The Individual Investor's Guide to The Top Mutual Funds 2010
Although exchange-traded funds have stolen the limelight of late, mutual funds have not lost their relevancy to individual investors.
Mutual funds offer a cost-effective way to construct a diversified portfolio across a wide range of asset types. Mutual funds are liquid investments managed by professionals. Investors can opt to select funds that mirror index funds or actively managed funds that require a manager to make specific investment decisions.
Traditional open-ended mutual funds still have an important place in many investors’ portfolios, and the need for quality information to judge and track these funds is ongoing. Many Web sites now provide current and historical performance data on funds, but it’s rare to find a source where you can easily compare similar funds on various criteria. AAII’s annual “Individual Investor’s Guide to the Top Mutual Funds” does just that in the following pages.
The 29th edition of the Guide to the Top Mutual Funds covers over 700 no-load and low-load funds. The funds are classified into useful categories of similar funds to make comparison of fund alternatives more efficient and effective. This will allow you to dedicate more time to evaluating the better fund opportunities.
Selecting a mutual fund, while less time-consuming than investing in individual securities, does require some homework. No one should put money into an investment that is not understood. This does not require a detailed investigation of the fund’s investments, but it does require an understanding of the fund’s investment objective, strategy, risks and performance history.
Individuals new to mutual fund investing can find explanatory articles in the Mutual Funds area of AAII.com .
Performance tables appear on pages 6 through 9. Table 1 summarizes the average performance and risk of fund categories and common index benchmarks. Table 2 lists the 50 best-performing funds of 2009, and Table 3 lists the 50 worst-performing funds of 2009. Table 4 allows you to compare the performance of the 50 most widely held funds (funds with the highest total assets). While past performance is no indication of future performance, it may attest to the quality and consistency of fund management.
Funds are grouped by category and listed alphabetically within each category; the ticker symbol is indicated after each fund name. The listings provide information on a variety of return and risk data, portfolio composition, and fees and expenses. Index funds are indicated by the letter “I” before the fund name, and funds that are closed to new investors are indicated by the letter “C.”
If you would like to request a copy of a fund prospectus and annual report, telephone numbers and Web addresses of the fund families are provided on pages 38 through 40. Make sure you read the prospectus carefully before investing in any mutual fund.
The funds that appear in the Guide were selected from the universe of open-ended funds tracked through NASDAQ. The following are the various screens we used to arrive at the final selection.
Generally, only those funds with three full years of data are included in the Guide so that there is a performance record of significant length and all performance measures can be calculated. Index funds with less than three full years may be included, as well as specialty funds of great interest to our members.
Funds must appear in the NASDAQ mutual fund listings and are generally required to have at least $50 million in assets to qualify for inclusion in the Guide. A small number of funds with assets below $50 million are included in the state-specific municipal bond category and some of the new categories tracked in this Guide.
The decision as to what constitutes a significant load is difficult, but we took this approach in the Guide:
Funds with front-end loads, back-end loads, or redemption fees of 3% or less are included if the fund does not also have a 12b-1 charge. Funds with redemption fees that disappear after six months that also have 12b-1 charges appear in this Guide.
Funds with 12b-1 plans and no front- or back-end loads are included in the Guide; we note, however, if the fund has a 12b-1 fee and what the charge is per year. A 12b-1 fee of greater than 0.25% is considered to be high and excluded the fund from the Guide. Investors should carefully assess these plans individually.
Funds that imposed a load that exceeded 3% or increased an existing load above 3% have been dropped from the Guide.
Funds with significantly higher expense ratios than the average for their category are not included in this Guide. We have bolded the expense ratio of funds whose ratios are in the lower 25% of their category.
Funds that significantly underperformed the average performance of their category are not included in this Guide.
Interest and Availability
Only those funds that are of general interest to mutual fund investors and available for investment by individual investors directly from the fund, without restrictions, are included in this Guide. Unlike previous editions, funds closed to new investors are now included. Such funds are designated by the letter C to the left of their name.
Funds Not Included
AAII members who would like performance figures for no-load and low-load mutual funds that do not appear in this Guide can access this information on our Web site at www.aaii.com/guides/mfguide (covers 1,476 funds).
