Large-cap growth funds have held up better than most other types of stock funds in 2011.
Previously ignored, big-name companies that have rapidly rising earnings become more attractive in uncertain times than their riskier small-cap counterparts.
"If there is moderate global economic growth in 2012, which looks like the most likely scenario, large-cap growth funds will continue to do well," predicted Robert Turner, chairman and CIO for Turner Investment Partners in Berwyn, Pa. "Until the financial stocks and materials stocks do better, value funds will continue to lag."
Growth investors are often willing to pay whatever it takes to invest in companies with growing earnings, while value investors are bargain hunters who prefer stocks that they believe will someday be worth much more than the current low price indicates.
One large-cap growth fund that has helped its shareholders weather the storm is the $12 billion Harbor Capital Appreciation Fund (HCAIX), which is up 4 percent over the past 12 months with a three-year annualized return of 18 percent.
Familiar companies with rapidly growing revenues fill its portfolio, including Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Oracle Corp., Google Inc., Costco Wholesale Corp. and Starbucks Corp. These all have solid research and development, and/or franchises that can be defended. The "no load" (no sales charge) fund has a $2,500 minimum initial investment and 1.05 percent annual expense ratio.
Growth has outperformed value in four out of the last five years, and that type of dominant trend never lasts forever. Yet it will probably be a while before there is the kind of "normal" economic growth that is capable of reviving value stocks, Turner believes.
"Next year, Apple will likely have strong per-share earnings because of the demand for iPhones and iPads, which won't have much to do with how quickly the global economy revives," said Turner. "In addition, Amazon.com will have robust revenue growth of 15 or 20 percent primarily because people are moving more and more into online retailing."
The big-cap stock funds began to gain momentum in the second half of 2011 as world events and continued high U.S. unemployment took their toll on everyone's confidence.
Tom Roseen, senior research analyst with Lipper Inc. in Denver, Colo., said that a positive for investors is that the market may be better off than we once thought it was.
"We're coming off a season in which 70 percent of the Standard & Poor's 500 members beat their estimates," noted Roseen. "That's especially strong when you consider that we're still operating under sluggish conditions and high unemployment numbers."
The large-cap growth funds that have performed best are those focused on quality companies that pay some sort of dividend, said David Kathman, mutual fund analyst with Morningstar Inc. in Chicago. Such companies are more than merely fast-moving and forward-looking.
The previously mentioned Harbor Capital Appreciation Fund is a prime example, said Kathman. Lead manager Spiros Segalas and his team a proven ability to find stable blue-chip stocks with good balance sheets.
There is a vast array of large-cap stocks to choose from, which means there are differences in funds specializing in them as well. With more than enough stocks to go around, each fund reflects the sector preferences of its managers.
Another large-cap growth fund favored by Kathman is the $3.4 billion ASTON/Montag & Caldwell Growth Fund "N" (MCGFX), which is up 5 percent over the past 12 months and has a three-year annualized return of 14 percent.
Its portfolio is led by famous stocks such as Coca-Cola Co., Procter & Gamble Co., Abbott Laboratories and McDonald's Corp. This no-load fund requires a $2,500 minimum initial investment and has a 1.06 percent annual expense ratio. Low portfolio turnover means it is tax-efficient.
"Long-time lead manager Ron Canakaris likes profitable companies with lots of cash and not a lot of debt," said Kathman, noting that it mixes macroeconomic analysis with fundamental research "without paying through the nose" for the growth stocks.
The $5.9 billion Columbia Select Large Cap Growth Fund "A" (ELGAX) is up 3 percent over the past 12 months and has a three-year annualized growth rate of 25 percent. Its stocks include Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp., Priceline.com Inc., Baidu Inc., Biogen Idec Inc. and Celgene Corp.
An experienced management team led by Tom Galvin looks for rapidly growing stocks with at least $3 billion in market capitalization and strong profitability to build its concentrated portfolio of about 30 stocks. This 5.75 percent load fund requires a $2,000 minimum initial investment and has an annual expense ratio of 1.24 percent.
"The biggest negative for growth stocks would be a recession," said Turner. "When recession occurred in the past, large-cap growth went down as much as large-cap value."
Some individual investors, despite the better results of large-cap growth funds, have been shifting some money out of them in order to diversify their personal portfolios into bonds, real estate and commodities, said Roseen. In the meantime, large-cap growth stocks, if not winning, have provided some portfolio stability.
(Andrew Leckey answers questions only through the column. Address inquiries to Andrew Leckey, 555 N. Central Ave., Suite 302, Phoenix, Ariz. 85004-1248, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)