Mutual funds have struggled to keep up with the market lately. Active management means you have to be extremely good at what you do.
As Warren Buffett says, "Most people aren't cut out psychologically for investing." While I wholeheartedly believe that active investors can still beat the market, it's not common. So if you want to find mutual funds worth your money, you have to dig deep. Here are a few names I like for the long term.
1. Exposure to high-growth healthcare and biotech
The Vanguard Health Care Fund Investor Shares (VGHCX) mutual fund invests in the healthcare industry, with a heavy focus on biotechnology and healthcare equipment. It's one of the few mutual funds that can claim an average total annual return higher than the S&P 500. Since its inception, the fund has averaged 16.18% per year.
On a shorter timeline, things aren't quite as competitive. Through the past five years, the fund averaged 8.8% per year, versus 11.7% from the S&P. Overall, though, I like the fund because I think the healthcare sector is a good long-term play. The aging population will only require more medical care, and the sector as a whole stands to benefit.
Some investors may worry about the ramifications of any federal reforms to the U.S. healthcare system. But I think those fears are overblown, given that we haven't seen any meaningful changes to the system regardless of who's in power in Washington. I view healthcare as more recession-proof than other industries and therefore think this mutual fund is a great play.
2. Software, IT, and tech
Information technology and software are here to stay, and the Fidelity Select Software & IT Services Portfolio (FSCSX) fund has done incredibly well in outperforming the market since the fund's inception. By investing in the likes of Microsoft, Visa, Adobe, and salesforce.com, the fund has had a 38.87% run over a one-year period, versus the S&P 500's 31.49% spurt. Since its inception in 1985, the fund has averaged 16.24% per year, outpacing the S&P's 10.79%. Even in poor recent years for the market, such as 2015, this mutual fund managed 10.31% growth. And even with tax-adjusted returns, the fund has averaged 23.42% over a three-year period. Morningstar gives the mutual fund a five-star rating, with below-average risk for the category.
3. A dividend-focused fund for income investors
The T. Rowe Price Equity Income Fund (PRFDX) aims to invest in undervalued equities with consistent dividend yields. Since its inception, the fund has kept relative pace with the S&P 500. Over the shorter term, however, it has lagged the market somewhat as large growth ruled the day.
I include the name as a play on the potential shift back to value as investors constantly attempt to calculate the likelihood of a pullback or recession on the horizon. Holdings are 23.91% invested in financials, with names including Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase, as well as Verizon and Boeing.
This year has been a slow one. But an emphasis on value and dividends is something that belongs in every portfolio.
4. Bonds for safety and stability
The Vanguard Balanced Index Fund Admiral Shares (VBIAX) carries 40% of its holdings in bonds, a good hedge against fears of an eventual recession that could shift assets somewhat away from equities. Bonds may be boring and certainly do reduce the potential of returns. However, they add an element of safety to the list of equity-based funds I've put forth. Market watchers have noticed the recent outflows from equity funds, with more allocation moving into bonds and cash. The fund's bond allocation is 45.87% in the government sector, 25.33% in the corporate sector, and 23.79% in securitized assets.
While offering exposure to bonds, Vanguard Balanced Index Fund still holds popular names including Microsoft, Apple, Amazon.com, and Berkshire Hathaway.
5. A fund with low expenses and low prices
Focused on mid-cap value, the Fidelity Low-Priced Stock Fund (FLPSX) carries an expense ratio of 0.52 and invests in low-price stocks. The list includes small and medium-sized businesses; its top 10 holdings include UnitedHealth Group, Ross Stores, Seagate Technology, Best Buy, AutoZone, and Metlife. Morningstar gives the fund a five-star rating, with low risk.
Since its inception in 1989, the fund has averaged an annual return of 13.35%. More recently, it has lagged the market a bit, as more large-cap growth names dominate the market. Nonetheless, the low-risk nature of the fund, and its historical track record of outperforming, make it worth a look.