Most of the information shown in the listing is provided by Morningstar Inc., but some may come from mutual fund reports (the prospectus and annual and quarterly reports) and solicitation of information directly from the fund. Any data source has the potential for error, however, and before investing in any mutual fund, you should read the prospectus and the annual report.
When a dash appears in the performance tables or in a mutual fund listing, it indicates that the number was not available or does not apply in that particular instance. For example, the 10-year annual return figure would not be available for funds that have been operating for less than 10 years. We do not compile the bull and bear ratings for mutual funds not operating during the entire bull or bear market period. All numbers are truncated rather than rounded when necessary, unless noted otherwise in the following descriptions.
In the fund list, return and difference from category numbers that are in the top 25% of all funds within the investment category are shown in boldface. When risk and expense ratios are in the lowest 25% for the category, these numbers are also bolded. Fund data in the state-specific municipal bond category are not bolded because meaningful comparisons cannot be made across various state categories.
The following provides an explanation of the terms we have used in the performance tables and mutual fund listings. The explanations are listed in the order in which the data and information appear in the listing.
Index Fund: The letter I before a fund’s name indicates that the fund is designed to follow a stock index, such as the S&P 500; the amounts invested in each stock are proportional to the firm’s representation in the index that the fund tracks. Because index funds are unmanaged, they make no research efforts to select particular stocks or bonds, nor do they make timing decisions. They are always 100% invested. This passive management approach means that the expenses and the cost of managing an index fund are extremely low.
Closed: The letter C before the fund’s name indicates that the fund is not accepting purchases from new investors. Some closed funds may also suspend additional investments from existing shareholders.
Fund Name: The funds are presented alphabetically by fund name within each category.
Ticker: The ticker symbol for each fund is given in parentheses for those investors who may want to access data with their computer or touch-tone phone. The ticker is four letters and is usually followed by an “X,” indicating that it is a mutual fund. For example, the large-cap Brandywine Blue fund ticker symbol is BLUEX.
Style—Growth and Value: Indicates fund investment style. G = growth investing focus, V = value investing focus. For more on what these classifications mean, see the online version of this Guide at www.aaii.com/guides/mfguide.
Annual Total Return (%): Return percentages for each of the last five years. Returns that are in the top 25% of all funds within the investment category are shown in boldface.
Bull Market Return (%)—Fund and Cat +/-: Reflects the fund’s performance in the most recent bull market, starting March 1, 2009, and continuing through December 31, 2009; and the difference in fund total return for the period from the average return for the period for all funds in the same category. Return and difference from category numbers that are in the top 25% of all funds within the investment category are shown in boldface.
Bear Market Return (%)—Fund and Cat +/-: Reflects the fund’s performance in the most recent bear market, from November 1, 2007, through February 28, 2009; and the difference in fund total return for the period from the average return for the period for all funds in the same category. Return and difference from category numbers that are in the top 25% of all funds within the investment category are shown in boldface.
3-Year Return (%)—Fund and Cat +/-: Assuming an investment on January 1, 2007, the annual total compound return if held through December 31, 2009; and the difference in fund total return for the period from the average return for the period for all funds in the same category. When the difference from category is negative, the fund underperformed the average fund in its investment category for the period by the percent indicated. Return and difference from category numbers that are in the top 25% of all funds within the investment category are shown in boldface.
5-Year Return (%)—Fund and Cat +/-: Assuming an investment on January 1, 2005, the annual total compound return if held through December 31, 2009; and the difference in fund total return for the period from the average return for the period for all funds in the same category. Return and difference from category numbers that are in the top 25% of all funds within the investment category are shown in boldface.
10-Year Return (%)—Fund and Cat +/-: Assuming an investment on January 1, 2000, the annual total compound return if held through December 31, 2009; and the difference in fund total return for the period from the average return for the period for all funds in the same category. Return and difference from category numbers that are in the top 25% of all funds within the investment category are shown in boldface.
Yield (%): The per share annual income distribution made by the fund divided by the sum of the year-ending net asset value plus any capital gains distributions made during the year. This ratio is similar to a dividend yield and would be higher for income-oriented funds and lower for growth-oriented funds. The figure only reflects income; it is not a total return. For some funds, the yield may be distorted if the fund reports short-term capital gains as income.
