Under the hood – Vanguard US stock index funds in 2018

Female driver inspects her car engine

Vanguard issues annual reports for the firm’s US stock index funds on December 31 of each year. The reports provide information that can highlight some of the underlying conditions affecting a fund’s future capital gains distribution outlook; the level of security lending in each fund;  a means of measuring investor turnover in the funds; and a look at how mutual fund trading techniques reduce transaction costs.

Tax implications

Capital gains

Mutual funds are legally structured as pass-through conduits of investment income. The income usually comes from dividends and interest received from securities or by profits realized by selling securities. By law, the fund must distribute income and gains to shareholders or else pay tax on retained income. Funds cannot, however, pass realized losses on to shareholders. These losses are retained by the fund, and can be used to offset future gains.

Taxable shareholders are no doubt pleased when they open their 2018 annual reports and see that none of the following Vanguard US stock index funds has distributed a capital gain over the past five fiscal years.

While not distributing gains, the funds at times realize net gains during a given fiscal year. Often a fund will offset any realized gains with realized losses, or use retained loss carryovers to offset gains, thus providing shareholders zero capital gains distributions.

In addition Vanguard index funds contain both mutual fund share classes and exchange-traded fund share classes. The exchange-traded funds frequently realize in-kind redemption gains. Because in-kind redemption gains are not taxed to the fund or its shareholders, the fund manager will usually select shares with the lowest tax basis for redemption baskets.

Although these gains are not taxed, they are nonetheless included in a fund’s reported annual realized gain. Netting out these non-taxable gains produces the actual taxable gain or actual realized loss. The table below shows the 2018 reported gain or loss realized for each Vanguard US stock fund, the in-kind redemption gain or loss, and the actual net realized gain or loss. Note that in 2018,  the Vanguard S&P 500 Index Fund, the  Vanguard Large Cap Index Fund, and the Vanguard Small Cap Index Fund used loss carryover losses to offset net realized gains.

As an accounting entry, in-kind redemption gains become a part of the fund’s paid in capital.

Fund Gain/Loss In-kind redemption Net Gain/Loss
Total market 4,548,286,000 5,768,376,000 (1,220,090,000)
S&P 500 14,303,086,000 14,069,188,000 239,898,000
Extended 1,935,143,000 2,570,553,000 (635,410,000)
Large cap 217,973,000 193,166,000 24,807,000
Large growth 2,678,539,000 2,805,087,000 (126,548,000)
Large value 1,593,601,000 1,789,646,000 (196,045,000)
Mid cap 2,275,996,000 2,770,245,000 (494,249,000)
Mid growth 196,999,000 345,983,000 (148,984,000)
Mid value 336,923,000 484,277,000 (147,354,000)
Small cap 4,116,255,000 3,828,096,000 288,159,000
Small growth 1,104,663,000 1,325,381,000 (220,718,000)
Small value 1,187,494,000 1,325,381,000 (137,887,000)

More on loss carryovers

As noted, realized losses cannot be distributed to shareholders. Surplus losses can be “carried over” to subsequent years when they can be used to offset future gains. Prior to 2010, these carryover losses where subject to expiration dates.

The passage of the Regulated Investment Company Act Modernization Act of 2010 stipulated that mutual fund losses could be carried over indefinitely, but these losses must be used before taking any expiring loss carryovers. At year-end  2018,  all unused expiring loss carryovers have been added to a fund’s tax cost basis, so  that the remaining loss carryovers have no expiration dates.

The table below shows each fund’s loss carryover.

Fund Total loss carryovers
Total Market 1,732,284,000
S&P 500 996,573,000
Extended 841,285,000
Large cap 91,843,000
Large growth 2,085,398,000
Large value 474,500,000
Mid cap 3,231,710,000
Mid growth 722,181,000
Mid value 807,369,000
Small cap 1,114,310,000
Small growth 1,282,222,000
Small value 168,054,000

 The exchange-traded fund

Given that in-kind redemption helps improve a fund’s tax basis, it is somewhat helpful to examine a fund’s share class distribution. Most Vanguard index funds have mutual fund share classes (investor shares, lower cost admiral shares, and institutional shares) as well as exchange-traded fund shares. The following table shows the ratio of exchange-traded fund share class assets to total fund share class assets.

