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Big-cap growth funds are core holdings in most portfolios, but many have been stricken with the tech flu during the past year or so. Let's check out some that have skirted most of the damage and might make sense for your portfolio.
In 1998 and 1999 most big-cap growth fund managers jumped on the tech gravy train with both feet, riding the sizzling sector to gains of 33.2% and 40.5%, respectively, according to
. Unfortunately, a slowing economy has weighed on tech companies' earnings, dragging down many of the sector's "must own" stocks. Consequently, the average fund in this category, which had more than 40% of its money in tech stocks at one point last year, has lost nearly a quarter of its value during the past 12 months.
Not Exactly Growth, Per Se
Despite their troubles, it's not easy to ignore this former top-selling fund flavor because a diversified portfolio has about 35% of its money in big-cap growth funds, using the
as a yardstick. So today the
is hunting for funds in this pack that posted solid returns during the past five years without falling through the floor over the past year.
We sifted for big-cap growth funds that beat their peers over the past one-, three- and five-year periods with below-average expenses, a minimum investment south of $10,000 and a manager who'd held the reins for at least five years, according to Morningstar. How tough have things been? Well, out of 411 funds in this category, just 14 made the cut. Here they are, ranked by their annualized returns over the past five years.
If there's a theme running through this list, it's a price-conscious approach and a somewhat moderate appetite in the tech sector. If we mush all these 14 portfolios together, we find a cumulative 21.7% tech weighting. That's higher than the
S&P 500's 19% tech stake, but well below these funds' peers who have a third of their dough in the mercurial sector, according to Morningstar.
That measured approach placed several of these funds among
my favorite growth funds, like the
Smith Barney Aggressive Growth fund, the
Growth Fund of America and the
Merrill Lynch Fundamental Growth fund, all of which are typically sold through brokers and other financial advisers.
Ritchie Freeman has run the Smith Barney fund since 1983, fishing for stocks in the small- and mid-cap pools that are posting earnings growth at a 20% clip. (The fund is mostly made up of large-cap stocks, but it has about 33% of its assets in mid-caps.) He's had an uncanny knack for picking stocks that would graduate into large-caps. The fund, which had 17% of its money in tech at the end of last year, has beaten the S&P 500 and a stunning 99% of its peers over the past one-, three-, five- and 10-year periods, according to Morningstar.
Another fund with an enviable record despite the past year's turmoil is the Growth Fund of America, run by a team of six managers at quiet giant
. The managers each take part of the fund and focus on companies with solid earnings growth, but modest valuations relative to their peers or the overall market. The fund's approach should shine in times like this when the priciest stocks fall hardest, and that's exactly what it's doing. It beats at least 90% of its peers and the S&P 500 over the past one-, three-, five- and 10-year periods, according to Morningstar.
Larry Fuller, manager of the Merrill Lynch Fundamental Growth fund since its 1994 launch, has a bit racier approach than these other funds, but his reluctance to hold on to sagging tech positions helped him avoid some big losses during the past year. As he noted in a recent
10 Questions interview, he said he had cut his fund's tech stake from 40% last year to just 2.7% at the end of February.
Fuller isn't afraid to make drastic moves, but he's beaten his average peer in each of the past seven calendar years. The fund's 17.6% five-year annualized return beats 88% of its peers and tops the S&P 500 by more than two percentage points.
Northern Select Equity fund, where Robert Streed has called the shots since the fund's 1994 launch, also has a somewhat aggressive approach. Streed looks for companies poised for earnings growth that he thinks isn't reflected in their stock price. At the end of the year, he had a sizable 34% tech stake, equal to many peers but an overweighting relative to the market. Despite that racy style, Streed has topped his average peer in each of the past five calendar years, and the fund's 18.6% five-year annualized gain beats nine out of 10 competitors, according to Morningstar.
Another no-load fund on our list that might be worth a look is the
Fidelity Blue Chip Growth fund. John McDowell has run the fund since 1996, usually holding a tech-light portfolio focusing on stocks of companies with reliable, if less spectacular earnings growth, over the near and long term. That's typically kept his fund right around the category average, but its 37.8% tech weighting earlier this year shows that he's broadened his menu and also his fund's risk.
In looking over this list, keep in mind that some funds made the cut by doing some pretty odd things. The broker-sold
Franklin DynaTech fund, for instance, typically splits its assets evenly between tech and cash, making it a lousy fit for the big-cap growth category and most investors' portfolios.
A trio of no-load funds that just missed our cut might also be of interest:
Janus Growth & Income fund,
Harbor Capital Appreciation fund and the
Vanguard Growth Index fund.
David Corkins took the reins of the Janus Growth & Income fund when Tom Marsico left the firm in 1997 -- the fund wasn't on our list because Corkins hasn't been its manager for five years yet. Like his colleagues at this Denver growth shop, Corkins has a taste for tech, but unlike them, he's less likely to pay up for highfliers. That attention to valuations and a 5% to 10% bond stake to crank out income makes this fund a solid choice for less aggressive investors who want exposure to tech.
Sig Segalas takes a more aggressive tack with the Harbor Capital Appreciation fund, which he has run since 1987. He focuses strictly on companies that are growing their revenues at least twice as fast as the S&P 500's average, and that often leads to expensive and volatile stocks. Segalas had more than 40% of the fund's money in the tech and telecom sectors at the end of last year.
The fund isn't on our list because its 26.8% loss over the past year lags its average peer, but it beats the pack over the longer term. Over the past ten years, Segalas' fund boasts a 17% annualized return that beats the S&P 500 and 96% of its peers, according to Morningstar.
And die-hard index-fund investors might look at the Vanguard Growth Index fund, which has rock-bottom costs but mediocre returns. The fund essentially holds the 100 to 150 biggest growth stocks in the S&P 500. That's led to a 14.9% five-year annualized return that beats its peers, but weaker gains over the near term, despite a 0.22% annual expense ratio, compared with 1.47% for its average peer.
Well, there you have it, a relatively short menu of funds that weathered the markets' ups and downs over the past five years. The list proves that there are good funds out there, and also -- given how many funds didn't make the cut -- a lot of lousy ones, too.
Fund Junkie runs every Monday and Wednesday, 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
email@example.com, but he cannot give specific financial advice.