Making The New Grade: Target Date Funds

0
24

Best-selling books, top colleges in the U.S., the safest cars. There?s no shortage of reviews and rankings to help with all manner of decisions. But when it comes to one of the biggest ? how to choose among retirement investments ? the most prominent raters and judges have been uncharacteristically silent.

Until now, that is. After months of controversy about target-date funds, Morningstar, the biggest mutual fund rating service, has developed a new system to judge the $200 billion industry. And none too soon: The funds, premixed portfolios that are supposed to get more conservative as an investor?s anticipated retirement date draws near, suffered severe losses in the crash, even in portfolios designed for people who had hoped to retire soon. The losses were all the more galling because the federal government had recently blessed target-date funds, making them an appropriate “default” investment for 401(k) plans.

The new ratings bring up more concerns. Despite controlling nearly one-third of all target-date assets, Fidelity hardly plays the role of industry leader. The firm?s major offerings are rated “average” or “below average” by Morningstar. Not that many of its customers would be surprised; Fidelity?s Freedom 2010, a target-date fund designed for soon-to-be retirees, lost more than 25 percent in 2008. Fidelity, which continues to aggressively market target-date funds, declined to comment about the new ratings. But even investors in Morningstar?s “top” funds might have been disappointed: Vanguard and T. Rowe Price earned high marks even though their 2010 products lost 21 and 27 percent, respectively, last year.

The new grades depart from Morningstar?s traditional star rating, which? is tied heavily to performance. In fact, advisers and investors won?t find performance figures on the one-page reports. The company says it created a new system that highlights other factors, including the mix of stocks and bonds, expenses and fund management.

But some analysts say that leaving out performance figures makes Morningstar?s new ratings of little use. “Performance may be the only thing investors really relate to,” says Craig Israelsen, a finance professor at Brigham Young University and longtime critic of target-date funds.

No kidding, especially if those investors were among those counting on Oppenheimer?s funds to set up their golden years. The fund firm earned Morningstar?s worst rating, for its crippling combination of aggressive portfolios, poor management and high fees. An Oppenheimer spokesperson says it is making its target-date products more conservative.

THE TARGET-DATE FUND REPORT CARD

Fund Family: American Century Livestrong

Assets Under Management: $1.5 billion

Annual Expenses ($) per $10,000: $88

Morningstar Rating: Top

Fund Family: T. Rowe Price Retirement

Assets Under Management: $32 billion

Annual Expenses ($) per $10,000: $73

Morningstar Rating: Top

Fund Family: Vanguard Target Retirement

Assets Under Management: $41.1 billion

Annual Expenses ($) per $10,000: $19

Morningstar Rating: Top

Fund Family: Fidelity Freedom

Assets Under Management: $71.8 billion

Annual Expenses ($) per $10,000: $69

Morningstar Rating: Average

Fund Family: Fidelity Advisor Freedom Series

Assets Under Management: $7.3 billion

Annual Expenses ($) per $10,000: $107

Morningstar Rating: Below Average

Fund Family: Oppenheimer

Assets Under Management: $187 million

Annual Expenses ($) per $10,000: $173

Morningstar Rating: Bottom

Fund Family: Principal Lifetime Series

Assets Under Management: $11.6 billion

Annual Expenses ($) per $10,000: $103

Morningstar Rating: Bottom

2009 Copyright New York Times Syndicate