10 Lessons for Fund Investors
10 Questions With Utilitarian Bern Fleming
Let's doff our cap to the fund world's Cal Ripken and look for standouts in the making.
The gray-haired, Cooperstown-bound Baltimore Oriole didn't miss a game between 1982 and 1998. Bill Miller has a similarly impressive streak going, though in a different game. Miller, manager of the no-load (LMVTX) - Get Report Legg Mason Value Trust and (LMOPX) - Get Report Legg Mason Opportunity funds, is the only active fund manager to beat the S&P 500 in each of the past 10 years. And he's about to make it 11.
Miller made his annual trek to New York
last week for a year-end press briefing. Our coverage drew the predictable smattering of emails asking why his streak is such a big deal. This week's Big Screen shows precisely why it's impressive, and then turns up some funds that have quietly built index-beating streaks of their own. The few consistent index-beaters out there also implicitly illustrate why it makes sense to have at least some of your money in an index fund.
There are some 840 U.S. stock funds that are at least 10 years old; Miller's Value Trust is the only one to top the S&P 500 in each of those years. In fact, his is the only stock fund to beat the index in each of the past five years. His fund's 19.4% annualized gain over the past decade beats all value funds and leads the index by more than 5 percentage points, according to Chicago research house Morningstar, which named Miller manager of the decade for the 1990s.
Some people might point out that plenty of funds have topped the S&P 500 over the past 10 years; more than 200 -- almost a quarter of funds that are at least 10 years old -- have done so. But many of these index beaters got there by having one or two big years, and in spite of one or two lousy ones. The point being that consistency counts, as all those who had to sell their shares during a manager's blue period can tell you.
The point isn't that Miller's fund is flawless. His focus on cash flows rather than strict valuation has led him to controversial "value" picks such as
and made his fund more aggressive and volatile than those of many of his value peers. Over the past 12 months, he's down about 12%, beating the index by 4 percentage points but trailing 79% of the big-cap value funds out there.
Source: Morningstar. Returns through Dec. 11.
We went looking for U.S. stock funds with the longest index-beating streaks after Miller's.
Jeff Van Harte had beaten the index nine straight years with an account he ran for variable annuity investors, but that skein was snapped last year. We turned up four funds that are on track to beat the index for the fifth-straight year. None has a six-year streak.
Ted Kellner has run the small-cap growth no-load
FMI Focus fund since its start near the end of 1996 (co-manager Richard Lane came on board in 1997). The pair spread their bets broadly among sectors, but trade heavily in the portfolio. The approach might not be the most conservative out there, but they've beaten their average peer and the index every year.
Both mid-cap funds on our list have beaten the market without loading up on pricey growth stocks. In running the no-load
Weitz Partners Value fund, manager Wally Weitz focuses on stocks of companies that seem cheap relative to their future cash flows. That often leads him to an odd blend of financial, media and cable stocks. It has also led to solid results, with the fund averaging a 19.2% annualized gain over the past 10 years, beating 99% of its mid-cap value peers and leading the S&P 500 by more than 5 percentage points.
Gordon Grender, manager of the broker-sold
GAMerica Capital fund since its 1995 launch, goes his own way. At the end of the third quarter, he had more than half his fund in cash and a third of his stock portfolio in financial stocks. While his seemingly drastic approach might not be for everyone, it did land his fund on our list.
Finally, the broker-sold
Heritage Capital Appreciation fund focuses on big-cap stocks and has quietly built a stellar record. Herbert Ehlers of
has called the shots since the fund's 1985 launch, finding companies with steady revenue growth and hanging on to them for years. The fund is averaging a 16.2% annualized gain over the past 10 years, beating 98% of the big-cap blend funds out there and leading the index by some 2 percentage points.
Standing ovation, anyone?
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
firstname.lastname@example.org, but he cannot give specific financial advice.