In a gory year for stocks, health care funds have been stars.
These funds typically have the leeway to invest in drugmakers of all sizes, HMOs, hospitals, medical device makers, or even software shops that help docs cut down on the paper chase. But over the past two years, the top health care funds have been the ones that focus on biotech companies, the small high-tech labs that develop new medications.
Over the past year, the
American Stock Exchange Biotechnology Index
is up a startling 148%, according to
. But it might be a fatal mistake to plan on biotechs holding anything close to that pace. This mercurial sector is known for these performance bursts, but it's also known for long droughts. Consider that the same index posted a cumulative 3.3% loss from January 1993 to January 1996. So far in October, the index is off more than 16%.
As usual, we've sifted the category for the funds that beat their average peers over the past one- and three-year periods, according to
. We came up with five and have ranked them by one-year return below.
In addition to these, you might take a look at less biotech-heavy types. One candidate is
Vanguard Health Care, which has no load but a steep $10,000 minimum for nonretirement accounts; another is
Fidelity Select Health Care, which benefits from Fido's deep analytical bench but carries a maximum 3% front-end load or sales charge.
We've also poked under the hoods of the category's leading funds, listing their cumulative top holdings in a second chart. As you might imagine, the list leans toward biotech and drug shops.
Consider top-three holdings
and biotech bellwether