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Overcharging for Target-Date Funds?

December 14, 2020 • Posted in Strategic Allocation

Target-date funds (TDFs) are popular fund-of-funds retirement investments that offer asset class diversification and periodic rebalancing aimed at a specific retirement year. TDFs typically charge layers of fees (fund-of-funds fee plus fees of underlying funds). Can investors do better themselves? In their October 2020 paper entitled “Off Target: On the Underperformance of Target-Date Funds”, David Brown and Shaun Davies assess feasibility and costs of emulating TDFs with low-cost exchange-traded funds (ETF) based on publicly disclosed TDF initial portfolio allocations and dynamic adjustments (glide paths). They identify TDFs as those mutual funds with one of 2005, 2010, 2015, 2020, 2025, 2030, 2035, 2040, 2045, 2050, 2055 or 2060 in their names. They replicate TDFs by matching each of their holdings to the one of 50 Vanguard ETFs (as available when they reach $50 million in assets) with the highest full-sample monthly correlation of returns. Using monthly returns, holdings and expense ratios for TDFs and the funds they hold and monthly returns for the 50 Vanguard ETFs during January 2006 through December 2017, they find that:

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