Finding a superior small-cap fund is no easy feat. Sifting through the thousands of burgeoning companies around the world is exhausting work for money managers. Those that do it well are often inundated with cash, forcing them to either eye larger targets or shut their doors to new money.
The Bridgeway Ultra-Small Company Market fund is the rare small wonder: a strong performer that's responsibly run and still open to new cash. Bridgeway founder John Montgomery is known for his quantitative strategies, but this fund takes a different approach. Instead of actively screening for the next Microsoft or Google, it tracks an index of tiny stocks with market caps no bigger than the smallest 10% of companies on the New York Stock Exchange. Montgomery and his crew try to roughly mirror the index by owning some 550 of the 1,900 or so stocks it comprises.
At the same time, the fund's managers avoid businesses that could blow up and hurt overall performance. ("In the very-small-cap space, that adds more to the return than you might think," says Montgomery.) The fund is also run with a strong emphasis on tax efficiency, and it boasts an extremely low expense ratio of 0.67%.
All this means that when the market for microcaps heats up, as it did for a seven-year stretch beginning in 2001, this fund really shines. Over the past five years it has posted annualized gains of 19%. Over ten years, it has averaged returns of nearly 15%, beating the Russell 2000 and 97% of the competition in its category. To be sure, those profits may be hard to sustain in coming years if investment trends start to favor large caps, as many suspect they will. But even if that happens, this fund makes for a smart way to sprinkle microcaps into any balanced portfolio.