In times like these, investors would like to take some comfort that they are investing like the pros. Indeed, it's comforting to know that...

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In times like these, investors would like to take some comfort that they are investing like the pros. Indeed, it’s comforting to know that the people running your mutual funds have their money mixed into the same pool as yours.

Alas, all too often, it’s not, and the fund manager doesn’t have enough belief in what they are doing to actually live by it.

That’s the conclusion to be drawn from a new Morningstar study that looked at how much managers invest in their own funds. The data have been available for a few years now — stuffed into fund documents that no ordinary shareholder reads — as part of a Securities and Exchange Commission-mandated changes that were supposed to make funds more transparent.

All named managers for a fund must make the disclosure, which classifies their investment into groupings that run from $0 to more than $1 million.

Morningstar examined the ownership status for all of the Morningstar 500 funds. When accounting for additional share classes — where a fund can trade under multiple ticker symbols, and sometimes with different managers, to reflect a different cost structure — the study looked at about 6,000 issues.

In 46 percent of the domestic stock funds surveyed, the manager hadn’t invested a dime.

Other asset classes were far worse, with nearly 60 percent of foreign-stock funds reporting no manager ownership, two-thirds of taxable bond funds having no managers with money in the fund, up to 70 percent of balanced funds having no manager cash and some 78 percent of muni-bond funds having shareholder cash only.

Ouch. That’s a lot of managers who are going out to eat, rather than eating their own cooking.

There are some times when a lack of manager’s outside financial interests makes some sense. I know a few 30-something fund managers whose personal portfolios would be out of kilter if they had to throw a lot of money into the bond fund they run or the target-maturity date fund they oversee for investors in their 60s and 70s.

And it’s understandable that managers in focused, niche funds might want to diversify and not go whole hog into their own volatile specialty; still, if they believe in the product, an investment of no cents makes no sense, especially when the lowest level for disclosure is $1 to $10,000, meaning managers can get credit for 10-grand by simply dropping a buck in their own fund.

Russel Kinnel, director of mutual-fund research for Morningstar, said he thinks there’s a direct correlation between investing in a fund and performance.

Fund companies can fix this problem pretty easily: Give managers their annual bonuses in shares of the fund, and encourage them to ride along with the clients and customers.

Chuck Jaffe is senior columnist at MarketWatch. He can be reached at cjaffe@marketwatch.com or Box 70, Cohasset, MA 02025-0070.