How should investors in closed-end mutual funds judge performance? These
vehicles are more complex than conventional open-end mutual funds. And
because of that, measuring performance is a bit more complicated.
CLOSED-END VERSUS OPEN-END FUNDS
Closed-end funds (CEFs) differ in significant ways from open-end funds
(OEFs). Both have important, but distinctive, roles to play in a
diversified portfolio and evaluations of CEF performance need to take into
account notable differences in structure and pricing, as compared to OEFs.
Like OEFs, CEFs offer investors a convenient and cost-effective way to
invest in a professionally managed portfolio, reflecting a specific
investment objective. Both types of funds may provide the potential for
generating income and capital growth through investment performance and
CEFs, however, are structured very differently from OEFs and because of
that, they may provide certain unique benefits, including more flexibility
in the use of leverage and potentially greater access to less liquid, but
potentially higher-yielding segments of the global markets.
Unlike OEFs, CEFs generally have a static number of shares outstanding and
do not issue or redeem shares to meet investor demand on a daily basis. 1 Furthermore, CEF shares typically trade on an exchange. Like
other publicly traded securities, the market price of CEF shares fluctuates
and is generally determined by supply and demand in the marketplace, among
In significant part due to the closed-end fund structure, CEFs have greater
flexibility to use leverage in seeking to enhance return potential and
often offer higher levels of current income compared with OEFs with similar
And, because CEFs do not need to manage unpredictable inflows and outflows
of fund assets like OEFs, they enjoy a relatively stable pool of assets.
This not only helps facilitate the use of leverage, but also allows the
funds to attempt to take advantage of attractive, less liquid and
potentially higher-yielding securities.
Because CEF shares typically trade on an exchange, CEF shares fluctuate in
price throughout the day. OEF shares, on the other hand, are generally
priced once every business day based on the fund’s net asset value (NAV)
per share at the close of business on that day.
CEFs also have an NAV that is calculated daily. NAV is important because it
reflects the value of net assets held in a portfolio. But because a CEF’s
share price is determined based on market forces, as discussed above,
rather than NAV, the market price of CEF shares is often not the same as
As mentioned earlier, the market price of CEF shares fluctuates subject to
the forces of supply and demand. While changes in market price will bear
some relation to changes in NAV, market price may also be influenced by
everything from a fund’s yield relative to similarly-focused CEFs to
investor sentiment about the broader market and economic outlook or
conditions in a particularly relevant sector. Demand for or aversion to
levered investments may factor in, as may manager popularity.
The release of new fund information may affect CEF share price performance.
As a result of these influences, CEF shares can (and typically do) trade at
a discount or premium to a fund’s NAV.
SIGNIFICANCE OF A DISCOUNT OR PREMIUM PRICE
The relationship between a CEF’s market price and its NAV is often
referenced as one measure of fund performance. A fund is said to be trading
at a discount when its market price falls below its NAV; if the market
price rises above the NAV, the fund is said to be trading at a premium.
But, neither premium nor discount pricing in and of itself tells a complete
For example, a CEF trading at a discount, depending on the supply/demand
forces mentioned above, could be an indication of a value opportunity. Or,
it may reflect the market’s estimation that the fund’s future earning or
distribution potential could be at risk. It could also reflect changes in
market sentiment and the view that certain asset classes or sectors of the
market may be out of favor.
Likewise, a CEF trading at a premium could be a sign the market has high
regard for the fund’s portfolio management team and sees a strong
probability its share price will continue to appreciate. But, it could also
mean the fund is currently overvalued.
ALTERNATIVE MEASURES OF PERFORMANCE
There are divergences of opinion on how best to evaluate CEF performance.
Performance may be measured as a percentage change in the market price or
the NAV, including or excluding distributions. PIMCO believes a CEF’s total
return on net asset value, including fund distributions, is one of the most
important indicators of a portfolio manager’s ability to add value.
A competitive yield or distribution rate can have a positive impact on a
CEF demand and, thus, may favorably influence a fund’s market price. Steady
monthly or quarterly dividends often are the key selling point for CEFs.
However, it is critical to look at distributions in the context of a fund’s
earning profile, as the board of a fund may change distributions from time
to time depending on how the fund’s earnings profile changes. CEFs
typically report information about their earnings in shareholder reports
and other updates. Shareholders should consult these reports to better
understand the earnings profile of a specific fund in relation to its
Before investing in a closed-end fund, it is important to review its
trading history, performance, current earnings in relation to
distributions, underlying asset class, and sector exposures, as well as how
the CEF may complement other elements of a portfolio. Without question,
CEFs are a bit complex; and they tend to be more volatile and have
portfolios that are less liquid than conventional open-end funds. At the
same time, they can be an important source of income and enhanced return
potential for sophisticated investors.