FOR YEARS THE MUTUAL FUND industry has broken up products as if they were flavors of ice cream growth funds are supposedly filled with firms steadily increasing their profits, and value funds invest in companies managers think are selling at a discount to their true worth. But these days, experts say, it is a lot harder for investors to tell the difference.
Over the past several months, value managers have been scooping up onetime growth-stock darlings at bargain prices. Indeed, some stocks that for years were staples of growth funds big names such as Intel and Goldman Sachs are now, as often as not, found in value funds. Two years ago growth funds were more than twice as likely as value funds to own online auctioneer eBay, but today the stock has an equal weighting in both growth and value portfolios, according to mutual fund research firm Lipper.
Combine the portfolio flavor mixing with the sometimes confusing names that fund companies give to their products ( growth & income, growth and the like) and investors are left wondering what type of fund they really own. The Templeton Growth fund, which has been around since 1954, is actually a traditional value fund, says lead manager Cindy Sweeting, but it owns Oracle and Amgen companies many people would consider growth. The fund s biggest head scratcher: Microsoft, its second-biggest holding. It was overvalued 10 years ago, but the business has grown since then, Sweeting says. Microsoft also happens to be the biggest holding of the Thornburg Core Growth fund (which, true to its name, is a growth-stock fund). Portfolio manager Alex Motola says he owns the stock because Microsoft has a strong business with good cash flow.
This isn t the first time the lines have blurred. It often happens during recessions, when portfolio managers flock to many traditional value stocks food retailers, consumer-products firms because their profits keep growing. That can open up opportunities for value investors in sectors left behind. And experts say the comingling of the growth and value concepts could continue. So it s important for investors to dig into a portfolio, rather than take it at face value, says Jeff Tjornehoj, senior research analyst at Lipper. Comparing a fund s performance with its benchmark the index that most closely matches its investment objective can also be instructive. Sudden changes in relative performance might be a sign the strategy has shifted.
Growth, Value Switcheroo
The aircraft maker was once twice as common in growth funds as in value funds; now it s more likely to be held in a value fund.
Caremark Value funds now own the drugstore stock more than twice as often as growth funds do.
Two years ago the defense contractor was three times as popular with growth funds as with value funds. Now it crops up in value funds twice as often.