Types Of Mutual Funds

Mutual funds are divided into several kinds of categories, representing the kinds of securities they have targeted for their portfolios and the type of returns they seek. There is a fund for nearly every type of investor or investment approach. Other common types of mutual funds include money market funds, sector funds, alternative funds, smart-beta funds, target-date funds, and even funds-of-funds, or mutual funds that buy shares of other mutual funds

Equity Funds

he largest category is that of equity or stock funds. As the name implies, this sort of fund invests principally in stocks. Within this group is various sub-categories. Some equity funds are named for the size of the companies they invest in small-, mid- or large-cap. Others are named by their investment approach: aggressive growth, income-oriented, value, and others. Equity funds are also categorized by whether they invest in domestic (U.S.) stocks or foreign equities. There are so many different types of equity funds because there are many different types of equities. A great way to understand the universe of equity funds is to use a style box, an example of which is below.

The idea here is to classify funds based on both the size of the companies invested in (their market caps) and the growth prospects of the invested stocks. The term value fund refers to a style of investing that looks for high quality, low growth companies that are out of favor with the market. These companies are characterized by low price-to-earnings (P/E), low price-to-book (P/B) ratios, and high dividend yields. On the other side of the style, spectrum are growth funds, which look to companies that have had (and are expected to have) strong growth in earnings, sales, and cash flows. These companies typically have high P/E ratios and do not pay dividends. A compromise between strict value and growth investment is a “blend,” which simply refers to companies that are neither value nor growth stocks and are classified as being somewhere in the middle.

Learn how to use the Morningstar Style Box (TM). Morningstar The other dimension of the style box has to do with the size of the companies that a mutual fund invests in. Large-cap companies have high market capitalizations, with values over $5 billion. Market cap is derived by multiplying the share price by the number of shares outstanding. Large-cap stocks are typically blue chip firmsthat are often recognizable by name. Small-cap stocks refer to those stocks with a market cap ranging from $200 million to $2 billion. These smaller companies tend to be newer, riskier investments. Mid-cap stocks fill in the gap between small- and large-cap.

A mutual fund may blend its strategy between investment style and company size. For example, a large-cap value fund would look to large-cap companies that are in strong financial shape but have recently seen their share prices fall and would be placed in the upper left quadrant of the style box (large and value). The opposite of this would be a fund that invests in startup technology companies with excellent growth prospects: small-cap growth. Such a mutual fund would reside in the bottom right quadrant (small and growth).

Fixed-Income Funds

Another big group is the fixed income category. A fixed income mutual fund focuses on investments that pay a set rate of return, such as government bonds, corporate bonds, or other debt instruments. The idea is that the fund portfolio generates interest income, which then passes on to shareholders.

Sometimes referred to as bond funds, these funds are often actively managed and seek to buy relatively undervalued bonds in order to sell them at a profit. These mutual funds are likely to pay higher returns than certificates of deposit and money market investments, but bond funds aren’t without risk. Because there are many different types of bonds, bond funds can vary dramatically depending on where they invest. For example, a fund specializing in high-yield junk bonds is much riskier than a fund that invests in government securities. Furthermore, nearly all bond funds are subject to interest rate risk, which means that if rates go up the value of the fund goes down.

Index Funds

Another group, which has become extremely popular in the last few years, falls under the moniker “index funds.” Their investment strategy is based on the belief that it is very hard, and often expensive, to try to beat the market consistently. So, the index fund manager buys stocks that correspond with a major market index such as the S&P 500 or the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA). This strategy requires less research from analysts and advisors, so there are fewer expenses to eat up returns before they are passed on to shareholders. These funds are often designed with cost-sensitive investors in mind.

Balanced Funds

Balanced funds invest in both stocks and bonds to reduce the risk of exposure to one asset class or another. Another name for this type of mutual fund is “asset allocation fund.” An investor may expect to find the allocation of these funds among asset classes relatively unchanging, though it will differ among funds. This fund’s goal is asset appreciation with lower risk. However, these funds carry the same risk and can be as subject to fluctuation as other classifications of funds.

A similar type of fund is known as an asset allocation fund. Objectives are similar to those of a balanced fund, but these kinds of funds typically do not have to hold a specified percentage of any asset class. The portfolio manager is therefore given freedom to switch the ratio of asset classes as the economy moves through the business cycle

Money Market Funds

The money market consists of safe (risk-free) short-term debt instruments, mostly government Treasury bills. This is a safe place to park your money. You won’t get substantial returns, but you won’t have to worry about losing your principal. A typical return is a little more than the amount you would earn in a regular checking or savings account and a little less than the average certificate of deposit (CD). While money market funds invest in ultra-safe assets, during the 2008 financial crisis, some money market funds did experience losses after the share price of these funds, typically pegged at $1, fell below that level and broke the buck.

Income Funds

Income funds are named for their purpose: to provide current income on a steady basis. These funds invest primarily in government and high-quality corporate debt, holding these bonds until maturity in order to provide interest streams. While fund holdings may appreciate in value, the primary objective of these funds is to provide steady cash flow to investors. As such, the audience for these funds consists of conservative investors and retirees. Because they produce regular income, tax-conscious investors may want to avoid these funds.

Global International Funds

An international fund (or foreign fund) invests only in assets located outside your home country. Global funds, meanwhile, can invest anywhere around the world, including within your home country. It’s tough to classify these funds as either riskier or safer than domestic investments, but they have tended to be more volatile and have a unique country and political risks. On the flip side, they can, as part of a well-balanced portfolio, actually reduce risk by increasing diversificationsince the returns in foreign countries may be uncorrelated with returns at home. Although the world’s economies are becoming more interrelated, it is still likely that another economy somewhere is outperforming the economy of your home country.

Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs)

A twist on the mutual fund is the exchange traded fund (ETF). These ever more popular investment vehicles pool investments and employ strategies consistent with mutual funds, but they are structured as investment trusts that are traded on stock exchanges and have the added benefits of the features of stocks. For example, ETFs can be bought and sold at any point throughout the trading day. ETFs can also be sold short or purchased on margin. ETFs also typically carry lower fees than the equivalent mutual fund. Many ETFs also benefit from active optionsmarkets where investors can hedge or leverage their positions. ETFs also enjoy tax advantages from mutual funds. The popularity of ETFs speaks to their versatility and convenience