During the past 10 years, the fund returned 11.5% annually, outdoing the S&P 500 by 7 percentage points and ranking as the top-performing large value fund, according to Morningstar. But investors who are ready to buy Yacktman should understand that the fund does not top the charts every year. In fact, Yacktman finished in the bottom half of its category in five of the last 10 years. In 2005, the fund trailed 98% of its peers.
The erratic performance is hardly unusual. The huge majority of funds suffer off years when managers make mistakes or their styles run cold. But a small number of funds have produced consistent track records, finishing in the top half of their categories in at least 8 years out of the last 10. Among the large-cap funds that pass the test are Amana Trust Income (AMANX), Fidelity Contrafund (FCNTX), Fidelity OTC (FOCPX), Gabelli Equity Income AAA (GABEX), Manning & Napier Pro-Blend Maximum Term (EXHAX), MFS Growth (MFEGX), and Sentinel Common Stock (SENCX).
How have those funds achieved their sterling records? Strong stock picking played a role. But just as important, the funds emphasize risk control. The portfolio managers steer away from expensive highflyers. Hot shares may lead in bull markets, but they can suddenly crash and cause a fund to drop into the bottom half of its category. In addition, most of the funds stay broadly diversified, owning stocks in many sectors. So if one sector collapses, the fund may still be able to deliver decent returns.Among the steadiest funds is MFS Growth. During the past 10 years, MFS returned 5.1% annually, outdoing 77% of its large growth peers. Portfolio manager Eric Fischman favors companies with strong balance sheets that can grow consistently for years. "We prefer long-term growers instead of companies that grow a lot for short periods," he says. Fischman avoids expensive stocks, such as Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG). The stock is increasing revenues at an annual rate of more than 20%, and the growth is likely to continue, he says. But the shares are too expensive because they trade for a price-earnings ratio of 56. Instead, Fischman owns Target (TGT). The retailer is only increasing revenues at a 5% rate, but it has a P/E of 12.