My friend Douglas in London tells me that fund groups in his country are announcing increases in charges this year and he is horrified by the thought especially since I pay a much lower fee in the U.S. We're talking about investors like me who want to deal direct.

The fact is that across the pond any investor looking to plunk money into a collective investment fund, such as, say, a unit trust, will come up against a rather big initial fee plus annual charges that are in the stratosphere. Take this comparison. In London, an equity fund will carry an initial charge of some five percent. In the U.S., it's as little as zero because some one-sixth of mutual funds are no-load funds. In London, there will be an annual charge plus expenses of 1.63 percent. Compares this with a total expense ratio of 1.4 percent for the average U.S. fund and only 1.04 percent for a U.S. no-load fund.

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