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Jack Willoughby in Barron's (sub. req.) asks why covered call CEFs aren't providing the returns promised to investors who put billions of dollars into these vehicles in the past 18 months (see table below). The four main explanations proffered by Willoughby:

  • Nature of the beast: Closed-end funds are offered at a premium to NAV at their IPOs; the premium represents the compensation to the underwriters, although few retail buyers understand this. Afterward, closed-ends frequently fall to discounts in the aftermarket.
  • Lack of investor understanding: Wachovia Securities analyst Mariana Bush says, "We think investors are selling their funds regardless of their NAV performance, to get rid of holdings whose behavior they cannot fully understand."
  • Wall Street maneuvers: A 1994 study by the Wharton School of Finance suggested that "enterprising" pros sell these funds to a "less informed" public. More often than not, these premiums disappeared when the underwriters withdrew so-called price support techniques after the offering, leaving the small investors holding the bag... Thomas J. Herzfeld places the blame for the current depressed prices squarely on Wall Street. "The underwriters pumped out whatever they could sell leaving no demand for these shares in the aftermarket."
  • Overly-high risk in pursuit of high yields: "Most of these funds have little or no chance of returning their eight, nine, ten percent yields without depleting their respective net-asset values," says another Chicago options trader.
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