In 1991, Sheldon Jacobs, editor of the No-Load Fund Investor (914-693-7420), found a simple system for picking a single mutual fund that had a good chance of beating the averages over the next year. He back-tested the strategy and found that it worked two-thirds of the time. In practice, that's been the record as well: six wins, four losses, one tie. Overall, for 27 years, a $1,000 investment in what Jacobs calls the "Persistency of Performance" system grew to $111,835. A similar investment in the average fund rose to $24,394. Pretty good. It's simple, too. At the start of the year, buy the top-performing diversified no-load stock mutual fund of the previous year and hold it for 12 months. The pick for 2003: Royce Special Equity (RYSEX), a small-cap value fund that returned 15.3 percent in 2002. Fun fact: Royce's return was the second-lowest among all top-performing funds since 1975. The lowest, Founders Discovery, up 13.1 percent in 1990, returned 62.5 percent the next year. Could history repeat? By the way, top holdings for Royce Special Equity at last report include Universal Corp. (UVV), tobacco processing; Banta Corp. (BN), printing and packaging; and Dress Barn (DBRN), budget retail chain.

-- James K. Glassman