There are thousands of mutual funds out there, but who wants to troll through them all for one that suits you? That's why I presented last week's time-saving checklist for investors who would rather spend their time funding -- not finding -- the right mutual fund.

This week, I've put this screening process to the test and unearthed some picks of the litter. As you remember, the five keys are:

  • Strong performance: beating the appropriate benchmark;
  • reasonable expenses: less than 1% for large-cap funds, and less than 1.5% for small-cap or mid-cap funds;
  • minimal turnover: 35% or less, unless the fund is in a tax-deferred account;
  • low risk: beta less than 1;
  • experienced management: fund manager at the helm for five or more years.

Keep in mind that this initial examination alone won't flag funds. This checklist can help you to winnow the selections down to a few you can further research yourself. Don't forget to read funds' prospectuses and analyze research reports from Morningstar or Lipper.

Large-Cap Funds

The cornerstone of an individual's asset allocation is traditionally a large-cap stock fund. Depending on your personal investing preferences, you can opt for a large-cap value fund, a growth fund or a combination of the two.

On the value side, the ( VWNFX) Vanguard Windsor II passed through our screens with flying colors. With a three-year return of 8.19% vs. minus 6.65% for the iShares S&P 500/Barra Value Index ETF ( IVE), the Vanguard fund handily outperformed its benchmark. And with a beta of 0.93 and an expense ratio of 0.36%, portfolio manager James Barrow is not taking too much risk or overcharging shareholders. Turnover at the fund is a low 22%, giving it a top ranking by Lipper when it comes to tax efficiency. There has also not been too much turnover when it comes to managing the fund, with Barrow at the helm for close to 20 years.

The ( PRGFX) T. Rowe Price Growth Stock fund has scored impressive three-year returns for a large-cap growth fund, especially considering that the bear market devoured returns in the first two of those years. The fund's three-year return was 5.75% vs. 3.5% for the iShares S&P 500/Barra Growth Index ETF ( IVW). The fund also fared well against its Lipper peer group in terms of fees and tax efficiency, with an expense ratio of 0.74% and a 31% turnover. Morningstar says veteran portfolio manager Robert Smith's ability to "stay a step ahead of the competition is what gives this fund its edge."

Other large-cap funds that stood out were ( CFIMX) Clipper and ( JENSX) Jensen.

Mid-Cap Funds

Janus took its share of knocks due to its role in the market-timing scandal, but even during its darkest days the Denver-based asset manager still boasted a number of funds too valuable to unload. The ( JMCVX) Janus Mid-Cap Value Investor fund, for instance, has a three-year return of 11.62% compared with 10.83% for the iShares S&P MidCap 400/Barra Value Index ETF ( IJJ). Its expense ratio is only 0.94%, which is relatively cheap for a mid-cap fund. The fund tends to turn over its shares close to 91% over the course of a year, so it would do best in a tax-deferred account. Portfolio managers Robert and Thomas Perkins have run the fund since the summer of 1998 with an eye toward risk, as evidenced by the below-market beta of 0.95.

Other mid-cap funds that passed the screen were ( HDPMX) Hodges and ( RSMOX) RS Mid-Cap Opportunities.

Small-Cap Funds

The ( PRCGX) Perritt Micro Cap Opportunities fund is a small-cap blend offering a tremendous track record. The fund's three-year return is 17.24% vs. 10.26% for the iShares S&P Small-Cap 600 Index ETF ( IJR). Amazingly, turnover (30%), expenses (1.25%) and beta (0.91) are all comparatively low for a fund with such terrific returns. Morningstar praises Perritt fund manager Michael Corbett's experience, but suggests investors limit themselves "to a small allocation in a well-diversified portfolio" due to the size and illiquidity of the stocks it holds.

Other small-cap funds that stood out in the screen were ( VEXPX) Vanguard Explorer and the ( TASCX) Third Avenue Small-Cap Value.

International Funds

Picking foreign stocks is hard for retail investors because it is not always easy to research the companies you are buying. That's why international mutual funds are a great investing tool in an increasingly global economy. One fund that Morningstar says "outshines the pack" is the American Funds ( AEGFX) EuroPacific Growth. The fund's three-year return is 10.04% vs. 9.82% for the iShares MSCI EAFE (Europe, Australasia, and the Far East) Index ETF ( EFA). The fund is also a Lipper leader in terms of cost, with a low expense ratio of 0.92%. Stephen Bepler, who has managed the fund for 20 years, has a knack for low turnover, 25%, and reduced risk, 0.92 beta.

Other international funds to consider: ( DODFX) Dodge & Cox International Stock and ( BJBIX) Julius Baer International Equity.

Specialty Funds

Large-cap, mid-cap, small-cap and international funds all take core places in an asset allocation. Specialty funds, like real estate and energy funds, can add a lot to a portfolio in terms of performance and risk reduction, but should be used only to complement an otherwise complete portfolio.

It has been tough to beat real estate funds over the past five years, so if you are considering joining one, you might try the ( SUSIX) J.P. Morgan U.S. Real Estate fund. The fund's three-year return is 20.31% vs. 18.58% for the iShares Dow Jones U.S. Real Estate Sector ETF ( IYR). The fund is a bargain in terms of expenses at 1.31%, considering the outsize returns, and its beta is a very low 0.4. Says Morningstar about the fund's managers, "This experienced group has shown that it can deliver for investors." And Lipper says it will be tough to lose money in the fund, which it ranks as a Lipper Leader when it comes to asset preservation.

Another real estate fund worth considering is ( TAREX) Third Avenue Real Estate.

Energy funds have also had a strong run over the past few years as commodity prices spiraled. Unfortunately, the rally has lead to a rash of energy fund closings. Luckily, the superb ( VGENX) Vanguard Energy has recently reopened to new investors. The fund's three-year return is 22.83%, which far outpaces the 16.24% of the iShares Dow Jones U.S. Energy Sector ETF ( IYE). Like nearly all Vanguard funds, the expense ratio is close to rock bottom at 0.31%. Turnover and risk are also kept to a minimum at 1% and 0.64, respectively, giving the fund an impressive sweep of the five Lipper ranking categories: three-year total return, consistent return, expense, tax efficiency and asset preservation.

Another potential option for those intent on getting energy exposure as soon as possible is the still-open ( PCRAX) Pimco CommodityRealReturn Strategy fund. This fund tracks the price of commodities through futures and fixed-income investments as opposed to buying the stocks of companies that produce them.

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