Tax-Cost Ratio (%): Measures how much a fund’s annualized return is reduced by the taxes paid on distributions, assuming the maximum marginal tax rate. A tax-cost ratio of 0.0% indicates that the fund did not pay any taxable income or make capital gains distributions. If a fund had a 3.0% tax-cost ratio, it means that on average each year, investors lost 3.0% of their assets to taxes. The lower the ratio, the more tax-efficient the fund. The ratio is calculated using the last five years of data.
Risk Index—Category and Total: The Category Risk Index is the standard deviation of a fund’s return divided by the standard deviation of return for the average fund in the category. The Total Risk Index is the standard deviation of a fund’s return divided by the average standard deviation of return for all funds. Standard deviation is a measure of return volatility and is computed using monthly returns for the last three years. A value of 1.00 denotes average risk. Values above 1.00 indicate greater risk than average while values below 1.00 indicate less risk than average. Risk numbers that are in the lowest 25% of all funds within the investment category are shown in boldface.
Total Assets ($ Mil): Aggregate fund value in millions of dollars at the end of the calendar year.
Portfolio (%)—Stock/Bond/Other/Cash: The portfolio composition columns classify investments by type and give the percentage of the total portfolio invested in each. Some funds are “funds of funds” and their portfolio holdings may be denoted by “100% other.” Due to rounding of the percentages and the practice of leverage (borrowing) to buy securities, the portfolio total percentage may not equal 100%.
Percent of Port in Foreign Issues: The percentage of the fund’s assets that is invested in foreign stocks and bonds.
Portfolio Turnover Ratio (%): A measure of the trading activity of the fund, which is computed by dividing the lesser of purchases or sales for the year by the monthly average value of the securities owned by the fund during the year. Securities with maturities of less than one year are excluded from the calculation. The result is expressed as a percentage, with 100% implying a complete turnover within one year.
Number of Holdings: The total number of individual securities held by the fund. These can include stocks, bonds, currencies, futures contracts and option contracts. This figure is meant to be a measure of portfolio risk: The lower the number, the more concentrated the fund is in a few issues.
Percent of Portfolio in Top 10 Holdings: Investments, expressed as a percentage of the total portfolio assets, in the fund’s top 10 portfolio holdings. The higher the percentage, the more concentrated the fund is in a few companies or issues, and the more the fund is susceptible to market fluctuations in these few holdings. Used in combination with number of holdings, the percent of portfolio in top 10 investments figure can indicate how concentrated a fund is.
Expense Ratio (%): The sum of administrative fees plus adviser management fees and 12b-1 fees divided by the average net asset value of the fund, stated as a percentage. Brokerage costs incurred by the fund are not included in the expense ratio but are instead reflected directly in net asset value. Front-end loads, back-end loads, redemption fees, and account activity charges are not included in this ratio. Some funds are “funds of funds” and their expense ratios will not reflect the expenses of all funds held by the fund. Expense ratios that are in the lowest 25% of all funds within the investment category are shown in boldface.
Max Load (%): Percentage maximum fee. The letter next to the fee indicates the load type: F = a front-end load (a sales charge incurred upon purchase), and R = a redemption fee that is incurred at the time of sale. A — = no loads or charges. Returns are not adjusted for loads, redemption fees or charges.
12b-1 Fee (%): If a fund has a 12b-1 fee, the percentage that the fund charges is given. A — = no 12b-1 fee is charged.
Table 1. Performance of Category Averages and Index Benchmarks
Table 2. Top 50 Performers for 2009
Table 3. Bottom 50 Performers for 2009
Table 4. Performance of the 50 Most Widely Held Funds
Getting Started in Fund Investing
The AAII Investor Classroom at www.aaii.com/classroom provides a step-by-step understanding of important investment ideas and techniques. It includes two mini-courses that focus on mutual funds. The first, "Understanding How Mutual Funds Work," covers the basic mechanics of funds for beginners:
Mutual Funds by Design (What is a mutual fund?)
