Better Know a Stock Picker

Welcome, Fools, to part 27 of our several-thousand-part series, "Better Know a Stock Picker," which is loosely, but not too loosely, based on Stephen Colbert's "Better Know a District" from The Colbert Report.

Like Stephen and his thorough investigations into America's congressional districts, each week I take a look at a fund you may want to own. What's on tap this week?

Legg Mason Partners Aggressive Growth (SHRAX)

Expense ratio

1.13%

Fund size

$10.4 billion in assets

1-year return

6.81%

5-year return

6.98%

10-year return

14.95%

Source: Legg Mason, Morningstar

Top 5 holdings

Company

% of Assets

Lehman Brothers (NYSE: LEH  )

9.52%

UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH  )

8.02%

Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE: APC  )

6.37%

Weatherford International (NYSE: WFT  )

5.11%

Amgen (Nasdaq: AMGN  )

4.65%

Source: Morningstar

Meet Richie Freeman
The fightin' team at Legg Mason Partners Aggressive Growth is led by Richie Freeman, who ought to at least be mentioned in the same breath as his legendary Legg Mason colleague, Bill Miller.

Why? Freeman's superstantial stewardship of Aggressive Growth has resulted in a total return of 598% over the past 15 years. That's more than double the return of the S&P 500 over the same period and easily within spitting distance of Miller's record performance. Eat that, Wall Street.

Or don't. It's not as if Freeman and Miller work closely together. Though the Brooklyn-born stock picker has been at the helm of Aggressive Growth since its inception in 1983, the fund was for years associated with Citigroup's Smith Barney unit before being acquired earlier this year.

And while he hasn't had much of the spotlight over the past 23 years, Freeman has plenty of fans, including Mad Money host Jim Cramer. Here's how Cramer described Freeman in a 2001 column for TheStreet.com: "Freeman lives and breathes stocks. By his own admission, he is always on the lookout for the next Amgen, and he's found more than his fair share."

How he invests
As far as Freeman is concerned, there's no better way to stick it to the stockinistas than to stand by stocks that grow, and grow, and grow some more. Consider cable operator Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA  ) and drugmaker Forest Laboratories (NYSE: FRX  ) . Aggressive Growth has held positions in each stock for 23 years! Today, they're both top 25 holdings.

Freeman told Kiplinger's in 2004 that longevity was a key to his very successful investing strategy. "It's not me," he said at the time. "It's the companies I keep." Talk about loyalty.

But there are limits. Freeman told Kiplinger's he wouldn't buy, or presumably hold, a stock that trades for more than twice its long-term growth rate. You'd think that would limit his choices in a fund that's described as aggressive. Not so. As Cramer says, Freeman always seems to find bargain growers such as biotech Biogen Idec, which is up more than 13% for Aggressive Growth this year.

Is this fund for you?
So can Freeman deliver like Peter Lynch? He certainly understands that the best stock to buy may be the one you already own. Lynch used that principle to earn more than $500 million for investors while at the helm of Fidelity Magellan.

What's more, Freeman didn't join the flavor-of-the-month club during the dot-com boom. He stuck instead to his philosophy of buying growth on the cheap. And he's not alone. Some of the best fund managers have done the same, including Miller and up-and-coming growth guru David Corkins of the Janus Fund.

Yet for all of Freeman's greatness, one really big problem stands out with his fund: You'll usually have to pay a 5.75% sales charge to invest. Bummer, eh? Well, don't fret. Many excellent growth funds are available that don't employ sales charges. One, which joined the Motley Fool Champion Funds portfolio in the January 2005 issue, has busted the index by more than 15% and is still going strong. It's also one of several winners for advisor Shannon Zimmerman; click here to get 30 days of free access to the entire portfolio.

And that's this week's profile. See you back here next week, fund nation. Good night.

Think you can't beat the market with funds? Think again! The selections in Shannon Zimmerman's Motley Fool Champion Funds portfolio are up an average of 26%, versus just 17% for their comparable benchmarks. Ask us for an all-access pass to get an unfettered look at all of Shannon's picks, manager interviews, and model portfolios. Go ahead; it's free for 30 days, and there's no obligation to buy.

UnitedHealth Group is a Stock Advisor and Inside Value recommendation. Biogen Idec is also a Stock Advisor pick.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers, ranked 1,612 out of 14,426 in Motley Fool CAPS, is a regular viewer of The Colbert Report. (Stay the course.) Tim didn't own shares in any of the stocks or funds mentioned in this article at the time of publication. Get the skinny on all of the stocks in Tim's portfolio by checking his Fool profile. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is always championship-caliber.


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