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Morningstar expands forward-looking fund analysis

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Morningstar has boosted its ratings of mutual funds and ETFs to more than 10,000 offerings — six times the number currently tracked by its analysts — with a machine learning tool.

The investment research firm expanded its Analyst Rating tool by launching an addition called Quantitative Rating. The system provides a forward-looking assessment of funds and their ability to outperform peer group or benchmarks, and the new tool extends the capability to funds not currently covered by Morningstar.

"Investors can use the Quantitative Rating, together with our other fund ratings, to assess funds and improve their odds of success," Jeffrey Ptak, Morningstar's global head of manager research, said in a press release.

Using artificial intelligence, Morningstar's new tool incorporates the decision-making processes of research analysts, their past rating decisions and the data used to support those decisions. This generates a rating similar to the ratings an analyst might assign —Gold, Silver, Bronze, Neutral, and Negative.

As with any sort of innovation, the quality of the analysis will depend on just how the machines are instructed, notes Mark Hamrick, Washington bureau chief of Bankrate.

Between algorithmic-based trading and new analysis tools, there’s a risk that investors aren’t fully aware of what they’re getting into, Hamrick says.

“My sense is that recent swings in the market have demonstrated that we don’t know as much about these new worlds as we’d like to,” he said in an email.

Moreover, a fair amount of investing is driven by fear and greed, he adds. And under those scenarios, data (no matter what the quality) might not always prevail over the human factor in the decision process. “Human beings have yet to be entirely sidelined from the investing process,” he said.

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