Grappling With Fund Risk
- Fund Statements: What to Look For
- Fund Mechanics: Investing & Redeeming
The second, "Choosing the Best Fund for You," is for those who want to learn how to narrow the number of fund choices:
- What You Need to Know: The Nine Essential Fund Facts
- Researching Funds Through the Internet
- Tips When Looking at Funds
- Getting to Know a Fund's Manager: Question to Ask
- Breaking a Tie Between Funds
Managing Your Portfolio
For guidance on building and managing a portfolio of funds, go to the Funds/ETFs area at www.aaii.com/mfunds for these and other articles:
- How Many Mutual Funds Should You Have in Your Investment Portfolio?
- Your Mutual Fund Portfolio: Choosing the Level of Complexity
- The Sell Decision With Mutual Funds: Knowing When to Walk Away
- Financial Check-Up: Figuring Out Your Mutual Fund Portfolio
Trolling for More Data
For more in-depth fund data and screening tools, AAII's "Guide to the Top Web Sites" directs you to the best places on the Internet.
AAII Funds/ETFs Discussion Board provides an arena where you can talk about investing in mutual funds with other AAII members. Share your ideas and ask questions of fellow members to get real-world advice.
Mutual Fund Categories
Mutual funds come in all shapes and sizes; there are thousands of mutual funds, each with its own characteristics. Many mutual funds, however, have shared investments that generally lead to other characteristics that are similar.
These shared characteristics allow us to divide mutual funds into categories; here we define the mutual fund categories used in AAII's Guide to the Top Mutual Funds. In the Guide, the individual fund listings appear alphabetically within each category.
The table on page 8 provides average returns and risk of funds by category, which illustrate some of the differences between these categories.
Portfolio managers of mutual funds that invest in common stocks can choose from the stocks of different industries, stocks at different stages of development, and even stocks of different countries and regions. Over the stock market cycles, large stocks behave differently from small stocks, domestic stocks do not move in unison with foreign or emerging market stocks, and stocks in different sectors or industries react differently to the same economic and business conditions.
For investors to make initial investment decisions on stock mutual funds and to compare and evaluate the ongoing performance of investments in stock mutual funds, grouping similar funds together into cohesive categories is a logical first step. The stock fund categories provided in this guide to facilitate your selection and monitoring of fund investments encompass domestic funds, sector funds, and international funds.
Domestic Stock Funds
In funds categorized by stock size, the "cap" stands for capitalization (market share price times number of shares of common stock outstanding).
Large-cap stocks are usually stocks of national or multinational firms with well-known products or services provided to consumers, other businesses, or governments. Most of the stocks in the Dow Jones industrial average, the S&P 500 and the NASDAQ 100 are, for example, large-cap stocks. While some large-cap stocks are more volatile than others, a well-diversified mutual fund portfolio of large-cap stocks would perform similarly to most investors' conception of the stock market. Large-cap stocks, as a category, also tend to pay the highest cash dividends, although many large-cap stocks pay no dividends. Large-cap stock funds, in summary, tend to have the lowest volatility and highest dividend yield in the domestic common stock group.
Mid-cap stocks are, as their name implies, smaller than the largest domestic stocks. They are usually established firms in established industries with regional, national and sometimes international markets for their products and services. The S&P MidCap 400 index is a common benchmark for mid-cap stocks. These funds would tend to have lower dividend yields than large-cap funds and to have somewhat higher volatility.
Small-cap stocks are often emerging firms in sometimes emerging industries. But also, these small companies can be established firms with local, regional and sometimes even national and international markets. The benchmark for this group is the S&P SmallCap 600 index. These stocks must have liquid enough trading for mutual funds to invest and, although small, are still listed on the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange or NASDAQ. These small-cap funds tend to be more volatile than large-cap and mid-cap funds, have very low dividend yields, and often do not move in tandem with large-cap and mid-cap funds.
The large-, mid- and small-cap categories capture a fund's predominant focus and are important because these size categories do not all behave alike in a market sense. The stocks do tend to move in somewhat different cycles and have pronounced differences in risk and return over time.
