BOSTON (TheStreet) -- This year is the moment of truth for mutual fund managers. As the economy slows and stocks fall, managers' strategies are laid bare, and those who can't make money for investors face the firing squad.
Legg Mason Value Trust
, which beat the S&P 500 Index for a record 15 years under Bill Miller, has slumped 10% this year. Ken Heebner's
CGM Focus Fund
, which used to gain more in one quarter than most funds did in a year, has dropped twice as much as the Value Trust. Even Fidelity's
has declined 1.9%. The Boston mutual fund firm's Harry Lange, manager of the Magellan Fund, was replaced this week because of poor performance.
Brian Lazorishak of the
Chase Mid-Cap Growth Fund
is earning his keep. The mutual fund is in the top 2% of its category in terms of performance this year with a return of 6% and the top 1% over the past 12 months with a 27% gain, as tracked by Morningstar. The
S&P 500 Index
is down 4% this year and up 8% over the past 12 months.
Lazorishak, the lead manager of the fund since 2002, said in an interview that although his best successes have been in consumer companies, Chase Mid-Cap Growth's management doesn't use a sector-focused approach in selecting stocks. Rather, it performs a series of evaluation screens to trim the field down to 600 or so prospects and then applies another test based on fundamentals. Then it reviews each of the finalists for the winners.
"We look for positive earnings revisions and good trends for earnings and stock prices. We're not picking fallen angels here," Lazorishak told
. "The mid-cap space has top performers, but they're not household names. There are companies out there that are doing quite well."
The fund is an offering from Chase Investment Counsel of Charlottesville, Va.
Here is a synopsis of seven top-performing stocks from the fund's portfolio:
Beauty, or the pursuit thereof, never goes out of style, which may be why
Ulta Salon Cosmetics and Fragrance
is the fund's best performer, up 109% this year, to about $70.
The company is a beauty-care retailer that sells items ranging from mass-channel brands to high-end prestige labels and offers some salon services such as nails. It owns 400 stores in 40 states, Lazorishak said, and they tend to locate in strip malls, which helps differentiate its stores from competitors, such as a Macy's (M) beauty department.
The fund initiated a stake late last year. "It's not cheap but we looked at its valuation relative to its growth rate, and they're looking at growing earnings by 40% or so this year and 20% next year," Lazorishak said. "It just had a blowout quarter and its (stock is) hitting new highs."
Ulta has a market value of $4.3 billion. Its shares are up 170% over the past 12 months.
, a California-based company with a $2.2 billion market value, was recently trading near $72 close to its recent 52-week high of $73.19 and it's chart shows a relatively steady climb upward this year. Shares are up 85% this year and 150% over the past 12 months.
PriceSmart owns and manages international merchandising businesses that license and own warehouse-type retail membership stores that sell basic consumer goods, including perishable foods.
It operates more than 20 stores in Central America, the Caribbean, and Micronesia.
Lazorishak said "the company has very strong growth patterns, including same store sales up 20% in the past few months, and it remains reasonably valued."
The company has a $2 billion market valuation and recently was trading at $70 per share. Its shares are up 80% this year and 148% over the past 12 months.
is a play on the boom in oil-well hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, method of producing oil and natural gas. The Carbo product, called a proppant, which is injected into the wells under high pressure, helps increase production.
Lazorishak said the company is selling product "as fast as they can make it. They're capacity constrained right now."
He said the fund initiated a stake about a year ago. "It had a correction" coming off a high of $180 in early July, "but we think the long-term story is intact there."
Carbo's shares, recently trading at $153, have a market valuation of $3.5 billion. The shares are up 43% this year and 80% over the past 12 months.
is the world's fourth-largest generic pharmaceutical manufacturer. It also operates a branded pharmaceutical division.
The health-care sector has not done well due to concerns over proposed changes to Medicare, Lazorishak said, "but this a company saving people money and it is very attractively valued, from our perspective. We've held it for the past year."
He said that Watson is seen benefiting when
patent on the blockbuster drug Lipitor expires as it will produce a generic version of it. "It will give earnings a tremendous boost."
Watson's shares are up 28% this year and 56% over the past 12 months, giving it a market value of $9 billion.
provides solid-waste collection and recycling services. It has about 2 million customers in the western and southern U.S.
Lazorishak said the company is growing through acquisitions, has a strong balance sheet with steady cash flow, and debt levels that are lower than those of competitors. Its industry is also less cyclical than many others.
S&P has a $37 price target on it, a 9% premium to its current price and a "buy" rating.
Shares are up 25% this year and 31% over the past 12 months giving it a market valuation of $34 billion.
is the nation's largest store-brand, over-the-counter pharmaceutical and infant-formula maker.
It operates in four segments: consumer health care, nutrition, prescription pharmaceuticals, and active-pharmaceutical ingredients.
The big drug-store chains like offering store brands it makes because it is a higher margin product for them than the name brands, said Lazorishak. "And once people make the switch, and see it works just as well (as the name brand) and cost half as much, they don't go back."
Perrigo should also benefit from product recalls from some of the big drug firms, such as
Johnson & Johnson
, he said, which prompts consumers to move to store brands.
Its shares are up 47% this year and 50% over the past 12 months giving it a market valuation of $8.6 billion.
Dollar Tree Stores
is the largest single-price-point retailer in the U.S. with 4,000 stores. The company's stores offer a variety of consumable merchandise all for $1.
Lazorishak said it was an early June addition to the portfolio, although the fund has bought and sold it at opportune times over the past few years.
He said it's the best performer in the deep-discount retailing sector. Its target demographic group has higher household income than its competitors, with customer net incomes in the $40,000 to $50,000 range.
"These are people trading down from say
. They also benefit from convenience" as Dollar Tree stores are in strip malls and relatively easier to access than a
Supercenter. "We expect that even when the economy is better they may retain more of that business than people think.
And it is less likely to be impacted by continued declines in employment or consumer spending, give its $1 price point and consumers sensitivity to price.
The latest wrinkle is that some stores are adding refrigeration and freezer sections to accommodate food and beverages, which is a higher-margin business and so should further boost earnings, said Lazorishak.
Dollar Tree's shares are up 33% this year and 58% over the past 12 months, giving it a market value of $9 billion.
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