The mutual fund industry is a highly competitive space, with thousands of possibilities available to investors. Even with top-notch screening tools, it can be a challenging process to lock down exactly what fund is best for you. While some fund families are larger and inherently more successful than others, you shouldn’t always select funds from the same place. One particular fund consistently may rank in the top 1% of its type, but the same won’t necessarily hold true for other funds in the same family.
Know Your Grading Tools
While some great resources are out there for investors to utilize when it comes to analyzing mutual funds, such as Morningstar’s star rating system, they don’t replace old-fashioned due diligence.
Pouring over the mandatory prospectus a mutual fund sends you any time you invest probably won’t make much sense and may feel like a huge time-sink unless you already know what to look for. However, you can use a few valuations unique to mutual funds to quickly compare and get a feel for its performance on your own.
Any mutual fund “look up” should have a section that lists some ratios and figures. The common four you’ll see are: R-squared, Beta, Alpha, and Treynor ratio. Let’s take a look at what these mean and how you can use them to quickly get a feel for that mutual fund’s performance.
One of the most misunderstood valuation ratios out there, R-squared is very useful for understanding how a fund performs against its benchmark index. This figure ranges from 0 to 100 and indicates how closely a mutual fund’s movements are aligned with the index used. A higher number means a closer correlation, while a lower number means the fund isn’t as closely matched with that index. Its primary value is determining how accurate the mutual fund’s beta is.
You already might be familiar with beta. It’s a measure of volatility in an investment as compared against the market in its entirety. A figure of 1 means the fund will move in line with the broader indexes. A value of more than 1 indicates high volatility; it will react with wider swings – both up and down – than the market. If a mutual fund has a beta of 2 and the S&P 500 registers a gain of 1% for the day, you should expect the mutual fund to return 2%. A beta of less than 1 indicates just the opposite: It will have a muted reaction relative to the broader averages.
Alpha, also known as Jensen’s Alpha, is the most common figure used to grade fund management performance. It tells you how much a mutual fund has outperformed or underperformed the market relative to its risk. In other words, if you find a fund that’s beating the market but takes on far more risk than it should, its alpha will tell you. The number should be read as a percentage, telling how much it beat or lagged its benchmark index on a risk-adjusted basis.
Finally, the Treynor ratio is similar to the alpha figure in that it includes risk and volatility in its calculation. Commonly referred to as the “reward-to-volatility” ratio, it tells you how well the fund is compensating you given the risk that it’s taken on. Simply put, it will tell you how risky the fund is by letting you know if you’re taking on too much risk for a fund that is returning too little.
The Bottom Line
Understanding how mutual funds stack up against one another is important in an industry that spans thousands of potential options. While certain funds always seem to be consistent outperformers, investors still should use due diligence to follow up with investments and compare with other funds. Understanding what each of the major four valuation figures for mutual funds means will help you find the best mutual fund and understand why it’s better than simply relying on unreliable past-performance figures.