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A mutual fund is a professionally managed investment fund that pools money from many investors to purchase securities. These investors may be retail or institutional in nature.
Mutual funds have advantages and disadvantages compared to direct investing in individual securities. The primary advantages of mutual funds are that they provide economies of scale, a higher level of diversification, they provide liquidity, and they are managed by professional investors. On the negative side, investors in a mutual fund must pay various fees and expenses.
Primary structures of mutual funds include open-end funds, unit investment trusts, and closed-end funds. Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are open-end funds or unit investment trusts that trade on an exchange. Some close- ended funds also resemble exchange traded funds as they are traded on stock exchanges to improve their liquidity. Mutual funds are also classified by their principal investments as money market funds, bond or fixed income funds, stock or equity funds, hybrid funds or other. Funds may also be categorized as index funds, which are passively managed funds that match the performance of an index, or actively managed funds. Hedge funds are not mutual funds; hedge funds cannot be sold to the general public as they require huge investments. They are more risky than mutual funds and are subject to different government regulations.
At the end of 2016, mutual fund assets worldwide were $40.4 trillion, according to the Investment Company Institute. The countries with the largest mutual fund industries are:
United States: $18.9 trillion
Luxembourg: $3.9 trillion
Ireland: $2.2 trillion
Germany: $1.9 trillion
France: $1.9 trillion
Australia: $1.6 trillion
United Kingdom: $1.5 trillion
Japan: $1.5 trillion
China: $1.3 trillion
Brazil: $1.1 trillion
In the United States, mutual funds play an important role in U.S. household finances. At the end of 2016, 22% of household financial assets were held in mutual funds. Their role in retirement savings was even more significant, since mutual funds accounted for roughly half of the assets in individual retirement accounts, 401(k)s and other similar retirement plans. In total, mutual funds are large investors in stocks and bonds.
Luxembourg and Ireland are the primary jurisdictions for the registration of UCITS funds. These funds may be sold throughout the European Union and in other countries that have adopted mutual recognition regimes.
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