NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Seeking safety, investors have been dumping shaky small stocks and shifting to giant blue chips. That has hurt small value funds, which have dropped 10.9% this year, trailing the S&P 500 by almost eight percentage points, according to Morningstar.
But not all small value funds have been pummeled. A few little-known managers have managed to stay ahead of the pack. The winning funds include Adirondack Small Cap (ADKSX), Homestead Small-Company Stock (HSCSX), SouthernSun Small Cap (SSSFX).
The top funds emphasize companies with sound balance sheets and strong cash flows. Such stocks have proved resilient lately.
"Our types of businesses have done relatively well during the volatile markets of the past couple years," says Michael Cook, portfolio manager of SouthernSun.Cook has delivered solid returns by favoring companies that rely on competitive advantages to dominate niches. Most often the strategy has worked. The fund returned 7.9% annually during the past five years and outdid 99% of peers. A diehard value investor, Cook looks for solid businesses that have been ignored by the markets. When the economy tanked in 2008, many of his holdings were slammed along with their competitors. But as the markets began to recover in 2009, Cook's steady choices rebounded smartly. A favorite holding is AGCO (AGCO), a leading maker of tractors. In the most recent quarter, revenue increased 35%, but the stock sells for a modest price-earnings ratio of 11. Sales are growing rapidly in Latin America, a region where farmers are increasing their acreage. Cook says that AGCO dominates the fast-growing markets in Brazil.
"They have a phenomenal dealer network throughout Latin America," he says. Another holding is Middleby (MIDD), which makes cooking equipment for KFC, Starbucks and other chains. The shares have suffered in recent months as investors worried that restaurant sales would languish if the economy declines. But Cook argues the company stands to continue growing as American chains expand in the emerging markets.