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Fund Watch

When Stocks Falter, This Mutual Fund Shines

With a lot of consumer stocks and cash, Symons Value is positioned for a weak economy.


One way of assessing a fund is to see how it does in tough times. By that yardstick, Symons Value Institutional (symbol SAVIX) is a winner. Since its launch in late 2006, the fund has produced its best results, relative to the market, when stocks have struggled. In 2008, when Standard & Poor's 500-stock index plunged 37%, the fund sank 13%. In 2011, when the index rose 2.1%, Symons earned 5.7%. Over the past year, it beat the index by 7.3 percentage points. By contrast, in years when stocks sizzle, the fund has always been near the rear of the pack. And that is fine with manager Colin Symons, who says the key to long-term success is holding down losses in weak markets.

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Symons builds his portfolio by starting with the big economic picture and then selecting stocks that are cheap relative to their historical valuations or compared with others in their sector. He's cautious on the economy (he thinks the U.S. may already be in a recession), so the fund recently had 18% of its assets in cash, about the same as it did in 2008. And about half of the $92 million portfolio was in utility stocks and shares of companies that make consumer necessities, such as Campbell Soup and Procter & Gamble.

Since the fund's inception, it has edged the S&P 500 by an average of 0.1 percentage point per year. But thanks to its cautious strategy, it did so with 23% less volatility than the index. The fund, which is available through several online brokers, requires a minimum investment of $5,000

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