With thousands of mutual funds to choose from, finding a handful of great funds rivals the proverbial needle in the haystack. That's why so many business publications create annual lists of the best funds and fund managers around. Barron's recently joined the fray, releasing its annual ranking of the top 100 fund managers, compiled from Value Line data. Below, we'll take a magnifying glass to Barron's top 10 manager picks, and determine whether you should own any of these funds.
Aegis Value (AVALX)
Topping Barron's fund rankings is manager Scott Barbee, skipper of the Aegis Value Fund. This fund focuses on the smaller end of the market-cap spectrum, currently holding roughly 70% of its portfolio in micro-cap stocks. Barbee takes a deep value approach to selecting attractive small companies. Aegis Value is somewhat concentrated, with almost all of its holdings in just five sectors. The fund also has a history of holding tremendously high levels of cash, including a 54% stake back in 2004, when assets were flooding into the fund. Partly because of the fund's high cash stake, Aegis Value has lagged the Russell 2000 Index for the past three calendar years, and it's trailing year to date through August.
Assets have started returning to the fund once again, after shareholders withdrew hundreds of millions of dollars in the wake of the fund's lagging performance. In fact, the fund's five-year return through August places it in the bottom quartile of its peer group. While this fund may make sense for investors seeking a strong value fund that invests mainly in micro-cap stocks, Aegis Value may not be appropriate for most Fools. If you're seeking broad small-cap exposure, consider looking elsewhere.
Black Rock International Opportunity (BREAX)
This closed fund is managed by senior portfolio manager Thomas Callan and co-manager Michael Carey. Black Rock International Opportunity lands in the foreign small/mid growth category, according to Morningstar. The fund's managers combine macroeconomic factors with quantitative screens and fundamental analysis to identify small- and mid-cap foreign stocks with the highest return potential. The fund has posted some impressive absolute returns in its 10-year history, including an eye-popping 151% return in 1999. Of course, foreign small-caps have been on a tear the past few years, so don't expect this fund to continue producing such spectacular gains in the future.
International Opportunity is a bit on the pricey side, with a 1.62% net expense ratio. However, there are only a few dozen funds that focus on small-cap foreign companies, so the field is somewhat limited. If you already own this fund, it shouldn't be the sole source of your international exposure. Make sure you also stock up on a fund that invests in larger foreign companies as well.
CGM Focus Fund (CGMFX)
Next on the Barron's rankings is a rather aggressive equity fund run by longtime manager Ken Heebner. CGM Focus invests in both foreign and domestic stocks, such as current top holdings Vimpel Communications
So far, Heebner's aggressive bets have worked out well for the fund. CGM Focus posted a 54% return in 2000, when most stocks lost money, and it returned an impressive 66% in 2003. The fund is also ahead of the S&P 500 by more than 33% so far this year. But its brash style may not always be in favor. A wrong move or a blown market call could absolutely pummel this fund. If you have a taste for high risk, CGM Focus might fit the bill. But it's probably too spicy for most investors, so keep an eye out for a tamer broad-market equity fund.
Our series continues in Part 2, with reviews of more of Barron's top fund managers.