ALBERT HERTER

‘FIFTEEN FUNDS ON A 30% RUN FOR 2009,’ from Smart Money at fidelity.com.

In Uncategorized on November 6, 2009 at 17:55

Investors who got used to seeing a negative sign in front of the returns for their portfolios can certainly take some satisfaction with the performance of the stock market this year. The average S&P 500 fund dropped around 37% last year. Now those same funds are up 20% this year. Of course, there is still some way to go before investors get back to even territory, but the market is moving in the right direction — at least for now.

The market’s ride upward has lifted some funds more than others. While some offerings are struggling, investors can easily find funds that are up 25%, 30% or 35%. There are more than 2,000 funds and share classes listed in our database that have returned double the S&P’s performance this year.

This week we turn the spotlight on those funds. To construct this screen we suspended some of the usual guidelines we follow, like focusing on long-term track records. This screen concentrates on just one detail: year-to-date performance. There are more than 10,200 funds and share classes beating the S&P 500  this year. We knocked out the funds that charge loads and high fees and minimums. That left us with a universe of over 500 offerings. From that group we highlighted 15 funds that are up at least 50% on the S&P 500 this year and are either run by well-known managers or are popular with investors. They are listed on the table below.

We mention this list with some reluctance. After all, by favoring year-to-date performance we are, in effect, putting our stamp of approval on performance chasing. That certainly isn’t our intention. If you jump into one of these funds hoping for another 30% or 40% pop, you’re bound to be disappointed. Many market watchers think the stock market is due for a pullback at some point.

“I think we may have some room to run,” says Tom Karsten, senior managing partner at Karsten Tax and Financial Management in Fort Worth, Texas. But Karsten says he is still being cautious and taking some profits. “Based on the [price/earnings ratios] we are seeing, the market is starting to get on higher price levels that can’t be fundamentally supported.”

That said, by studying these funds investors can pick out trends — and then decide whether they have staying power or not. Over a dozen of the funds on our larger list are classified as emerging-market offerings. T. Rowe Price Emerging Europe and Mediterranean (TREMX | , for instance, is up a whopping 113% this year. This concentrated fund invests over half its assets in Russia, 17% in Turkey and almost 7% in Egypt. Several Matthews funds concentrating on India, China and Korea are up big, too. These funds have benefitted from investors willing to take on more risk as the market shows signs of improvement and from the general rise in commodities prices. If either of those pillars is shaken, though, the returns could easily cool off.

Sectors like technology, natural resources and real estate are turning in good numbers. In terms of mainstream fund categories, midcaps and multicaps have been the sweet spots. For example, Ariel (ARGFX | Get Prospectus) is up 46.4% this year. Aston Optimum Mid Cap (CHTTX |  has gained 49.9% during that same time period.

That said, there’s likely much merit in following Karsten’s advice. Since March he has been adding weekly to his clients’ equity holdings and is now in the midst of taking some profits. In other words, his clients still have exposure to the market and will participate in any further rally — but they’ll also benefit from locking in some gains.

“People want to regain the capital they lost. The tendency from a psychological standpoint is to be more aggressive,” says Karsten. “I am still focusing on low fees, which will become more important if there is another low-return environment.”

The criteria: The equity funds on our list are open to new money, require a minimum investment under $5,000 and charge an annual expense ratio less than 1.5%. We arrived at the final list by favoring funds that were up at least 30% in 2009 (double the return of the S&P 500 index) and are either run by a well-known manager or are popular with investors.

Funds on a run

Fund Name Assets

($ Millions) Year-to-Date

Return

(%) Expense

Ratio

(%)

Appleseed

(APPLX | 55.5 53.01 0.90

Ariel

(ARGFX | 1714.0 46.44 1.07

Aston/Optimum Mid Cap

(CHTTX | 843.0 49.90 1.16

Buffalo Science & Technology

(BUFTX | 165.5 41.44 1.03

Chesapeake Core Growth

(CHCGX | 370.8 31.60 1.42

Columbia Value & Restructuring

(UMBIX | 6085.0 40.2 0.89

Croft Value

(CLVFX | 122.1 31.69 1.46

Dodge & Cox International Stock

(DODFX | 35320.4 44.80 0.64

Fidelity Magellan

(FMAGX | 22722.6 32.60 0.71

Matthews China

(MCHFX | 2030.0 65.60 1.23

Matthews India

(MINDX | 629.5 77.80 1.29

Oakmark International

(OAKIX | 4044.0 49.80 1.10

Royce Opportunity

(RYPNX | 844.0 49.90 1.17

T. Rowe Price Growth Stock

(PRGFX | 16746.0 33.70 0.71

Yacktman Focused

(YAFFX 430.6 54.96 1.25

Source: Lipper

Note: Data as of Oct. 29th, 2009

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