Over the past one-month period, the major U.S. benchmarks witnessed a positive trend that helped most of them to register gains. Among these, the Russell 2000, which tracks the performance of small-cap stocks, clearly emerged as the top performer in the last one month. While the Dow, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq gained 2.6%, 2.7% and 2.6%, respectively, in the past one month, the Russell 2000 increased 6.5% during the same period.
In line with the performance of the small-cap index, the small-cap mutual funds also registered healthy returns - higher than the large- and mid-cap ones. Small-cap mutual funds posted an average return of 6% in the last one month, while the large- and mid-cap funds registered average gains of 3.3% and 4.4%, respectively. Moreover, small-cap funds have gained 2.4% in the year-to-date frame, beating their large-cap counterparts, which gained only 1.7%. Against this backdrop, investing in small-cap funds may prove to be a profitable strategy for risk lovers.
Factors Boosting Small-Cap Funds
Despite the disappointment in the Doha meeting, crude prices continued their rally, which emerged as one of the major reasons for the impressive performance by the U.S. benchmarks. Though the much-vaunted meeting of the major oil producing countries in Doha on production freeze failed to produce favorable results, its impact on crude was lesser than expected. Continuing decline in the U.S. rig count and oil production helped oil prices to post gains for the third straight week.
Recently, Baker Hughes (BHI) reported that U.S. oil rig count posted its fifth straight weekly drop, declining from 351 to 343. Meanwhile, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that domestic crude output fell by 24,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 8.953 million bpd for the week ended April 15. U.S. crude output declined for the sixth consecutive week.
Encouraging Economic Data
Moreover, some of the encouraging economic data had a positive impact on investor sentiment. The ISM manufacturing index increased from 49.5% in February to 51.8% in March, surpassing the consensus estimate of 50.8%. The ISM Services Index increased from 53.4% in February to 54.5% in March, witnessing its highest level in the last three months.
Meanwhile, better-than-expected jobs addition, rise in wages and falling initial claims point to continued improvement in the labor market. While the U.S. economy generated 215,000 jobs in March and average hourly earnings increased 0.3% last month to $25.39, initial claims for the week ending April 16 continued to decrease to reach a record low since 1973.
Separately, the Consumer Confidence Index advanced to 96.2 in March from 92.2 in February and was also higher than the consensus estimate of 94.9. Meanwhile, each of the 12 districts indicated moderate growth in economic activity, according to the Fed's Beige Book. These positive economic data indicate that the U.S. economy is on a path of recovery.
6 Small-Cap Funds to Buy
Though small-cap funds are believed to have a higher level of volatility compared to their large- and mid-cap counterparts, they show greater growth potential when markets see an uptrend and continued domestic economic improvement. This is because small-cap stocks are closely tied to the domestic economy and have less international exposure, making them safer bets than their large- and mid-cap counterparts in a sluggish global growth environment. Hence, risk-loving investors can pick these funds to gain from the current encouraging environment.
In this scenario, we highlight two mutual funds from each of the three small-cap categories - growth, blend and value - that either have a Zacks Mutual Fund Rank #1 (Strong Buy) or #2 (Buy). We expect these funds to outperform their peers in the future. Remember, the goal of the Zacks Mutual Fund Rank is to guide investors to identify potential winners and losers. Unlike most of the fund-rating systems, the Zacks Mutual Fund Rank is not just focused on past performance, but also on the likely future success of the fund.
Besides having impressive one-month returns, these funds also have strong three-year annualized returns. The minimum initial investment is within $5000. Also, these funds have a low expense ratio and carry no sales load.
Small-Cap Growth - One-month return of 6.9%
Ivy Small Cap Growth Fund (MUTF:WSCYX) invests a large chunk of its assets in common stocks of companies having market capitalization similar to those included in the Russell 2000 Growth Index.
Currently, WSCYX carries a Zacks Mutual Fund Rank #2. The product has one-month and three-year annualized returns of 8% and 9.4%, respectively. Annual expense ratio of 1.30% is lower than the category average of 1.31%.
Oppenheimer Discovery Fund (MUTF:ODIYX) primarily focuses on acquiring common stocks of domestic companies having impressive growth prospects.
Currently, ODIYX carries a Zacks Mutual Fund Rank #1. The product has one-month and three-year annualized returns of 7.2% and 9%, respectively. Annual expense ratio of 0.86% is lower than the category average of 1.31%.
Small-Cap Blend - One-month return of 5.6%
Fidelity Stock Selector Small Cap Fund (MUTF:FDSCX) invests the lion's share of its assets in common stocks of companies with market capitalization within the universe of the Russell 2000 Index or the S&P SmallCap 600 Index.
Currently, FDSCX carries a Zacks Mutual Fund Rank #1. The product has one-month and three-year annualized returns of 5.5% and 8.3%, respectively. Annual expense ratio of 0.76% is lower than the category average of 1.22%.
USAA Small Cap Stock Fund (MUTF:USCAX) invests most of its assets in equity securities of domestic small-cap companies.
Currently, USCAX carries a Zacks Mutual Fund Rank #2. The product has one-month and three-year annualized returns of 5.9% and 7.8%, respectively. Annual expense ratio of 1.15% is lower than the category average of 1.22%.
Small-Cap Value - One-month return of 5.5%
American Century Small Cap Value Fund (MUTF:ASVIX) invests heavily in securities of companies having market capitalization identical to those listed in the S&P Small Cap 600 Index or the Russell 2000 Index.
Currently, ASVIX carries a Zacks Mutual Fund Rank #2. The product has one-month and three-year annualized returns of 7.4% and 8.4%, respectively. Annual expense ratio of 1.24% is lower than the category average of 1.31%.
CornerCap Small-Cap Value Fund (MUTF:CSCVX) invests a major portion of its assets in equity securities of small-cap companies located in the U.S.
Currently, CSCVX carries a Zacks Mutual Fund Rank #1. The product has one-month and three-year annualized returns of 7% and 13%, respectively. Annual expense ratio of 1.30% is lower than the category average of 1.31%.