Where to Find Good Growth at Vanguard

11/08/2007 12:00 am EST

Focus: FUNDS

Daniel Wiener

Editor, The Independent Adviser for Vanguard Investors

Dan Wiener, editor of The Independent Adviser for Vanguard Investors, sifts through Vanguard's offerings to find funds that will profit from growth's revival.

Normally, a search for large-cap growth at Vanguard would lead to Growth Equity (VGEQX), the high-turnover, technology-heavy growth fund run by Turner Investments. Growth Equity has at least two strikes against it. First, as mentioned, the fund is uber-heavy in technology stocks: 32% of the fund's holdings were in the "technology" sec­tor. And past performance has borne this out.

During the 2000 to 2002 bear mar­ket, Growth Equity lost 68.7% of its investors' money from its peak in the summer of 2000. It isn't even close to having recovered that money yet. At September's end the fund still needed a 52.4% gain just to square things up for long-suffering shareholders.

Given the fact that Growth Equity has had a stellar year-up 25.9% through October's end-isn't it time to give the managers their due? Not really. Again, as I've said many times before, Growth Equity and the NASDAQ Composite have moved almost in tandem over the years. Growth Equity is doing nothing that you can't do cheaper, possibly the PowerShares QQQ Trust (NASDAQ: QQQQ).

For my money the best growth managers at Vanguard, bar none, are the team at PRIMECAPManagement who run Capital Opportunity (mid/large-cap), PRIMECAP (large-cap) and PRIMECAP Core (large-cap). Not only does their growth-at-a-reason­able-price, or GARP, methodology take a somewhat jaundiced view toward companies experiencing super-nova earnings growth (something that drives Turner Investment's strategy at Growth Equity), but their low-turn­over style along with a penchant for holding cash in reserve has stood the test of time.

Since the bear market's bottom in 2002, PRIMECAP's performance has put other growth funds and the unman­aged Russell 1000 Growth Index to shame. PRIMECAPCore, which only got its start in late 2004, is also show­ing signs of outperformance. While Morgan Growth has had a nice rebound during this bull market, I don't consider it a large-cap growth fund so much as an "all-cap" growth fund. With smaller stocks having led the way for most of the bull market to date, it's a good bet that at least some of the fund's outperformance has been style-driven.

With the changes that were recently announced at Vanguard, Flagship cli­ents (those with household Vanguard assets of $1 million or more) can take advantage of the new "open door policy" for wealthy investors and put some money into PRIMECAP (VPMCX). Other investors of all stripes can invest in PRIMECAPCore (VPCCX), which remains open with a $10,000 minimum.

But I would still argue that the best way to access the PRIMECAP Management team's talents is through their PRIMECAP Odyssey fund family (independent funds available through brokers and fund networks-Editor). Expenses are coming down on the funds, and mini­mums remain [low]. Plus, these funds, by virtue of their much smaller size, represent the best and most flexible formats for tak­ing advantage of PRIMECAP's formi­dable talents. Your best bet for large-cap growth: PRIMECAP Odyssey Growth (POGRX).

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