Bear markets aren't very generous, but they do offer investors at least one thing: They tend to shut the pipeline of new funds and stocks designed to siphon off your hard-earned money.
Fund launches have fallen substantially in 2002, which means that fewer new funds are being started with ripped-from-the-headlines strategies. Near the end of the bull market, we were besieged with Internet funds, biotech/genomics funds and even a couple of power-generation funds meant to capitalize on success stories like Enron. Yuck.
Many financial planners use only funds that have at least three years of performance under their belts, and with good reason. Such a policy screens out many goofy funds and provides a look at both how the fund invests and how it behaves in varying markets. With that caveat, I'm taking a look at the few new funds introduced this year that caught my eye. I see this more as a list of funds to watch rather than to rush out to buy today, although one or two might have enough going for them to merit consideration today.
* Fidelity Inflation-Protected Bond (FINPX). If I had to pick one new fund to invest in today, this would be it. Fidelity has built a strong team to run its bond funds. They don't bet on the direction of interest rates or other macroeconomic factors. Instead, they run conservative portfolios and try to boost returns at the margins. As Fidelity's bond funds have a cost advantage over most of the competition, they don't have to make wild bets to beat their peers. Further, inflation-protected bonds make a nice diversifier for your bond portfolio.
* Vanguard Capital Value (VCVLX). This fund offers low costs and seasoned management. Co-managers Charles T. Freeman and David R. Fassnacht are with Wellington Management, one of the better money managers around. Freeman has served as lead manager at Vanguard Windsor (VWNDX) since 1995, but he was contributing to the fund for many years before that. The idea behind Vanguard Capital Value is to use its smaller asset base to allow Freeman to take bigger positions in mid-caps than is possible at Windsor, and even mix in some small-caps.
So far, though, the fund has fared poorly. Its start reminds me of Vanguard Selected Value (VASVX), a dismal performer in its first two years that turned into a strong one when subadviser Barrow Hanley switched managers. I doubt a manager change will be needed, but it's worth remembering that this fund's smaller size means it's less diversified than Windsor and is likely to be more volatile.
* Buffalo Mid Cap (BUFMX). Buffalo Funds has a small-cap and a large-cap offering, so I guess this one was inevitable. It's run by the same trio that has produced strong results at those other two funds. Kent Gasaway, Tom Laming and Bob Male use a growth-at-a-reasonable-price strategy that has held up nicely in the face of this bear market. So far, Buffalo Mid Cap has lost a little less than most mid-growth funds, but it's the record at Buffalo Small Cap (BUFSX) and Buffalo Large Cap (BUFEX) that's really the draw. This fund has just $39 million in assets, but its expense ratio is a rather reasonable 1.16 percent.
* AIM Mid Cap Basic Value (MDCAX). The story is similar here: a new fund from a successful trio. In this case, Bret W. Stanley, Michael Seinsheimer and Michael J. Simon have built a strong record at AIM Basic Value (GTVLX) by using discounted cash-flow analysis to find stocks trading well below their intrinsic value. That fund slides back and forth over the line between value and blend, which is likely to be the case here, too.
The pace of new, gimmicky funds has only slowed -- it hasn't dried up entirely. Because the market is lousy, a couple of shops have come out with sector-timing funds. There's Fund X Upgrader (FUNDX), a fund of funds that charges 1.5 percent for the privilege of chasing hot-performing funds, in addition to what the funds in Upgrader's portfolio charge. Rydex Sector Rotation (RYSRX) charges 1.69 percent for sector bets. Finally, there's Pictet Global Water Fund (PGWRX), which is designed to profit from the coming global water crisis.