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How This Little-Known Guru Pummeled the Market

Dan Caplinger
February 17, 2011

Ordinarily, when a professional investor puts in years of market-beating returns, everybody knows about it. Whether it's from winning a prestigious award or simply getting lots of attention from the financial media, top investors like Peter Lynch, George Soros, and Warren Buffett have become household names and are nearly universally recognized even among the general public.

Sometimes, though, a strong institutional money manager slips under the radar despite putting together a good track record. One of those managers is Donald Yacktman, whose Yacktman Fund has clobbered the competition for more than a decade. Thanks to SEC rules that require mutual funds and other institutions to disclose their holdings every quarter, you can get a bird's-eye view of what stocks Yacktman thinks are promising right now -- and which ones he's given up.

Staying in the shadows
Compared to someone like Bruce Berkowitz, who has been plastered across the headlines lately, Don Yacktman keeps a low profile. But the Yacktman Fund is no less noteworthy than Berkowitz's Fairholme Fund. With returns of nearly 12% over the past decade, the Yacktman Fund actually beats out Fairholme's track record by a narrow margin. Yacktman also manages a smaller fund, the Yacktman Focused Fund, which has had even stronger performance.

Yacktman's moves in the past quarter have been more subtle than Berkowitz's big bets on financials, but that reflects the more diversified approach to investing that Yacktman uses. Perhaps the highest-profile move is Yacktman's addition of Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO  ) , in which he took a position worth nearly $100 million.

Yacktman isn't shy about looking for value anywhere he can find it. He continued to build a stake in News Corp., adding an additional 9.4 million shares during the quarter. Blue chips Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) and Sysco (NYSE: SYY  ) also showed big pick-ups.

Staying safe
Those stocks exemplify the solid nature of most of Yacktman's picks. Look through his funds' holdings, and you'll find plenty of industry leaders covering every sector in the economy. Although that tendency to stick with the most stable stocks has cost Yacktman's funds some relative performance during bull markets, it has saved shareholders from huge amounts of pain when the overall market takes a dive. Winning years in the tech-bust times of 2001 and 2002, along with much smaller losses than the market in 2008, show how that strategy adds up to long-term outperformance.

But that doesn't stop Yacktman from making the occasional riskier bet. For instance, he kept adding to a big position in H&R Bloc