War Jitters Shook Up Funds in February


By Amey Stone February was a volatile month for mutual-fund investors. Stocks, which had rallied in the first two weeks of the New Year before falling sharply in the second half of January, continued their descent in early February. Hopes that a conflict with Iraq would start -- and end -- soon and bolster the economic recovery lifted stock-fund returns mid-month. But investors' enthusiasm soon petered out, and selling resumed. By the end of February, the average U.S. diversified stock fund had lost 2%, faring a bit worse than the S&P 500, which fell 1.5%.

A few market niches benefited despite -- or in some cases because of -- war jitters, and funds that focused on them held up the best in February. The best-performing fund category in BusinessWeek's Mutual Fund Scoreboard was natural resources, gaining an average of 2.8% in February, thanks to the rise in oil and commodity prices. Oppenheimer Real Asset (QRAAX) was up 12.3% for the month and has climbed 54% in the past 12 months, making it the top-performing stock fund over that time period.

A few Russia funds, which tend to be heavily weighted in energy stocks, turned in strong performances. ING Russia (LETRX) gained 10.4%, and Third Millennium Russia (TMRFX) gained 9.8% in February. Fidelity Select Energy Service (FSESX) was also a top-performer, gaining 6.4% in the month.

BARGAIN HUNTING. Technology continued its surprising pattern this year of outperforming broader indexes as some brave investors picked up bargains and positioned their portfolios for an eventual rebound in business spending. Tech funds gained 0.4% in February. The month's best performer was a souped-up bet on chipmaking: ProFunds Ultra Semiconductor (SMPIX) climbed 13.8%.

Funds that invest in small companies fared among the worst, with both growth and value small-cap funds losing 3.2% in the month. Perkins Opportunity (POFDX), a small-cap growth fund, was the worst-performing equity fund in February, with a loss of 19%. Among large-cap names, growth did a bit better than value. For example, Large-cap growth funds lost 0.9% in the month, while large-cap value funds lost 2.5%.

Many funds that invest in Europe were hurt badly as deteriorating economic news there cast a pall on stocks. Among the worst performers in February were iShares MSCI Belgium Index (EWK), which fell 10.5%, and iShares MSCI Netherlands Index (EWN), which fell 9.9%.

WORLD-BEATING BONDS. On the fixed-income side, volatile emerging-market bond funds did the best, gaining 3.5% in the month as economic turmoil in Latin America cooled, at least temporarily, and Asian tech markets showed strength (see BW Online, 3/04/03, "Special Report: Emerging Tech Markets").

Most bond funds had positive returns in February. Only convertible-bond funds, which are linked to equity results, fell 0.3% in the month. Investors who stuck to the safety of long government bond funds were rewarded yet again as that category turned in another strong month. American Century Target Maturity 2025 (BTTRX) was the top-performing bond fund in February, climbing 5.2%. The average long government bond fund gained 2.4% in February. With a 13.3% 12-month return, trusty old government bonds are proving themselves the asset class to beat in 2003.