Long-short funds hold sizable stakes in both long and short positions. Some funds are market neutral, dividing their exposure equally between long and short positions in an attempt to earn a modest return that is not tied to the market's fortunes. Others shift exposure to long and short positions depending upon their macro outlook or the opportunities they uncover through bottom-up research.
Contra stock market funds invest in short stock positions and derivatives. Because these funds often have extensive holdings in shorts or puts, returns generally move in the opposite direction of the benchmark index.
Sector Stock Funds
Sector funds concentrate their stock holdings in just one industry or a few related industries. They are diversified within the sector, but are not broadly diversified. They may invest in the U.S. or internationally. They are still influenced and react to industry/sector factors as well as general stock market factors. Sector funds have greater risk than diversified common stock funds. While there are a substantial number of sectors represented by mutual funds, a handful of sector designations cover most of the sector fund offerings: energy/resources, financial/banking, gold, health, real estate, technology, telecommunications, and utilities. As is clear from this sector category list, some sectors are of greater risk than others-technology versus utilities, for example. By definition, a sector fund is a concentrated, not diversified, fund holding.
International Stock Funds
International stock funds invest in the stocks of foreign firms. Some stock funds specialize in a single country, others in regions, such as the Pacific or Europe, and others invest in multiple foreign regions. In addition, some stock funds-usually termed "global funds"-invest in both foreign and U.S. securities. We have four classifications by type of investment for the international stock funds category-foreign stock funds, global stock funds, regional/country stock funds and emerging market stock funds.
International funds provide investors with added diversification. The most important factor when diversifying a portfolio is selecting investments whose returns are not highly correlated. Within the U.S., investors can diversify by selecting securities of firms in different industries. In the international realm, investors take the diversification process one step further by holding securities of firms in different countries. The more independently these foreign markets move in relation to the U.S. stock market, the greater the diversification benefit will be, and the lower the risk of the total portfolio.
In addition, international funds overcome some of the difficulties investors face in making foreign investments directly. For instance, individuals have to thoroughly understand the foreign brokerage process, be familiar with the various foreign marketplaces and their economies, be aware of currency fluctuation trends, and have access to reliable financial information in order to invest directly in foreign stocks. This can be a monumental task for the individual investor.
There are some risks unique to investing internationally. In addition to the risk inherent in investing in any security, there is an additional exchange rate risk. The return to a U.S. investor from a foreign security depends on both the security's return in its own currency and the rate at which that currency can be exchanged for U.S. dollars. Another uncertainty is political risk, which includes government restriction, taxation, or even total prohibition of the exchange of one currency into another. Of course, the more the mutual fund is diversified among various countries, the less the risk involved.
Balanced Stock/Bond Funds
In general, the portfolios of balanced funds consist of investments in common stocks and significant investments in bonds and convertible securities. The range as a percentage of the total portfolio of stocks and bonds is usually stated in the investment objective, and the portfolio manager has the option of allocating the proportions within the range. Some asset allocation funds-funds that have a wide latitude of portfolio composition change-can also be found in the balanced category. Some are also global balanced funds, allocating part of their portfolio to foreign investments.
A balanced fund is generally less volatile than a stock fund and provides a higher dividend yield.
Target Date Funds
Target date funds have year designations that investors can match to their planned retirement date. They invest in a mix of domestic and foreign stocks and bonds that becomes more conservative and income-oriented as the target date draws near--the allocation to stocks decreases and the allocation to bonds increases. Risk declines and income increases as the target date approaches. Once the target date has passed, they become income funds. Target date funds are composed of other funds from the same fund family-they are in essence funds of funds.
[For more on target date funds, see "Taking Aim at Your Retirement: A Look at Target Date Mutual Funds" by John Markese from the June 2009 AAII Journal.]
Bond mutual funds are attractive to investors because they provide diversification and liquidity, which is not as readily attainable in direct bond investments.
Bond funds have portfolios with a wide range of average maturities. Many funds use their names to characterize their maturity structure. Generally, short term means that the portfolio has a weighted average maturity of less than three years. Intermediate implies an average maturity of three to 10 years, and long term is over 10 years. The longer the maturity, the greater the change in fund value when interest rates change. Longer-term bond funds are riskier than shorter-term funds, and they usually offer higher yields.
