Actionable insights on equities, fixed-income, macros and personal finance Start 14-Days Free Trial
Actionable investing insights Get Free Trial
Concepts & Tutorials

Mutual Fund Dividends: Playing with your own money

Some mutual funds offer dividends and then put up big advertisements about them, to the lines of “XXX mutual fund offers 260% dividend on [a future date]”. They expcct you to buy the fund before the date of dividend, and think you will get really excited about the dividend. But should you be?

Some background
If you don’t know what dividend means, read this article first.

Mutual funds are collective investment vehicles, with a fund manager investing your money for you. Dividends are payouts by the mutual funds to investors. Now dividends are PART of the net asset value, so after the dividend the net asset value goes down by the amount of dividend!

Assume you have 100 units of a mutual fund whose NAV is Rs. 50. This fund declares a 50% dividend (50% is always on the face value of Rs. 10, so this means Rs. 5 per unit)

What do you get? 100 units x Rs. 5 per unit = Rs. 500. The Net asset value will now go down by Rs. 5 per unit, and will now be Rs. 45. So your units will be worth Rs. 4,500 and the cash you get will be Rs. 500, so your net value still stays Rs. 5,000!

Unlike mutual funds, in stocks, things may be different. Dividends are paid out of cash profits of a company, so when a company declares a dividend it is far better (because the cash of the company may not be taken into consideration in its market price). So when a company declares dividends, it may be worth considering because of the hidden value that has now been recognised in the form of dividends.

Mutual funds have no such “unrecognised” value – Net Asset Value means the current value of ALL assets of the mutual fund! This is calculated by multiplying the number of shares or instruments held by their market prices, adding any cash holdings, and subtracting any liabilities. There is no “hidden” value in the fund that you can cash on.

But aren’t dividends tax free?
Yes, equity funds (that have more than 65% in the equity market) declare tax free dividends. But investing in a fund purely for dividends is stupid, because it’s your own money coming back to you. Plus, you have to pay entry loads.

If you still think dividend are great, I have a proposal for you. Give me Rs. 100,000, out of which I will take Rs. 2,250 as charges (2.25%). Out of the remaining Rs. 97,750 I will give you Rs. 50,000 as dividend! The remaining Rs. 47,750 is with me for you to take whenever you want. Do you like this idea?

Obviously not. It’s just like throwing away Rs. 2,250. But if I am a fantastic fund manager, you may invest because I may give better returns than anyone else! In that case, I should be investing the money, not giving it right back to you. So, choose funds that you think will perform well, that have done well in the past, and that seem to have the risk-reward equation that you are comfortable with. Don’t invest for dividends.

Dividend stripping laws
Some of you may think, in the above example, that “If I buy some units for Rs. 50, then get a dividend of Rs. 5, I can immediately sell the units for Rs. 45. Then I will tell the tax department I made a loss of Rs. 5 per unit, and that loss will offset any short term gains I made elsewhere. I’ll get the dividend tax free so technically there is no loss. I’ll gain on the income tax I would have otherwise paid!”.

The Income Tax Department was not born yesterday.

There is a rule that specifically disallows short term losses if you buy three months before a dividend date and sell within 9 months after. This is the “dividend stripping” law, so you can’t take advantage of dividend declarations for tax saving.

And what about this 1000% dividend and so on?
Remember that a fund cannot declare a dividend greater than it’s NAV! If a fund’s NAV is Rs. 140 per unit, it cannot declare a dividend of Rs. 150 per unit.

So what is this 1000%? It’s based on the face value of a mutual fund unit, which is usually Rs. 10. So 1000% means Rs. 100, and 50% means Rs. 5. The unit of the fund may be much higher than Rs. 100 or Rs. 10!

ELSS funds?
Well, there is a small advantage in getting dividends in locked schemes like ELSS, where funds are locked in for three years. Read more about it: Beware of dividend pushers.

Overall, be aware of what dividends mean in mutual funds. Don’t jump in salivating at the prospect of a dividend: it is just your own money coming back to you with no extra gain.

