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Post-Halloween Fright: Mutual-Fund Industry's High Fees Threatened by Looming Supreme Court Scrutiny

By       Message Ward Harkavy     Permalink
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Reprinted from The Smart Asset

The mutual fund industry will likely survive Halloween without being frightened to death, despite the fact that it's scrambling because the industry's fiscal year typically ends on October 31. But just two days later mutual-fund money-managers are liable to be scared out of their wits, especially those fund advisers who rake in huge fees in the $10 trillion industry. On Monday, the Supreme Court hears arguments in what the WSJ notes is a crucial case on those huge fees.

The Supreme Court's own news service describes Jones v. Harris Associates as a case in which the court is asked "to decide whether the federal Investment Company Act limits the ability of investment advisers to charge higher management fees for in-house mutual funds." The suit at the heart of the case also asks for more open disclosure by the funds.

Ooooo! Scary! Especially if you're one of those mutual-fund advisers who earn high-six or even seven figures (and there are plenty of you).

Those of you who are particularly pissed off about excessive Wall Street bonuses might want to follow this case about excessive fees extracted even more directly from your wallet. You've read about czar Kenneth Feinberg's supposed pay caps for the bailout recipients, but this case is bigger. The court is being asked to impose much more wide-ranging caps on money snatched by many more Wall Streeters.

"The money-management fees that drive the mutual-fund industry are at stake" in Jones, the WSJ's Jess Bravin and Jane J. Kim write this morning.

In a follow-up, also this morning, the WSJ's Thomas Coyle says the case "could put the squeeze on mutual-fund profits, force fund companies to provide more disclosure and trigger a re-evaluation of the way their boards evaluate and approve fees."

The fees are out of control, and among the people gouged by them are the 50 million American households that own products generated by the industry.

The high court is "obsessed with business" issues this session, the Business Insider noted earlier this month, listing four major cases this term. The four are capped by American Needle v. NFL, a dispute over the exclusive licensing of National Football League gear, though that case's ramifications pale beside those of the mutual-fund fees case.


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Ward Harkavy is currently Senior Editor at the Village Voice, for which he writes The Smart Asset.

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