Stop if you have heard this one before: 2006 was supposed to be the year large-cap funds finally clawed their way out of the basement of the mutual-fund race.
Their well-capitalized, multinational holdings were better equipped than their smaller peers to deal with interest-rate hikes, slowing growth and a weak dollar. Their managers could choose from screens and screens of long-forsaken, undervalued stocks. And they were due! Small- and midcaps had dominated since the late '90s.
It's the same message you heard in 2004 and 2005. And with the way things are going, you might hear it again in 2007. Large-cap funds are down 0.84% in '06 (through June 21), about a percentage point behind midcaps (up 0.43%) and almost three points behind small caps (up 2.02%), according to investment-research firm Lipper.
The good news for those who've continued to bet their chips on a large-cap rally is that the big boys have closed the gap over the last few months. The bad news is that they've closed the gap by losing less. Large-cap funds are only down 4.15% over the last three months, while small caps are down 5.90% and midcaps are down 5.29%.
Lipper senior research analyst Don Cassidy thinks that a down market may just be what it takes for large caps to break their underperforming ways.
If the market continues to be shaky â€” if we end up with a down year â€” it wouldn't surprise me if large-cap funds come out on top, says Don Cassidy, a Lipper senior research analyst. That's probably a Pyrrhic victory though.
Still, if large caps start to turn the tables, they may begin to attract some of the momentum money that has followed the little guys for the past few years. And those who've been milking their small caps for all they're worth may finally decide that it's time to rebalance. Add it together and the chimerical rally may actually materialize.
In celebration of that string of mays and ifs, we present the SmartMoney.com Large-Cap Fund screen. Despite the category-topping performance of these funds over the last few years, more than half are in the red for the year, and several others are holding onto the black by their fingernails. The biggest gainer is ICAP Select Equity (ICSLX1), which is up 3.56% in 2006. That fund has been able to avoid many of the danger zones of the large-cap market by maintaining an unusually concentrated portfolio â€” only 27 equity holdings as of the end of May.
ING Corp Leaders Trust (LEXCX2), which is up about 1% for the year, also employs a concentrated approach, with only 24 stocks in its portfolio. Of course, simply using a concentrated strategy isn't always a recipe for success, as TCW Select Equities (TGCEX3), another fund on our list this week, is currently proving. The 31-stock fund is down almost 10% this year, thanks in large part to its oversized technology position.
This week, we turned our fund screener toward large caps, looking for some winners in the long-languishing group. We required three- and five-year returns in the top 25% of each fund's classification (large-cap growth, large-cap core, large-cap value, or S&P 500 index) and expense ratios in the bottom 25%. Our search was limited to no-load funds that are open to new investors and accept initial investments of $5,000 or less. Finally, each of the funds on our list holds total net assets of at least $50 million. Fifteen funds made the cut.