American Century Small Cap Value (ASVIX) Joins the Kiplinger 25

American Century's small-cap-focused ASVIX consistently delivers high returns with average risk, and bears little resemblance to its benchmark.

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When a Kiplinger 25 fund closes to new investors, we replace it. That's because we believe the funds on our list should be available to all readers.

So even though we still like Wasatch Small Cap Value (WMCVX), because it closed to new investors in mid-March we are casting it out of the Kiplinger 25 and replacing it with American Century Small Cap Value (ASVIX).

ASVIX is small-cap and value-focused through and through.

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“We buy high-quality companies trading at attractive prices because of a transitory event,” says Jeff John, who manages the fund with Ryan Cope.

Holdings in Small Cap Value have an average market value of $2.3 billion – one-third less than the average of its peer group (funds that focus on bargain-priced small companies). Compared with the Russell 2000 Value Index, which tracks bargain-priced small-company stocks, ASVIX's portfolio boasts a lower average price relative to book value, or the value of a company’s assets minus its liabilities.

But quality matters most at Small Cap Value. When John, Cope and three dedicated analysts analyze prospective investments, each company receives a quality grade that scores its financial health, balance sheet strength and management.

The best holdings gen­erate plenty of free cash flow (money left over after expenses necessary to maintain the business) and reinvest it wisely.

“We’re not going for home runs. We’re looking for singles and doubles,” says John. “Stocks with the highest conviction and quality scores have the biggest weighting in the fund.”

The result is a portfolio that bears little resemblance to the Russell 2000 Value benchmark. The fund holds far more of its assets in tech and consumer stocks, for instance, while energy and materials firms count for less.

“We need a differentiated portfolio to get differentiated returns,” says John.

The fund consistently delivers high returns with average risk. Since John took over as portfolio manager in 2012, Small Cap Value has returned 14.2% annualized, which beats its benchmark and its peers. (Cope became a manager last year.) Two strong performers over the past year are financial services firm Signature Bank (SBNY) and Penske Automotive (PAG), which operates car and commercial truck dealerships.

Nellie S. Huang
Senior Associate Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Nellie joined Kiplinger in August 2011 after a seven-year stint in Hong Kong. There, she worked for the Wall Street Journal Asia, where as lifestyle editor, she launched and edited Scene Asia, an online guide to food, wine, entertainment and the arts in Asia. Prior to that, she was an editor at Weekend Journal, the Friday lifestyle section of the Wall Street Journal Asia. Kiplinger isn't Nellie's first foray into personal finance: She has also worked at SmartMoney (rising from fact-checker to senior writer), and she was a senior editor at Money.