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Quant Mutual Funds Top the Benchmarks

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Many quantitative mutual funds delivered winning returns in the past year. The funds use computerized models to pick stocks, and lately the models have been on target. Funds that outpaced their benchmarks by wide margins include Bogle Small Cap Growth (BOGLX) and Bridgeway Aggressive Investors (BRAGX).

The strong performance represents a big change from what occurred in the meltdown of 2008, when many quant funds lagged badly. During the turmoil, portfolio managers said that their systems failed because panicked markets did not distinguish between promising stocks and those with unattractive characteristics. The managers assured shareholders that the funds would revive when markets calmed.

Now that the panic selling has abated, the quant systems seem to be functioning better. "Our funds tend to do well in environments where investors are thinking in disciplined ways," says John Ameriks, a principal at Vanguard who oversees the company's quantitative funds.

Some of the best showings have come from small-cap funds. Quant funds that have topped the benchmarks include Fidelity Small-Cap Enhanced Index (FCPEX), TFS Small-Cap (TFSSX) and Vanguard Strategic Small-Cap Equity (VSTCX).

Famous for its index funds, Vanguard has enjoyed notable success with its actively managed quantitative funds. During the past five years, Vanguard Strategic Small-Cap returned 22.4% annually, topping 75% of small blend peers and outdoing iShares Russell 2000 ETF (IWM) by a percentage point, according to Morningstar. Besides overseeing the small-cap fund, the Vanguard managers use their quantitative models to run Vanguard Strategic Equity (VSEQX), which has outdone 82% of its mid-cap blend peers in the past five years.

Holding about 400 stocks, the Vanguard small-cap fund aims to outdo its benchmark, the MSCI US Small-Cap 1750 Index. The quant model emphasizes undervalued companies with the potential to deliver future earnings growth. The system favors stocks with healthy balance sheets and consistent cash flows.

The current portfolio holdings have an average price-to-earnings ratio of 21, compared to 29 for the benchmark. The holdings have been increasing earnings at a 14% rate, compared to 10% for the benchmark. To limit the risk of underperforming, the managers keep many of the portfolio's characteristics roughly in line with the benchmark. The sector weightings are close to the figures for the index.

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