-cost index funds offer a remarkably simple plan for investing. They eliminate the anxiety and expense of trying to predict which individual stocks, bonds, or mutual funds will beat the market by buying and holding all the securities in the market as a whole.

The financial media are quick to celebrate managers who have recently beaten the market as investment geniuses. But over 10-year periods, broad stock market index funds have regularly outperformed two-thirds or more of the actively managed mutual funds. And low-cost index funds charge only one-tenth as much for portfolio management.

If indexing has advantages in the stock market, its superiority is even greater in the bond market. Bond index funds, particularly ones holding short-term and intermediate maturities, beat the vast majority of actively managed funds over the 10 years ending in 2008. Short-term corporate bond index funds outperformed 99 percent of actively managed short-term corporate bond funds, for example.

Indexing has also proved its merits in non-U.S. markets. Most global equity managers have been outperformed by a low-cost index fund that buys all the stocks in the MSCI EAFE (Europe, Australia, and Far East) index of non-U.S. stocks in developed markets. Even in the less efficient emerging markets, index funds regularly outperform active managers.

Concentrate on two broad-based, low-cost types of index funds: a total worldwide stock market fund and a total bond market fund. If you don’t invest in a total world index fund, only half of your stock portfolio should be invested in a U.S. total stock market index fund, with the other half in a total international stock market index fund.

“Total” stock market funds are better than index funds based on narrower indexes, such as the Standard & Poor’s large-company stock index, because the S&P 500 represents only about 70 percent of the total value of all stocks traded in the United States.

These are our recommended index funds:

International and World Stock Funds

Vanguard Total International Stock Index
  • Ticker: VGTSX
  • Minimum sales charge: None
  • Minimum initial purchase: $3,000
  • Expense ratio: 0.32%

Vanguard Total World Stock Index

  • Ticker: VTWSX
  • Minimum sales charge: 0.25%
  • Minimum initial purchase: $3,000
  • Expense ratio: 0.50%

U.S. Stock Funds

Fidelity Spartan Total Market Index

  • Ticker: FSTMX
  • Minimum sales charge: None
  • Minimum initial purchase: $10,000
  • Expense ratio: 0.10%

Schwab 1000 Index Fund Investor

  • Ticker: SNXFX
  • Minimum sales charge: None
  • Minimum initial purchase: $100
  • Expense ratio: 0.29%

Vanguard Total Stock Market Index

  • Ticker: VTSMX
  • Minimum sales charge: None
  • Minimum initial purchase: $3,000
  • Expense ratio: 0.18%

Bond Funds

Schwab Total Bond Market

  • Ticker: SWLBX
  • Maximum sales charge: None
  • Minimum initial purchase: $100
  • Expense ratio: 0.55%

Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund

  • Ticker: VBMFX
  • Maximum sales charge: None
  • Minimum initial purchase: $3,000
  • Expense ratio: 0.22%

Fidelity U.S. Bond Index

  • Ticker: FBIDX
  • Maximum sales charge: None
  • Minimum initial purchase: $10,000
  • Expense ratio: 0.38%

From The Elements of Investing by Burton G. Malkiel and Charles D. Ellis. Copyright © 2010 by Burton G. Malkiel and Charles D. Ellis. Reprinted by permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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