The party’s not over yet. But fears of a nasty hangover are growing among investors as they prepare to enter the seventh year of the bull market. In picking stock funds, that means a heavy dose of caution to go along with the enthusiasm.
We asked top fund picker Janet Brown what hurdles fund managers will have to overcome and which funds look most attractive for 2015. Her take…
The US stock market can continue to advance in 2015 because all of the factors that have been driving it higher are still in place. That includes slow, steady economic growth in the US, shrinking unemployment and ultra-low bond yields that are making stocks look more attractive than bonds.
But the challenges for mutual fund managers are mounting. The sharp market pullback in October came amid fears that the US economy could be hurt by an intensifying global economic slowdown, especially in Europe. Those fears have led investors to shy away from foreign stocks…embrace large, relatively stable US companies…and grow wary of the stocks of smaller companies following a huge run-up in recent years. These trends are likely to continue in 2015.
BEST LARGE-CAP FUNDS
These funds focus on big companies that generate solid cash flow and have sustainable competitive advantages and strong balance sheets. Their stocks offer greater stability than those of small companies. It is true that giant companies that export heavily could be hurt by the effects of the strong US dollar and weak foreign demand for goods and services. Despite that, there are plenty of stocks held by funds in this category that will shine.
Dodge & Cox Stock Fund (DODGX) has used the same disciplined approach to maneuver through both stable and volatile markets for the past half century. It invests in well-known companies that have temporarily fallen out of favor but can continue to increase annual earnings—an approach that failed to temper the fund’s losses in the 2008 market meltdown but that allowed it to recover strongly since then. Performance: 16.7%.* DodgeAndCox.com
Domini Social Equity Fund (DSEFX) offers not only strong performance and a focus on sectors that are likely to do well in 2015, but it also is one of the oldest funds practicing so-called socially responsible investing. It screens out companies dealing primarily with alcohol, tobacco, gambling, weapons and nuclear power. It is heavily invested in the technology and health-care sectors, both of which are likely to do well in 2015. Performance: 15.6%. Domini.com
Fidelity Magellan Fund (FMAGX). After swelling to more than $110 billion in assets at its peak in the year 2000 and then floundering for more than a decade, this fund has made an impressive comeback by returning to its roots, picking solid large-cap growth stocks. It has toned down volatility and improved performance by mixing well-known giants, such as The Home Depot and Kroger, with rapid growers, such as specialty pharmaceuticals firm Actavis. Jeffrey Feingold, the manager over the past three years, has done especially well with health-care and technology investments. Performance: 14.3%. Fidelity.com
Marsico Focus Fund (MFOCX), which invests in only about 30 stocks at any time, is for investors who want a more aggressive approach. It currently is favoring industries that can do particularly well in a slowly improving economy, such as consumer-discretionary products and health care. Performance: 16.4%. MarsicoFunds.com
BEST MULTICAP FUNDS
Funds that have the flexibility to invest in any size company are good alternatives now to small-cap stocks, which fell 4% this year through October 31 and could continue to struggle. Several multicap funds that are attractive now use contrarian strategies, looking for bargain-priced companies and sectors with potential that many analysts overlook.
Hodges Fund (HDPMX) looks for depressed stocks with specific catalysts such as a new product line or management shake-up that could boost stock prices in the next 12 to 18 months. The fund, which rode the rally in small-caps to strong returns for several years, now is focusing on bargains in large- and mid-cap companies. Performance: 19.3%. HodgesFund.com
Janus Contrarian Fund (JCNAX) invests in undervalued mid-cap companies ripe for takeover and large-caps undergoing dramatic changes. Performance: 14.8%. Janus.com
BEST NARROWLY FOCUSED FUNDS
Funds that specialize in specific industry sectors can be risky, but they can produce such strong returns that even a small investment lifts your portfolio.
Fidelity OTC Portfolio Fund (FOCPX) keeps about two-thirds of its assets in big technology companies and the rest in a variety of innovative businesses that trade on the Nasdaq and over-the-counter markets. Despite several strong years of gains, tech-stock valuations still are reasonable compared with the overall market. Performance: 20.5%. Fidelity.com
iShares Transportation Average ETF (IYT). As long as the US economy keeps growing, this exchange-traded fund, which tracks the Dow Jones Transportation Average Index, will do well and build on relatively strong 2014 gains of 20% through October 31. That’s because it holds about 20 of the top US railroads, trucking firms, airlines and overnight-delivery services, all businesses that dominate their markets with few significant competitors. Falling oil prices make these companies even more attractive because their profitability is heavily affected by fuel costs. Performance: 20.8%. iShares.com
Janus Global Life Sciences Fund (JAGLX) gained an impressive 27% this year through October 31, thanks to a mix of large-cap biotech stocks and more stable pharmaceutical stocks. Earnings for health-care companies in 2015 are likely to grow faster than those of any other major market sector. Performance: 25.7%. Janus.com
The Best Foreign Fund
Foreign markets currently are beset with serious economic and political problems. Despite that, there is one intriguing bright spot for investors willing to take a risk…
Matthews India Fund (MINDX). The Bombay stock market is up 33% this year through October 31, driven by India’s strong economic growth, a healthy banking system and optimism over the new pro-reform, business-friendly government. This fund, which keeps half its portfolio in fast-growing mid-cap stocks mostly in the financial services and infrastructure sectors, was up 58% for 2014 as of October 31. Note that its concentrated portfolio of fewer than 40 stocks can be volatile. Performance: 13.2%. MatthewsAsia.com
*Performance figures are annualized returns for the five years through October 31, 2014.