Taxable Bond Funds
Bond funds are principally categorized by the types of bonds they hold.
Government bond funds invest in the bonds of the U.S. government and its agencies, while mortgage funds invest primarily in mortgage-backed bonds. General bond funds invest in a mix of government and agency bonds, corporate bonds (investment grade), and mortgage-backed bonds. Government and general bond funds are further categorized by maturity: short-term, intermediate-term and long-term.
A special category of inflation-protected bond funds hold Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS).
Corporate high-yield bond funds provide high income but invest generally in corporate bonds rated below investment grade, making them riskier.
Convertible bond funds invest primarily in preferred stocks and bonds that are convertible into common stocks. These securities exhibit characteristics of both stocks and bonds by offering yield and the possibility of capital appreciation.
Municipal and State-Specific Bond Funds
Tax-exempt municipal bond funds invest in bonds whose income is exempt from federal income tax. Some tax-exempt funds may invest in municipal bonds whose income is also exempt from the income tax of a specific state.
International Bond Funds
International bond funds allow mutual fund investors to hold a diversified portfolio of foreign corporate and government bonds. These foreign bonds often offer higher yields, but carry additional risks beyond those of domestic bonds. As with foreign common stocks, currency risk can be as significant as the potential default of foreign government bonds-a particular risk with the debt of emerging countries. International bond funds are categorized as general or emerging.
Stock Fund Style Definitions
For domestic stock funds, one other element can be superimposed over stock size distinctions to better understand performance and risk in different market environments: the growth or value investment management style of the fund portfolio manager. In the Guide, style is indicated for domestic large-cap, mid-cap and small-cap funds after the fund name by a G for growth investing focus and a V for value investing focus. Funds with G and V follow both styles.
Growth Investing Focus
A small-cap growth fund will act differently than a small-cap value fund and a mid-cap growth fund is more likely to correlate with a small-cap growth fund than a mid-cap value fund. Portfolio managers of growth-managed funds seek out stocks that have either experienced rapid growth in sales or earnings or are expected to have rapid growth. Often these stocks have high price-earnings ratios (price per share divided by earnings per share) and are volatile when expectations for earnings or sales growth change even slightly. Few growth stocks pay any significant dividend, and they are often concentrated in industries such as technology, health, telecommunications and software.
Value Investing Focus
The value style of investment management emphasizes low price to earnings, low price to sales (price per share divided by sales per share), and higher dividend yields. The trade-off relative to growth stocks is that value stocks have a lower expected growth rate in earnings and sales, but also less risk. Value stocks are often concentrated in insurance, banking, and electric and gas utilities, for example.
For purposes of diversification and risk, it pays to keep in mind the growth/value investment style mix of your stock mutual funds.
|Family Fund Name||Toll Free Phone||Web Address|
|Advance Capital I||800-345-4783||www.advancecapitalonline.com|
|Baron Capital Group||800-442-3814||www.baronfunds.com|
|Caldwell & Orkin||800-467-7903||www.caldwellorkin.com|
|California Investment Trust||800-225-8778||www.caltrust.com|
|Cohen & Steers||800-437-9912||www.cohenandsteers.com|
|Commonwealth Intl Series Tr||888-345-1898||www.commonwealthfunds.com|
|Dodge & Cox||800-621-3979||www.dodgeandcox.com|
|Mairs & Power||800-304-7404||www.mairsandpower.com|
|Manning & Napier||800-466-3863||www.manningnapieradvisors.com|
|New Century Portfolios||888-264-8578||www.newcenturyportfolios.com|
|Oak Value Fund||800-622-2474||www.oakvaluefund.com|
|State Street Global Advisors||800-647-7327||www.ssgafunds.com|
|T. Rowe Price||800-638-5660||www.troweprice.com|
|The Arbitrage Fund||800-295-4485||www.thearbfund.com|
|The Westport Funds||888-593-7878||www.westportfunds.com|
|Turner Investment Partners||800-224-6312||www.turnerinvestments.com|
|U.S. Global Investors||800-873-8637||www.usfunds.com|
|Wells Fargo Advantage||800-222-8222||www.wellsfargofunds.com|