As the Fool's resident fund geek and point guy on our Motley Fool Champion Funds newsletter service, I had a chance to supplement the equity picks in the Fool's Stocks 2006 publication with a choice mutual fund. For a gander at the whole kit and caboodle, click here to grab your copy of the guide that -- to borrow a headline from my fellow Fool Bill Mann -- provides "12 Ideas for Next Year and Beyond."
In the meantime, read below for the inside scoop on the fund that almost got the nod.
Part of the investment case for the fund I recommended is that it hails from a category -- large-cap growth -- that has been relatively out of favor for some time now. Indeed, according to data available from Morningstar, for the five years that ended on Dec. 16, 2005, only bear market funds and those specializing in communications and technology stocks have fared worse than the large-cap growth peer group. On average, that category's typical entrant posted an annualized loss of 3.3%.
For comparison's sake, the typical small-cap value fund has delivered an annualized gain in excess of 15% over the period, and while I'm no market timer, I know from my work with funds that category performance tends to ebb and flow over time. Investors, after all, eventually head to those areas of the market that look most attractively valued, and given its protracted relative underperformance, the large-cap growth group looks like a smart contrarian play right now.
Speaking of contrarian
As Champion Funds subscribers know, I'm extremely picky when it comes to my recommendations. That trait that may make me seem like a fund snob -- which I certainly am -- but it's also led me to market-beating returns. Taken collectively, the funds I've recommended during the nearly two years our service has been up and running are beating the market to the tune of 7.5 percentage points. (Wanna take a look at our winners list? No problem. Just click here for a free trial.)
The bottom line is that, attractive relative valuations aside, not just any old fund will do. Before making my final Stocks 2006 decision, I took a long, hard look at Fidelity Contrafund (FCNTX), which recently counted the likes of Genentech
Contrafund has all the key ingredients I look for when making recommendations for our Champion Funds subscribers. Among other things, my recipe list includes core criteria such as: 1) boatloads of managerial experience; 2) a top-notch performance track record; and 3) a price tag that won't break the bank.
Let's take that last point first: Fidelity charges Contrafund investors just 0.92% each year for the services it provides. That's a built-in competitive advantage, one that gives the fund a leg up on its pricier rivals which, on average, will ding you roughly 1.5%. That lower expense ratio also helps the fund keep up with dirt-cheap S&P trackers such as Vanguard 500 Index
Indeed, beyond just keeping up with those fine passively managed picks, Contrafund has positively trounced them, delivering a total return of 836.4% for the 15-year period that ended with November. The S&P, for its part, mustered a comparatively paltry 427.3%.
Not too shabby, eh?
No, not too shabby at all, and what's more, all of that outperformance has come during the tenure of a single manager, the talented-beyond-all-get-out William Danoff, who came aboard Contrafund in September 1990. That's crucial information because -- as I never tire of pointing out -- it's the manager's track record that truly matters. A fund's five-star rating means precious little to prospective investors if the stock-picker who earned it is no longer on the case.
You better, you bet
Still, while Contrafund has much to recommend it, my Stocks 2006 selection is an even better bet. The fund is cheaper, for starters, and while it's relatively young, I wasn't deterred by that at all. The manager has plenty of stock-picking experience, having made gobs of money for shareholders at other charges over the course of many years. Moreover, the fund's currently svelte asset base gives the manager room to maneuver into (and out of) positions without fear of moving the stocks he's trading in the wrong direction -- i.e., up when he's building a position and down when he's exiting one.
The same, alas, can't be said for Contrafund, which has an asset base of more than $58 billion. True, Danoff is a talented manager, but he's not a miracle worker. At some point, a bloated asset base makes it difficult, if not impossible, for a manager to execute his strategy effectively. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Fidelity soon opted to ratchet down inflows by closing Contra to new money.
Currently, however, that's not a problem for my Stocks 2006 pick. But if the fund fares as well as I anticipate, it certainly will be one day. With that in mind, I encourage you to get it -- and Stocks 2006 -- while you can.