Our analyst ratings are set for a change

By Kaustubh Belapurkar |  23-07-19 | 
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About the Author
Kaustubh Belapurkar, Director of Manager Research, Morningstar Investment Adviser India.

Later this year, we’ll be enhancing our forward-looking fund rating systems, the Morningstar Analyst Rating for funds. We’ll be changing the way we assign these ratings to managed investments like mutual funds. In this piece, We’ll walk through what’s changing and the benefits we think these changes will confer.

Key Takeaways

  • We’re enhancing the Analyst Rating to make them even more useful to investors.
  • We’re making three key changes to the Analyst Rating, putting even more weight on fees, setting a higher bar for active funds, and focusing our assessment on people, process, and parent.
  • We’re leaving the ratings scale unchanged--Gold, Silver, Bronze, Neutral, and Negative--but do expect ratings changes to occur, with downgrades likely to outnumber upgrades.
  • We’ll update an initial batch of Analyst Ratings under the new framework on October 31, 2019, with the remainder of the coverage universe to be updated over the subsequent 12 months;


The Analyst Rating is a forward-looking, qualitative rating that our manager research analysts assign to managed investments like mutual funds. Launched in 2011, the Analyst Rating denotes our analysts’ conviction in a fund’s ability to outperform based on fundamental research they conduct.

We assign Analyst Rating to funds the analysts cover and Quantitative Ratings to those they don’t. Funds are eligible to receive either an Analyst Rating or a Quantitative Rating, but not both.

There are three key changes to be aware of:

More weight on fees

We’ve always emphasized fees in our assessment, but we’re going to put even more weight on them in a few noticeable ways.

First, we’re going to assign Analyst Ratings to fund share classes, taking fee differences into account. Today, our analysts evaluate a single representative share class of a fund and then apply the Analyst Rating they assign to that share class to every other share class of that fund, irrespective of fee differences. Going forward, the analysts will tailor the Analyst Rating to each individual share class, accounting for fee differences. This means costly share classes could see ratings downgrades.

Second, we’re going to assess costs relative to how much value a fund can deliver before fees, not versus other funds. Today, when we evaluate a fund’s fees, we do so by comparing its expense ratio with that of other funds in its peer group, assigning it a rank, and then translating that rank into a Price Pillar rating, which we roll up with the other pillar ratings to arrive at the fund’s overall Analyst Rating. In the future, we’ll compare a fund’s costs with the value we estimate it can deliver to investors before fees. This means it won’t suffice to be the cheapest of an expensive lot. What will matter is whether fees are low enough to leave some value for investors.

Higher bar for active strategies

We’ve been selective when recommending active funds in the past, but we’ll be even pickier in the future, as we’ll be applying an even more exacting standard.

For an active fund to earn a Gold, Silver, or Bronze rating, our research must convince us that the fund can beat both a relevant index and peer group average after fees and adjusting for risk. Currently, we might give the nod to active funds that can beat their benchmark or the average fund, but not both. In the future, they’ll have to clear this higher bar.

We’ll also be taking a more structured approach to estimating how much value different types of active strategies can be expected to deliver before fees. Some types of investing have been more hospitable to active funds than others through the years. That track record should inform the expectations we set, which means that we’ll award more Gold, Silver, and Bronze ratings in some Morningstar Categories (that is, those that have been more target-rich for active funds) than others.

Three Pillars--People, Process, and Parent

Our approach to evaluating funds has been comprehensive, but we’re going to refocus the framework so that it revolves around its more-predictive elements and is easier to understand and use.

To this point, we’ve organized our assessment around five pillars—People, Process, Parent, Performance, and Price. Going forward, we’ll assess People, Process, and Parent, which our research has found do the best job of predicting funds’ future performance before fees. In this way, we’ll be forming expectations of what a strategy can deliver to investors before fees in an even more systematic manner.

This means we’ll absorb the Performance Pillar into the other three pillars, ensuring that any performance analysis takes place as part of a broader assessment of the fund’s process, people, and parent. In addition, we’re re-expressing the Price Pillar assessment, for reasons explained more fully under “More weight on fees” above.

Expected Benefits

We think these changes will make the ratings easier for investors to understand, more relevant to key decisions they make, and more effective in helping improve the outcomes they can achieve.

Easier to understand

We’re simplifying the framework we follow, refining the ratings that we present, and more clearly delineating our expectations. We’re refocusing the assessment around its more-predictive elements--people, process, and parent. We’re also refining our pillar ratings by moving to a five-point scale (High, Above Average, Average, Below Average, Low), which should make it easier to tie a fund’s pillar ratings to its overall Analyst Rating and compare between funds.

Relevant to key decisions

The revised Analyst Rating is designed to be a better road map for investors choosing between active and indexed strategies or deciding between different share classes. The updated assessment framework will consider how target-rich each type of strategy has been to active managers and that will inform the ratings analysts assign. We’re likely to assign more Gold, Silver, and Bronze ratings to strategies in areas where active managers have enjoyed greater success[1], fewer in areas where they haven’t.

More effective

We’re refocusing around our framework’s more-predictive elements, including our fee assessment, providing a clearer road map that should facilitate portfolio construction, and tailoring our ratings to individual fund share classes.

What’s Next?

We’ll begin updating Analyst Ratings under this enhanced framework later this year. Specifically, we plan to issue an initial batch of updated Analyst Ratings on October 31, 2019. While we have not yet definitively set which funds will be updated on October 31, 2019,

Subsequent to that initial release, we’ll gradually update the rest of our coverage universe. We expect it to take around 12 months to complete this process, reflecting the need to re-evaluate each fund and document our findings in the analyst report we publish each time we assign an Analyst Rating.

More details available here: 

[1] Under the updated Analyst Ratings methodology, we define “success” as how wide the dispersion of capital asset pricing model alpha versus the category index has been over time. We measure dispersion as the difference between the 25th and 75th percentile CAPM alpha using all rolling 36-month observations recorded since 2000 (if available).

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