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Midyear Investment Outlook and Fund Review

Morningstar's Top-Rated Funds

October 09, 2000

With more than 10,000 mutual funds to choose from, many investors cringe at the task of making selections. With today's special quarterly fund report, The Times and independent research firm Morningstar Inc. provide several ways to evaluate funds -- including measurements designed to help investors determine a particular fund's performance not only overall, but also relative to its peers.

The tables on the next three pages list the best-performing funds in each of Morningstar's major fund categories over the last three years (ended Sept. 29), as determined by the firm's proprietary rating system. That three-year period includes bull markets as well as the sharp decline in the third quarter of 1998.

Here's how the funds were ranked:

First, each fund has a "category rating" (Cat Rtg), a number between 1 and 5, with 5 being the best. This rating represents Morningstar's assessment of how well the fund achieved its three-year returns relative to the amount of risk it took, compared with its category peers.

Second, within each category rating score (i.e., first the 5s, then the 4s, etc.) funds are ranked by actual three-year performance within the category as a whole, expressed as a percentile figure (1 to 100, with 1 being best). That is the "three-year rank" column.

For funds with multiple classes (i.e., A and B shares, etc.) only the best-performing class is included.

To determine order, ties in the first two columns were broken by manager tenure.

The more familiar Morningstar three-year "star" rating appears in the third column. The number of stars (again, on a scale of 1 through 5, with 5 being the best) is an assessment of performance and level of risk for that fund compared against its broader group: domestic stock funds, international stock funds, taxable bond funds or tax-free (muni) bond funds.

A word about categories:

Morningstar does not categorize funds based solely on a fund's self-description. Rather, it also looks at each fund's actual holdings to determine category.

The largest groups of funds are domestic equity funds, which Morningstar organizes by the average size (market capitalization) of stocks owned and by a fund's general investment philosophy. These appear on the next page.

Want to see how other funds shape up? Appearing after these four pages are listings of the 4,500 largest mutual funds, listed by family name from A to Z, with category type, rankings and performance data for each. Also listed are funds' telephone numbers-most are toll-free. (Some top-rated funds here are not among the 4,500 largest on U16-18. A small number of late-reporting funds are not ranked.)

Domestic Equity Fund Categories

Most stock mutual funds fall into one of the nine domestic categories as sorted by Morningstar. First the funds are categorized by the average market capitalization of the stocks they own: large, mid-cap or small. (A stock's capitalization is the share price times the number of shares outstanding.) The funds are then categorized by their basic investment objective: growth, value or a blend of the two. Specific definitions:

Large: The top 5% of the 5,000 largest stocks.

Mid-cap: The next 15% of the 5,000 largest stocks.

Small: The remaining stocks.

To determine whether a fund has a growth, value or blend objective, Morningstar takes the fund's average stock price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio relative to the Standard & Poor's 500 index and adds to it the fund's average stock price-to-book-value (P/B) ratio (which measures a stock's price versus the underlying company's per-share net worth) relative to the S&P 500. The sum of the relative ratios then determines the objective:

Growth: Relative ratio greater that 2.25.

Blend: Relative ratio between 1.75 and 2.25.

Value: Relative ratio of less than 1.75.

* (Tables and graphic material not included)

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