Following the herd typically isn't a great idea for investors who want to beat the market with their investments. But there are a number of mutual funds that have attracted a lot of attention and money over the years.
Recently, retirement plan rating firm BrightScope surveyed more than 50,000 employer 401(k) plans to create a list of the top 10 funds workers use for their retirement. But just because these funds are popular, does that mean they're a good bet for you? Let's count down the top 10 funds and see whether you should buy them in your retirement plan.
10) Dodge & Cox Stock (FUND: DODGX )
Landing in the No. 10 spot is this large-value offering from the venerable folks at Dodge & Cox, one of the better investment teams around. I like team-based management because investors don't have to worry about a star manager leaving and then having to sell their fund as a result. Management here looks for temporarily undervalued names that nonetheless have a favorable outlook for long-term growth.
The team is bullish on the future of the stock market and currently sees a lot of opportunity in the energy sector. Dodge & Cox believes demand for oil and gas will continue to rise because of demand from developing economies, so it likes the future prospects of Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB ) and Occidental Petroleum (NYSE: OXY ) .
This fund has outranked 97% of all large-value funds in the past 15 years with a 9% annualized return. Turnover is a low 18%, indicative of Dodge & Cox's buy-and-hold investing strategy. This fund isn't flashy, but it's a great long-term, buy-and-hold value anchor for any portfolio.
9) Fidelity Spartan 500 Index (FUND: FUSEX )
Index investing has gained popularity in recent years as many active managers have trailed the market. If you're going to go with a passive index investment, you want to make sure you stick to inexpensive funds.
The Fidelity Spartan 500 Index measures up on that front, with a low 0.10% annual price tag for the investor shares.That low cost could add up to thousands of extra dollars in your retirement plan years down the road compared to more expensive alternatives. You may want to supplement this fund with some actively managed options for better diversification, but this is a good core fund for 401(k) investors.
8) Vanguard Institutional Index (FUND: VINIX )
If you're in a plan that offers this index, you're in luck -- this fund is as cheap as index funds go. A mere 0.05% is all it will cost you to invest in this S&P 500-tracking index fund.
Over time, this fund has tracked the S&P 500 index very closely, so you don't need to worry about excessive tracking error. Obviously, you won't beat the market with this one, but it's a fine base from which to further build out your asset allocation.
7) Fidelity Diversified International (FUND: FDIVX )
This large-cap foreign offering sticks primarily to well-known foreign multinationals with decent long-term growth prospects. Right now, the fund likes Spanish bank Banco Santander (NYSE: STD ) and the U.K.'s Vodafone (NYSE: VOD ) , both of which are trading at P/Es of less than 10. Holdings and sector weightings tend to be fairly close to those in the MSCI EAFE Index, so you're not looking at an eclectic portfolio here.
Developed market exposure is the primary focus, although a few emergingmarket names are thrown in for flavor. Despite its focus on sticking to the middle ground and not standing out, the fund has done very well, posting an 8.9% annualized gain over the past 15 years, compared to a 4.5% return for the international benchmark EAFE Index. I think there are better foreign funds out there, such as Harbor International (FUND: HIINX ) or Dodge & Cox International Stock (FUND: DODFX ) to name two. But you won't go wrong with Fidelity Diversified International, thanks to its middle-of-the-road approach and reasonable expenses.
6) Fidelity Contrafund (FUND: FCNTX )
This large-growth fund has been run by manager Will Danoff for 20 years now, a rarity among Fidelity funds that frequently change management. Danoff looks for companies with strong and improving earnings and is willing to invest outside of typical growth fare.
While the portfolio holds Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) and many other typical tech-related growth names, Danoff also owns a good handful of stodgier consumer names. He believes Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO ) and Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE: CL ) are "best of breed" performers thanks to their strong cash flows and ability to grow earnings over time.
Contrafund ranks in the top 4% of all large-growth funds over the most recent 15 years with a 9.3% annualized gain. There are more than 450 holdings here, so individual blow-ups won't meaningfully affect the portfolio. In my opinion, this is one of the better growth funds around and would be a good choice for investors of all risk tolerance levels.
Stay tuned until tomorrow, when I'll spotlight the five most popular funds found in 401(k) plans around the country and examine whether these funds are good buys for you!