This five-part series takes a closer look at the 24 funds highlighted in the 2007 Business Week/Standard & Poor's Excellence in Fund Management Awards. We've looked at the large- and all-cap champs, the mid- and small-cap winners, and the international standouts, as well as the intermediate-term bond notables. Now we'll wrap things up with the remaining fixed-income winners, plus the sole representative from the real estate category.
Focus on bond funds
Templeton Global Bond was the winner in Business Week's international-bond category. Manager Michael Hasenstab scours the globe in search of attractive foreign fixed-income securities that are poised to benefit, based on Templeton's macroeconomic overview of each country or region. Performance has been favorable here, with the exception of 1998, when Templeton was hammered by the emerging-markets downturn. This fund will tend to be a bit more risky than your normal domestic core bond fund, since it invests heavily in emerging markets and generally does not hedge its currency bets. While most investors probably do not need a world bond fund in their portfolio, Templeton Global Bond is well diversified and makes a compelling choice for this mandate, should you desire international-bond exposure.
TCW Total Return Bond took top honors in the mortgage-backed bond category for the fourth year. This fund, headed by skippers Philip Barach and Jeffrey Gundlach, focuses on high-quality mortgage-backed issues, including adjustable-rate mortgage securities, collateralized mortgage obligations, and various derivatives, with a weighted average duration of fewer than eight years. Because the fund invests entirely in mortgage securities, volatility has typically been lower than what's been seen in its average peer. Expenses are low, and performance has been favorable over the long run. Again, it is a rare investor who would have a need for a specific mortgage-backed bond fund, but if you're that investor, this fund is an excellent choice.
Our last fixed-income finalist from the Business Week report is the Fidelity Short-Term Bond fund, led by Andrew Dudley for the past 10 years. True to its name, the fund is managed to have a similar interest rate risk to the Lehman Brothers 1-3 Year Government/Credit Index. Rather than try to discern the general direction of interest rate, Dudley looks to find attractive areas of value across individual bond holdings, maturities, and sectors. Current corporate-bond holdings include Whirlpool
Not necessarily necessary
Looking outside the more traditional asset classes, the Business Week rankings did highlight one real estate fund -- First American Real Estate, run by John Wenker and Jay Rosenberg. This may, in fact be a good fund, but to cut right to the chase, I don't think most investors need to own any specialty mutual funds that focus on real estate. In my view, very few investors tend to own real estate funds or REITs for the appropriate reason -- because it makes sense in the context of their portfolio, from an overall diversification standpoint. Rather, most folks see the hefty returns this asset class has posted in recent years, and think, "Hey, I want to be a part of that." Fools know this is not adequate justification for investing in these types of funds. Real estate funds are simply not a part of your complete, balanced breakfast. Skip them, and have a bran muffin instead.
The bottom line
So does Business Week have what it takes to be a Foolish fund-spotter? For the most part, I agree with their fund picks, although I found more to like on the fixed-income side of things than I did with the equity funds highlighted in the report. In general, there were only a few fund picks that I thought were faulty and didn't deserve their winning spots.
True Fund Fools know that it is always wise to take a more in-depth look at any of the vaunted "top funds" lists that routinely cross their paths. Doing so will ensure that you buy a fund for reasons that make sense for you, not for anyone else. Ultimately, no one can guarantee mutual fund performance, and no one will be able to pick winners all the time. But by thoroughly investigating a fund before buying, at least you can rest assured that you have done your homework -- and that counts for more than all of the top 10 lists in the world.
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.
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.