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Looking Past Scandal for a Few Good Managers

Contrary to public opinion, the entire mutual fund industry is not rotten.

In the good old days -- say four months ago -- my primary function as a mutual funds columnist was to hunt for solid fund offerings for TheStreet.com readers. Ever since New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer dropped the bomb on Sept. 3 that some mutual funds have allowed hedge funds and others to make abusive trades of their offerings, this gig has more closely resembled a crime reporter's beat. (Happily so far, none of the funds I have highlighted over the past year or so have turned up on the scandal sheet.)

For today's column, I'm going to put aside talk of scandal and flag some lesser-known mutual funds that are worthy of your consideration. In each case, I've chatted up the fund's skipper (or co-skipper, as the case may be) to hear their outlook for 2004 and the stocks they favor.

Oh, and I must add that it is unlikely these funds will flame out in scandal, for a variety of reasons. First, they're too small to lure market-timers -- hot money would swell their asset bases and the rapid-fire trading would stick out like a sore thumb. Second, the funds espouse a value-oriented, long-term philosophy that wouldn't provide the daily volatility needed to give the one-day pop that timers crave. Third, while I haven't had the managers over for dinner or anything, the firms and their skippers strike me as a scrupulous bunch that wouldn't cotton to outsiders gaming their funds. Besides, they all have most of their personal wealth tied up in the funds -- so why would they allow a timer to pick their pockets?

But enough about scandals. Let's get to the funds.

Mosaic Funds' Rich Eisinger

Along with Jay Sekelsky, Rich Eisinger co-manages two great offerings from the Mosaic family of funds: The large-cap blend (MINVX)Mosaic Investors fund and the (GTSGX)Mosaic Mid-Cap fund. These value-oriented funds tend to trail the sprinters during the bull runs but crush the competition during the rough patches. That's led to impressive performance over the long haul. The Mid-Cap fund's five-year average annual return of 11.89% is good for the top 22% of its peers, while the Investors fund's 3.89% five-year average annual return ranks in the top 12% of all large-cap blend funds, according to Morningstar.

1. What is your outlook for 2004?

We really are a bottom-up, stock-picking firm. Having said that, it's hard not to be cautiously optimistic about the economy -- with all the positive reports. However, a lot of the economic strength is priced into the stock market, which makes it tough to find good ideas.

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