The 5 Best Load Funds for 2012
The distinction between load and no-load funds shrinks every year. Investors who employ a financial adviser can gain access to many first-class load funds without having to pay the sales charges. So can many 401(k) participants. If you can buy load funds without the loads, you should consider some of them. Of course, advisers don't work for free. Depending on how you compensate yours, you'll either pay sales charges on the funds you buy or a fee that's usually based on the amount of your assets under his or her control.
Below are my favorite funds offered by load-fund sponsors. In each instance, the symbol is for the lowest-cost share available to the typical investor. If your adviser offers you a share class with a higher expense ratio, try persuading him or her to get you into the lower-cost share class. All returns are through January 9.
American Funds Washington Mutual F-2 (symbol WMFFX) is about as boring a stock fund as you can find. And given the wrath the market gods have rained down on investors over the past ten years, boring may not be a bad thing. Washington Mutual owns virtually nothing but big blue chips -- all but 5% of which pay dividends and all but 10% of which are based in the U.S. The yield is just 2.8%, but the fund, which is steered by seven managers, sticks with high-quality companies, such as top holdings Chevron (CVX), Merck (MRK) and Verizon Communications (VZ).
The American funds have been shaky the past few years, but they have a long history of producing solid returns, holding down risk and charging low fees (this share class costs just 0.41% annually). The fund's long-term returns are good, but it has been especially solid recently. Over the past year, Washington Mutual returned 8.0% -- 5.2 percentage points more than Standard & Poor's 500-stock index. That could be the start of a long period of superior performance. I think Washington Mutual's brand of high-quality stocks could remain at or near the top of the heap for years to come.
Oppenheimer Developing Markets Y (ODVYX) may be the best emerging-markets stock fund. Over the past ten years, it returned an annualized 17.7%, putting it in the top 1% among emerging-markets funds. (The Y share class has only been around since 2005; part of the record was posted by an older share class.) During that stretch, the fund topped the MSCI Emerging Markets index by an average of 3.7 percentage points per year.
The fund has distinguished itself --at least compared with its rivals -- in treacherous markets. Emerging markets are notoriously volatile, but this fund lost only 56.8% in the 2007-09 bear market, compared with 60.2% for the index. Manager Justin Leverenz just took the reins in 2007, but he is a longtime Asia specialist. The fund is heavy on consumer staples and technology. Annual expenses are 1.00%.
Speaking of emerging markets, American Funds New World F-2 (NFFFX) is the chicken's way to play them -- and, in my view, perhaps the smartest way. About 48% of its assets are in emerging-markets stocks, 10% in emerging- markets bonds and the rest in stocks of multinationals, including U.S.-based companies, that do a lot of business in developing nations. That makes New World much less risky than pure emerging- markets funds but much more aggressive than most diversified foreign funds.
When emerging markets have great years, New World doesn't keep up with the index but does well enough. For example, in 2009, when the MSCI Emerging Markets index surged 78.5%, New World rose 52.7%, and the MSCI EAFE index, which tracks developed foreign stock markets, gained 31.8%. By contrast, New World holds up better than the typical emerging-markets fund when the category tanks. Over the past year, the emerging-markets index tumbled 16.6%, New World surrendered 12.8% and MSCI EAFE lost 11.5%. The fund's expenses are 0.76% annually.
Templeton Global Total Return Adv (TTRZX) is in a slump. Over the past 12 months, it lost 0.5%, compared with a 4.4% gain for the average international bond fund. The fund lost ground largely because of a strengthening greenback. But manager Michael Hasenstab and company are taking the long view, and I think their take is right. They believe that bonds and currencies of heavily indebted developed countries will lose ground to those of emerging economies in Asia, as well as to a handful of fiscally stable developed countries, such as Sweden and Australia.
This fund was just launched in 2008, but an older sibling, Templeton Global Bond Adv (TGBAX), returned an annualized 11.6% over the past ten years, putting it in the top 1% among global bond funds. The only difference between the two funds is that Total Return owns some corporate bonds in addition to government bonds. My main worry: The two funds' success has hardly gone unnoticed. Combined assets are over $60 billion. Total Return charges 0.79% annually and sports a 30-day yield of 5.0%.
Last but not least is First Eagle Global I (SGIIX), which I featured in my series on low-risk funds. Longtime manager Jean-Marie Eveillard, 71, who still works part-time as a "senior adviser," had a hand in selecting the three co-managers who run this fund. And when you look at the fund's holdings, you see the wide diversification and low-risk contrarian plays that marked Eveillard's long tenure. The fund currently has 14% in cash, 23% in Japanese stocks and 6% in gold. That witch's brew has been 26% less volatile than the S&P 500 over the past three years. Over the past five years, First Eagle returned an annualized 5.1%, while the S&P was flat.
The three co-managers started in 2007, 2008 and early last year, so the fund's long-term record still belongs to Eveillard. If the current managers are smart, and I think they are, they'll absorb as much as they can from Eveillard. Still, the abilities of the current managers are the big question mark. Expenses are 0.91% annually.
Steve Goldberg is an investment adviser in the Washington, D.C., area. One client owns Chevron, and another owns Verizon.