If you had put $1,000 into the Fidelity Select Electronics Fund at the start of the decade, you'd be sitting on $23,550 today.
The fund, which invests in computer-related companies, was the top-performing stock mutual fund of the 1990s, returning 2,255 percent from Jan. 1, 1990, to Dec. 28, 1999, according to Morningstar Inc., which tracks mutual funds. The $23,550 return assumes all dividends were reinvested.
Two other Fidelity Investment funds focused on high-technology companies--Fidelity Select Computers, at 1,912 percent, and Fidelity Select Technology, at 1,842 percent--rounded out the decade's top three.
"It makes perfect sense that tech is the leader," said Morningstar senior analyst Russ Kinnel, citing the boom in personal computers earlier in the decade and the emergence of the Internet at its close.
Overall, technology funds were the best performers of the decade, returning 1,286 percent.
Precious metals funds brought up the rear, declining 40 percent on average. U.S. Global Investors Gold Shares, down 91 percent, ranked as the worst performer on Morningstar's list.
Slowing U.S. inflation and gold sales by Russia, South Africa and central banks have hurt precious metals funds, Kinnel said. Investors also preferred equity and fixed-income derivatives and inflation-protected U.S. Treasury securities as hedges.
As a group, communications funds ranked No. 2, with a 530 percent return and large-growth funds followed with a 463 percent return.
After the three Fidelity funds, Invesco Technology II was the decade's fourth-best-performing fund, up 1,548 percent.
Rounding out the Top 10:
Fidelity Select Software & Computer Services, up 1,380 percent; T. Rowe Price Science & Technology, up 1,257 percent; Alliance Technology A, up 1,246 percent; Seligman Communications & Information A, up 1,229 percent; Spectra Fund, up 1,171 percent; and RS Emerging Growth Fund, up 1,095 percent.
The biggest losers after U.S. Global Investors Gold Shares, were Monterey OCM Gold Fund, down 73 percent; Midas Investors, down 72 percent; DFA Japanese Small Company, down 65 percent; Comstock Partners Capital Value A, down 62 percent; Invesco Gold, down 59.4 percent; Ameritor Industry, down 59.1 percent; Pimco Precious Metals C, down 57 percent; Van Eck International Investors Gold A, down 54 percent; and American Heritage Fund, down 53 percent.
Financial companies' funds returned 448 percent in the 1990s, ranking fifth, behind small-growth funds. The sector's 1999 performance was less promising though, down 2.0 percent through Dec. 28.
After the savings and loan debacle a decade ago, banks started the 1990s cheap and benefited from favorable regulatory changes and comparatively low interest rates, Kinnel said.
Large-company value funds, up 271 percent for the decade, gained just 6.2 percent in 1999. Mid-Cap value's 219 percent decade return lagged large caps, though it has beaten its larger cousin for the year so far with a 6.4 percent return.
"Value has kind of suffered for financials, also tobacco has been awful," Kinnel said, adding that many big value funds have invested much of their money in Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holding.
High-yield bonds topped Morningstar's bond category, returning 159 percent, though this year's return is only 4.0 percent.
Like banks, the sector started the decade cheap and benefited as lower rates allowed companies to de-leverage after loading up with debt in the 1980s.
Long U.S. government bonds returned 105 percent during the 1990s, compared with 90 percent for intermediate-term government bonds and 84 percent for short-term bonds.