Peek into the portfolios of some sector funds and you find yourself asking tough, odd questions. For instance, is gum a financial services product?
In recent weeks, the I Own What?! column has dug up tech funds that
don't own tech stocks and Net funds that
own companies like
. This week we've found some funds that zero in on sectors other than tech, but hold some surprising stuff in their portfolios, like a financial services fund that owns shares of
The upshot, as usual, is that funds' prospectuses typically give portfolio managers plenty of leeway, underscoring why you should always look at a fund's portfolio and not just its returns before you buy shares. Here's why: If your fund puts enough of your money in unexpected places, it's tough to know how it will perform. Let's start with a trio of financial services sector funds.
A look at the most recent portfolio reports from the
Delaware American Services fund,
Legg Mason Financial Services fund and the
Davis Financial fund illustrates how a fund in the financial services category can stay within its investment parameters and invest in strikingly nonfinancial companies.
The Delaware American Services is a prime example of a fund that's tough to label. It "invests primarily in stocks of U.S. companies in the financial services, business services, and consumer services sectors," according to its description on the firm's Web site. With half its money in financial stocks on Sept. 30, it isn't diversified but is also well below the 95% financial-stock stake of the average financial services fund.
Even if you think the fund belongs in the financial sector bin, its portfolio report at the end of the third quarter includes some surprising names, like fast-food chain
Jack in the Box
, cable concern
and hospital operator
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The Legg Mason Financial Services fund and the Davis Financial fund are both required to keep about 65% of their money in financial stocks, though the Davis fund's prospectus notes that this bar will rise to 80% on July 31 to conform with new naming regulations. Both meet their current obligations, but they had some odd picks on the books according to their Sept. 30 and Aug. 31 portfolio reports, respectively.
At that point the Legg Mason fund held stocks like
and Wm. Wrigley, as well as health care giants like
Johnson & Johnson
. The Davis fund wasn't shy about reaching beyond financials, either. The fund held stocks such as
, packaging outfit
Of course, the further a sector fund strays from its sector, the harder it is for you to know how it will perform. The Delaware fund's differences helped in 2001 when it gained 12%, compared with a 3% loss for the average financial sector fund. On the other hand, the Davis fund just about tripled its average peer's losses last year.
We should keep in mind that financial and tech funds are hardly the only sector funds with some odd stuff under the hood.
Liberty Newport Global Equity fund, a utilities fund, recently broadened its scope and plans to have only about half its money in utilities companies. Still, it's got a utilities label, and on Sept. 30 it held tech stocks like
, as well as grocer
and financial behemoth
On Sept. 30, the
Schwab Health Care Focus fund was thinking very long term with 0.5% of its money invested in
Service Corp. International
, the world's largest operator of funeral homes and cemeteries. At the same time, the
Van Eck International Investors Gold fund held shares of now bankrupt energy trader
. Talk about fool's gold.
The average real estate fund sinks some 94% of its cash into real estate investment trusts and other financial shops. But the
Invesco Real Estate Opportunity fund had about 82% of its money in financial stocks at the end of the third quarter. At that point, the fund, which is allowed to invest in companies "with significant involvement in the real estate industry" according to its prospectus, held shares of home improvement superstores
. They're certainly related to the real estate business, but might not be what you expect to see in a real estate fund.
The bottom line is that every fund has a name and classification, but neither necessarily tells you all that much about what it owns.
Ian McDonald writes daily for TheStreet.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He invites you to send your feedback to
email@example.com, but he cannot give specific financial advice.