Skip to Content
Funds

Defensive Funds

These fund picks have fared better than their peers in tough markets.

List of investments
Name
Ticker
Category
Morningstar Analyst Rating
Mid-Cap Growth
Large Growth
Allocation—50% to 70% Equity
Mid-Cap Blend
Large Blend
Foreign Small/Mid Growth
Diversified Emerging Mkts
Large Growth
Foreign Large Blend
Large Growth
Large Blend
Large Blend
Large Blend
World Small/Mid Stock
Foreign Large Blend
Large Blend
Foreign Large Blend
Mid-Cap Growth

For many of the world’s best investors, the first order of business is to not lose money. (For some, that is both the first and second order of business!) Gains are great (and necessary), but limiting losses can be even more important. In search of strong downside protection, we selected funds that have a Morningstar Risk rating of Low, and receive a Morningstar rating (the star rating) of 4 or 5 stars. The star rating compares a fund’s risk-adjusted returns to other funds in the same category. (“Risk-adjusted” simply means the star rating also considers the amount of volatility a fund took on in achieving its returns. Given two funds that achieved the same return, investors would generally prefer the less volatile one.) It’s important to note that the Morningstar Risk Rating for a given fund is relative to other funds in the same category—and some categories are more volatile than others. For instance, the least risky technology fund is still a technology fund, and will undoubtedly have more ups and downs than a core, diversified large-cap fund. So just because a fund is on this list, doesn’t mean it won’t be volatile or lose money. It just means that in the past, these funds have offered better downside protection than similar funds without sacrificing much in the way of performance.

List Criteria

Gold- and Silver-Rated Funds

The Analyst Rating for Funds is based on our fund analysts’ conviction in a fund’s ability to outperform its peer group (funds in the same category) and benchmark on a risk-adjusted basis over the long term. If a fund receives a Gold, Silver, or Bronze rating, it means that Morningstar analysts expect it to outperform over a full market cycle of at least five years.

Low Morningstar Risk Rating

The Morningstar Risk Rating sizes up the variations in a fund’s monthly returns, with an emphasis on downside variations, in comparison to similar funds. In each Morningstar Category, the 10% of funds with the lowest measured risk are described as Low Risk, the next 22.5% Below Average, the middle 35% Average, the next 22.5% Above Average, and the top 10% High. Morningstar Risk is measured for up to three time periods (three, five, and 10 years). These separate measures are then weighted and averaged to produce an overall measure for the fund.

4- and 5-Star Funds

The Morningstar Rating for Funds (known as the star rating) assigns mutual funds 1 to 5 stars based on how well they’ve performed (after adjusting for risk and accounting for sales charges) in comparison to similar funds. Within each Morningstar Category, the top 10% of funds receive 5 stars and the bottom 10% receive 1 star. Funds are rated for up to three time periods-three, five, and 10 years-and these ratings are combined to produce an overall rating. Ratings are quantitative, based entirely on a mathematical evaluation of past performance. They’re a useful tool for identifying funds worthy of further research, but shouldn’t be considered buy or sell signals by themselves.

No-Load Funds

This list includes only no-load funds. “No load” refers to a mutual fund that does not charge a fee (known as a load) for buying or selling its shares; the investor typically buys no-load funds directly from a fund company or through a fund supermarket. Load funds, on the other hand, are sold by an advisor or broker and charge a percentage fee at purchase or sale of the shares, which is meant to be compensation for the planner’s investment-selection advice. (Note: Not all advisors sell load funds. Many are compensated via a flat fee or a percentage of all assets under management.) Whether a fund charges a load or not isn’t a reflection of its underlying quality. Many load funds are also Medalists, and some load funds are available without a load through 401(k) or other retirement plans. But we’re including only no-load funds here, since this list is designed to help investors who are primarily doing their own fund-picking.

Open to New Investment

All the funds on this list are open for new investment. Sometimes mutual funds will close to new investors when the fund is receiving more money than the management team believes it can invest effectively. Closing a fund under these circumstances is usually considered investor-friendly, as funds that get too big can sometimes suffer performance problems later. Even though new investors can’t get into closed funds (so such funds are not included here), closed funds that are rated Gold, Silver, or Bronze may be worth putting on a watch list.

Distinct Portfolios Only

Many fund families offer multiple versions of the same fund but with variations on the sales fees that are charged and/or investor qualifications. Screening for “distinct portfolios only” removes all but one of these options to avoid having several share classes of the same offering cluttering the list. Morningstar normally designates the oldest share class as the distinct portfolio. In some cases, this share class may be for institutions (such as company retirement funds) or otherwise have a high investment minimum. In those cases, investors may want to consider an “investor” share class of the same fund, though the fund expenses may be higher for those share classes.