Just a few months ago most investors wouldn't even consider buying mutual funds focused on sleepy financials and consumer staples. Now they are the among the few domestic stock funds that managed to eke out a gain in the past month.
re-emergence of financial sector funds has been apparent since the
peaked on March 10. But after last week's turbulence, the picture is becoming clearer: The comeback of financials extends beyond the big banks and brokers to insurance companies and mortgage lenders.
And funds whose focus is real-world, as opposed to virtual, are also doing well. Many of these funds are positioned to benefit from growing global consumer demand, for the simple things in life, like food and shelter.
Here are the top 15 funds since the tech-heavy Nasdaq topped out on March 10, excluding funds that primarily short stocks -- since they're expected to soar when prices tank. (Tune in to Tuesday's
for more on short funds.)
Five of these top 15 are financial services funds, including top dog
Financials have been down for more than a year, which means these funds are in the red on a 12-month basis. But some pros think the market's recent turn from frothy tech stocks to value stocks -- and financial stocks in particular -- could last for a while if the economy slows a bit and interest rates don't go much higher.
"It might be choppy, but financials could be good for the next one or two years. I think they've seen a bottom," says Sylvester Marquardt, Research Director at
John Hancock Funds
John Hancock Regional Bank fund is up more than 14% since March 10 and just missed our list. The fund is down just under 26% over the past year through Friday's close.
Of course, not all of the financial funds on the list are the same. It includes funds that focus on insurance stocks (Century Shares/
Fidelity Select Insurance), bank stocks (
Fidelity Select Banking) and mortgage lenders (
Fidelity Select Home Finance).
Kemper-Dreman Financial Services, run by value veteran David Dreman, has a broader exposure to leading large-cap financial stocks.
Beyond these funds there are also some value funds that have a big crush on financial stocks. The best-known of the bunch is
Sequoia, which has been closed to new investors since Dec. 23, 1982. Co-managers William Ruane and Robert Goldfarb have a strong taste for financials. They had about 30% of the fund's assets invested in
, and 92% of total assets in financials on June 30, the most recent portfolio data available, according to
Like Buffett, the managers follow a low-turnover style focusing on companies with solid balance sheets and strong franchises. The fund's only two non-financial holdings are gun-maker
. That usually bulletproof strategy led to a 16.5% loss last year and a rock-bottom return in the large-cap value category.
Another financial-sector fund with a value label is
Vontobel U.S. Value. Manager Edwin Walczak had more than 70% of the fund in financial stocks on Sept. 30, the most recent data available.
Beyond financials are a smattering of funds that focus on consumer staples.
Fidelity Select Food & Agriculture, for instance, bets on people eating, drinking beer and smoking. The fund's top holdings on March 31 were
. Most of these stocks are underwater for the year after Friday's sell-off, but they're outperforming the likes of
, which has lost more than 26% since March 10.
Like Fidelity Select Home Finance,
Select Construction & Housing bets on people buying houses, with a more hands-on approach. Among the fund's top holdings on March 31 were building materials sellers
, as well as old-school equipment and appliance-makers like
. Once again, these stocks aren't highfliers, but they haven't fallen as hard as dot-coms either.
Fidelity Select Chemicals has
in its' top ten -- a rare winner in today's rocky market. Even after Friday's debacle, the conglomerate was up more than 50% for the year.
Hilliard Lyons Growth? How has a growth fund survived the Nasdaq's meltdown? It's not really a growth fund. Instead of focusing on tech stocks, like most funds with a growth label, the fund has focused on financials and industrials like insurer
and Harley-Davidson, up 25.4% and 18.7% since Jan. 1, respectively.
Of course, the question remains: Can financials, food companies, home-builders and motorcycle-makers keep outpacing sexy tech stocks?
Here's a case for it: Investors might be reducing their growth expectations for maturing tech companies, like PC-makers, and rationalizing their expectations of dot-coms, many of which may go bust before they make a nickel.
Instead, some might be beginning to expect slower economic growth at home and faster growth abroad. Slower growth here could stave off more rate hikes, which is good for financials. And strong global growth can be good for old-school companies that sell basic goods like steel, paper, and aluminum, says Hancock's Marquardt.
Ron Roge, a financial planner based in Bohemia, NY., says investors should just ignore the value-or-growth question and keep a position in both at all times.
"We always keep a foothold in both camps. I use
Excelsior Value and Restructuring for large-cap value exposure," he says, noting that he hasn't gotten a call from a skittish client all day Monday.
Apparently, investors are warming to value funds. Given Sequoia's strong long-term record and recent run-up, a rash of offers from investors offering to pay dearly for shares of the closed fund have once again popped up on Internet message boards over the past two weeks.