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How to Navigate the Tables

Why style, volatility and rank matter ... and we\'re not talking about celebrities.

There's more to picking funds than knowing the numbers. But studying the figures -- returns, fees, risk measurements and others -- is a great way to start the fund-selection process. Our tables offer a range of useful information. The paragraphs below explain the categories you'll find.

Download our U.S. stock and international funds table as an Excel spreadsheet. (View instructions for sorting the tables.)

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Fund. Except for small funds found in our Top-Performing Mutual Funds tables, and those mentioned in What Investors Should Do Now, funds with assets that fall below a certain threshold are excluded from the rankings. We've also left out funds that are less than a year old, that require a minimum investment of $100,000 or more, that are sold only to special groups or institutional investors, or that are available only through IRAs. When a fund has multiple share classes that are marketed with different fee structures but have essentially the same returns, we usually list only the oldest share class open to new investors.

Total return. Measures the change in value, assuming that dividend and capital-gains distributions were reinvested. Returns for three-, five- and ten-year periods are annualized -- that is, stated on an average annual basis. Returns are for periods to July 3. A dash in a three-, five- or ten-year column means that the fund hasn't existed that long.

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Investment style. Describes U.S. stock funds by the kinds of companies they invest in most heavily. Companies are divided into large (with a stock-market value of $10 billion or more), midsize (from $1 billion to $10 billion) and small (less than $1 billion), and they are characterized as rapidly growing, undervalued or a blend of the two. Nine styles derive from these elements: LarGro, LarBlnd, LarVal, MidGro, MidBlnd, MidVal, SmlGro, SmlBlnd and SmlVal. Other styles: ACGro and ACVal (companies of all sizes), Financial, Gold, Health, Natural Resources, Realty, Technology, Utilities, Special (specialized sector funds), Misc (miscellaneous categories) and Hybrid (balanced, convertible-bond and asset-allocation funds).

Decile rank. Shows performance for each of the past five 12-month periods through the end of June, compared with other mutual funds using the same investment style. Funds are ranked 1 (top 10%) to 10 (bottom 10%). A decile rank of 5 or 6 is average. The decile ranking offers a quick gauge of how a fund performed compared with its peers.

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Down market. Shows performance between March 24, 2000, and October 9, 2002, the last bear market for stocks.

Volatility rank. Measures volatility among all stock funds on a scale of 1 (least volatile) to 10 (most volatile). The higher the volatility, the greater the potential for gain or loss.

Assets. Shows the amount of money in the fund. If a fund has multiple share classes, we report the assets for all the classes combined.

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Manager since. Shows how long the manager (or if there's more than one, the lead manager) has been on board.

Minimum investment. Tells you how much it takes to open an account. For subsequent investments and for IRAs, the minimum is usually lower.

Maximum load. Tells you the highest sales fee for purchasing shares. A figure without a footnote means the commission is deducted from the money you send to the fund. A figure with an r is the maximum redemption fee charged when you sell shares. Funds that charge both sales and redemption fees are footnoted with an s next to the front-end load. The entry none means the fund charges no sales or redemption fee.

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Expense ratio. Represents the percentage of a fund's assets taken out annually to cover management fees and other expenses. Expenses are included in total-return numbers.

More tips for using the tables

Compare funds with others that employ similar styles.

Funds with decile ranks that are consistently between 1 and 5 tend to produce superior long-term returns.

If a fund manager came on board recently, long-term results may not be meaningful.

Investing in a high-risk fund isn't necessarily bad. What's important is that you be aware of a fund's risk.

Why focus on sales charges and expenses? They are predictable, whereas performance is not.

How to use Excel to sort the tables

After you have downloaded our fund tables, Excel allow you to sort the tables on various criteria, from returns and style to decile rank, expenses and volatility.

To sort, click on "Data" in the Excel menu bar. In the drop-down menu, click on "Sort." A dialog box will appear. Under "Sort by," click on the criteria you wish and then click "OK." To view funds by 1-year returns, for example, choose "1 YR.," then "OK." To sort by a different criteria, simply repeat the process.

The speadsheet also allows you to sort by multiple criteria using the "sort by" and "then by" choices in the dialog box. For example, you can sort by category, then by best returns within that category. You can also view a selected portion of funds using the "Filter" option under the "Data" menu.

Download U.S. stock fund tablesDownload internation stock fund tables

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