Credit Card Sir’s Perspective: If you have ever considered balanced and foreign funds for your 401(k), then you should definitely read this.
Of the 10 balanced funds among the 100 mutual funds with the most assets in 401(k) plans, most are solid choices. Two such funds, Vanguard Wellington (symbol VWELX) and Vanguard Wellesley Income (VWINX), are near mirror images of each another. Wellington has about two-thirds of its assets in stocks and the rest in bonds (a typical allocation for the balanced genre), and Wellesley has about one-third in stocks and the rest in bonds. The funds do a good job of controlling risk: Wellington lost 22.3 percent in 2008, and Wellesley lost 9.8 percent; the average balanced fund sank 27.0 percent.
Fidelity Balanced (FBALX) and Fidelity Puritan (FPURX) saw bigger drops in 2008, but they stand out because they do well in strong markets. American Balanced (ABALX), sponsored by the American Funds, boasts a three-year annualized return of 12.0 percent, the highest of the bunch. Its above-average exposure to stocks — about 70 percent of assets — may be one reason. Vanguard Balanced Index (VBINX) holds about 60 percent of assets in stocks and 40 percent in bonds.
We’re not so keen, though, on Vanguard’s LifeStrategy Conservative Growth (VSCGX) and LifeStrategy Moderate Growth (VSMGX) funds. Vanguard recently revamped this series of funds, but it remains to be seen whether the changes help boost so-so returns.
One theme was clear among the top foreign and global stock funds: Funds with seasoned managers who tend to buy and hold stood above the rest. This includes New Perspective (ANWPX), a team-run global fund from the American Funds family. Also in the top 100 are Dodge & Cox International Stock (DODFX) and Harbor International (HAINX), both members of the Kiplinger 25.
BlackRock Global Allocation (MDLOX) is a go-anywhere, multi-asset fund that holds stocks (both foreign and domestic), bonds, cash and even a smattering of precious metals. Global Allocation’s ten-year annualized return of 10.4 percent edged out the MSCI EAFE index (a measure of foreign stocks in developed markets), and the fund did so with less risk than the index.
The only emerging-markets fund to appear in the top 100 is Oppenheimer Developing Markets (ODMAX). It’s a worthy choice: The fund outpaced the MSCI Emerging Markets index in each of the past five calendar years. If you prefer an unmanaged approach, try Vanguard Total International Stock Index (VGTSX) and Fidelity Spartan International Index (FSIIX). They charge low fees and mirror their benchmarks well.
Finally, a word about Fidelity Diversified International (FDIVX). The fund isn’t horrible; its 9.4-percent annualized return over the past ten years trails the EAFE index, but only slightly.