While competitive returns are key for attracting assets, some funds mostly rely on their former glory. They have become somewhat like a trusted brand, leading some investors to do not perform their due diligence. And even if they’re down, won’t an iconic fund return to its winning ways?
Not necessarily. There are many examples where portfolio managers have lost their touch. Sometimes it’s because prior success came on just a few good investments or a surge in a particular market. Or, even more ominously, it could have been the result of some risky bets that just happened to pay off — at one time.
Here’s a look at a few big-time mutual funds that investors shouldn’t just trust on name alone:
Back in the 1980s, legendary investor Peter Lynch posted a standout performance at the helm of the Fidelity Magellan (MUTF:FMAGX) fund. Now that success is a distant memory. Over the past decade, the average annual return was a meager 1.58%. Of course, with $15.9 billion in assets, it is not easy to find investment opportunities that can significantly move the needle.
However, in September, Fidelity brought on board a new manager, Jeff Feingold. Before this, he managed the Fidelity Trend (MUTF:FTRNX) fund and posted a strong track record. And at least early on, Feingold is showing promise, with FMAGX up 11.07% year-to-date.
Janus Overseas A
Foreign investing is never easy. A portfolio manager must not only figure out where to find growth opportunities across hundreds of countries, but also deal with political situations and currency swings.
But Janus Overseas A (MUTF:JDIAX), which has more than $9 billion in assets, has truly struggled. JDIAX posted a 32.88% loss in 2011, and its average return for the past five years is barely positive, at 0.28%.
The portfolio manager, Brent Lynn, likes to focus on emerging markets and smaller companies. Some years, that strategy can result in big returns. But in others, it means big losses. Either way, it’s a wild ride mutual fund investors could do without.
American Funds Growth Fund
Investors have been losing patience with the American Funds Growth Fund (MUTF:RGAAX). The fund lost 5.58% last year, and it suffered outflows of almost $26 billion.
Yet RGAAX still has a whopping $127 billion under management.
A key issue has been the fund’s focus on foreign markets. Also, because of its enormous size, the Growth Fund is heavily concentrated with large-cap stocks, which can be a bit of a drag, too.
Vanguard Windsor Investor
For 31 years, John Neff posted an average return of 13.7% at the Vanguard Windsor Investor (MUTF:VWNDX) fund. However, it has not had the same kind of magic since he left in the mid-90s. The fund has generated an average loss of about 2% int he past five years and fell 4% in 2011.
Current VWNDX manager Jim Mordy (who oversees 70% of the portfolio) is trying to stay true to Neff’s contrarian style. But making money as a contrarian is no easy feat, considering that in today’s markets, value stocks can stay depressed for prolonged periods of time.
Eaton Vance Large-Cap Value
It’s tough to get excited about the Eaton Vance Large-Cap Value (MUTF:EILVX) fund, which has almost $12 billion in assets. During the past five years, EILVX is averaging a loss of 1.6%, and it shed more than 4% last year.
As the name implies, the fund sticks to large-cap stocks, with top holdings including Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL). But EILVX has had missteps with its industry allocation — last year, it was bullish on financials, and we all know how that sector played out.
Tom Taulli runs the InvestorPlace blog IPO Playbook, a site dedicated to the hottest news and rumors about initial public offerings. He also is the author of “All About Short Selling” and “All About Commodities.” Follow him on Twitter at @ttaulli. As of this writing, he did not own a position in any of the aforementioned securities.