Fund Total assets ETF assets ETF/Total assets
Total market 672,196,984,000 94,809,421,000 14.10%
S&P 500 400,707,349,000 90,639,290,000 22.62%
Extended 58,270,691,000 6,095,251,000 10.46%
Large cap 19,185,653,000 12,357,735,000 64.41%
Large growth 73,151,929,000 32,488,785,000 44.41%
Large value 69,201,862,000 41,510,291,000 59.98%
Mid cap 87,008,447000 21,261,050,000 24.44%
Mid growth 10,904,659,000 4,956,326,000 45.45%
Mid value 16,143,130,000 7,897,691,000 48.92%
Small cap 77,947,462,000 20,914,209,000 26.87%
Small growth 20,164,585,000 7,285,619,000 36.13%
Small value 26,304,726,000 11,559,518,000 43.94%

Security lending

Vanguard US stock index funds earn additional income by lending securities to qualified institutional borrowers. The firm allocates 100% of after expense security lending earnings to the fund.

A fund’s expenses are paid out of fund earnings. Given that the US tax code gives a tax preference to dividends that qualify for lower tax rates, it is prudent for fund managers to allocate non-qualified income to fund expenses. The table below shows the amount of security lending income earned by each fund in fiscal year 2018 and calculates its percentage ratio to total annual fund expenses.

Fund Net security lending income Total expenses % of expenses
Total Market 126,669,000 357,629,000 35.42%
S&P 500 3,598,000 171,295,000 2.10%
Extended 65,044,000 37,384,000 173.99%
Large cap 655,000 9,064,000 7.23%
Large growth 5,217,000 38,888,000 13.42%
Large value 439,000 31,577,000 1.39%
Mid cap 3,416,000 46,478,000 7.35%
Mid growth 554,000 9,099,000 6.09%
Mid value 805,000 13,290,000 6.06%
Small cap 34,385,000 45,705,000 75.23%
Small growth 10,213,000 17,801,000 57.37%
Small value 9,422,000 23,112,000 40.77%

Turnover

The annual report documents the rate of annual turnover of its assets by the fund manager. In addition, the reports also document the sales and redemption of fund shares by shareholders. This data allows us to compute a redemption to average net assets ratio (R/ANA) that corresponds to a shareholder annual turnover rate. In addition the redemption to sales ratio  (R/S) shows net shareholder purchase or net shareholder redemption in a fund. A ratio less than one shows net purchase; a ratio greater than one shows net redemption. For the 2018 fiscal year all of the funds documented below experienced net investor inflows.

The R/ANA and R/S ratios, viewed together, can signal market timing activity within a fund. For example a fund showing an R/ANA ratio of 400% and an R/S ratio of 1 (equal buys and sells) is likely being market timed by fund shareholders.

Fund Turnover R/ANA R/S
Total market 3% 12% 0.63
S&P 500 3% 15% 0.67
Extended 10% 32% 0.94
Large cap 4% 13% 0.60
Large growth 11% 16% 0.80
Large value 8% 16% 0.53
Mid cap 16% 18% 0.91
Mid growth 25% 24% 0.90
Mid value 17% 23% 0.73
Small cap 15% 27% 0.93
Small growth 22% 37% 0.97
Small value 18% 23% 0.91

Transactions

One of the main arguments for investing in passive index funds is the relative assurance of reaping a fair share of market returns. But as market benchmarks bear no costs, an index fund manager needs to reduce frictional costs in order to better attain the market return. Costs include not only the fund expense ratio, but also the fund’s transaction expenses for buying and selling securities.

While mutual fund managers rarely provide specific details concerning proprietary trading techniques, there are certain trading mechanisms that clearly reduce transaction costs. For example, mutual fund managers can reduce transaction expenses through the use of cross trading securities and by making in-kind transactions when buying and selling securities.

