With all the stock market's recent jolts, it's only natural that many investors are searching for a degree of shelter.
But where should you turn when not just stocks, but bonds and commodities have been subject to frequent and severe downturns?
It stands to reason that mutual funds that have proven the most resistant to big market swings in the relatively recent past would be the safest bets in the current environment, too.
Arguably, the best measure of a fund's resilience isn't just whether or not it avoided losing money during a given period, but the biggest drawdown, or peak-to-trough descent, that it registered during the period.
For example, a fund can appreciate by 12%, then have a drawdown of 6%, and still be up 5.3% overall.
So funds with low drawdowns don't just tend to hold their heads above water, they also have a tendency to hold on to most of their gains.
The measure disregards the length of time between the peak and the trough. It also ignores performance prior to the interim peak and subsequent to the trough.
The dozen open-end stock funds in the accompanying table (see below) have proven their staying power over the past three years by registering drawdowns of a lower magnitude than minus 6% during the period (meaning closer to zero than negative 6%).
The data is based on month-end returns, so in theory the funds could have had even bigger drawdowns intramonth.
All of the funds have a track record of at least three years and allocate at least 75% of net assets to equities.
Until recent years, drawdown was primarily an analytical tool used by commodities speculators. Fund investors are typically more interested in whether a manager beats the market, as measured by a broad stock index. However the tool is gaining currency among both stock and mutual fund investors.
It might be a measure worth close consideration, and not just because of the painful ups and downs suffered by the stock market in recent months. The slippage suffered by most funds has been significantly more severe than a closely watched market benchmark. The average drawdown of the open-end stock funds tracked by TheStreet.com Ratings over the past three years is a troubling minus 14.62%, nearly double the value of the negative 7.46% for the
total return index. The median -- or middle value -- drawdown for the stock funds is minus 13.37%.
Although the funds on the adjoining list have been resistant to setbacks, the price they have paid as a group has been generally subdued performance when compared with the S&P 500. Only two of the 12 funds outperformed the S&P over the past 12 months, with a single pair beating the S&P over the most recent three years.
The only fund on the list to beat the S&P for both the past year and for three years, the
CSI Equity Fund (CSIIX), earned a grade of B+ --equivalent to a "buy" recommendation-- from TheStreet.com Ratings. The only other "buy" recommendation among the group is the
Fairholme Fund (FAIRX), which is also rated B+ and is the best performer of the group over the past three years.
Four of the funds in the table maintained their muted drawdowns despite having a stated objective of investing in domestic growth stocks, which tend to rise rapidly when they are producing strong results and fall hard when they're out of favor. Another three are balanced funds, which invest in both stocks and bonds; and there are also three asset allocation funds, which typically invest in stocks, bonds and other asset classes such as real estate and commodities; and two that aim for both growth and income.
Richard Widows is a financial analyst for TheStreet.com Ratings. Prior to joining TheStreet.com, Widows was senior product manager for quantitative analytics at Thomson Financial. After receiving an M.B.A. from Santa Clara University in California, his career included development of investment information systems at data firms, including the Lipper division of Reuters. His international experience includes assignments in the U.K. and East Asia.