Doing well by doing good has been good for the Calvert Group of mutual funds. The management firm of socially responsible funds has grown from 13 offerings with combined assets of $1.86 billion at the end of 1998 to 59 funds with combined assets of $10.5 billion. (The counts include multiple share classes.)
But are their well-intentioned funds doing good for their shareholders?
Of the 47 Calvert funds graded by TheStreet.com Ratings, only 11 had "buy" ratings as of the end of the third quarter. And with the exception of a lone money market offering, the only Calvert funds with A and A- ratings are designed for the Big Boys.
The two non-money market A-rated funds and the single A- fund all have investment minimums of $1 million. They are primarily intended for the many socially conscious pension plans and endowments that invest through firms such as Calvert.
Not surprisingly, Calvert has found it easier to locate promising bonds with socially responsible characteristics than stocks of similar persuasions. While only four of 30 Calvert equity funds graded by TSC Ratings are rated "buy" designations, seven of the group's 17 rated fixed-income funds were rated at "buy."
At the low end of the buy/sell spectrum, only three fixed-income funds were classified as "sell" by TSC Ratings. But as a possible indication that a clear social conscience might come at a price, 16 of 30 Calvert equity funds were tagged with "sell" ratings -- including one for investors willing to ante up $1 million to get into the game.
A likely contributor to the group's buy/sell imbalance is the fact that the average Calvert fund saddles investors with a relatively hefty 1.74% expense ratio.
Excluding the million-dollar entry funds, the mean expense ratio rises to a burdensome 1.88%. Higher expenses eat into a fund's returns, hurting its rating.
Prior to joining TheStreet.com Ratings, Widows was senior product manager for quantitative analytics at Thomson Financial. After receiving an M.B.A. from Santa Clara University in California, his career included development of investment information systems at data firms, including the Lipper division of Reuters. His international experience includes assignments in the U.K. and East Asia.