Some major league hitters can hit the fastball and some can hit the curveball. Few can hit both, and those who hit neither aren't in the majors for long.
How To (Re)Build a Diversified Portfolio
A Sector-Fund Smorgasbord
My Favorite Growth Funds
My Favorite Value Funds
This idea isn't just true on the baseball diamond -- it plays out in the fund world, too. You might say that 1999, when stocks in high-growth sectors like technology hit eye-popping valuations and then kept climbing, was the equivalent of a 95-mile-an-hour fastball. But much of the sound and fury has faded, with the tech-laden
losing more than half its value over the past 12 months. So let's slap a curveball label on 2000 and this ugly start to 2001.
Growth . . . Riiiiiiight
Source: Morningstar. Returns through March 22.
Most growth funds with aggressive strategies sailed along in 1999, and growth funds with a less racy approach have held up a bit better this year and last. But some did neither. Today the Big Screen is looking at big-cap growth funds that didn't gain as much as their average peer in 1999, and then lost more than their competitors in 2000 and so far this year.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of funds in this murky pool. Some 75 big-cap growth funds, almost 20% of the category, lagged behind their average peer both in 1999
2000, according to
. If you're curious, only 43 big-cap growth funds beat their peers in sunny 1999 and the rainy days since. The list of back-to-back losers isn't winnowed much by tossing out those funds that are beating their peers so far this year. In order to single out the funds that most investors own, we fished out the 15 biggest funds in this pack and here they are, ranked by their losses so far this year.
In many cases, these funds made our list by betting heavily and poorly in the tech sector. Two examples are the no-load
Invesco Blue Chip Growth fund and the broker-sold
AIM Weingarten fund, both under the
umbrella. You might recall that the pair's consistent underperformance vs. that of peers landed them in the
Ima Loser Fund Club compiled in these pages two weeks ago.
Trent May has run the $1.6 billion
fund since 1996, with Doug McEldowney joining him in 1999. The pair typically designate a group of big, well-known companies as core holdings and then shop for slightly racier fare. Sounds sedate, but the fund had a whopping 60% tech weighting at the end of last year, nearly triple the sector's weighting in the
at that point.
As you might imagine, that didn't work out too well last year and it isn't helping this year, either. At the end of 2000, the fund had tech stocks like
in its top-10 holdings, and both are down about 50% or more so far this year. The fund trails the S&P 500 and at least 80% of its peers over the last one-, three-, five- and 10-year periods, according to Morningstar.
The $5.9 billion AIM Weingarten fund, run by lead manager Jon Schoolar since 1987, can make the same dubious claim. Similarly, this fund's tech bet topped out at 60% last year and that led to quite a steep tumble. The fund's returns typically fall right around the category average, but the past year or so has tarnished its track record. Its 11.3% 10-year annualized gain through the end of February trailed the S&P 500 by more than four percentage points and 86% of its peers, according to Morningstar.
Some of the funds on our list are also the victims of a poorly timed strategy change, as with the no-load
Vanguard U.S. Growth fund, run by a team of managers at Chicago subadviser
Lincoln Capital Management
. For years the $13.1 billion fund typically focused on stocks of big-cap companies with steady, if not stunning, earnings growth. In 1999 that somewhat cautious approach left the fund trailing peers that made big bets on stocks with zestier stories and skyrocketing valuations. The fund's 22% gain that year edged out the S&P 500, but was almost doubled by its average peer.
Then the fund broadened its menu to include these faster-growing stocks, just in time for the tech bubble to burst. Over the past 12 months, the fund has lost nearly half its value and trails 80% of its competitors, according to Morningstar.
Another issue to consider is management changes, since funds often drift a bit when a manager is stepping down. That might be the case with the broker-sold, $6.5 billion
Alliance Growth fund. Long-time manager Tyler Smith handed the reins to new managers Jane Mack Gould and Alan Levi at the end of last year. Despite its recent stumble, the fund's 10-year annualized return still beats its peers and just about matches the S&P 500.
Indeed, a point to keep in mind is that all of these funds aren't necessarily must-misses because of their recent losing streak. The broker-sold
Putnam Investors fund, for instance, is probably a decent choice for a conservative investor working with a broker. The $11.3 billion fund's management team blends quantitative screening with qualitative research to focus on stocks of companies with reliable earnings growth and a reasonable valuation.
Before 1999, the fund had a four-year streak during which it beat its peers. But in 1999 its conservative strategy lead to a 30% return that, while obviously respectable, trailed that of peers by just over 10 percentage points. Then last year, some of its long-time holdings like
fell just as hard as many highflying tech stocks, keeping it in the back of the pack again. But the fund does still beat its peers over the past 10 years and its measured approach does have merit for many investors.
After looking at these funds, you're probably curious to know what big-cap growth funds managed to beat their peers in 1999, 2000 and so far this year. Well, that's the Big Screen for next Saturday, but I'll give you a sneak preview. Funds like the no-load
Janus Growth & Income fund and the broker-sold
Growth Fund of America, which both showed up among
my favorite growth funds, are probably going to turn up.