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24 Low-Cost Funds Up 20% or More in 2009

Investors in China-focused funds had a rude awakening last year: After two years of 50%-plus returns investors bailed on the country as its economy showed signs of cooling off during the global recession. According to Lipper, the average China offering lost 52.7% in 2008, leaving a wake of battered and cheap stock tickers.

Matthews China (MCHFX), a fund that has been investing in the country for over a decade, took a sizable hit during that time, slipping 48%. This year, however, has been a different story. China has implemented a new stimulus plan and banks there are starting to lend at greater levels. During the second quarter, the Chinese economy grew by almost 8% and the investors who once abandoned the country started to return.

For Matthews China, the turn of events is proof that by sticking to its best picks and buying some others on the cheap during the downturn, it would be duly rewarded. The fund is up 44.8% year-to-date. Richard Gao, the fund’s lead portfolio manager, thinks that performance is sustainable, especially given the fact that the valuation on many stock tickers is still considerably low. China stock tickers, he says, went from trading at a rich 35 to 38 times earnings at the peak in 2007 to around 15 times earnings late last year.

Matthews China and its sister fund Matthews Asia Pacific (MPACX) are just two of the funds, which make our screen of funds that have posted at least 20% gains in 2009. Typically, we don’t screen for such short time periods. (We don’t want to encourage performance chasing or reward a one-hit wonder.) So, the funds also have to be consistent top-performers over the trailing three- and five-year time periods. That took us from a universe of 1647 funds and share classes down to 185. Then we sought out those funds that charge below-average fees. Ultimately, we were left with 24 funds.

If investors take a close look at the list below, they can pick out an interesting trend. Most of the funds fit into at least one of four general categories: focused, technology, small caps and emerging markets.

Now the question is, can the rally that boosted those categories continue? Earlier this year, many market experts were expecting a pullback. Now, though, the sentiment seems to be changing towards a slow but steady run-up. “We think we are in the early stages of an economic expansion, but we still have a ways to go,” says Christina Bergeron, an investment officer with Bryn Mawr Trust Wealth Management outside Philadelphia.

If Bergeron’s prediction is correct it could produce a tricky stock ticker-picking environment for more aggressive focused funds. The performance of these funds — what we define as offerings with fewer than 50 stock tickers in their portfolios — can be made or broke by one or two stock tickers. Yacktman Focused (YAFFX), which owns just 26 stock tickers, is Morningstar’s top-ranked large-cap value fund over the trailing one-, three-, five- and 10-year time periods. It’s up 32.6% this year due to strong performance of stock tickers like AmeriCredit (ACF), Liberty Media (LINTA), Microsoft (MSFT) and Dish Network (DISH).

The rally also lifted small-cap and tech funds. That follows history: these niches tend to do well during market recoveries. Now, these funds are benefiting from decent corporate earnings and investors’ newfound appetite for risk.

Also risky but full of potential are emerging markets funds like Matthews China. These funds have gotten a boost from investors who are once again comfortable taking on some riskier — yet potentially more rewarding — plays. Lipper says the average emerging markets fund gained 34.2% during the first two quarters of 2009.

Matthews China has done well by adhering to a theme it has championed for several years: China’s emerging middle class. While some competitors focus on energy and commodity-related stock tickers, Gao favors consumer-oriented names. That means he is getting decent performance without the risk and volatility that comes with commodities and energy.

“We try to ignore the noises in the market for the one-quarter or six-month [periods],” says Gao. “If you take a look at the portfolio you won’t see many cyclical or commodity names. We think growth will be more and more reliant on domestic demand.”

The Criteria: The equity funds on the table below have gained at least 20% in 2009. The funds also have track records during the trailing three- and five-year time periods that put them in the top 20% of their Lipper categories. They are open to new money, require a minimum investment of less than $5,000 and charge an annual expense ratio of under 1.5%. As usual, we didn’t include load funds.

Riding the Rally
Name Ticker Assets
($ Millions)
YTD
Return
(%)
3-Year
Average
Annual
Return
(%)
5-Year
Average
Annual
Return
(%)
Expense
Ratio
(%)
Source: Lipper
Note: Data as of July 16, 2009
Baron iOpportunity BIOPX 121.6 28.65 0.44 4.53 1.42
Columbia Acorn International ACINX 2814.0 23.60 -1.37 8.90 0.96
Columbia Select Large Cap Growth UMLGX 980.5 20.66 -1.57 2.62 1.03
Delafield DEFIX 495.10 22.05 -2.08 3.18 1.34
Dreyfus Small Company Value DSCVX 147.0 27.52 2.85 4.43 1.23
Fidelity OTC FOCPX 4277.4 30.98 2.81 4.11 1.06
Fidelity Real Estate Income FRIFX 416.5 21.48 -5.43 -0.18 0.94
Fidelity Select Software & Computer Services FSCSX 671.6 27.19 4.50 6.62 0.87
Fidelity Select Wireless FWRLX 385.9 42.19 2.64 7.05 0.95
Janus Overseas JAOSX 5848.4 43.04 4.35 15.13 0.90
Matthews China MCHFX 1565.0 44.77 20.37 20.02 1.23
Matthews Asia Pacific MPACX 161.6 23.63 1.19 7.70 1.23
Old Mutual Growth OBHGX 307.3 24.02 -2.68 2.55 1.10
Old Mutual Columbus Circle Tech. & Comm. OBTCX 104.2 33.26 4.20 5.07 1.45
Parnassus PARNX 263.9 22.76 0.86 1.49 0.99
Royce Heritage RGFAX 115.3 23.02 -3.06 4.19 1.50
Royce Low-Price stock ticker RYLPX 1974.7 21.94 -2.91 3.05 1.49
Rydex NASDAQ-100 RYOCX 452.5 24.56 0.95 1.31 1.30
T. Rowe Price New Asia PRASX 3053.5 56.23 11.07 17.16 0.96
T. Rowe Price Media & Telecommunications PRMTX 1135.5 28.28 1.65 8.60 0.90
TCW Small Cap Growth TGSCX 113.8 28.81 1.77 6.26 1.20
USAA Precious Metals & Minerals USAGX 1099.3 22.71 9.60 20.12 1.19
Yacktman Focused YAFFX 196.9 32.60 6.27 5.91 1.25
Yacktman YACKX 550.6 28.20 3.79 4.45 0.95
Recipe
  • Fund Type = Global/International *
  • Annualized 3-Year Return (%) = Display Only
  • Rank in Classification (%) (3 year performance) <= 50
  • Annualized 5-Year Return (%) = Display Only
  • Rank in Classification (%) (5 year performance) <= 50
  • Expense Ratio <= 1.5%
  • Load Fund (type) = No Load
  • Minimum Initial Investment <= $5,000
  • Open to New Investors = Yes
  • Total Net Assets ($ millions) >= 50
  • Year-to-Date Return (%) = Display Only

* Funds had to invest around 40% of their assets in the U.S. to be considered.

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