Funds That Have Survived a Depression

If the economy falls into a depression -- as a growing chorus of pessimists have been predicting -- only nine open-end mutual funds and six closed-end funds can claim experience in surviving such a catastrophe.

TheStreet.com last February identified some funds that had checked into the world in the 1920s just in time to live through the economic misery of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Fund names, management companies and investment philosophies have changed for most of the funds summarized in the adjoining table, but they can all claim birth in the 1920s.

The depression-surviving funds are still chugging along. Their major investments don't seem indicative of investment organizations that have been scared by doomsayers into storing cash and valuables in subterranean vaults.

Six of the eight open-end stock and balanced funds ( DWS Core Plus Income ( SCSBX) is classified as an investment-grade general bond fund) in the table outperformed the S&P 500 total return index last year.

The Philadelphia Fund ( PHILX), which celebrated its 85th birthday a few weeks ago, doesn't seem to have been driven to the mattresses by the depression talk. Its top holdings tend to be solid firms, many of which dominate their markets. They include Procter & Gamble ( PG), Coca-Cola ( KO), Wal-Mart ( WMT) and Kellogg ( K).

Similarly, the soon-to-be-octogenarian Vanguard Wellington ( VWELX) has cast its lot with blue chips such as AT&T ( T), Chevron ( CVX), General Electric ( GE) and International Business Machines ( IBM). VWELX, born July 1, 1929, leads the open-end funds in the table with an annualized total return of 4.49% over the past 10 years. Although the fund surrendered 22.30% in 2008, it led the group for the year and beat the S&P, which tumbled 37% during the year.

The CGM Mutual Fund ( LOMMX), now managed by the famous Ken Heebner, is the only fund in the table to debut after the market crash of October 1929. It is also the only one in the table that was able to keep its head above water for the past three calendar years. In addition, it leads all the funds on the list for the past five years.

LOMMX's largest holdings include Ford ( F), Schlumberger ( SLB), Halliburton ( HAL) and Apple ( AAPL).

As for the six closed-end funds with origins in the 1920s, only Central Securities ( CET) managed to beat the S&P in 2008. But longer term, all but Tri-Continental ( TY) have bettered the market gauge over the past 10 years.

The champion performer among the closed-end funds in the table for the past three, five and 10 years is Petroleum and Resources ( PEO). Its major positions, ExxonMobil ( XOM), Chevron, Schlumberger and Transocean ( RIG), didn't hold up when the energy sector retreated in late 2008.

THE TOUGHEST FUNDS OUT THERE
NAME, TICKER & TheStreet.com RATINGS GRADE
INITIAL PUBLIC
OFFERING DATE
1-YR. TOTAL RET'N (%)
3-YR. ANN'L RET'N (%)
5-YR. ANN'L RET'N (%)
10-YR. ANN'L RET'N (%)
OPEN-END MUTUAL FUNDS
Philadelphia Fund (PHILX) B+
12/31/1923
-23.81
-2.90
3.57
2.47
MFS Mass Investors Trust A (MITTX) B (1)
7/15/1924
-32.81
-5.60
0.13
-1.54
Putnam Investors Fund A (PINVX) D+ (1)
12/1/1925
-40.29
-13.57
-4.56
-4.76
Pioneer Fund A (PIODX) C+ (1)
2/13/1928
-34.38
-7.18
-1.03
-0.31
Century Shares Trust Fd (CENSX) C (2)
3/15/1928
-36.25
-9.22
-2.19
1.40
DWS Core Plus Income S (SCSBX) D (3)
4/24/1928
-17.48
-3.48
-0.61
2.30
DWS Growth & Income S (SCDGX) C-
5/31/1929
-38.48
-11.05
-3.91
-3.18
Vanguard Wellington Inv (VWELX) A
7/1/1929
-22.30
-1.08
2.82
4.49
CGM Mutual Fund (LOMMX) B+
11/5/1929
-28.21
1.60
5.92
3.84
CLOSED-END FUNDS
General American Investors (GAM) C-
1/30/1927
-48.21
-12.93
-3.40
3.01
Third Canadian General Invst Tr (T.THD) D+
2/3/1928
-57.84
-17.98
2.39
4.70
Tri-Continental Corporation (TY) C
1/12/1929
-45.72
-11.75
-4.37
-3.78
Petroleum and Resources Corp. (PEO) C
1/30/1929
-42.46
-5.18
5.24
7.45
Adams Express Company (ADX) C+
10/1/1929
-38.65
-7.51
-1.81
-0.56
Central Securities (CET) C+
10/1/1929
-36.93
-5.58
1.93
4.00
S&P 500 Composite Total Return
-
-37.00
-8.36
-2.19
-1.38
Barclays Capital Aggregate Bond Index
-
5.24
5.51
4.65
5.63
(1) Front-end sales charge may apply.
(2) Institutional fund with minimum initial investment of $250,000.
(3) Closed to new investors.
Source: TheStreet.com Ratings (Data as of 12/31/2008)
For an explanation of our ratings, click here.

Richard Widows is a senior financial analyst for TheStreet.com Ratings. Prior to joining TheStreet.com, Widows was senior product manager for quantitative analytics at Thomson Financial. After receiving an M.B.A. from Santa Clara University in California, his career included development of investment information systems at data firms, including the Lipper division of Reuters. His international experience includes assignments in the U.K. and East Asia.

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