  • Abhijith says:

    >Hi Deepak,

    Very good article.
    I am planning to start investing in MFs. The funds I have considered is: Magnum Global/Contra, HDFC Equity, Reliance Growth.

    Kindly advice me on few points:
    1) Are the above funds a good choice, Is there any thing you want to add to this.
    2) Shall I go thru HDFC net banking for fund purchases or will going to a broker / Purchasing from bank branch (in paper) help?

    Please advice.

  • Deepak Shenoy says:

    >Hi Abhijith: The SBI funds are great. I would recommend you replace HDFC Equity with Franklin India Opportunities, it seems to have done better. Reliance Growth also hasn’t done all that well in the recent past, but it’s been a great performer in the past. SBI Magnum Global has a similar objective so you can ditch Reliance Growth too.

  • Abhijith says:

    >Hi Deepak,

    Thanks much for your time and advice.
    Can you pls advice me on the purchase part as well.

  • Deepak Shenoy says:

    >Ah,forgot about that. You can buy some of the funds from HDFC Netbanking but I think they don’t yet have a tie up with all mutual funds. Online is of course the most convenient, so use that when possible.

  • Abhijith says:

    >Do you have any idea if HDFC sells Magnum Global and Franklin Ind. Opp. thru NetBanking?

  • Vineet says:

    >Hi Deepak,

    A very good article. I think SEBI should mandate AMCs that the dividends should be declared in absolute terms (i.e. Rs 5 per unit) and not in terms of percentage of face value. Those percentages have absolutely no meaning and confuse lot of investors new to MFs.

  • santhosh says:

    >Thanks I was thinking I missed the boat on SBI magnum tax gain when the dividend was announced

  • santhosh says:

    >Hi Deeepak,

    This is Santhosh Pai ,so after the didvidend the SBI Magnum tax gain NAV will do down by 11 rs correct.Is it still the best tax saving mutual fund to invest in?

  • Deepak Shenoy says:

    >Santhosh: I think it has performed very well, and I hold some too. The dividend announcement makes sure we get cash back from the tax saving lock in but for me the cash goes back into investing in a diversified equity fund.

  • SVee says:

    >Dear Deepak,
    Congratulations on a wonderful site. It is very educative for someone like me, so far removed from the world of figures and calculations. But I realise how important it is to know how to safeguard what you have for if you are lax you can lose it all.
    Therefore, I have been visiting your site to read the very educative stuff you put out there.
    I need your advise…. I invested in Reliance Equity Growth last year NAV Rs 10. Looking at the way the markets are functioning now, what should I do? I do not need the amount for the next six months. The NAV had gone up to Rs 12 and I missed selling it then. What should I do?

  • Deepak Shenoy says:

    >Svee: Stay in. If you don’t need the money now, this is a good fund to be in. It’s a midcap fund and I believe will do very well over the next year.

  • SVee says:

    >Deepak thank you very much.
    How do you rate the following funds-
    1.Franklin Bluechip Growth
    2.Reliance Longterm Equity Growth
    3.Franklin India Smaller Companies Fund Growth
    Tata Midcap Dividend Reinvest
    Have money in all of these. Had invested on the advice of my broker. But the brokers only tell you when to buy and never when to exit.
    I have some questions-
    1.Growth naturally does not seem like a good way to invest in the long term given the market fluctuations. Is that right?
    2. What would be the right way for a person like me who is not very up-to-it with numbers, it is only lately that I have started looking at what has been happening in the marker every day…and I do not understand most of it. I would want my capital to be safe and make some money.
    3.Do you think one should exit the funds and put the money in a bank FD now? Or should one wait.
    I bough Tata Midcap in June 29,2005. So far no devidend has been declared. But last time I checked the NAV was 12.69. How would you rate it?

  • Anonymous says:

    >Are all dividends from all tax saving MF schemes tax-free. I want to know specifically about Birla SL 96 and Magnum tax gain schemes that declared dividend earlier this year.
    Some insurance agents I recently came across said that budget 2007 has made such dividends taxable but I didn’t agree. Would you make it clear pls.

  • ravindra n. sakule says:

    very good artical simple and eye