A cross trade takes place when an investment manager “swaps” a security between separate funds that he or she manages. These types of transactions are regulated by section  17 CFR 270.17a-7  of the Investment Company Act of 1940 and, for plans governed by ERISA, the Statutory Exemption for Cross-Trading of Securities. The manager must prove a fair market price for the transaction and record the trade as a cross for proper regulatory classification.

An example will let us see how a cross trade eliminates transaction costs. Suppose our manager operates both a small cap growth index fund and a mid cap growth index fund. When the tracker indexes reconstitute, a small growth company is reclassified as a mid cap growth company. If the manager uses market transactions to sell the stock from the small cap index fund, and then buy the stock for the mid cap index fund, the funds will pay brokerage commissions and spread costs on both the sale and purchase. Alternately, with a cross sale transaction, the manager will trade internally between the funds. There will be no commission expense for this trade and there is no need for a bid ask spread.

In-kind transactions are permitted for both mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. In-kind purchases and sales of securities are specifically used by exchange-traded funds. With securities being transferred in-kind, there are no brokerage commissions or bid ask spreads incurred since there are no sales or purchases of the transferred shares.

The following table shows both the separate and the combined percentage of cross trades and in-kind transactions in US stock index  funds.

Fund Cross purchase In-kind purchase Total purchase Cross sale In-kind sale Total sale
Vanguard Total Market 0.00% 23.37% 23.37% 0.00% 31.13% 31.13%
Vanguard Large Cap 0.00% 69.01% 69.01% 0.00% 56.02% 56.02%
Vanguard Growth 6.42% 41.16% 47.58% 24.93% 35.91% 60.84%
Vanguard Value 11.45% 63.01% 74.46% 10.59% 50.29% 60.88%
Vanguard Mid Cap 8.68% 25.77% 34.45% 13.60% 25.05% 38.65%
Vanguard Mid Growth 14.06% 26.42% 40.48% 22.09% 29.48% 51.57%
Vanguard Mid Value 15.35% 37.62% 52.97% 12.80% 39.96% 52.76%
Vanguard Small Cap 8.25% 44.95% 53.20% 10.51% 47.02% 57.53%
Vanguard Small Growth 10.90% 47.01% 57.91% 21.15% 45.93% 67.08%
Vanguard Small Value 22.66% 37.23% 59.89% 15.55% 38.44% 53.99%

Transaction cost estimates

John Bogle, in his Financial Analysts Journal article, The Arithmetic of “All-In” Investment Expenses, provides a simple framework for estimating mutual fund transaction expenses. Here are the inputs:

  1. Total transactions: Bogle argues that the officially defined mutual fund turnover ratio (the lesser of purchases or sales divided by average net assets) is inappropriate for cost analysis, since  both purchases and sales incur costs.
  2.  Transaction expense: Bogle conservatively estimates an 0.50% transaction cost X modified turnover for active mutual funds and a zero percent cost for index funds, although open to the use of the 0.50% cost for both active and index funds.

For our estimates we use the following inputs:

  1. Total transactions: We follow the Bogle suggestion of using both purchases and sales as a turnover input. However since in-kind transactions  and cross trades do not incur transaction expense, we subtract these from the turnover calculation.
  2.  Transaction expense: We use the 0.50% transaction cost estimate.

The table below provides our modified Bogle turnover calculations and transaction cost estimates for the Vanguard suite of CRSP index funds.

Fund Bogle modified turnover Bogle transaction cost
Vanguard Total Market 14% 0.07%
Vanguard Large Cap 10% 0.05%
Vanguard Growth 18% 0.09%
Vanguard Value 14% 0.07%
Vanguard Mid Cap 29% 0.14%
Vanguard Mid Growth 40% 0.20%
Vanguard Mid Value 32% 0.16%
Vanguard Small Cap 26% 0.13%
Vanguard Small Growth 31% 0.16%
Vanguard Small Value 26% 0.13%

Notes

About

Barry Barnitz, administrator of both the Bogleheads® wiki and of Financial Page, a Bogleheads® blog. In addition I serve as an administrator of finiki, the Canadian financial wiki, as an administrator of la Wiki Bogleheads® España, and as an administrator of the John C. Bogle Center for Financial Literacy site.

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