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An Easier Way to Pick Winning Funds

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Plenty of investors have become furious at their actively managed mutual funds. During the financial crisis, many star managers sank.

Now, frustrated investors have concluded it is too hard to pick the best funds. Shareholders are abandoning active approaches and shifting to index funds.

But if you can't pick winners, maybe you should try some of the specialized fund companies that have long records for selecting successful active managers. These companies hire freelance portfolio managers known as subadvisers. Companies with track records of outdoing the benchmarks include Allianz Global Investors, Aston Funds and Harbor Funds.

The subadvisery approach is different from the traditional system employed by most fund companies, including Fidelity Investments and T. Rowe Price (TROW). The traditional companies rely on full-time employees, often hiring young analysts who spend years training to become portfolio managers.

In contrast, the subadvisery firms screen through hundreds of independent money managers, seeking to pick the best of breed. Besides handling mutual funds, the freelance management firms also serve a variety of clients, including institutional investors who are known for demanding consistent returns.

Harbor Funds and the other subadvisery fund companies have some key advantages. Instead of hiring rookies, they pick from among management firms with long records of success. Such established portfolio managers would never quit their successful businesses to become employees of another company.

Consider Harbor Bond (HABDX), which has outdone 96% of its intermediate-term peers during the past 15 years, according to Morningstar. Harbor succeeded by hiring one of the most successful managers ever, Bill Gross, portfolio manager of Pimco Total Return (PTTAX). There is no way that Gross would quit Pimco, the company he founded, but he is more than willing to accept a fee from Harbor for overseeing a bond fund. These days it may seem like a no-brainer to hire Gross. But Harbor was shrewd enough to pick the bond manager more than two decades ago when Gross was not well known.

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