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Fund Spy

Put These Top Managers to Work for You

How to employ our Fund Manager of the Decade nominees wisely.

So, now that we've named our nominees for Fund Manager of the Decade, are you thinking about adding one or more of their funds to your portfolio? If you're sitting with a collection of mediocre funds right now and wouldn't incur onerous tax burdens by overhauling your portfolio, that could be a good idea--heck, we wouldn't have made these managers nominees for our award if we didn't think so.

But you should mind certain risks and idiosyncrasies of these funds. Both advisors and individual investors are often guilty of expecting too much out of their investments. Having reasonable expectations is perhaps the best bulwark against bad investor behavior, such as giving up on a fund at the worst moment. What follows is an effort to set rational expectations for our domestic-equity Manager of the Decade nominees' funds and to help you use them wisely.

Manager of the Decade Nominees FundsBruce Berkowitz Fairholme (FAIRX)Don Yacktman Yacktman (YACKX)Steven Romick FPA Crescent (FPACX)Joel Tillinghast Fidelity Low-Priced Stock (FLPSX)Charlie Dreifus Royce Special Equity (RYSEX)

Expect Style Drift
First, if you like organizing your portfolio strictly around the Morningstar Style Box so that you know exactly how much large-cap and small-cap exposure you have at all times, almost all of our domestic equity nominees will give you fits. You may consider avoiding most of them altogether or only using them on the margins of your portfolio.

For example,  Fairholme (FAIRX), run by Bruce Berkowitz, and  Yacktman (YACKX), run by Don Yacktman, will own stocks of virtually any size, making strict asset allocation along the guidelines of Modern Portfolio Theory difficult. Fairholme and Yacktman own giants such as  Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B) and  Coca-Cola (KO), respectively, but they both also own smaller fry like subprime auto lender  AmeriCredit . Fairholme also owns mid-cap Florida land company  St. Joe (JOE), while Yacktman also owns small-cap firm Furniture Brands International . Both funds will even dabble in bonds when Berkowitz and Yacktman think opportunities in the fixed-income realm can produce equitylike returns. Both funds will hold cash when the managers think prices are rich.

Over the past decade, Fairholme has found itself in the mid-blend and large-growth boxes, while Yacktman landed in the mid-value box a decade ago when large caps were arguably much more expensive than they are now. Yacktman has been in the large-blend box, too.

Steve Romick's  FPA Crescent (FPACX) presents similar problems, with energy behemoths  Chevron (CVX) and  ConocoPhillips (COP) rubbing shoulders with midsize insurer  Assurant (AIZ). Moreover, this fund falls into the moderate-allocation category because it often owns bonds and holds cash, but it doesn't have the typical allocation to vanilla bonds that most balanced funds favor. Instead, Romick isn't afraid to traffic in lower-quality bonds such as those of International Lease Finance,  American International Group's (AIG) aircraft-leasing arm.

 Fidelity Low-Priced Stock (FLPSX) won't typically invest in bonds or hold outsized cash stakes, but its sprawling portfolio contains stocks from every part of the style box. Although the fund has migrated from the small-value and -blend parts of the style box into the mid-cap areas over the past decade, its top holdings include large-cap health insurer  UnitedHealth Group (UNH) and data storage software firm  Oracle (ORCL).

Only Charlie Dreifus at  Royce Special Equity (RYSEX) sticks almost exclusively to small-cap stocks. It's worth noting, however, that the market carnage in early 2009 gave him the opportunity to pick up mid-cap names  Tiffany ,  Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY), and  Cintas (CTAS). Granted, these aren't large-cap stocks, but they are a bit bigger names than usual for this fund. Dreifus may be finished fishing in mid-cap waters for now, but if the market takes another tumble and puts more mid-cap names on sale, don't be surprised to see him cast his lure again in search of larger fish to complement long-standing smaller-cap holdings such as kitchen appliance maker National Presto (NPK) and upscale supermarket operator Arden Group .

Expect Meaningful Sector Bets
Royce Special Equity may not move around the style box much, but its sector and industry weightings will differ markedly from those of its peers. For example, Dreifus may never own a bank or a real estate investment trust, which are included in most small-cap indexes. Dreifus avoids debt like the plague, and banks and REITs typically carry a lot of debt. So, Royce Special Equity will look and perform differently than its small-value peers, most of which stick close to small-cap indexes, financials and all. Not holding banks and REITs made the fund look sluggish versus its peers from 2003 through 2005, and it could underperform again if debt-heavy companies become darlings again. This is no reason not to own the fund, but understanding this can help you hold it through what seem to be difficult times.

Fairholme's sector bets also stand out. It currently has around 36% of its assets in health care, including bets on pharmaceutical giant  Pfizer (PFE) and insurer  Humana (HUM). That's three times the sector exposure of the fund's average peer or the S&P 500 Index. Like many good investors, Bruce Berkowitz is attracted to controversy and pain, and few industries are currently more controversial or are enduring more pain than those involved in health care. Drug pipelines are weak, and Congress is debating whether to create a public insurance option that could allow the government to compete with private insurers. Still, Berkowitz thinks that the companies' share prices more than reflect the damage they'll actually endure.

Berkowitz's health-care wager hasn't hurt the fund, but he almost certainly will get some of his bets wrong at some point. Nobody's perfect in investing; even Warren Buffett has made bad bets on airlines in the past. The point is that you have to be confident that you can own Fairholme over the long haul and endure a bad bet or two along the way if you're going to use this fund well.

None of the funds on our list is an index-hugger, which partly is what has made them so good over the years. If you're going to pay for active management, you may as well get it. These funds certainly give it to you in spades. The qualities that have made them so good over the longer haul, however, can also make them sputter in the short term and make you question why you own them. Knowing how these funds operate can help you hang on during the tough times and ultimately use them to your advantage.

John Coumarianos has a position in the following securities mentioned above: BRK.B, RYSEX, CVX, NPK. Find out about Morningstar’s editorial policies.