Mutual Funds That Protect Against Erratic Markets

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- To reach skittish investors, Wall Street has introduced a wave of alternative investments, including mutual funds that focus on commodities, currencies, and short selling.

These mutual funds aim to provide diversification, sometimes rising when stocks or bonds are tanking.

The strategies gained attention during the financial crisis when some alternative investments managed to avoid big losses.

Investors have embraced the new offerings, pouring $18 billion into alternative and commodities funds in the past year, according to Morningstar.

For protection in downturns, some financial advisers recommend holding a basket of several funds.

But shopping for the right choices can be difficult. To simplify the process, companies have introduced one-stop shopping with multialternative funds.

Some of the funds hold positions in eight or more strategies. The idea is to provide a diversified collection that can cushion portfolios in hard times.

So far, most of the new funds have produced uninspiring results. But a few top performers have achieved their goals, delivering decent returns while excelling in downturns and helping to diversify portfolios.

Solid performers include Dreyfus Global Absolute Return ( DGPAX)), John Hancock Alternative Asset Allocation ( JAAAX) and Virtus Alternatives Diversifier ( PDPAX).

Among the most diversified choices is John Hancock Alternative Asset Allocation, which has returned 11.8% annually during the past three years, outdoing 99% of its competitors.

The fund compares itself to a benchmark that has 55% of assets in stocks and 45% in investment-grade bonds.

Its goal is to produce competitive returns while recording less volatility than the benchmark. During the past year, the fund has hit its target.

The John Hancock fund invests in a dozen mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, including Turner Spectrum ( TSPEX), a long-short fund, John Hancock2 Currency Strategies ( JCUNX) and PowerShares DB Gold ( DGL).

"The idea of the fund is to provide a complement to a traditional balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds," says portfolio manager Robert Boyda.

John Hancock varies the allocation of the individual holdings in the portfolio.

In recent months the portfolio managers have been increasing their stake in John Hancock Global Absolute Return Strategies ( JHAAX), which takes many small long and short positions in stocks and currencies.

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