Skip to main content

This year, natural resources funds have been the warm, dry place in the market's tempest.

These funds, which are the subject of today's Daily Screen, typically invest in stocks of companies that look for, refine and/or sell oil and natural gas. As you might imagine, these stocks rise and fall with the prices of commodities like oil and gas. With those prices skyrocketing this year, these funds have had a solid run in a tough environment for growth stocks, gaining 18% on average since Jan. 1, compared to the

S&P 500's 8.7% loss.

Of course, there's a downside to these funds' reliance on commodities prices, too -- mainly that they have virtually nowhere to hide when they tumble as they did in 1998. That year, the average natural resources fund lost more than 25%, according to


. And it's yet to be seen what the current tension in the Middle East will do to oil prices. But that's why the asset-allocation types dutifully remind us that mercurial sector funds are long-term investments for no more than 5% or so of your portfolio.

We've picked through the category to single out those funds that beat their average peer over the past one- and three-year periods. After we look at the funds, we'll peek under the hood at the stocks that pushed these funds higher. Ten funds meet our criteria, and here they are, ranked by their one-year return.

As you can see, there's a


fund here for just about anyone, whether you want to invest broadly in the energy sector (


Fidelity Select Energy), in energy services (


Fidelity Select Energy Services) or in natural gas (


Fidelity Select Natural Gas). One thing that might turn you off, though, is that each of these funds, as well as


Fidelity Advisor Natural Resources, levies a


load or sales charge.

If you're a strict no-load investor, you might look at


Vanguard Energy, where Ernst von Metzsch has held the reins since the fund's 1984 inception. Over the years he has built a solid track record through a variety of market environments. To get his thoughts on the sector, check out this

10 Questions interview .

Do-it-yourselfers also might take a look at


Invesco Energy and


Excelsior Energy & Natural Resources, two of the category's least volatile options, according to Morningstar risk data.

When it comes to the stocks that tend to pop up in these funds, there's not too much mystery. When most people think oil and gas, they think









. You'll find all of those stocks in these leading funds.