Winded growth funds are slowly gaining some ground on their front-running value peers, proving it makes sense to have money riding on both styles.
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Holding tech- and tech-heavy growth funds for the past year has felt as sensible and pleasant as holding a banana you bought in 1978. Their focus on shares of fast-growing tech and telecom shops puts them in the cross hairs of the
64% fall since its peak, while bargain-hunting, tech-light value funds have weathered the storm. But growth funds have doubled value funds' gains over the past month, hinting that the mercurial strategy might be coming back to life.
Because one or the other tends to be in favor at any given time, they seem like an either/or proposition. But most long-term investors should divide their stock-fund holdings between both. Here's why: The two styles' long-term returns are nearly the same, but because they move in different cycles, the road to those gains is smoother if you own both.
Sticking with the growth style might seem ridiculous today, given its stunning losses over the past year. Thanks mostly to big tech stakes that imploded, the average big-cap growth fund has lost more than a third of its value over the past 12 months, according to Chicago fund tracker Morningstar. For comparison, the average big-cap value fund and the S&P 500 are down 8% and 21% over the same stretch.
But if we step back, we find parity between the styles' results. Using the S&P 500/Barra Growth and S&P 500/Barra Value indices as yardsticks, over the past 25 years we see a nearly even split with growth topping value 13 times, according to data from Charles Schwab's Center for Investment Research. And even after growth's profound drubbing, the two strategies' long-term gains are close. Since 1975 the value style has posted a 15.5% annualized gain, topping growth by about 2 percentage points.
If it were clear when one style would be in favor, you'd see little point in owning both. But because the styles' cycles haven't been predictable, owning just one is not prudent. And simply buying the leading style at any given time typically insures that you're buying at a peak.
"People have a tendency to invest their next dollar in markets and styles that are working right now when you should be doing the opposite," says Phil Edwards, director of Standard & Poor's global funds research unit.
Fans of asset allocation, or dividing your portfolio between different styles and sectors according to a given scheme, say it ensures you're invested in hot areas, while critics say it also ensures you're invested in sagging areas, too. Both have a point, but because value funds tend to focus on cheaper sectors like financials and manufacturing, and growth funds pay more attention to pricier areas like tech and health care, owning both styles adds up to a more diversified approach and lower volatility.
On the heels of steep gains in 1999 and just in time for the past year's losses, growth and tech funds gobbled up most of the record $309 billion that gushed into stock funds last year. A portfolio composed of the average big-cap growth fund lost nearly 46% in the 12 months ending Sept. 30. But if half of that money had been put in the average big-cap value fund, some 16 percentage points would've been shaved off that loss, according to Morningstar.
If you decide you'd like to have a position in both growth and value funds, you then have to decide how much to have in each camp. Whether you're a growth or value fan, it makes sense to stay within shouting distance of a market weighting, which translates to splitting half of the money you devote to large-, mid- and small-caps evenly between growth and value.
Using the Wilshire 5000 Total Stock Market Index as a yardstick, a diversified portfolio of U.S. stocks would have about 70% of its money in large-cap funds, 20% in mid-cap funds and 10% in small-cap funds. For a look at some solid candidates, check out our
archive of Big Screens in which we single out steady performers in each style.
The bottom line is that the nuclear winter growth funds endured over the past year made value funds seem like a no-brainer. But the past 25 years shows why you should own both.