In a market downturn, when few funds are performing spectacularly if even well, the best managers may be able to do is beat each other. The category that a fund is placed in by fund trackers like Morningstar and Lipper becomes even more important, as firms seek return figures above zero by being above their counterparts.

In its fund Quicktake' reports, Morningstar lists the performance of a fund and that performance relative to the other funds in its category and an index. When the market is soaring and everyone can boast 20% returns, companies can advertise those numbers. In tougher times, however, a fund's outright performance may not be as marketable as its performance relative to the competition.

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