With nearly 8,000 mutual funds on the market, there are already plenty to choose from. Yet in a typical year a few hundred new offerings pop up.
Don’t write off all these freshman funds. It’s likely a select group will prove their mettle through good markets and bad, including a handful of recent offerings from managers with strong track records.
Yet too many try to tap into fleeting investor moods influenced by the market’s latest moves. Often, new funds reflect old thinking. That’s because a launch typically takes more than a year to go from glimmer in a fund company executive’s eye to regulatory approval.
Many of the newest funds were conceived during or just after the financial crisis. It was a turbulent end to a decade that got off on the wrong foot when the dot-com bubble burst.
Taxable bonds ended up posting an average annual return of 6.3 percent over the last decade, compared with an average annual loss of about 1 percent for stocks in the Standard & Poor’s 500.
That surprising outcome may explain why so many new funds aim to protect investors from stock declines.
“They’re responding to the market fears and frustrations over the past 10 years,” said Dan Culloton, associate director of fund analysis with Morningstar. “A lot of it is just pure-and-simple rearview mirror product management.”
Trends in new funds
Many of the 150 funds that have hit the market in the last six months are traditional stock funds — not much different from the ones that typically delivered returns approaching 10 percent, before trouble hit last decade.
But many of the new funds take a sharply different tack, in reaction to recent events:
Go long and short: Morningstar counts 18 new funds — one of every eight launched since May — in its long-short category. Just over a year ago, there were only 78 funds in the entire category.
Investing long is betting a stock will eventually rise. Combining that traditional approach with a short strategy means also trying to take advantage of stocks expected to fall. That way, if the market declines, an investor can still profit.
Hedge funds pioneered long-short investing. Now the approach is also available in mutual funds within reach of average investors.
These funds attempt to limit losses when stocks are falling. But if markets rise, expect them to lag.
Emerging market boom: Seventeen new funds focus on emerging markets — fast-growing countries like China, India and Brazil that have recently rewarded investors.
Emerging markets stock funds have returned an average 28 percent over the past 12 months, compared with the 16 percent rise in the Standard & Poor’s 500.
Most of the new offerings invest across a wide swath of emerging markets, while a few target regions like Asia or Latin America. Two are bond funds: Oppenheimer Emerging Markets Debt (OEMAX) and Invesco Emerging Market Local Currency Debt (IAEMX).
Adding such holdings to mostly U.S.-focused portfolios will typically boost returns, because emerging market economies are likely to continue growing faster than our own. But expect bumps along the way, since emerging market stocks tend to be unusually volatile.
Heavy on the commodities: Nine new funds concentrate on commodities. Investments in gold or oil, or crops such as corn and wheat, often don’t rise or fall in sync with stocks, and can fare well even during times of inflation.
One entrant to the category is T. Rowe Price Real Assets (PRAFX), which invests in real estate, energy, and precious metals and mining stocks. It’s from a large, well-known fund company, and carries a modest annual expense ratio of 0.85 percent.
Such funds should probably be used sparingly, because commodities are volatile. Consider what happened with oil, which peaked at $147 a barrel in mid-2008, only to tumble below $40 months later when the financial crisis hit.
New funds to check out
Morningstar’s Culloton argues some new funds are worth a look, based on the strength of their managers’ records at older funds. A few enticing new products on the market or in the pipeline:
Bruce Berkowitz, chosen last January as Morningstar’s Domestic Stock Fund Manager of the Decade as well the top manager of last year, filed with regulators in November to launch his company’s third fund.
Berkowitz built his reputation at Fairholme Fund (FAIRX), which has grown to nearly $17 billion from less than $11 billion in January. Investors have flocked to the stock fund because of its record: in the top 1 percent of its peers over the past 5- and 10-year periods.
Fairholme Allocation proposes to keep a focused portfolio of stocks, bonds and cash, with no restrictions on how much to invest among those categories at any one time.
Osterweis Strategic Investment (OSTVX), which launched August 31, also takes a wide-ranging approach, holding stocks, bonds and cash. The new fund is noteworthy because it comes from the company behind the $1.2 billion Osterweis Fund (OSTFX), which has a reputation for protecting investors when stocks are tanking.
Calamos Discovery Growth (CADGX), a midcap stock fund, launched in June. Calamos Investments is best known for its expertise in half-stock, half-bond hybrid securities called convertibles. Its best-known fund is the $3.3 billion Calamos Convertible (CCVIX).
Morningstar’s Culloton said these four new funds need to prove themselves, despite the strong reputations their managers bring. That’s why Morningstar doesn’t even rate funds until they have three-year records.
“But if you find a new fund from a good shop, with managers who have a strong record, you might be more inclined to take a flyer on it than with other new funds,” he said. “Those can be hidden gems.”