Following stellar returns in 2019, stock funds could deliver less ­impressive gains in 2020, says top fund picker Janet M. Brown. To achieve even those gains, fund ­managers will have to maneuver through a weak global economy…a torrid election year…and the challenges of further extending an already record-long 10-year bull market. That could translate to a very volatile year, so investors should decide how much risk they are willing to take and have a plan for managing it, Brown told Bottom Line Personal. 

Following are her picks for the 10 most attractive no-load (no commission) stock mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) for 2020…

Aggressive Funds

If you can tolerate sharp ups and downs, the following types of stock funds offer great opportunities to outperform the broad market. Consider investing up to 5% of your portfolio in one or more of the sector-­specific funds that focus on these stocks, ­depending on your investment goals and risk tolerance…

Global technology stocks. The tech sector of the S&P 500 gained 41% in 2019 through November 25. Although some US tech-stock prices have risen to perilously high levels, many foreign technology companies remain undervalued. An attractive global technology fund now… 

Janus Henderson Global ­Technology (JAGTX) invests in about 70 innovative companies, mixing US giants with smaller foreign firms. It keeps 20% to 40% of its portfolio in foreign stocks. Examples: MercadoLibre, known as the eBay of Latin America, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Performance: 19.1% (five-year) and 17.7% (10-year).* JanusHenderson.com

Real estate investment trusts. REITS, which own income-producing commercial properties, offer very steady dividends that should appeal to investors in the low interest rate environment that I expect to persist in 2020. An attractive real estate fund now…

Fidelity Real Estate Investment Portfolio (FRESX) owns about 50 REITs. Manager Steve Buller avoids troubled areas of real estate such as shopping malls while investing in attractive niches such as warehouses that handle digital data storage…and distribution centers for online retailers. Recent yield: 2.5%. Performance: 7.9% (five-year) and 12.9% (10-year). Fidelity.com

Fast-growing midsize and small companies. Despite a likely slowdown in US economic growth, there are many market niches dominated by midsize and small companies that could continue to see rapid expansion. These niches range from payment-processing services for companies to medical devices for aging populations. An attractive fund that now focuses on midsize and small companies… 

Nicholas II (NNTWX) hunts for undervalued small and midsize companies that have healthy profits and strong brands. The portfolio of about 80 stocks is concentrated in health-care and business services. Examples: Fleetcor Technologies, which manages loyalty-card programs for companies…and ResMed, which makes products to treat sleep apnea. Performance: 10.3% (five-year) and 13.1% (10-year). NicholasFunds.com

Moderately Aggressive Funds

The following funds invest in large companies with solid balance sheets whose stocks could hold up well if the market pulls back. Many investors could reasonably place the bulk of their stock allocations in these core funds.

Three of the funds focus on ­companies that have steady earnings and pay substantial and/or growing ­dividends… 

Lazard Global Listed Infrastructure Open (GLFOX) invests in about 30 large companies that own and operate transportation and communication facilities and sewage and electricity systems. These range from US and ­Canadian railroads to Spanish toll-road operators and Italian natural-gas producers. The companies have strong profits and consistent cash flow that support generous dividends. Spending on global infrastructure is expected to grow by 6.5% a year and hit $9 trillion annually by 2025. Recent yield: 6.5%. Performance: 10.6% (five-year) and 11.6% (since December 2009 inception). LazardAssetManagement.com

VanEck Vectors Morningstar Wide Moat ETF (MOAT), launched in 2012, picks attractively priced investments from an index of 51 stocks that have what research firm Morningstar Inc. considers to be wide “moats,” meaning big competitive ­advantages. These moats may include patents or regulatory licenses that can limit competition or allow a company to charge a premium price for its products. The ETF has about 23% of its portfolio in health-care companies and 17% in tech companies. Recent yield: 1.4%. Performance: 12.4% (five-year). VanEck.com

Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF (VIG) tracks the Nasdaq US ­Dividend Achievers Select Index, which includes nearly 200 reasonably priced, cash-rich companies—such as Procter & Gamble and Microsoft—that have been able to increase their dividends every year for the past decade. Studies show that a growing dividend tends to be a reliable sign that a company will have rising revenues and profits. Recent yield: 1.8%. Performance: 10.6% (five-year) and 12.4% (10-year). Vanguard.com

Two of the attractive moderately ­aggressive funds don’t emphasize dividends but seek to control volatility in other ways…

Invesco S&P 500 Low Volatility ETF (SPLV), launched in 2011, invests in 100 stocks in the S&P 500 index with the lowest volatility over the past year and reconfigures its portfolio each quarter. It recently had a heavy concentration in utilities and financial services. Performance: 11.3% (five-year). Invesco.com

Akre Focus (AKREX). Manager Charles Akre invests in companies that he calls “compounding machines” because they are highly profitable…generate enormous cash flow…and dominate their industries. Although the fund is concentrated in just 20 to 30 names, such as Mastercard and CarMax, it has been less volatile than the S&P 500 over the past decade. Akre holds big cash stakes if he can’t find attractively priced investments. Performance: 15.3% (five-year) and 17% (10-year). AkreFund.com

Conservative Funds

If you have low tolerance for stock market volatility, consider funds that don’t invest entirely in stocks, such as balanced funds that also invest in bonds…or alternative funds that may not be closely correlated to stocks or bonds…

Mairs & Power Balanced ­(MAPOX). Since 1961, the fund has used the same classic strategy, keeping about 60% of its portfolio in stocks and about 40% in bonds, with the leeway to adjust allocations depending on market conditions. Shrewd stock-picking sets the fund apart. Recent holdings include US Bancorp and medical-technology firm Medtronic PLC. Recent yield: 2.2%. Performance: 6.8% (five-year) and 9.6% (10-year). MairsAndPower.com

Invesco Preferred ETF (PGX) invests in about 280 “preferred” stocks, which pay a fixed dividend and have some of the appreciation potential of equities. Preferred stocks typically provide steadier income, superior yields and less volatility than dividend-paying common shares of stock issued by the same companies. If a company runs short on cash, preferred-stock holders are paid their dividends before common-stock holders. Preferred dividends also are more predictable because they don’t rise and fall with a company’s earnings. Recent yield: 5.2%. Performance: 6.1% (five-year) and 7.6% (10-year). Invesco.com 

*All annualized returns are from Morningstar Inc. and are through November 24, 2019.