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Alternative Methods For Rating Mutual Funds

Morningstar launched a new qualitative rating system for mutual funds at the end of last year called the "Morningstar Analyst Ratings."  These ratings supplement the traditional "star" ratings which are based on past risk- and load- adjusted returns.  The Morningstar Analyst Rating scale includes three positive ratings (gold, silver and bronze medals) as well as neutral and negative ratings. According to Morningstar, the new ratings reflect an "analyst's conviction in the fund's ability to outperform its peer group and or relevant benchmark on a risk-adjusted basis over the long-term."  The ratings are based on qualitative and numeric "pillars" that analyze factors such as the fund's strategy, the quality of the fund's portfolio managers, the fund's past performance, the priorities of the fund's sponsor and the price of the fund.  The weight that each factor has in determining a fund's rating varies from fund to fund.

A recent New York Times article highlighted the Morningstar Analyst Ratings as an example of fund rating systems that look beyond a fund's past-performance.  The article also discusses S&P's rating system that takes into account the individual stocks and bonds a fund holds and Lipper's system that ranks funds in five separate categories: total return, consistency of return, capital preservation, expenses and tax efficiency.