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How To Avoid The Worst Style Mutual Funds 2Q23

Question: Why are there so many mutual funds?

Answer: Mutual fund management is profitable, so Wall Street creates more products to sell.

I leverage my firm’s data to identify two red flags you can use to avoid the worst mutual funds:

1. High Fees

Mutual funds should be cheap, but not all of them are. The first step is to benchmark what cheap means.

To ensure you are paying at or below average fees, invest only in mutual funds with total annual costs below 1.61% – the average total annual cost of the 5,603 U.S. equity Style mutual funds my firm covers. The weighted average is lower at 1.06%, which highlights how investors tend to put their money in mutual funds with low fees.

Figure 1 shows American Growth Fund Series One (AMRBX) is the most expensive style mutual fund and Vanguard 500 Index Fund (VFFSX) is the least expensive. American Growth Fund provides three of the most expensive mutual funds while Vanguard (VFFSX, VSTSX) and Fidelity (FXAIX,FSKAX) mutual funds are among the cheapest.

Figure 1: 5 Most and Least Expensive Style Mutual Funds

Investors need not pay high fees for quality holdings. Hennessy Cornerstone Value Fund (HICVX) is the best ranked style mutual fund overall. HICVX’s attractive Portfolio Management rating and 1.19% total annual cost earns it a very attractive rating.

On the other hand, Fidelity Mid Cap Index Fund (FSMDX) holds poor stocks and earns an unattractive rating, yet has low total annual costs of 0.05%. No matter how cheap a mutual fund, if it holds bad stocks, its performance will be bad. The quality of a mutual fund’s holdings matters more than its price.

2. Poor Holdings

Avoiding poor holdings is by far the hardest part of avoiding bad mutual funds, but it is also the most important because a mutual fund’s performance is determined more by its holdings than its costs. Figure 2 shows the mutual funds within each style with the worst holdings or portfolio management ratings.

Figure 2: Style Mutual Funds with the Worst Holdings

ProFunds (OTPIX,SLPIX) appears more often than any other provider in Figure 2, which means that they offer the most mutual funds with the worst holdings.

Bertolet Pinnacle Value Fund (PVFIX) is the worst rated mutual fund in Figure 2 based on predictive overall rating. Needham Growth Fund (NEEIX), Alger Small Cap Focus Fund (AGOZX), Morgan Stanley Discovery Portfolio (MMCGX), North Square Advisory Research Small Cap Value Fund (ADVGX), Ultimus Evolutionary Tree Innovators Fund (INVNX), ProFunds Small Cap ProFund (SLPIX), T. Rowe Price Mid Cap Value Fund (TRMIX), ProFunds NASDAQ-100 ProFund (OTPIX), Multi-Asset Capital Stability Fund (SMLYX) also earn a very unattractive predictive overall rating, which means not only do they hold poor stocks, they charge high total annual costs.

The Danger Within

Buying a mutual fund without analyzing its holdings is like buying a stock without analyzing its business model and finances. Put another way, research on mutual fund holdings is necessary due diligence because a mutual fund’s performance is only as good as its holdings.


Disclosure: David Trainer, Kyle Guske II, and Italo Mendonça receive no compensation to write about any specific stock, style, or theme.