Value Funds That Can Survive the Downturn

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Financial advisors divide fund managers into two broad categories, growth specialists—those who favor companies with growing earnings—and value seekers—people who aim to buy shares on the cheap.

The bear market has been particularly hard on value funds. The average large value fund dropped 40% during the year ending in April, more than 3 percentage points worse than large growth, according to fund tracker Morningstar.

For value managers, much of the trouble can be traced to a few industries. Because they favor cheap shares, many value funds have traditionally held big stakes in financial and energy companies—industries that command low prices in the stock markets. Those sectors have been clobbered lately.

Big financial holdings hurt such premier value funds as Longleaf Partners, which lost 46% in the past year. Other funds that lost more than 45% include Columbia Value & Restructuring and Legg Mason Value.

Seeing the carnage, nervous investors have been dumping value funds of all kinds. But before you rush to sell, keep in mind that some value funds have proved relatively resilient. Such stable performers could be sound choices for investors seeking to build portfolios that can weather hard times.

One of the top value performers has been Yacktman Fund, which lost 28% in the past year, outpacing the S&P 500 by more than 10 percentage points. Although he favors steady companies, portfolio manager Donald Yacktman can't usually buy familiar blue chips because they are normally too expensive for his value-oriented strategy.

But stocks of all kinds were battered last year, and Yacktman went bargain hunting. He now holds such well-known names as Microsoft and Coca-Cola. Those stocks have held up relatively well in the past year, enabling Yacktman to outpace his value competitors.

Another fund that focuses on steady companies is American Century Equity Income, which outpaced 99% of large value funds in the past year and 97% over the past five years. The fund buys companies that have strong balance sheets and lead their industries.

A top holding is garbage hauler Waste Management, which enjoys relatively steady sales because people always take out the trash—no matter how the economy fares. By sticking with such solid stocks, top value funds should be able to protect shareholders in downturns and deliver solid results over the long term.

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