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3 Popular--and Exceptional--Funds of 2019

Our analysts share what makes these funds attention-grabbers.

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Susan Dziubinski: Hi, I'm Susan Dziubinski from Morningstar.com. As 2019 winds down, we're focusing on some of the most popular funds on Morningstar.com. Here are three of the best funds that you, our viewers, researched the most in 2019.

Alec Lucas: Vanguard Dividend Growth is an excellent option for investors who want to benefit from the return potential of equities but to be able to sleep at night when the market goes down. The fund is managed by Don Kilbride of Wellington Management, subadvisor for Vanguard, and he has been managing the fund since February of 2006. He's a very skilled investor and stock-picker, invests in about 50 companies or so. They tend to be large-cap multinational companies that pay rising dividends. And these companies are the kind of companies that investors hold on to in downturns. The fees are very cheap, only 22 basis points per year right now, and the fund is very proven. In market downturns, it tends to lose considerably less than the S&P 500 and reliably so. So, investors have benefited from the compounding of wealth in this fund over time.

Robby Greengold: Fidelity Contrafund is a Silver-rated large-growth strategy that stands out for its excellent manager. Will Danoff has been at the helm since 1990. He's coming up on his 30th year, and throughout that time, he has consistently outpaced his relevant bogies and delivered excess returns for shareholders. Contrafund has for a long time been one of the largest actively managed funds with over $120 billion in assets currently. And that on its own gives Danoff unparalleled access to corporate executives and management teams. And he's very hands-on in this process, meeting with hundreds of them throughout the year. He's very involved with Fidelity's analyst team that digs deep into the fundamentals of these companies and feeds him the best ideas. And through that he's been able to sustain the fund's returns during market drawdowns. He successfully navigated multiple market environments. And with his steady hand at the wheel, we continue to have confidence in the strategy.

Benjamin Joseph: Gold-rated Dodge & Cox Income stands out for its relatively patient and at times contrarian approach to investing. The managers, who average 21 years of experience, start with an investment horizon of three to five years. They run a fairly compact, mostly cash/bond, portfolio. The team tend to favor corporates, and I think that the yield advantage offered by these securities is an important contributor to total return over time. Over the long haul, patience and a focus on fundamentals has paid off and so did the managers' risk-taking. The strategy's volatility-adjusted performance as measured by the Sharpe ratio over the trailing 10 years through November 2019 landed close to the best decile of its intermediate core-plus bond Morningstar Category. Indeed, while the absolute return over the same period merrily beats its typical peer, this performance has been accomplished with a lower volatility than 85% of its distinct peers. With low fees and skilled managers, this fund is a strong option.

Susan Dziubinski has a position in the following securities mentioned above: FCNTX. Find out about Morningstar’s editorial policies.