Question: Why are there so many mutual funds?

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

Learn more about the best fundamental research

The large number of mutual funds has little to do with serving your best interests as an investor. More reliable & proprietary fundamental data, proven in The Journal of Financial Economics, drives our research and analysis of fund holdings and provides investors with a new source of alpha. We leverage this 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 1.88%, – the average total annual costs of the 676 U.S. equity Sector mutual funds we cover. The weighted average is lower at 1.14%, which highlights how investors tend to put their money in mutual funds with low fees.

Figure 1 shows Saratoga Energy and Basic Materials Portfolio (SBMBX) is the most expensive sector mutual fund and Fidelity Real Estate Index Fund (FSNRX) is the least expensive. Saratoga Advantage Trust provides four of the most expensive mutual funds while Vanguard mutual funds are among the cheapest.

Figure 1: 5 Most and Least Expensive Sector Mutual Funds

Most & Least Expensive Sector Mutual Funds 4Q22

Sources: New Constructs, LLC and company filings

Investors need not pay high fees for quality holdings.[1] Vanguard Financials Index Fund (VFAIX) is the best ranked sector mutual fund in Figure 1. VFAIX’s Neutral Portfolio Management rating and 0.12% total annual cost earns it a Very Attractive rating.[2] Fidelity Advisor Global Commodity Stock Fund (FIQRX) is the best ranked sector mutual fund overall. FIQRX’s Attractive Portfolio Management rating and 0.97% total annual cost also earns it a Very Attractive rating.

On the other hand, Vanguard Real Estate II Index Fund (VRTPX) holds poor stocks and receives our Very Unattractive rating, in spite of its low total annual costs of 0.10%. 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 sector with the worst holdings or portfolio management ratings.

Figure 2: Sector Mutual Funds with the Worst Holdings

Worst Sector Mutual Funds 4Q22

Sources: New Constructs, LLC and company filings

Fidelity and Rydex appear more often than any other providers in Figure 2, which means that they offer the most mutual funds with the worst holdings.

Firsthand Technology Opportunities Fund (TEFQX) is the worst rated mutual fund in Figure 2. Baron Real Estate Income Fund (BRIFX), Rydex Energy Services Fund (RYESX), Fidelity Advisor Utilities Fund (FUGAX), Rydex Financial Services Fund (RYFNX), and Fidelity Advisor Industrials Fund (FCLAX) also earn a Very Unattractive predictive overall rating, which means not only do they hold poor stocks, they charge high total annual costs.

Our overall ratings on mutual funds reflects our stock ratings of their holdings and a measure of the total annual costs of investing in the fund.

The Danger Within

Buying a mutual fund without analyzing its holdings is like buying a stock without analyzing its business 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. Don’t just take our word for it, see what Barron’s says on this matter.


Analyzing each holding within funds is no small task. Our Robo-Analyst technology enables us to perform this diligence with scale and provide the research needed to fulfill the fiduciary duty of care. More of the biggest names in the financial industry (see At BlackRock, Machines Are Rising Over Managers to Pick Stocks) are now embracing technology to leverage machines in the investment research process. Technology may be the only solution to the dual mandate for research: cut costs and fulfill the fiduciary duty of care. Investors, clients, advisors and analysts deserve the latest technology to get the diligence required to make prudent investment decisions.

This article originally published on October 28, 2022.

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

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[1] Three independent studies from respected institutions prove the superiority of our data, models, and ratings. Learn more here.

[2] Harvard Business School features the powerful impact of our research automation technology in the case New Constructs: Disrupting Fundamental Analysis with Robo-Analysts.

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