BOSTON (TheStreet) -- The best-performing mutual funds with at least $1 billion in assets are dominated by high-flying, high-technology stocks such as iPad maker Apple (AAPL) - Get Report and cloud-computing company Salesforce.com (CRM) - Get Report.
Neuberger Berman Socially Responsive Fund
is doing just as well by investing in "medium-tech" companies that sell switches, electrical components and cables.
"We're old-fashioned ... stock pickers" who look for undervalued industry leaders with long-term growth prospects, said Neuberger Berman's Arthur Moretti, a fund manager since 2001 and the fund's team leader, in an interview. "We try to identify high-quality businesses and buy when they're inexpensive."
Managers aren't in hurry to reap profits. They're willing to hold a stock for three to five years, rare in a world where the phrase "the death of buy-and-hold" is widespread. The Neuberger Berman Socially Responsive Fund's annual turnover is 4%, meaning its holdings change completely every 25 years.
Those old-school values would seem to put the mutual fund at a disadvantage. And it's an unconventional fund to begin with, given its "socially sensitive" investment agenda.
The makeup of its $1.3 billion, 33-stock portfolio does little to dispel the idea that it's different than the marquee funds that can bump returns with "sin" stocks, such as alcohol and tobacco companies, as well as nuclear-power operators and weapons manufacturers.
But that hasn't handicapped the managers as there's a wide universe of companies left to pick from, said Ingrid Dyott, a Neuberger Berman fund manager since 2003.
And it hasn't hurt performance. The Neuberger Berman Socially Responsive Fund is up 21% this year, double that of the
S&P 500 Index
. It ranks ninth of the top-performing actively managed diversified U.S. mutual funds this year, and has been atop Morningstar's large-blend fund category ranking in eight of nine years.
Contributing to those results is fund managers' risk-averse stock-selection process. They seek firms that are leaders in their niche. "Historically, we've done well when the market is challenged," said Moretti.
The mutual fund declined 39% in 2008, less than most others in its large-cap category, and gained 31% last year.
Currently, there are only three losers in its top 25 stocks this year. The biggest is mutual-fund manager and discount broker
, down 9.4%.
Fitting into the mold of "medium-tech" stocks is
, an industrial manufacturer of electrical components and systems for use in electronic, medical and water-testing equipment and consumer goods.
"Its product cycles are more than a year, which is generally longer than that of a high-tech company," which makes its business less volatile, Moretti said.
That sounds bland compared to Apple, with its sexy musical devices, phones and tablets and God-like CEO Steve Jobs, but its shares are up 19% this year, reaching a 52-week high last week. (Apple has risen 52% this year.) And since it's the fund's second-largest holding, at 5.3%, and has been in the portfolio since June 2001, Danaher will offer a big payoff when it comes time to sell.
Another pick in the same mold is
, a leader in the design and manufacture of programmable logic-device chips, for use by makers of communications, data processing, industrial and consumer products. It's the fund's largest holding, at a little more than 5.3% of the fund, and is up 69% this year. Take that, Apple.
The Neuberger Berman fund has owned Altera since 2004. It's still a core holding, Moretti said, because it's gaining market share from key rival while its forward price-to-earnings ratio is a low 15.3.
On the following pages are brief descriptions of the Neuberger Berman Socially Responsive Fund's five most interesting holdings. Investors can dive deeper to see if they're appropriate for their own portfolio.
, representing 4.6% of the fund, is up 19% this year and hit a 52-week high of $45.84 last week.
The company makes an array of electrical components and systems for use in electronic, medical, and water-test equipment and consumer goods. It makes acquisitions to access new product lines.
Danaher has been in the fund's portfolio since June 2001. The stock has risen 168% in the past 10 years. According to Thomson Reuters, the ratings of analysts that follow Danaher are: 10, strong buy; eight, buy; five, hold.
, at 5.3%, the fund's largest holding, is up 69% this year and 96% over the past three years.
The company is a leader in the design and manufacture of programmable logic-device chips for use by manufacturers of communications, data processing, industrial and consumer products.
According to Thomson Reuters, the ratings of analysts that follow the company are: five, strong buy; five, buy; 14, hold; three, reduce.
, 4% of the portfolio, is up 45% this year. It is a predominantly U.S.-based natural gas producer.
Fund manager Ingrid Dyott said the company has a good safety record and is a low-cost supplier. From an environmental perspective, which is a consideration of this fund, natural gas is a better choice than fossil fuels as an energy resource.
Newfield Exploration is a long-term holding of the fund. According to Thomson Reuters, the ratings of analysts that follow Newfield are: eight, strong buy; 12, buy; five, hold; one, reduce.
distributes industrial supplies such as motors, tools, fasteners and safety gear for maintenance and repair operations. Its shares are up 37% this year.
The company accounts for 2.3% of the portfolio. W.W. Grainger has a market value of $9.2 billion and a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 17.2.
"What's interesting about distribution-based businesses is that they can pass through price increases" and, therefore, the company holds its investment value even in periods of inflation, fund manager Arthur Moretti said.
The company has healthy cash flows. According to Thomson Reuters, the ratings of analysts that follow W.W. Grainger are: five, strong buy; two, buy; nine, hold; one sell.
is a distributor of information-technology and communications products including electrical wire and IT cable and components.
The company carries more than 425,000 products and serves 100,000 customers in what is considered a cyclical business. Anixter, which has been in the fund since the third quarter of 2007, accounts for 3% of the fund.
Anixter's stock is up 24% this year. It has a low forward price-to-earnings ratio of 13.1. According to Thomson Reuters, the ratings of analysts that follow Anixter are: six, strong buy; four, hold; one, reduce.