Tax Efficiency of Vanguard and Fidelity Funds - Adviser Investments

Tax Efficiency of Vanguard and Fidelity Funds

May 20, 2016

Tax Efficiency: Fidelity and Vanguard Funds

Here at Adviser Investments, we feel the main goal of investing isn’t to avoid taxes, but to maximize wealth. That said, careful consideration of tax burdens should be part of any investment strategy, so this week, we thought it’d be useful to look at the tax efficiency of funds from Fidelity and Vanguard over the three years through April.
Before we dig into the data, it’s important to note that tax efficiency for funds is generally calculated in one of two ways. The first assumes you still own your shares at the end of the period, paying taxes on distributions along the way; this is the method we used to calculate the percentages you’ll see below. The second assumes that you’ve sold all shares, meaning that it also accounts for any additional short- or long-term capital gains you’ve realized since you bought the fund (tax efficiency will generally be considerably lower using this method if your investment has gained value).
Because of Adviser Investments’ long-term investment philosophy, we think it’s more useful to look at the tax efficiency of funds you plan to hold on to. (When our clients are drawing down their accounts with us, however, we do consider how taxes will come into play when deciding what to sell, and together work out a plan that best meets each client’s needs.)

Fidelity’s Most and Least Tax-Efficient Funds

Fund Symbol 3-Year Return Tax-Adjusted 3-Year Return Tax Efficiency
FFTYX 17.0% 17.0% 100%
Growth Discovery FDSVX 12.4% 12.3% 100%
Growth Strategies FDEGX 12.3% 12.2% 100%
Stock Selector Mid Cap FSSMX 8.0% 7.8% 97%
Nasdaq Composite Index FNCMX 14.0% 13.6% 97%
Blue Chip Value FBCVX 10.5% 10.2% 97%
Stock Selector Large Cap Value FSLVX 9.8% 9.5% 96%
Value Strategies FSLSX 7.4% 7.1% 96%
International Growth FIGFX 3.6% 3.4% 96%
International Small Cap Opportunities FSCOX 6.8% 6.5% 95%
Pacific Basin FPBFX 5.2% 2.9% 57%
Select Automotive FSAVX 7.7% 4.3% 55%
Select Wireless FWRLX 5.0% 2.4% 48%
Convertible Securities FCVSX 3.9% 1.9% 48%
Real Estate Income FRIFX 4.6% 2.2% 46%
Select Consumer Finance FSVLX 6.6% 2.8% 43%
Spartan International Index FSIIX 1.2% 0.5% 42%
International Real Estate FIREX 2.5% 0.9% 35%
Global Strategies FDYSX 2.7% 0.7% 27%
Total International Equity FTIEX 1.0% 0.1% 7%
Source: Morningstar. Note: Three-year returns are annualized through April 2016. After-tax returns assume the highest applicable tax rate for each distribution and reinvestment of whatever’s left after taxes. Funds with losses over the period were excluded from the table.
One thing that you might notice in the tables is that a handful of funds from each family have achieved excellent tax efficiency, but that their after-tax returns over the period were weaker than some of the funds that were less efficient. A clear example of this is Vanguard Market Neutral, which allowed investors keep 99.97% of their gains after taxes on distributions, making it the firm’s most tax-efficient fund over the period. But, unfortunately for investors, it only generated a 5.1% gain per year while doing so. Compare that to the MidCap Growth fund, which was one of the 10 worst funds for tax-efficiency due a couple of big capital gains distributions, but still gained 6.2% a year after taxes.

Vanguard’s Most and Least Tax-Efficient Funds

Fund Symbol 3-Year Return Tax-Adjusted 3-Year Return Tax Efficiency
Market Neutral VMNFX 5.1% 5.1% 100%
MidCap Growth Index VMGIX 9.6% 9.4% 97%
Growth Index VIGRX 11.6% 11.1% 96%
Admiral Tax-Managed Growth & Income VTGLX 13.7% 13.2% 96%
Admiral Tax-Managed SmallCap VTMSX 11.0% 10.5% 96%
SmallCap Growth Index VISGX 7.4% 7.1% 96%
MidCap Index VIMSX 10.2% 9.7% 95%
FTSE Social Index VFTSX 11.7% 11.1% 95%
Extended Market Index VEXMX 8.4% 7.9% 94%
Admiral Tax-Managed Capital Appreciation VTCLX 11.3% 10.6% 94%
LifeStrategyConservative Growth VASIX 3.5% 2.5% 71%
MidCap Growth VMGRX 9.1% 6.2% 68%
Wellesley Income VWINX 5.7% 3.8% 67%
Explorer VEXPX 8.3% 5.2% 63%
FTSE All-World ex-US SmallCap Index VFSVX 2.5% 1.5% 61%
European Stock Index VEURX 2.5% 1.3% 52%
Managed Payout VPGDX 3.6% 1.4% 38%
Admiral Developed Markets Index VTMGX 1.6% 0.6% 35%
Convertible Securities VCVSX 3.6% 1.1% 30%
Capital Value VCVLX 5.4% 1.6% 29%
Source: Morningstar. Note: Three-year returns are annualized through April 2016. After-tax returns assume the highest applicable tax rate for each distribution and reinvestment of whatever’s left after taxes. Funds with losses over the period are excluded from the table, as are multiple share classes of the same fund.
You might also notice that there are no funds with negative returns listed. This is not because there weren’t any funds from the two firms that lost money over the period. We excluded these funds because investors had nothing to show at the end of the period, even though in every case they were stuck paying taxes on distributions, which resulted in negative tax efficiency. (A fund can also have negative tax efficiency if it has a positive pre-tax return that becomes a loss after taxes, which was the case for a number of international funds at both firms over this period.)
Nearly 39% of the Fidelity funds with a positive return (47 of 113) had a tax efficiency of 85% or better over the three years through April, while more than 52% of Vanguard’s funds (31 of 59) surpassed that mark. Not bad, although the percentages are significantly lower than when we ran three-year numbers last year. (The reason for this is the stock market’s gains over the last few years—funds have had to pay out larger capital gains, and managers have used up the unrealized losses in their portfolios that could have offset some of these distributions.)
If you own a fund not included in either of these tables and would like to see its after-tax returns, both Fidelity and Vanguard publish this information on their websites for a handful of different periods. You can find the information by going to an individual fund’s “performance” page—both firms show after-tax returns before and after the sale of shares. To calculate tax efficiency, simply divide the after-tax return by the pre-tax return for a given period.
Tax efficiency is important, but it is just one consideration of many we use when selecting funds and managers to invest with. After a long period of gains, you may owe (or have paid) a sizeable amount in taxes, but in our experience, most investors are happier with more money in their pockets after taxes than holding onto tax-efficient investments that leave them with less.
To learn more, we encourage you to read our exclusive Special Report, Investing and Taxes: Maximizing Gains While Minimizing Taxes. The report discusses critical tax considerations for investors of every stripe, including three account types you need to know, tax efficiency in fixed-income investing and why index funds aren’t a tax cure-all. Download this free report now by clicking here!

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