"If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs / Yours is the earth and everything that's in it," advised Rudyard Kipling in
This Kipling classic poem springs to mind as heads -- and money -- are being lost in the wake of this summer's selloff, because preserving assets when stocks decline is the first step toward profiting on Wall Street.
With that in mind, we searched for large-cap stock funds ranked as
leaders in asset preservation as well as total return, and came up with a few winners. You might not gain the "earth and everything in it" by investing in these funds, but at least you can trust this set of fund managers not to lose their heads -- or your money -- unnecessarily.
Fidelity Contrafund not only gets Lipper's highest ratings, it also scores a full five stars from rival fund tracker Morningstar, which lauded the fund for its performance during the postbubble bear market. After narrowly underperforming the
when stocks fell in 2001, the Contrafund lost only 9.6% in 2002 while the index dropped 22.1%, an impressive performance.
Portfolio manager William Danoff has guided the Contrafund since 1990 with a style more conservative than that of his large-blend peers. But despite massive inflows that have ballooned the fund to $39 billion, Danoff has kept the ship from troubled waters. For example, Danoff avoided tech and biotech stocks during the downturn in favor of consumer cyclicals like
, then successfully raised the fund's tech exposure in 2003 by rotating into stocks like
Statistically speaking, it's also easy to see why Contrafund is a smart choice for investors looking to minimize risk without sacrificing too much in return. The mean, or average, return for the Contrafund over the last three years is 4.69%, not bad considering the period includes a bear market. Moreover, the fund's standard deviation -- a statistic that measures the fund's volatility -- is 10.94, well below the Morningstar domestic stock fund average of 18.44.
And when the fund does take risks it gets rewarded for them as measured by its 4.62 alpha, well above the Morningstar average of 1.36. A higher alpha means a higher payoff for assuming the increased risk.
Finally, the beta of the fund, or its correlation to the S&P 500, is .53 which means if the market goes up 100%, then the Contrafund will go up 53%. Or, more importantly in this uncertain market, if the market goes down 100%, then the fund should only drop 53%.
Of course, if we ever plummet that far, it would be quite forgivable to lose one's head.
Smith Barney Appreciation Fund
Hersh Cohen, portfolio manager for the
Smith Barney Appreciation Fund, has seen his share of market manias since entering the money management business in 1969. He says experience has made him a skeptic when it comes to high-profile companies sporting nosebleed P/Es with lots of acquisitions under their belts.
Cohen's aversion to flashy companies caused him to underperform his competitors when the tech bubble swept across Wall Street in 1998 and 1999. But Cohen's skepticism proved prescient when investor exuberance disappeared, causing his fund to outperform the S&P 500 by 8.4% and 5.1% in the down years of 2001 and 2002.
Since 1995, Cohen has been imparting his experience, and skeptical nature, to his protege, Scott Glasser, who became co-portfolio manager of the fund in 2001.
"We think about downside as mush as upside when it comes to stock selection," says Glasser.
Ironically, the pair's current top pick is tech monolith
, which comprises 3.9% of their portfolio. Cohen says the company has been unfairly washed out over the past three years and will continue to raise its dividend as the company matures.
The fund's biggest position is in Warren Buffett's
, at 6.6% of assets, an allocation that might have been expected, considering the fund's penchant for value stocks.
Despite the fund's high marks when it comes to risk metrics like beta (.77) and standard deviation (13.06), Glasser and Cohen say they don't stress over statistics when it comes to reducing risk. Instead, they focus on stock selection and adjusting their cash levels. If those are in line, says Cohen, the rest will take care of itself.
Dreyfus Appreciation Fund
Fayez Sarofim, portfolio manager for the
Dreyfus Appreciation Fund, likes his stocks in three sizes: big, very big and really, really big. The average market capitalization for the names in his fund is $105 billion, which means investors should not be surprised to find mega-cap names like
heavily weighted in his portfolio.
And when Sarofim finds a stock he likes, you can be sure that he intends to hang on to it for a while. The annual turnover of the fund is 5%, which makes it a Lipper Leader in tax efficiency.
Nevertheless, buying and holding stocks, even ones with household names, does not necessarily translate into a less risky portfolio. As we all remember from
, now reborn as
, there is no such thing as too big to fail. To avoid such mega-landmines, the fund shops for companies that sport clean balance sheets, maintain strong free cash flows and pay out dividends.
For a fund stocked with supersized names, skeptics might prematurely write it off as an index fund in disguise. But the fund has a surprisingly low beta of .76, which means that it marches to its own beat. And with a standard deviation of 13.06 over the past three years, that beat is not exactly a wild, Keith Moon-esque drum solo.
"We think this management team's disciplined, low-turnover strategy provides a sane option in what are arguably heady times," says Gareth Lyons, analyst at Morningstar.