1. Ariel Appreciation Fund ( CAAPX)

Summary: Last year, the fund's total return was a loss of 7.4%, as compared to a loss of 2.8% for the S&P multi-cap core funds average. The fund's three-year performance, though, is an average annual return of 24.6% versus its peers' 16.4%.

Ariel has no sales load, and its net current expense ratio of 1.18% is below its peer group's 1.38%. It's off to a good start, gaining 7.5% this year, putting it in the top 9% of funds in its category. A few of the top-rated stocks in Ariel's top holdings follow:

Dell ( DELL)

Company profile: Dell is one of the world's largest manufacturers of PCs, server and storage products and it also provides IT services.

Analysts' take: The company has an efficient manufacturing/sales model that creates huge cash flow. That can be used to make acquisitions and enter new fields. S&P has a $19 price target on it, a 15% premium to its current price.

Zimmer Holdings ( ZMH)

Company profile: Zimmer is an innovative designer, manufacturer and marketer of orthopedic reconstructive implants, such as artificial knees and hips, dental implants, spinal implants and related surgical products.

Analysts' take: Baby boomers are its target market and that demographic is big and growing fast, so this is a long-term growth story. S&P, in a survey of analysts, found nine "buys" five "buy/holds," with 15 "holds," and one "sell." S&P has a $58 price target on it, a 3.2% premium to its current price.

Aflac ( AFL)

Company profile: Aflac is a seller of supplemental health and life insurance. About 80% of its earnings come from Japan and 20% from the U.S.

Analysts' take: The irritating Aflac duck is bigger in Japan than here now, as the market there is seeing steady growth due to its huge, older population. S&P found four "buy" ratings, eight "buy/holds," six "holds," and one "sell." S&P gives it a $48 price target, a mere 1.9% premium to its current price.

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