For those who want a simple way to invest, it's always easy for me to tell people, "Just invest in a mutual fund if you're too busy or not confident enough to pick individual stocks on your own." Of course, for some, a simple index fund is all they want in order to match the market's return. But those who want to aim even higher need to find those outstanding mutual funds that have a good chance of beating the market over the long haul.
That's where things get sticky. Someone might reasonably wonder, "Well, how exactly should I go about finding such funds?" One obvious answer is to look for funds with strong long-term track records and low fees. That's relatively easy, but it's only one piece of the puzzle. After all, numbers aren't the only important part of investing. If you end up with some funds where the managers are shady, or they invest in areas or ways that don't make you comfortable, then you won't be happy no matter what results you get.
Look for a good match
So my best advice to you is to look not only at the numbers, but also at the people. When evaluating a fund, check out the managers and how they think and invest. This isn't always easy, and if you find you can't learn much about a fund, you might consider skipping it. There are, after all, some great funds that communicate well with their shareholders.
I'm a longtime shareholder in the Oakmark Select Fund (OAKLX), for example, which has a good track record, though it went through a rough patch during the last bull market. Its top holdings include Discovery Communications
Another good example
A while back, I discovered another fund that stands out in this regard. The Muhlenkamp Fund (MUHLX), a value-oriented fund that I discovered via our Champion Funds newsletter, has enjoyed above-average returns over the past decade. It holds a variety of well-known large-cap stocks like IBM
I received a welcome-to-the-fund phone call when I invested, and have been receiving, on average, at least one mailing per month. The fund issues a monthly newsletter with guidance and commentary from the fund's main manager, and I've also received a "Methods" pamphlet containing an educational essay on diversification and the fund's take on it. When I visited the fund's website, I found a rich nook full of essays and other valuable commentary. This is a fund that's open about its style and thinking.
For instance, in his most recent letter, fund manager Ron Muhlenkamp described a mixed picture for the economy. Although he sees signs of stabilization and doesn't believe there will be a depression, Muhlenkamp believes that future growth will start from a lower base. The letter describes his opinions about investing in bonds and stocks right now. It's an interesting commentary at a crucial time for the markets.
Dig for details
So as you hunt for great funds, be sure to pay attention to each fund's managers and their philosophies. You're paying for valuable advice from real people, so make sure you get it.
We'd love to introduce you to some top-notch funds via our Champion Funds newsletter. You can try it for free, and you'll be able to access all past issues and see a long list of recommended funds that includes Muhlenkamp Fund.
This article was originally published on Aug. 22, 2006. It has been updated by Dan Caplinger, who owns shares of Philip Morris International. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.