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Fund Watch

Picking the Right Mutual Funds for Today's Market

It doesn't hurt for investors to play both offense and defense.


They say in sports that the best defense is a good offense. What’s true on the playing field is also true of this year’s version of the Kiplinger 25, the honor roll of our favorite no-load, actively managed mutual funds. Confronted with a stock market that ex­perienced two sharp sell-offs in the past year, senior associate editor Nellie Huang, our chief mutual funds specialist, has gone on the offensive and replaced seven funds, which is several more than usual. And instead of hunkering down, she is calling plays strategically. On the list, you’ll find new funds that aggressively seek out market opportunities, yet are nimble enough to stay on their feet should the market stumble. It doesn’t hurt for investors to play both offense and defense, and “we’re doing a bit of both,” says Nellie.

See Also -- SLIDE SHOW: Explore the Kip 25 Funds

Take Vanguard Health Care (symbol VGHCX), an addition to the Kip 25 in a volatile sector that took a hit over the past year. The fund has been on our list before; it was taken off when it closed to new investors, but it has since reopened. Nellie is impressed with Jean Hynes, an analyst with the fund since 1995 who became a comanager in 2008 and is now the sole manager. Says Nellie: “When Hynes speaks about the innovative prospects for cancer treatment, she makes it sound like science fiction.” Yet her fund is one of the most conservative in the health care sector, so it “lags during powerful advances but holds up better in lousy markets.”

Or consider Vanguard High-Yield Corporate (VWEHX). Junk bonds have been hammered because of recession fears and troubles in the oil patch, so it seemed an opportune time to add a high-yield fund to the Kip 25. But, says Nellie, this Vanguard fund is one of the tamer offerings. It is cautious in purchasing new issues, and nearly 85% of its assets are in bonds rated single-B or double-B, the highest junk rating.

We've put together new model port­folios for the Kip 25. That raises a question: Should you dump funds that we have removed from our list? Not necessarily. For instance, Vanguard’s more traditional junk-bond fund replaces Osterweis Strategic Income (OSTIX), which focuses on short-term low-grade debt. “That’s a niche,” says Nellie, “but it’s a great fund with low volatility and smart managers.”

When we choose funds, one of our top priorities is to keep expenses as low as possible. That’s a sure winner in any market.