Favorite Funds

11/26/2004 12:00 am EST

Focus:

Here, we turn to an all-star list of of leading advisors for their top mutual fund recommendations. Dan Wiener, Mark Skousen, Walter Frank, Dan Ascani, and Sheldon Jacobs, each highlight some of today's the best opportunities for mutual fund investors.

(For more on the advisors cited below, please click on their photos..)

Wiener, DanielA reader recently asked Dan Wiener, editor of The Independent Adviser for Vanguard Investors, "If you had to pick one or two funds to hold over a period of 20 to 30 years in a small IRA for a child, and which wouldn't be augmented in the future, what would those funds be?" Here's his answer, "Ah, the proverbial 'one fund' question. Of course, not knowing how much money you have to make your initial, and presumably only investment, I'll have to hedge. For those with enough money to buy a high minimum fund, I'd note that I've held Vanguard Health Care (VHCIX) for my own children for more than a decade. For a lower minimum, my top pick is Vanguard Strategic Equity (VSEQX). I would use this fund as a core holding given that you have a long time horizon and your children will be able to withstand the higher volatility that normally accompanies an investment in mid-cap and small-cap stocks. I would supplement this with a large-cap fund like Vanguard Growth & Income (VGIAX), which is 500 Index-like, but performs better. Both are low-minimum funds. Alternatively, skip Growth & Income and buy Vanguard STAR (VGSTX) as your Strategic Equity diversifier, where you'll get large caps in large doses, a smattering of bonds, and some exposure to foreign markets."

Skousen, Mark"Junk bonds and emerging market debt have made a remarkable recovery, and our favorite play is Debt Strategies Fund (DSU NYSE)," notes Mark Skousen, editor of Forecasts & Strategies . "The fund pays a 10.18% yield. It is run by Joe Matteo at Merrill Lynch and has an excellent track record with a 16% return over the past three years, compared to a 1% annual return by the S&P 500 during the same period. The fund may not be hurt badly by rising interest rates because its net asset value is more a function of economic performance than of rates. Lower-grade corporate bonds are more sensitive to credit-worthiness than the Fed's tightening. By purchasing DSU you spread your risk, as it has not more than a 2% position in any one corporate bond. We suggest only buying on dips below its net asset value, currently at $6.80 per share."

Frank, Walter"Back in 2000, not many fund groups were introducing new emerging markets funds for areas such as the former Soviet Union, Egypt, Israel, Jordon, Lebanon, and Turkey," notes Walter Frank in MONEYLETTER. "But T. Rowe Price saw an opportunity and launched the Emerging Europe and Mediterranean Fund (TREMX ). Fund manager, Christopher Alderson, felt that the breadth and liquidity of these markets have improved markedly. He also believed that the Middle East in particular has gotten a bum rap from investors. He saw very well run and profitable firms there that were selling at large discounts, only because of where they were located. Israel has the largest country allocation in the portfolio. In addition, the fund's allocation to Egypt has jumped to 18%. The fund's top holding, Luukoil (at 10.1% of assets), dominates the Russian energy sector. Israel-based Teva Pharmaceuticals is the number-two holding. Alderson sees good opportunities in banking, especially in home mortgages, as people increasingly buy homes in emerging markets. He also favors wireless communications. The fund has been on a tear since inception. Its 20.4% year-to-date total return puts it ahead of 94% of its competitiors. Moreover, a better than 32% annualized total return for the trailing three years ranks it in the top 3% of its peers."

Ascani, Dan"I want you to buy the iShares S&P SmallCap 600/Barra Growth Index Fund (IJT ASE)," says Dan Ascani in the The Skeptical Investor . "This high-powered ETF tracks the performance of some of the fastest-growing stocks in the S&P SmallCap 600 Index. Virtually the entire small-cap growth sector is booming. Firms in the small-cap index are expected to post year-over-year profit growth of nearly 40% in this quarter, head-and-shoulders above the 15.7% earnings growth forecast for the blue chip S&P 500. You would think that with this kind of red-hot earnings growth, the small-cap sector would be overvalued relative to the broad stock market. But nothing could be further from the truth. Collectively, the stocks in this small-cap ETF recently changed hands at just 17 times earnings. That's quite a bit cheaper than the S&P 500, which trades at more than 23 times earnings. This means we are zeroing in on some fast-growing stocks--that are still bargain priced--in one of the hottest sectors of the stock market."

Jacobs, Sheldon"Enhanced index funds attempt to provide higher returns than a specific stock index," notes Sheldon Jacobs in The No Load Fund Investor. "The most promising of these funds hew closely to the industry exposures and market caps of their respective banchmark index while attempting to gain an advantage through superior stock picking. We have found four that are more value oriented than their respective indexes and are definitely worth considering. Vanguard Strategic Equity (VSEQX ) picks stocks with a computer model attempting to outperform a Morgan Stanley index of small- and mid-size companies. Vanguard Growth & Income (VGIAX) attempts to beat the S&P 500 and has accomplished this goal in each of the past five years. American Century Income & Growth (AICRX ) attempts to beat the S&P 5090 index. However, it favors companies with higher-than-average dividends. As a result, its yield is relatively high for a growth and income fund. American Century Equity Growth (AEYCX) is a lower-yielding version of Income & Growth. Also, its roster of holding has slightly higher valuations and faster earnings growth than its sibling. It has beaten the S&P 500 every year since 2001."

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