The Hidden Factor in Mutual Fund Selection: The Number of Stocks in a Fund's Portfolio

Brokerage Free Team • June 11, 2024 | 7 min read • 270 views

When choosing a mutual fund, the majority of investors tend to focus predominantly on one metric: returns. While this is certainly an important factor, it is not the only one that should guide your investment decisions. Experienced investors often delve deeper, examining parameters like rolling returns and volatility to get a more nuanced understanding of a fund's performance. However, there's one critical aspect that is often overlooked – the number of stocks in a fund's portfolio. This blog will explore why the number of stocks in a fund's portfolio is a crucial consideration and how it impacts risk, diversification, and overall investment strategy.

 

Understanding Mutual Fund Basics

 

Before diving into the specifics of portfolio size, it's important to have a basic understanding of what mutual funds are and how they work. A mutual fund is an investment vehicle that pools together money from multiple investors to purchase a diversified portfolio of stocks, bonds, or other securities. Each investor owns shares of the mutual fund, which represent a portion of its holdings.

 

The Common Focus: Returns

 

When investors look at mutual funds, the first metric they usually check is past returns. This focus on returns is understandable – after all, the primary goal of investing is to grow your wealth. However, past performance is not always indicative of future results. A mutual fund that has performed well in the past might not continue to do so in the future. Therefore, relying solely on returns can be misleading.

 

The Experienced Investor’s Approach: Rolling Returns and Volatility

 

Experienced investors tend to dig deeper. They look at rolling returns to gauge the consistency of a fund's performance over different periods. Rolling returns provide a more comprehensive view by calculating the annualized returns for overlapping periods. For example, a 5-year rolling return might show the average return for every possible 5-year period within a 10-year timeframe.

 

Volatility is another critical parameter. It measures the degree of variation in a fund's returns over time. A fund with high volatility might offer the potential for high returns, but it also comes with increased risk. By analyzing volatility, investors can better understand the risk associated with a particular mutual fund.

Large-cap funds: No. of stocks in the portfolio
 
No. of stocks No. of funds Avg of 3Y avg rolling returns (% pa) 3Y avg rolling return (% pa) – Nifty 50 TRI
0-50 8 13.51 14.07
50-75 18 13.05 14.07
75-100 0 NA 14.07
Over 100 0 NA 14.07
Mid-cap funds: No. of stocks in the portfolio
 
No. of stocks No. of funds Avg of 3Y avg rolling returns (% pa) 3Y avg rolling return (% pa) – Nifty Midcap 150 TRI
0-50 5 17.39 15.58
50-75 17 16.69 15.58
75-100 2 14.55 15.58
Over 100 0 NA 15.58
Small-cap funds: No. of stocks in the portfolio
 
No. of stocks No. of funds Avg of 3Y avg rolling returns (% pa) 3Y avg rolling return (% pa) – Nifty Smallcap 250 TRI
0-50 4 26.14 11.78
50-75 14 22.22 11.78
75-100 2 21.71 11.78
Over 100 1 20.14 11.78
Flexi-cap funds: No. of stocks in the portfolio
 
No. of stocks No. of funds Avg of 3Y avg rolling returns (% pa) 3Y avg rolling return (% pa) – Nifty 500 TRI
0-50 9 15.87 13.74
50-75 15 14.69 13.74
75-100 0 NA 13.74
Over 100 0 NA 13.74

Category returns on the basis of the number of stocks in the portfolio 
 
No. of stocks Large cap Mid cap Small cap Flexi cap
0-50 13.51 17.39 26.14 15.87
50-75 13.05 16.69 22.22 14.69
75-100 NA 14.55 21.71 NA
Over 100 NA NA 20.14 NA

 

The Overlooked Factor: Number of Stocks in a Fund's Portfolio

 

One important aspect that is often overlooked is the number of stocks in a fund's portfolio. The number of stocks can significantly influence the risk and diversification of a mutual fund. Here’s why it matters:

 

  1. Diversification

     

Diversification is a fundamental principle of investing. By spreading investments across a wide range of assets, investors can reduce the risk of significant losses. If a mutual fund holds a large number of stocks, it is more likely to be well-diversified. This means that the poor performance of a single stock will have a smaller impact on the overall portfolio.

 

  1. Concentration Risk

     

Conversely, if a mutual fund holds a small number of stocks, it is more susceptible to concentration risk. This occurs when a portfolio is heavily weighted in a few stocks or sectors. While this can lead to high returns if those stocks perform well, it also increases the risk of substantial losses if they do not.

 

  1. Market Coverage

 

The number of stocks in a fund’s portfolio also indicates how broadly the fund covers the market. A fund with a large number of stocks is likely to have broader market exposure, capturing the performance of various sectors and industries. This can be beneficial in providing a more stable and consistent return over time.

 

  1. Management Style

 

The number of stocks can also reflect the fund manager’s style. A concentrated portfolio with fewer stocks might indicate an active management style, where the manager is making specific bets on certain companies. On the other hand, a diversified portfolio with many stocks might suggest a more passive approach, aimed at mirroring the performance of a particular index.

 

Case Studies: Impact of Portfolio Size

 

To illustrate the impact of portfolio size, let's look at two hypothetical mutual funds:

 

Fund A: Concentrated Portfolio

 

Fund A holds 25 stocks. It has performed exceptionally well over the past five years, with an average annual return of 15%. However, it also has high volatility, with significant fluctuations in its value. The fund is heavily invested in technology and healthcare sectors.

 

Fund B: Diversified Portfolio

 

Fund B holds 100 stocks. It has delivered an average annual return of 10% over the same period. Its volatility is lower compared to Fund A, and it covers a broader range of sectors, including consumer goods, finance, and industrials.

 

Analysis

 

While Fund A has higher returns, it also comes with greater risk due to its concentrated portfolio and high volatility. Investors in Fund A need to be comfortable with the potential for significant ups and downs. Fund B, with its diversified portfolio, offers more stability and reduced risk, although its returns are lower.

 

Practical Tips for Evaluating the Number of Stocks in a Fund

 

When evaluating mutual funds, consider the following practical tips regarding the number of stocks in the portfolio:

 

  1. Assess Your Risk Tolerance

     

Determine your risk tolerance and investment goals. If you are risk-averse and seek stable returns, a fund with a larger number of stocks might be more suitable. If you are willing to take on more risk for the chance of higher returns, a concentrated fund might be appealing.

 

  1. Review Sector Allocation

 

Examine the fund’s sector allocation to understand its diversification. A well-diversified fund should have exposure to multiple sectors. This reduces the risk associated with any single sector's downturn.

 

  1. Analyze Historical Performance

 

Look beyond the headline returns. Analyze the fund’s historical performance in different market conditions. Check for consistency in returns and how the fund has managed volatility.

 

  1. Consider the Fund Manager’s Strategy

 

Understand the fund manager’s strategy and style. This can provide insights into why the portfolio is structured the way it is. Active management with a concentrated portfolio requires confidence in the selected stocks, while a diversified portfolio may reflect a more cautious approach.

 

Conclusion

 

While returns, rolling returns, and volatility are important metrics when choosing a mutual fund, the number of stocks in the portfolio is a critical factor that should not be overlooked. The size of the portfolio influences diversification, risk, and overall investment strategy. By considering the number of stocks, investors can make more informed decisions that align with their risk tolerance and investment goals. Remember, a well-diversified portfolio can provide stability and reduce risk, making it a valuable aspect of mutual fund selection.

Discussion