Types of Mutual Funds
There are several types of mutual funds available for investment, though most mutual funds fall into one of four main categories which include stock funds, money market funds, bond funds, and target-date funds.
As the name implies, this fund invests principally in equity or stocks. Within this group are various subcategories. 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. To understand the universe of equity funds is to use a style box, an example of which is below.
Funds can be classified based on both the size of the companies, 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) ratios, low price-to-book (P/B) ratios, and high dividend yields.
Conversely, growth funds, look to companies that have had 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.
Large-cap companies have high market capitalizations, with values over $10 billion. Market cap is derived by multiplying the share price by the number of shares outstanding. Large-cap stocks are typically blue-chip firms that are often recognizable by name. Small-cap stocks refer to those stocks with a market cap ranging from $250 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).
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A mutual fund that generates a minimum return is part of 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 fund portfolio generates interest income, which is passed on to the 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 and bond funds aren't without risk. For example, a fund specializing in high-yield junk bonds is much riskier than a fund that invests in government securities.
Because there are many different types of bonds, bond funds can vary dramatically depending on where they invest and all bond funds are subject to interest rate risk.
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Index Funds invest in 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 passed on to shareholders and these funds are often designed with cost-sensitive investors in mind.
Balanced funds invest in a hybrid of asset classes, whether stocks, bonds, money market instruments, or alternative investments. The objective of this fund, known as an asset allocation fund, is to reduce the risk of exposure across asset classes.
Some funds are defined with a specific allocation strategy that is fixed, so the investor can have a predictable exposure to various asset classes. Other funds follow a strategy for dynamic allocation percentages to meet various investor objectives. This may include responding to market conditions, business cycle changes, or the changing phases of the investor's own life.
The portfolio manager is commonly given the freedom to switch the ratio of asset classes as needed to maintain the integrity of the fund's stated strategy.
Money Market Funds
The money market consists of safe, risk-free, short-term debt instruments, mostly government Treasury bills. An investor will not earn substantial returns, but the principal is guaranteed. A typical return is a little more than the amount earned in a regular checking or savings account and a little less than the average certificate of deposit (CD)