Are "Excellent" Funds Foolish?

No doubt, there are lots of people who eagerly await the annual Business Week list that trumpets some of the market's most notable funds. The 2007 winners of the Excellence in Fund Management Award, a roster compiled in conjunction with Standard & Poor's, highlights 24 funds in several different categories. And now somebody out there is ready to rush out and buy those funds sight unseen. After all, if Business Week says these are top-shelf funds, that should be good enough for you, right?

Well, the true Fund Fool knows that a little skepticism is a healthy thing. In this five-part series, I'll take you in for a little closer look at these 24 winners and try to uncover just how Foolish they really are.

First up: large-cap equity funds
In the large-cap domestic field, Legg Mason Equity Value Trust, American Funds Growth Fund of America, and T. Rowe Price Growth Stock nabbed the top spots in the 2007 Business Week rankings, along with all-cap candidates Thornburg Core Growth and Kinetics Paradigm.

In looking at fund maven Bill Miller's Equity Value Trust, one of the first things I spotted was that it has a 1.68% net expense ratio. Ouch! That's much higher than the ratio at the average large-cap domestic fund, and while that figure hasn't held back the fund's long-term performance so far, it's still noteworthy. This fund is also rather concentrated: It currently holds 44 stocks and maintains 45% of its assets in the top 10 holdings. This approach has worked well so far, but it could turn against investors, should Miller fumble some calls.

I'm a big fan of Growth Fund of America. It uses a multiple portfolio manager system, in which several different managers each run a portion of the fund's overall portfolio. While much has been made recently of the fund's massive size, so far it hasn't seemed to inhibit its investment process. And considering what a difficult environment the past six years have been for growth stocks and growth-oriented mutual funds, Growth Fund of America's performance track record is especially impressive. It's a good choice for investors looking for a solid large-cap growth fund.

T. Rowe Price Growth Stock is another decent large-growth option. A low expense ratio and the long tenure of manager Robert Smith provide the groundwork for a solid getting-the-job-done growth fund. The fund did lag the S&P 500 in 2006, hurt by underperforming health-care holdings UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH  ) and Humana (NYSE: HUM  ) , but the longer-term picture looks more sanguine. Investors should be aware, however, that this fund is less aggressive than many other growth funds and will likely lag the benchmark Russell 1000 Growth Index during strong momentum-driven markets, as it did in 1998 and 1999.

All-cap is all right
Thornburg Core Growth's all-cap mandate tends to push it more into the mid-cap space, as the fund's roughly 40% allocation to mid-cap securities shows. It has a relatively short track record, having started in December 2000. The fund has a single portfolio manager, Alexander Motola, who has been at the helm since inception. A more limited track record and expenses that are a bit on the high side (1.48%) lead me to be more lukewarm on this fund.

Kinetics Paradigm is another fund with an all-cap mandate and a healthy slug of mid-cap exposure. The fund's management team consists of five managers who've been with the fund since 2001. However, two things about the fund jumped off the page at me. First, it currently has a 58% allocation to the financial sector, including stocks such as Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS  ) and NYSE Group (NYSE: NYX  ) . For most investors, such a high allocation to a single sector is pretty unsound. Combine this with a 1.74% net expense ratio, and I think this fund is a lot riskier than it may first appear. Yes, performance has been impressive so far, but unless you're specifically looking for an aggressive, risky, concentrated all-cap fund, walk away from this one.

That's it from the large-cap equity world. Next up in Part 2: Business Week's small- and mid-cap fund champs.

For more on what makes a mutual fund truly Foolish, take a free look at the Fool's Champion Funds newsletter. Fool fund expert Shannon Zimmerman finds promising funds each month that have outperformed their peers through good times and bad. Learn about the best mutual funds you can buy by starting your free 30-day trial today.

UnitedHealth is a recommendation of Motley Fool Inside Value and Motley Fool Stock Advisor. NYSE Group is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick.

 Fool contributor Amanda Kish lives in Rochester, N.Y., and hopes she lives to see the day when either the Buffalo Bills win the Super Bowl or the Buffalo Sabres take the Stanley Cup. She's not greedy -- one or the other will suffice. Amanda does not own shares of any of the companies or funds mentioned herein. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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