A-rated equity funds in February

ABN AMRO Real Estate N

AIM Global Health Care A

ARK Small Cap Equity A

Advisors Inner Circle FMC Select

Amer Century Equity Inc Inv

Amer Century Glbl Gold Inv

Ariel

Armada Small Cap Value I

Artisan Mid Cap

Artisan Small Cap Value

BNY Hamilton Sm Cap Gr Inv

Baron Growth

Berger Small Cap Value Inv

Berwyn Income

Bjurman Micro Cap Growth

BlackRock International Opportunities Inv A

Brazos Micro Cap Y

Bridgeway Aggressive Investors 1

Bridgeway Ultra Small Company

Bridgeway Ultra Small Company Tax Adv

Bruce

CGM Focus

Calamos Growth A

Clipper

Conseco Balanced C

Conseco Equity Y

Dodge & Cox Balanced

Dodge & Cox Stock

Driehaus Asia Pacific Growth

Eaton Vance Wldwd Hlth Sciences A

Emerald Select Banking & Finance A

Evergreen Precious Metals Holdings A

Exeter Pro Blend Conservative Term A

FBR Small Cap Financial A

FBR Small Cap Value A

FMI Focus

Fenimore Equity Income

Fidelity Advisor Mid Cap T

Fidelity Export & Multinational

Fidelity Fifty

Fidelity Japan Small Co

Fidelity Low Priced Stock

Fidelity New Millennium

Fidelity Real Estate Investment

Fidelity Select Gold

Fidelity Select Insurance

Fidelity Select Natural Gas

Fidelity Select Software & Computer

Fifth Third Micro Cap Value Instl

Fifth Third Strategic Income Instl

First American Real Estate Securities Y

First American Small Cap Growth Opport Y

First Eagle Global A

First Eagle Overseas A

First EagleGold

First Investors Multi-State Ins Tax Free NC A

Franklin Gold & Precious Metals A

Franklin Microcap Value

Fremont US Micro Cap

Fremont US Micro Cap Instl

Gabelli ABC

Gabelli Gold

Hartford Mid Cap A

Hennessy Cornerstone Growth

Heritage Mid Cap Stock A

Hotchkis & Wiley Mid-Cap Value I

ICON Energy

ICON Healthcare

ICON Information Technology

ICON Leisure and Consumer

IMS Capital Value

ING Index Plus Mid Cap A

ING Precious Metals

INVESCO Energy Inv

INVESCO Leisure Inv

JPMorgan Mid Cap Value I

Janus Adviser Balanced I

Janus Adviser Capital Appreciation I

Janus Balanced

Jensen

Julius Baer International Equity A

Kinetics Internet

Leuthold Core Investment

Liberty Acorn Z

Longleaf Partners

Lord Abbett Mid Cap Value A

MFS International New Discovery A

Mairs & Power Growth

Marshall Mid Cap Value Inv

Matthews Asian Growth & Income

Matthews Korea

Merger

Meridian Growth

Meridian Value

Merrill Lynch Global Small Cap B

Merrill Lynch Healthcare B

Merrill Lynch Natural Resources D

Monterey OCM Gold

Montgomery Partners Long Short Eqty Plus R

Morgan Stanley Health Sciences Trust B

Morgan Stanley Instl Small Company Gr B

Mosaic Equity Tr Mid Cap

Mutual European Z

Mutual Financial Services A

Navellier Perf Mid Cap Growth

Needham Growth

Neuberger Berman Genesis Inv

Oakmark Equity & Income I

Oakmark International Small Cap I

Olstein Financial Alert C

Oppenheimer Gold & Special Minerals A

Osterweis

PBHG Mid Cap Value

PIMCO RCM Biotechnology D

PIMCO RCM Global Healthcare D

Parnassus Income Equity Income

Permanent

Phoenix-Duff & Phelps Real Estate Sec A

Prudent Bear

Prudential Natural Resources A

Quaker Aggressive Growth A

Reserve Private Eqty Small Cap Growth R

Royce Low Priced Stock

Royce Opportunity Inv

Royce Pennsylvania Mutual Inv

Royce Premier

Royce Total Return

Royce Trust & Giftshares Inv

Rydex URSA

Schroder Capital Ultra Inv

Scudder Gold & Precious Metals S

Scudder Micro Cap Invest

Scudder Target 2010

Security Capital US Real Estate

Security Mid Cap Value A

Sentinel Small Company A

Smith Barney Aggressive Growth A

Stratton Monthly Dividend REIT

Strong Advisor Small Cap Value Z

T Rowe Price Capital Appreciation

T Rowe Price Health Sciences

T Rowe Price Intl Discovery

T Rowe Price Real Estate

TCW Galileo Value Opportunities I

Thompson Plumb Balanced

Thompson Plumb Growth

Tocqueville Small Cap Value

Touchstone Emerging Growth A

Transamerica Premier Growth Oppt Inv

Turner Micro Cap Growth

USAA Precious Metals & Minerals

Undiscovered Managers REIT Instl

Undiscovered Managers Small Cap Vl Instl

Value Line Emerging Opportunities

Vanguard Capital Opportunity

Vanguard Energy

Vanguard Health Care

Vanguard International Explorer

Vanguard LifeStrategy Income

Vanguard Precious Metals

Vanguard Wellesley Income Inv

WM West Coast Equity A

Waddell & Reed Adv Asset Strategy A

Waddell & Reed Adv Science & Technology A

Wasatch Core Growth

Wasatch Micro Cap

Wasatch Small Cap Growth

Wasatch Small Cap Value

Wasatch Ultra Growth

Weitz Partners Value

Weitz Value

Wells Fargo Strategic Income I

Westport R

Westport Select Cap R

William Blair International Growth N

Stone is an associate editor of BusinessWeek Online and covers the markets as a Street Wise columnist and mutual funds in her Mutual Funds Maven column


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