Morningstar Analyst Rating
Although it makes sense to anchor the stock sleeve of a portfolio in high-quality, wide-moat blue chips, diversification across the style box will ensure at least some participation in all market environments. Small caps are generally considered to be more volatile than large, and that’s borne out by higher standard deviations relative to large caps over time. Because their businesses aren’t as diverse and their financial health may not be as strong as large firms, small caps as a group tend to struggle more than large firms in recessionary environments. But they can also outperform when the winds change. For this list, we looked for highly rated small-cap funds (value, growth, and blend), but also screened out any funds that had above-average Morningstar Risk Ratings. Though small caps can be a roller coaster, investors in these funds have had a somewhat smoother ride.
Small-Cap U.S. Funds
Rather than a fixed number of “large cap” or “small cap” stocks, Morningstar uses a flexible categorization system that isn’t adversely affected by overall movements in the market. Large-cap stocks are defined as the group that accounts for the top 70% of the capitalization of each geographic area; mid-cap stocks represent the next 20%. Small-cap stocks represent the balance.
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.
Morningstar Risk: Average or Below
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.
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.