“A Taxing Problem” ( JofA, May00, page 51) discussed the need for investors and their accountants to consider the impact taxes have on their total returns earned in mutual funds. The article provided some practical advice for executing sound tax strategies (for example, to avoid purchasing a mutual fund just before it is due to make a capital gains distribution).
However, one item is incorrect: “Most fund managers tend to sell stocks with the lowest cost basis…to boost returns.” Although I’m not sure that most fund managers tend to sell stocks with the lowest cost basis, I am certain that the tax lots they sell have no impact on a fund’s total return. Selecting different tax lots affects the character of the gain, not the amount. In this instance, “character” categorizes gains as either realized or unrealized. Therefore, the total return of a fund, as currently calculated on a pretax basis, is not affected by tax lot selection. The pretax total return of a fund will be the same regardless of the tax lot selection method (for example, FIFO or specific identification).
It should be noted that when aftertax returns are required, the tax lot selection will affect the fund’s aftertax return.
Richard P. Snyder