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8 New Funds Up More Than 15% in 2009

Last year Grubb & Ellis AGA president Jay Leupp decided to do something a little contrarian: launch three real estate mutual funds in the course of six months. No doubt investors were skeptical. After all, at the time, retail housing data were horrendous. And consumer trends that had caused house prices to plummet and inventories to skyrocket were supposed to trickle into every corner of the sector.

“We had to be patient. It was harder to raise money,” says Leupp of his timing. But, he adds, “no question it allowed us to be very contrarian. It was an excellent time to pick stock tickers.”

What those skeptical investors may not have realized is that the funds were backed by a company with 50 years of real estate experience. Leupp, who likes to invest in companies with strong balance sheets and management teams, has access to Grubb & Ellis brokers across the country that provides him with keen insights about regional markets. And he and his team have been known to walk a mall or stop by a construction site to check up on a company. The Grubb & Ellis AGA Realty Income fund (GBEIX), launched a year ago, is up 29.7% in 2009, putting it in the top 4% of its Morningstar category. Two sister funds are also doing well.

Regardless of that performance, Grubb & Ellis offerings have never made the fund screen — until this week. We usually require a fund to have both a top-tier three- and five-year track record in order to make our lists. Obviously, that disqualifies every new fund. This week, we relax those standards and others to concentrate on funds that have been launched within the last 19 months. Since the offerings don’t have proven performance records we would suggest thinking twice before putting your money in one. This screen is more about keeping apprised of what is on the market.

This screen is a bit subjective. The eight funds on the table below are either run by a proven manager or by a firm expanding on its given specialty. They are just a sampling of the new launches. Indeed, Morningstar says 2,781 funds and share classes were launched since Jan. 1, 2008. Of those, 570 were brand-new funds vs. additional share classes of existing funds. To see spreadsheets listing both groups click here.

There are both pros and cons to investing in a new fund. A new fund can be a vehicle for a manager who is striking out on his own. New funds can also help a fund family plug a hole in its lineup or bring to the public a strategy it may have been implementing only for its institutional clients.

We’ve already hinted at the biggest problem: no performance track records. In addition, a fund manager may not be able to replicate his success on his own if he doesn’t have access to the same information he had at his previous employer. Independent firms may not be able to keep costs low on a new fund since it can’t use economies of scale to spread around its expenses.

“I think they are worth exploring,” says Jeff Layman, chief investment officer of BKD Wealth Advisors in Springfield, Mo. “But we would have a hard time investing in one that didn’t have a demonstrable prior risk-return profile.”

Auer Growth (AUERX) was a new fund we profiled last summer. It hunts for companies with 25% earnings growth, 20% sales growth and a price/earnings ratio below 12. After a shaky start, the fund is up 28.5% this year. And Bob Auer, the fund’s manager, is optimistic about the fund’s future. “We aren’t in the camp where these lows will be retested,” he says. “We always recover from a recession.”

The Criteria: The funds on our list have been launched since Jan. 1, 2008. Since the funds are new, we did not include our usual performance and fee criteria. However, we did favor funds from established managers or prominent fund families.This week we did allow load funds to be considered.

Fresh Faces
Ticker Fund Assets
($ Millions)
Source: Morningstar/Lipper
Note: Data as of July 30, 2009
* Charges 5% load
BIGFX Baron International Growth 20.2 17.4 Foreign Small/Mid Growth 12/31/2008
DODWX Dodge & Cox Global stock ticker 580.4 26.0 World stock ticker 5/1/2008
GBEIX Grubb & Ellis AGA Realty Income * 4.8 29.7 Real Estate 7/30/2008
MADMX Madison Mosaic Small/Mid-Cap 1.0 18.9 Mid-Cap Blend 12/31/2008
MSMLX Matthews Asia Small Companies 34.5 64.1 Pacific Asia ex-Japan 9/15/2008
RYGSX Royce International Smaller-Companies 5.7 30.5 Foreign Small/Mid Value 6/30/2008
RPGEX T.Rowe Price Global Large-Cap stock ticker 20.3 30.6 World stock ticker 10/27/2008
WAGOX Wasatch Global Opportunities 89.9 39.9 World stock ticker 11/17/2008

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