NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Investors have been dumping actively managed stock funds and shifting to index funds. The movement has been particularly pronounced in the large blend category where passive choices account for more than 40% of assets. Many investors figure that it is hard for active managers to beat such popular passive large blend funds as Vanguard 500 Index (VFINX), which tracks the S&P 500.
But some active large blend funds have consistently topped the benchmark. Among the leading choices are Fidelity Large Cap Stock (FLCSX), JPMorgan US Equity (JUEAX), and Smead Value (SMVLX). Can the star funds continue outperforming? Probably. The veteran managers all employ disciplined strategies that have worked for years in a variety of market conditions.
A steady performer is Smead Value. During the past five years, the fund returned 13.7% annually, compared to 8.6% for the S&P 500, according to Morningstar. Portfolio manager Bill Smead only takes rock-solid companies. He favors businesses with extremely loyal customers. A long-time holding is McDonald's (MCD), which has millions of customers who return again and again to their favorite chain. Smead has often bought pharmaceutical companies such as Merck (MRK), which has built a sound balance sheet by serving patients who cannot live without their medications.
The fund buys when the companies are unloved. The aim is to hold for years as the stocks revive and reach new heights. While the average large blend fund turns over 66% of its portfolio annually, Smead has a turnover rate of 11%.To explain his value style of investing, Bill Smead compares Walgreen (WAG), a fund holding, with Procter & Gamble (PG), a stock that he does not own. Both companies have strong records, but Walgreen sells for a forward price-earnings ratio of 13, compared to a figure of 18 for Procter & Gamble. Investors have cooled on the drugstore chain because it faced difficult negotiations with a major customer, Express Scripts (ESRX), a pharmacy benefits manager. But Smead says that the chain has continued to deliver reliable cash flow. "Walgreen has been as consistent a performer as Procter & Gamble for the last 30 years," Smead says.