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What are Core Mutual Funds?

When it comes to investment strategies, Core Mutual Funds are a popular choice for investors. Positioned between growth and value funds, core mutual funds offer a balanced approach to investing by combining the principles of both. To better understand the concept of core mutual funds, let's delve deeper into their features, benefits, and role in building a strong investment portfolio.

Core Mutual Funds: The Middle Ground

Core mutual funds represent a midway point between value and growth funds. They are composed of companies that have Price to Earnings (P/E) ratios higher than those of value companies but lower than those of growth companies. The result is a balanced portfolio that offers moderate risk and consistent returns.

Despite similarities, it's crucial to note that core mutual funds are not blend funds, which combine growth and value stocks in a single portfolio. Core funds primarily include companies that don't distinctly fall into either the growth or value category but occupy the middle ground.

Defining Core Funds: The Categorization System

The categorization of core mutual funds is primarily based on the 9-box Morningstar system. This system organizes equity funds along two axes—size (Small, Mid, and Large Cap) on the vertical axis and type (Value, Core, and Growth) on the horizontal axis. Several factors determine these classifications, with Dow Jones using six fundamental factors, the S&P using three for growth and four for value, and Morningstar using ten. Core funds occupy the space between growth and value, defined by a unique blend of these factors.

Distinguishing Core Mutual Funds from Core Portfolio Holdings

A common point of confusion among investors is the difference between core mutual funds and core portfolio holdings. While both play vital roles in investment strategies, they are not the same.

Core portfolio holdings refer to the essential, often static elements of a portfolio. These investments form the backbone of the portfolio and could account for up to 80% of it. Conversely, a Core Mutual Fund is a type of investment product with a specific investment strategy focusing on core stocks—those that are not exclusively growth or value stocks.

Despite the potential for misunderstanding, a Core Mutual Fund can indeed represent a robust core holding in a portfolio. Some studies suggest that these funds can offer stronger risk-adjusted performance than blend funds, despite the latter's popularity.

The Significance of Core Holdings

Core holdings are the foundation of a long-term investment portfolio. They should ideally have a track record of reliability and consistent returns. Investors often use index-tracking assets, such as an S&P 500 index fund, as core holdings and supplement these with specific stocks or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) to enhance their risk-adjusted returns. The supplementary investments, also known as satellite or non-core holdings, focus on growth stocks or market sectors expected to outperform.

Examples of core holdings include ETFs tracking an index fund or a selection of blue-chip stocks. While these form the cornerstone of a portfolio, they're typically held alongside secondary investments that target a specific sector or industry group, providing a holistic approach to asset allocation. Core Mutual Funds provide a balanced investment approach that sits between growth and value investing. As part of an investor's portfolio, they can help to ensure a steady performance while offering potential for returns. Recognizing their role and distinctness from core holdings is key to developing an effective and diversified investment strategy.


Core mutual funds represent the middle ground between Value and Growth, but are not the same as Blend funds.

Core Mutual Funds are in between Growth and Value funds. In other words, companies in their portfolio have Price to Earnings ratios which are higher than those of Value companies but lower than those of Growth companies.

This category is essentially based on the 9-box Morningstar categorization system, which separates equity funds into Small, Mid and Large Cap on the vertical axis and Value, Core, and Growth on the horizontal axis.

It gets slightly more technical than that, of course: the Dow Jones company uses 6 fundamental factors to define Growth and Value, while the S&P uses 3 factors for growth and 4 for value, and Morningstar uses 10 factors. They don’t spend as much effort defining the middle ground, where the Core Fund space is, but it is basically everything in between.

It is easy for investors to confuse Core Mutual Funds with core portfolio holdings. When reading about Blend funds, for instance, many writers will refer to it as a strong core holding, meaning it can represent an integral part of a portfolio around which other fringe or alternative assets are considered and traded, while the core holdings may not change for the duration of the portfolio.

A core section of a portfolio may comprise up to 80% of the portfolio and consist of a small number of individual core positions. This is completely different from a Core Mutual Fund.

“Core” may be part of the fund name, such as Large Cap Core Fund, and it references the fact that the strategy employed by the fund managers favors Core stocks, which are neither considered Growth or Value stocks, but the middle ground between the two.

This can also represent a very strong core position in a portfolio; in fact, some studies suggest that it is a stronger risk-adjusted performer than Blend funds even though Blend is more popular.

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