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Now that the stock exchanges are expanding their hours, what's that mean to the mutual fund investor? At this point in time, not much.

If you're a mutual fund shareholder, you've decided to invest into a bucket of securities. It doesn't much matter if that bucket contains stocks, bonds or a little bit of both, or, if it's a load or no-load pot, because all the securities in it basically get priced once a day: After the bell rings at 4 o'clock.

Unlike individual stock and bond holders who can find out --- often within a matter of seconds or minutes --- what price they've paid for a security, the mutual fund investor doesn't learn the exact price they've paid until after the market closes, all securities in the portfolio are priced, and net asset values calculated. The mutual fund is a buy-it-now-find-out-how-much-you-paid-later kind of thing.

So, most fund investors have to wait until either after the market closes or the next day to learn how much per share they paid for their investment. Or, wait until their confirmation statement arrives in the mail.

Roger Fiery, a vice president at T. Rowe Price, says that practice is called "forward pricing".

If you're wondering if there's a specific time by which all funds have to have their share prices calculated each day, that's likely to vary from fund family to fund family. However, one thing is certain. "If you want to have your fund's nav in the paper the next morning, funds have to have them priced by 5:50 each day, " says Fiery. That's an NASD rule.

When the price of gold shot-up recently, it may have breathed some life back into gold funds.

Trying to make a buck off gold-oriented funds hasn't been easy lately. So far this year, the total return for the average fund in that category has been about flat. For the past year, the average fund was down 1.32 percent, through Sept. 23; for the past two years, off 19.15 percent; and for the past 10 years down about 3 percent, according to Lipper, Inc.

Now, however, if the jump in price holds, things may looking brighter for those who like investing in the shiny stuff.

Frank Holmes, CEO of U.S Global Investors and home to the U.S. Global Gold Shares Fund, (1-800-873-8637), is anticipating a bull market in gold. Why? Because he thinks that the price of gold has bottomed out; that the Asian financial crisis is well on the mend; that there has been a change in sentiment by central banks in Europe about their selling of gold; and that fundamental supply and demand factors of this precious metal are good.

If you'd like to put a portion of your assets into gold funds, Holmes' says that a little bit can go a long way and suggests keeping about 5 percent of your total assets invested in it. " Then, each year when you rebalance your portfolio, if you find your gold fund position has doubled to say 10 percent of your assets, then sell it back down to 5. That's the way to make gold work for you," he says.

Looking for income? For most of the past decade interest rates have fallen. As a result, the dividend and interest income that funds kick-off isn't what it used to be. While we don't know what tomorrow will bring, here's a peak at what the average 12-month yield on various types of mutual funds was in three different time periods, according to Lipper, Inc.:

Equity Funds:

  • Convertible Securities Funds over the past 12 months ending August 31, had an average yield of 3.35 percent; on that date in 1994, that average yield was 3.47 percent, and in 1989, 5.7 percent.
  • Equity Income Funds over the past 12 months ending August 31, had an average yield of 1. 48 percent; on that date in 1994, their average yield was 2.88 percent; and in 1989, an average yield of 4.26 percent.
  • Growth & Income Funds over the past 12 months ending August 31, had an average yield of 0.72%; in 1994 their average yield was 1. 76 percent; and in 1989, the average yield was 2. 78 percent.

Fixed Income Funds:

  • Emerging Markets Debt Funds, on August 31, had an average yield of 12.20 percent; in 1994 their average yield was 9.21 percent; no 10-year data was available.

  • General U.S. Govt. Funds at the end of August had an average yield of 5.66 percent; in 1994 the average was 6.33 percent; and 10 years ago yielded on average of 8.75 percent.

  • And, Money Market Funds at the end of August were yielding on average 4.32 percent; their 12-month average yield on August 31, 1994 was 2.98 percent; and 10 years prior to that was 8.44 percent.

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