Today’s piece in Barron’s features the Nuveen Small Cap Value Fund (FSCAX; Class A shares). This $1.2-billion small-cap value fund has a maximum 5.75% sales charge, 1.30% expense ratio and 40% turnover. According to the article

The fund has outpaced 87% of its peers over 10 years, and 98% over five, according to Morningstar. Its 50% return in the past year puts it ahead of 90% of its peers.

The primary prospectus benchmark for the fund is the Russell 2000® Value Index. One of the long-lived and accessible implementations of this index is the iShares Russell 2000 Value ETF (IWN). Alpholio™ calculations show that over the ten calendar years through 2016 the fund returned more than the ETF in about 94% of all rolling 36-month periods, 80% of of 24-month periods and 72% of 12-month periods. The median cumulative (not annualized) outperformance over a rolling 36-month period was 8.35%.

The rolling-returns analysis does not account for the fund volatility or exposures. To gain insight into these performance aspects, let’s employ Alpholio™’s patented methodology. Its simplest variant constructs a reference ETF portfolio with fixed membership and weights that most closely tracks the periodic returns of the analyzed fund. To make the potential substitution more practical, in all of the following analyses the number of ETFs in the reference portfolio was limited to no more than six.

Here is the resulting chart with statistics of the cumulative RealAlpha™ for Nuveen Small Cap Value over the last ten calendar years (to learn more about RealAlpha™ and other measures, please visit our FAQ):

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for Nuveen Small Cap Value Fund (FSCAX) over 10 Years

The fund added a significant amount of value, but mostly only over the last two years of the evaluation period. The volatility of the fund, measured by the standard deviation of monthly returns, was slightly higher than that of the reference ETF portfolio. The fund’s RealBeta™ was markedly above that of the broad-based domestic equity ETF.

The following chart with related statistics presents the constant composition of the reference ETF portfolio for the fund over the same analysis period:

Reference Weights for Nuveen Small Cap Value Fund (FSCAX) over 10 Years

The fund had major equivalent positions in the aforementioned IWN, SPDR® S&P® 600 Small Cap Growth ETF (SLYG), SPDR® S&P® Regional Banking ETF (KRE), PowerShares DWA Industrials Momentum Portfolio (PRN), iShares U.S. Oil & Gas Exploration & Production ETF (IEO), and iShares PHLX Semiconductor ETF (SOXX).

Since the fund’s performance was unremarkable through 2014, let’s skip the usual five-year analysis and instead focus on the most recent three years. Here is a chart with related statistics of the cumulative RealAlpha™ for the fund:

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for Nuveen Small Cap Value Fund (FSCAX) over 3 Years

In 2015 and 2016, the fund added a significant amount of value at the expense of volatility that was somewhat higher than that of its reference ETF portfolio.

The following chart with associated statistics illustrates the fixed reference ETF portfolio for the fund over the same shorter period:

Reference Weights for Nuveen Small Cap Value Fund (FSCAX) over 3 Years

The fund had equivalent positions in the aforementioned IWN, KRE and PRN, as well as the iShares S&P Small-Cap 600 Growth ETF (IJT). Clearly, the fund’s exposure to small-cap growth stocks was elevated compared to the longer-term level.

For completeness, the final chart with statistics depicts the relative performance of the fund under current management through 2014:

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for Nuveen Small Cap Value Fund (FSCAX) since Aug 2005

In sum, the Nuveen Small Cap Value Fund significantly outperformed its reference ETF portfolio only over the last two years. Consequently, all of the annualized returns over standard three-, five- and ten-year periods paint an incomplete and quite misleading picture of the fund’s past performance. The fund’s longer-term record does not offer any assurance that the recent lucky streak will persist. The fund’s steep front load detracts from its appeal. Historically, the fund had small distributions, which made it suitable for taxable accounts.

To learn more about the Nuveen Small Cap Value and other mutual funds, please register on our website.


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