What Does a Mutual Fund's Average Credit Quality Tell Investors?
The SLCG study explains that the Average Credit Quality statistic as typically calculated by the mutual fund companies and by Morningstar significantly overstates bond mutual funds' true credit quality. This statistic is based on Standard & Poor's and Moody's assessment of the credit risk of the individual bonds in the portfolio and is reported to mutual fund investors using the familiar letter scale for rating the credit risk of bonds.
The study concludes that, for instance, funds that have the credit risk of a portfolio of BBB-rated bonds often report an Average Credit Quality of A or even AA and that given how this statistic is calculated, portfolio managers can easily manipulate their holdings to significantly increase their credit risk and thereby their yield without increasing their reported credit risk at all. Since bond fund managers compete for investors based on yield and risk, the authors find that fund managers who report Average Credit Quality have the ability and the incentive to increase but underreport the credit risk in their bond mutual fund portfolios.