Growth funds are showing signs of life again, but choosing among the ragged masses is hardly easy.
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For the first time in recent memory, tech-heavy growth funds lapped their tech-light value peers last month, according to fund tracker Lipper. As we've said, for most of us it makes sense to split your stock portfolio evenly between each style because they trade leadership every few years. After all, the recent drubbing wasn't as painful for those who held on to their value funds during the tech mania. You'll be glad you held your growth funds when that style, and the tech sector, get back on their feet.
But with most growth funds having lost a quarter or more of their value over the past year, it might be tough to find some decent choices. Today, the Big Screen sifts the mid- and small-cap growth-fund bins to single out a short list of survivors. It updates our past effort and will be added to our Diversification Tool Box -- a blueprint for a diversified stock-fund portfolio with a list of decent funds in each style.
In each category we yanked out any fund that didn't beat the category average over the past one, three and five years, and those where a new manager took the reins in the past three years. Then we pulled out funds that are closed to new investors and those with above-average expenses and a minimum investment north of $10,000. Finally, we ranked the funds that made our cut by their annualized returns over the past five years.
Let's first check out the mid-cap funds, which focus on stocks with
market caps between $1.4 billion and $8.8 billion.
You might expect to find conservative types on our list, but that's not necessarily the case. At the top of our list you'll find two aggressive funds, the broker-sold
Calamos Growth fund and the no-load
Bridgeway Aggressive Growth fund, which trade rapidly among stocks they dig up using quantitative screens.
John Calamos, lead manager of his eponymous fund since its 1990 launch, and John Montgomery, manager of the Bridgeway fund since its 1994 start, crunch data to find stocks of companies they think are poised for above-average earnings growth and share appreciation. Each fund sports a turnover ratio above 200%, meaning the portfolio changes over twice each year, and each tops more than 70% of its peers over the past one, three and five years, according to Chicago fund researcher Morningstar.
The Bridgeway fund, a member of our
Ima Winner Fund Club, might be a more mainstream choice because Montgomery, a former MIT research engineer, uses multiple models and styles, leading to a more diversified portfolio. Despite their furious pace and the tumult of the past five years, the Calamos fund has topped its average peer in each of the past five years and Bridgeway has done it four times.
A lower-octane choice that should suit most tastes is the no-load
T. Rowe Price Mid-Cap Growth fund. Manager Brian Berghuis, who has called the shots since the fund's 1992 start, looks for companies with fast earnings growth, but keeps an eye on valuations and avoids big sector bets too. By steering clear of the most pricey shares, he's positioned the fund for growth, without suffering too badly in tough times. The fund, which beats the S&P 500 over the past one, three and five years, has topped the category average in all but one calendar year since its launch.
Now let's check the small-cap funds that made our cut.
While these are all intriguing funds, a couple stand out for their consistent outperformance: the
Wasatch Small Cap Growth fund and the
Liberty Acorn fund.
Jeff Cardon has worked on the Wasatch fund since 1986. The Salt Lake City-based Wasatch fund focuses mainly on small-cap investing. Cardon shops for companies with a market cap of $1 billion or less that are also growing earnings at a 20% clip. That's led him to have about half the fund in health care and tech stocks, and solid returns. The no-load fund tops the
and at least 90% of its peers over the past one, three, five and 10 years.
The Acorn fund was bought by Liberty financial last year, and now FleetBoston Financial is buying Liberty. The bad news is that new investors will have to pay a sales charge to buy shares, but the good news is that co-managers Chuck McQuaid and Ralph Wanger have both signed contracts to stay on for at least five years. Wanger has run the fund since its 1970 launch, and McQuaid joined him as a co-manager six years ago. The pair take a price-conscious approach and spread the fund among more than 250 stocks to keep volatility low.
While the fund probably won't top the charts in a tech-led rally, its conservative approach sparkles now. It tops the S&P 500 and at least 75% of its peers over the past one, three, five and 10 years, according to Morningstar.
In addition to the other funds on our list, you might also want to check out the no-load
Managers Special Equity fund. The fund spreads its money among four small-cap specialists, each using a different style. Because the fund blends value and growth styles, it can be a steady performer no matter which approach has the wind at its back. The fund didn't make our cut because its manager tenure field is blank in Morningstar's database, but it beats its average peer over the past one, three, five and 10 years.
There you have it -- a menu of mid- and small-cap growth funds that should hold their own when the growth style inevitably rides again -- and when it falls off its horse.
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.