Let's take a moment to shine a light on

American Funds

, maybe the best fund shop you haven't heard much -- if anything -- about.

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You might be surprised to hear that the Los Angeles-based shop is the nation's third largest with more than $300 billion in its 26 stock and bond funds. When I worked as a fund marketer my colleagues and I routinely marveled at this quiet giant because its team-managed funds had the magic combination: consistent outperformance with minuscule annual expenses.

What made the situation particularly interesting was that it didn't really market itself. It doesn't carpet-bomb investment mags with ads or

boost broker's commissions to win their hearts -- and their clients' dollars. Most of its funds don't even have the label "American" at the start of their name, which makes them tough to find. And its money management arm has a name that's far from catchy:

Capital Research and Management


The firm's price-conscious investment style typically keeps its funds off top 10 scorecards (they don't usually turn up on bottom 10 lists, either). Let's face it, it's not a household name. But if you work with an adviser, it's hard to argue against owning one of the firm's stock funds as core holdings, where their consistency and reduced volatility make them shine.

Beyond the funds' solid records, now is also a good time to check them out because they're about to get broader distribution. Historically, American only sold its funds thorough traditional brokers working on commission. In March, however, the firm will launch new share classes that cater more to investors using fee-based planners.

First, let's check out the firm's solid performance.

On Monday,

Standard & Poor's

funds unit announced that American had nine funds that earned the firm's "Select" status -- more than any other fund company. Because S&P's criteria are both quantitative


qualitative, this might be headier praise than accolades that stick with the numbers, such as

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"We look for consistency and quality of management. American Funds has heaps of both," says Phil Edwards, S&P's head of global fund research. "They really have a strong focus on in-depth research and they also have a fairly unique set-up with the portfolio counselor system where each manager gets a piece of the fund and each runs their share, coordinating closely with one another. Their strong communication and experience work well together."

If you're wondering, of the firm's 25 stock and bond funds old enough to get a star rating, 19 earned four or five stars, according to Morningstar's Web site. American Funds has 11 retail U.S. stock funds with ten-year track records. Nine of those beat their average peer over the last 10 years, according to Morningstar. Eight of those funds also beat their average peer over the last three- and five-year time periods, too.

If I had to pick a list of my favorite actively managed, diversified, big-cap funds, some American funds would make the cut. Here are a handful of the firm's most consistent performers over the long term. Each of these five funds has kept pace with similar funds, while also holding up better than its peers in down months over the last three years, according to Morningstar.

It might seem odd to call a fund that charges a load or sales charge, cheap. But these funds might fit that mold.

The Class A shares of the funds in the chart above carry a maximum 5.75% up-front load, which drops for bigger investments. But their annual expense ratios on this share class are 0.70% or less. That's less than half the expenses of their average peers.

If loads are anathema, take heart.

Interest among investors, or more specifically brokers, in these steady funds has dipped a bit in recent years. Perhaps the firm's relations with younger brokers aren't as strong as they are with veteran advisers. Or maybe the value of consistent, price-conscious investing was muted over the past few years when more aggressive, focused styles ruled the day.

In response, last year the firm added Class B shares with no up-front sales charges. This share class carries higher annual fees for eight years and back-end loads, or sales charges, on shares sold within six years of purchase.

This March the firm will add more share classes, including Class F shares that charge higher 12b-1 or marketing fees, but they will be available through fee-based planners using online brokerages like

Charles Schwab



. These new share classes' annual expenses aren't as cheap, but there's still a strong case for the firm's funds.

Though these funds may have slipped off some advisers' radar screens, their risk-averse styles, consistent performance and broader distribution should put them on yours.

Fund Junkie runs every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, as well as occasional dispatches. Ian McDonald writes daily for TheStreet.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He invites you to send your feedback to

imcdonald@thestreet.com, but he cannot give specific financial advice. Editorial Assistant Dan Bernstein contributed to this article.