Morningstar to soon enhance its analyst ratings

By Morningstar Analysts |  15-07-19 | 

Morningstar continually evaluates its rating systems and is evolving to align with investors' needs and empower their success.

Recently, Morningstar introduced a forthcoming methodology change to the Morningstar Sustainability Rating™, enabling investors to make more informed investment decisions by rating the absolute ESG risk of investor portfolios.

Launched in 2011, the Morningstar Analyst Rating for funds is the summary expression of Morningstar's forward-looking analysis of a fund. Analyst Ratings are assigned globally on a five-tier scale running from Gold to Negative. The top three ratings, Gold, Silver, and Bronze, all indicate that our analysts think highly of a fund; the difference between them corresponds to differences in the level of analyst conviction in a fund's ability to outperform its benchmark and peers through time, within the context of the level of risk taken. The Analyst Rating does not express a view on a given asset class or peer group; rather, it seeks to evaluate each fund within the context of its objective, an appropriate benchmark, and peer group.

To expand the number of funds that Morningstar analysts cover, Morningstar developed the Morningstar Quantitative Rating in 2017, which uses a machine-learning model to emulate the decision-making processes of Morningstar analysts, their past ratings decisions, and the data used to support those decisions. The machine-learning model is then applied to the "uncovered" fund universe and creates the Quantitative Rating, which is analogous to the rating an analyst might assign to the fund if an analyst covered the fund.

Later this year we’ll be enhancing the Morningstar Analyst Rating and the Morningstar Quantitative Rating for funds. We’ll be changing the way we assign these ratings to managed investments like mutual funds.

Jeffrey Ptak, head of global manager research for Morningstar, shares more on the subject.

  • Simpler framework

The existing assessment framework revolves around five elements, or "pillars", including People, Process, Parent, Performance, and Price. Under the new framework, analysts will assess three of these pillars, People, Process, and Parent. The analysts will use that assessment to estimate how much value a strategy can add before fees. Performance and Price will cease to be standalone pillars, as analysts will incorporate their performance assessment into the other pillars and express price differently.

  • Greater emphasis on fees

Currently, a strategy's fee rank within its peer group drives its Price pillar rating, which feeds into the overall Analyst Rating. Under the new methodology, analysts will deduct a strategy's expenses from their estimate of how much value it can add before fees, with that estimate based in part on the people, process, and parent pillar assessments they conduct. This approach has the benefit of evaluating costs relative to what a fund can deliver before fees, yielding a sense of what value investors will net after fees are taken into account, which is what ultimately matters. It also puts the fee assessment on the same plane as the analysts' research into the other three pillars, ensuring prices gets the weight it deserves.

  • Higher bar for active strategies

Analysts will limit Medalist ratings—Gold, Silver, and Bronze—to active strategies that can surpass a relevant benchmark and peer group average net of fees and after accounting for risk. In the past they might have awarded these ratings to active strategies that could beat their average peer or an index, but not both.

  • Clearer roadmap for investors

Analysts will assign fewer Medalist ratings to active strategies in areas where analysis finds there's less payoff to active investing. That payoff estimate will shape the expectations they form for the success of active investing and indexing in different areas.

  • Tailored to share classes

Today, analysts evaluate a single representative fund share class and then apply that rating to all other share classes. In the future, they'll evaluate each share class on its own by taking fee differences into account. This could mean share classes that bundle advice and sales fees may see ratings downgrades.

  • Refined pillar ratings

The scale that analysts use to rate People, Process and Parent will be refined. Today, analysts rate these pillars using "positive", "neutral", and "negative"; when the enhanced ratings take effect, analysts will assign pillar ratings on a "high", "above-average", "average", "below average", and "low" scale.

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