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Mutual Funds

New Talent You Should Meet

Funds with promising young mangers have the same potential as emerging-growth stocks.

When I look for undiscovered funds, I'm usually looking for funds with experienced managers who have great track records but haven't attracted a lot of assets for one reason or another. However, I also like to look for young managers who appear to be rising stars. Funds with promising young managers have the same potential as emerging-growth stocks, in that they could provide great returns for a long time (but you don't want to bet your whole nest egg on them). If you're really cautious, simply put them on your watch list.

Young lions

Cory Gilchrist runs Marsico 21st Century fund (symbol MXXIX) in the patented Marsico style, blending top-down themes with bottom-up growth-stock picking. The key difference with this fund is that Gilchrist targets companies of all sizes, whereas founder Tom Marsico's funds focus on big companies. Gilchrist, 36, has been at the helm for four years -- four great years, I should add. The fund has outstanding three- and five-year records, thanks to the efforts of Gilchrist and his predecessor, so this fund's $1.8-billion asset base may well be in the $5-billion range before you know it -- his kind of numbers will draw a crowd. You may want to get there first. The fund returned an annualized 14.8% for the three years to April 2, versus 10.1% for Standard & Poor's 500-stock index. (To learn more about the fund, see The 25 Best Mutual Funds.)

Donald Kilbride, who manages Vanguard Dividend Growth (VDIGX), is a rising star at a rising fund. Although Kilbride has been at the helm for only a year, there's a lot to like here. Kilbride, 42, hails from asset manager Wellington -- a firm with a deep bench and a great record with Vanguard funds, including Windsor, Wellington and Health Care. In fact, Kilbride assisted on Wellington fund before taking the reins at Dividend Growth. Because Dividend switched from a utilities focus to a broad dividend mandate, its past record looks weak, as reflected by its two-star rating. However, Kilbride's focus on finding good values among dividend-paying stocks fits well with the fund's tiny 0.38% expense ratio. Look for it to generate healthy income and nice returns. The fund returned 13.6% for the 12 months to April 2 (versus the S&P 500's 11.8%).

Darren Maupin, 30, took over Fidelity Aggressive International (FIVFX) and Fidelity Europe Capital Appreciation (FECAX) funds in 2006 after working as an analyst for about eight years. Maupin is a breath of fresh air at Fidelity, where most managers trade rapidly and hold hundreds of stocks. He runs a focused portfolio with a disciplined value strategy that concentrates on companies with clean balance sheets and strong cash flow. He lets cash levels build when he can't find good stocks. In short, he sounds much more like a Warren Buffett than a Peter Lynch or a Will Danoff. Sounding like Buffett isn't the same thing as producing returns like Buffett, but Maupin is one to watch.

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Minyoung Sohn has run Janus Fundamental Equity fund (JAEIX) for two years and Janus Growth & Income for three years. He served as an analyst at Janus for six years before that. I prefer Fundamental Equity as an expression of Sohn's focus on growth at a reasonable price. He looks for companies with strong, sustainable cash flow and a catalyst for future growth. Compared with some of the better-known Janus fund managers -- Scott Schoelzel, at Janus Twenty, for instance -- Sohn is more valuation-conscious. You'll see a few growth darlings but mostly stocks like JPMorgan Chase and General Electric. Sohn, 31, is considered a comer at Janus. He has been getting his feet wet at Fundamental Equity -- its return over his two years with the fund is well ahead of that of the S&P 500. With this experience, plus three years at Growth & Income under his belt, he should be ready for great things.

Columnist Russel Kinnel is director of mutual fund research for Morningstar and editor of its monthly FundInvestor newsletter.