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Goldberg's Picks: The 5 Best Load Funds for 2013

These funds are worth considering if you can avoid the sales charge.

The differences between load funds and no-load funds decrease every year. Funds that charge loads are almost always available without the loads through financial advisers and 401(k) plans. What's more, some fund firms -- Pimco being the most prominent--offer share classes that don't charge loads, as well as those that do.

With that in mind, here are my five favorite load funds for 2013, listed from lowest to highest risk. Of course, if you use an adviser, you'll pay for them one way or another. But that's also true if an adviser puts you into no-load funds. If you're a do-it-yourself investor, avoid funds that'll charge you a load, these gems included. Symbols below are for the funds' institutional share classes, which don't charge commissions but typically require large minimum investments.

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1. Templeton Global Total Return (symbol TTRZX) is not your grandfather's bond fund. Manager Michael Hasenstab invests mainly in bonds and currencies of fast-growing emerging markets in Asia, Europe and Latin America. He also has a big slug of assets in economically troubled Ireland. His portfolio is structured to benefit from a slide in the euro, the yen and the dollar against emerging-markets currencies.

Hasenstab is worried about higher interest rates, so he has the fund well-cushioned against them. If interest rates were to rise by one percentage point, the fund's share price would likely fall less than 2.5%. The fund yields 4.0%, so even if its price fell 2.5% over a year's time, you'd still earn a positive total return.

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Returns have been superb. Over the past three years, the fund returned an annualized 11.1% -- putting it in the top 1% among international bond funds. Older sibling Templeton Global Bond Fund (TGBAX) has done just as well since Hasenstab took over in 2001. (All returns in this article are through December 24.)

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2. Jean-Marie Eveillard posted most of the fabulous record of low-risk First Eagle Global Fund I (SGIIX) before stepping down as manager in March 2009 and becoming a "senior adviser" to the fund. Over the past ten years, First Eagle returned an annualized 12.6% -- an average of 4.5 percentage points per year better than the MSCI World All Cap stock index.

The question is whether the fund's three co-managers can do anywhere near as well as Eveillard in running this unusual fund. I think they can and will. They've positioned the fund much as Eveillard did. It recently had only 70% of assets in stocks and 1% in bonds. The rest was in cash and gold. First Eagle, which looks for undervalued assets worldwide and holds stocks an average of almost ten years, has been about 30% less volatile than the MSCI World index.

3. Although the American funds didn't do particularly well in the 2007-09 bear market, I still think of American as the Vanguard of load-fund shops. They offer low fees, and they employ patient managers and analysts who over time have produced solid returns, generally with below-average volatility.

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American Funds Fundamental Investors F-2 (FINFX) is actually the firm's most volatile large-company fund, but that's not saying much. Over the past ten years, the fund's Class A shares (ANCFX) returned an annualized 9.0%, putting it in the top 4% of large-company blend funds. But over that period, the fund was only slightly more volatile than Standard & Poor's 500-stock index. (The F-2 share class does not have a ten-year record.) As with all American funds, Fundamental Investors is piloted by multiple managers, each of whom is responsible for a slice of the fund's assets. This fund's F-2 shares, the cheapest class offered by American, charge just 0.42% a year. The fund has $51.5 billion. At last report, 22% of assets were in foreign stocks.

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4. Speaking of the American funds, American Funds New World F-2 (NFFFX) is a unique offering -- and my favorite of all load funds. I don't know why other fund shops haven't copied it. Roughly 10% of assets are in emerging-markets bonds, and the rest are divided between emerging-markets stocks and multinational companies, mainly those based in Europe, that do a lot of business in developing markets. So the fund's top holdings range from América Móvil (Latin America's giant wireless- service provider) and Nestlé to Samsung and Anheuser-Busch InBev.

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The mix has produced higher returns than most diversified foreign funds, which emphasize developed markets, with less volatility than most emerging-markets funds. Over the past ten years, the fund's Class A shares (NEWFX) returned an annualized 13.7% (As with the other American fund, New World's F-2 shares do not have a ten-year record). That's an average of 5.5 percentage points per year better than the MSCI EAFE, the most popular developed-markets foreign benchmark, but an average of 2.5 percentage points per year behind the MSCI Emerging Markets index. During those ten years, the fund was just a hair more volatile than the MSCI EAFE but 22% less volatile than the MSCI Emerging Markets index. Annual expenses are just 0.76%.

5. If you want a purer emerging-markets fund, consider Oppenheimer Developing Markets A (ODMAX), which keeps a much smaller slug of assets (about 25%) than New World in developed markets. Over the past ten years, the fund returned an annualized 19.7%, putting it in the top 1% of diversified emerging-markets stock funds. Over that period, the fund was about 7% less volatile than the emerging-markets index.

Oppenheimer isn't my favorite fund family. Questions about the firm arose after Oppenheimer Core Bond A (OPIGX), supposedly a fairly sedate fund, plunged a catastrophic 35.8% in 2008. The firm has made changes in its top ranks since then, but it's difficult for a fund firm to recover from such a disaster. Still, Developing Markets fund is a good choice.

Steven T. Goldberg is an investment adviser in the Washington, D.C. area.

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