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A Buck Off the Irish

As you raise your glass of Guinness tomorrow to toast St. Patrick and his Irish patronage, you may want to consider putting some of your money where your mouth is.

Why not invest some of your green in the Emerald Isle, which is also known as the Celtic Tiger for its economic strength?

You could start with the one Irish beverage everyone has heard of. OK, maybe Guinness isn't a pure Irish investment play. The brewer merged with Grand Metropolitan in 1997 to form Diageo (DEO), a globally diversified beverage company with brands such as Smirnoff vodka and Gordon's gin. And the company is based in London.

But Guinness is still considered a national drink of Ireland, and no matter where its corporate headquarters are, the dry stout was born and raised at St. James's Gate in Dublin and has been a mainstay in the country for almost 350 years.

However, if you want a more direct investment in Ireland, you might want to consider U.S. mutual funds.

The only pure Irish play in SEC-registered funds in the U.S. is the closed-end (IRL - Get Report) New Ireland Fund (IRL). Managed by Peter O'Donoghue, the fund exploded for a gain of 69.90% in calendar 2006 to follow up on annual advances of 63.55%, 41.97% and 13.18% in the years 2003 through 2005, respectively.

Although down slightly for 2007 to date as of the end of February, as was the case with many funds, the New Ireland Fund is graded A-minus by Ratings; that equates with a buy recommendation.

As for the more common open-end mutual funds, 532 of them own Irish stocks. Because many of them have multiple share classes with identical portfolios, the total number of individual funds with Irish exposure runs well into the four figures. Together, the funds have an aggregate $13.67 billion invested in 95 different Irish stocks.

One table below shows the top 10 open-end funds by percentage of assets invested in Irish stocks; the second table has a similar number ranked by total market value of Irish portfolio holdings.

U.S. Open-End Mutual Funds With Investments in Irish Stocks
Fund Name, Ticker, TSC Rating No. of Irish Stocks Held % of Assets in Irish Stocks Value of Irish Holdings ($ Mil.) 1-Year Total Return (%) 3-Year Total Return (%)
Top 10 Funds by Percentage of Portfolio in Irish Stocks
Columbia Acorn Intl Select Fund A (LAFAX) - A 7 19.32 30.4 30.35 22.98
BlackRock Intl Value A (MDIVX) - B+ 2 16.98 287.9 17.49 18.28
RVS Emerging Markets Fund A (IDEAX) - C 1 12.42 66.7 17.92 25.66
Neuberger Berman International Inv (NBISX) - B+ 6 9.55 52.9 15.16 23.41
Legg Mason Prt Intl All Cap Opp A (SBIEX) - B- 5 7.89 16.8 18.58 16.17
Columbia Acorn International Fund A (LAIAX) - B+ 9 7.33 316.8 25.04 26.24
GAMCO International Growth A (GAIGX) - B+ 3 7.25 4.7 15.91 14.73
Phoenix Insight International A (HILZX) - C 2 6.83 18.8 22.50 17.67
AIM Trimark Endeavor Fund A (ATDAX) - A+ 2 6.68 7.0 26.07 17.49
Lazard Intl Small Cap Open (LZSMX) - B- 4 6.54 56.6 19.00 21.37
Top 10 Funds By Dollar Value Of Irish Stock Holdings
American Funds Fundamentl Invs A (CFNAX) - B 6 3.31 1,159.9 14.59 13.93
Fidelity Low-Priced Stock (FLPSX) - B 9 2.50 952.9 12.22 14.30
American Funds Gr Fnd of Amer A (CGFAX) - C- 3 0.58 935.0 8.38 10.68
Fidelity Growth Discovery Fund (FDSVX) - C- 3 0.94 631.3 7.97 7.78
Fidelity Growth Company (FDGRX) - D+ 1 1.56 478.8 3.88 10.31
Vanguard European Stock Index Inv (VEURX) - A+ 19 1.30 333.4 25.51 19.23
Columbia Acorn International Fund A (LAIAX) - B+ 9 7.33 316.8 25.04 26.24
Columbia Acorn Fund A (LACAX) - C+ 8 1.60 304.1 10.16 14.98
Fidelity Diversified Intl Fund (FDIVX) - B+ 3 0.66 301.6 16.51 17.86
BlackRock Intl Value A (MDIVX) - B+ 2 16.98 287.9 17.49 18.28
Data as of 2/28/2007
Source: Ratings

(LAICX) The Columbia Acorn International Fund (LAICX), with nine Irish holdings totaling $316.8 million that make up 7.33% of its assets, appears on both tables. It is one of three Columbia Acorn funds on the two top-10 lists. Also appearing on both of the top-10 lists is the ( MAIVX) BlackRock International Value Fund (MAIVX), with $287.9 million invested in Ireland representing 16.98% of its holdings.

As for diversification within the Irish market, as measured by the number of Irish stocks held, the (VEURX) Vanguard European Stock Index Fund (VEURX) leads both lists with 19 Emerald Isle holdings. Among the total of 532 funds with Irish investments, the (GIXIX) Gartmore International Index Fund (GIXIX) and the (MAIIX) BlackRock International Index fund (MAIIX) also had 19 Irish stocks each in their portfolios. But the most Celtic-diversified U.S. open-end fund is the (DFCSX) DFA Continental Small Company Fund (DFCSX), with 27 Irish holdings totaling $66.5 million and accounting for 3.53% of its portfolio.

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