Investing

Fund Watch: Value is Where You Find It, With Some Stumbling Along The Way (AMSHX, VWNFX, PRFDX, FAIRX, XLE)

An investor looking for value could do worse than to start with a large, well-established fund with substantial assets and a long track record. Today we’ll look at four funds with about $15 billion or more in assets, all of which have been around for at least 10 years: American Funds Washington Mutual A (AWSHX), Vanguard Windsor II Investor (VWNFX), T. Rowe Price Equity Income (PRFDX), and Fairholme (FAIRX).

The American Funds Washington Mutual A (AWSHX) looks for value in dividend-paying stocks. To make the cut, a stock has to have paid a dividend in 9 of the past 10 years, and no alcohol or tobacco stocks are allowed. Over the past 10 years the fund has averaged a 3.49% annualized return. Two of the fund’s top holdings have P/E ratios above 25, with Merck & Co. (NYSE: MRK) at a whopping 68.97. There’s not much uncovered value there, but Merck’s dividend yield is a substantial 4.3%. The fund also has about half as much exposure to the financial sector as the all funds in the large-value category, and far less than the others we’re looking at here.

The fund’s NAV was $28.05 on June 15th, within a 52-week range of $22.58-$29.67. Assets total nearly $54 billion. The expense ratio is a low 0.70% and the yield is 2.30%. The fund has a 3-star rating from Morningstar.

The Vanguard Windsor II Investor (VWNFX) primarily invests in stocks that pay high dividends and sport a low P/E ratio. Unlike AWSHX, tobacco stocks are welcome, and Philip Morris Intl. Inc. (NYSE: PM) is the seventh largest stock holding in the fund. Of the fund’s top holdings, Philip Morris is the fund’s best performer for the trailing 12 months. Maybe AWSHX ought to reconsider its ban on tobacco and other sin stocks. VWNFX and PRFDX hold virtually identical stakes in financial sector stocks, at 20.21% and 20.04%, respectively.

The NAV on June 15th was $26.36, within a 52-week range of $21.24-$28.22. Assets total almost $38 billion. The expense ratio is a very low 0.35% and the yield is 1.74%. The fund carries a 3-star rating from Morningstar.

The T. Rowe Price Equity Income (PRFDX) searches for value in companies that are cheap relative to their historic multiples, while still paying attention to dividend yield. The fund holds nearly 5% of its assets in cash. Like AWSHX, energy stocks comprise around 15% of the fund’s total assets. The fund benefited from dividend increases from financial stocks and some industrials earlier this year. This is a big blue-chip fund where bargains are few and yields are the norm. Searching for value among blue-chip names that have faltered and maintaining relatively small positions across the board offers both an upside play and a safety play not matter which way the market turns.

The NAV for PRFDX on June 15th was $23.77, within a 52-week range of $19.42-$25.53. Assets top $23 billion. The expense ratio is a low 0.68% and the yield is 1.75%. The fund has a 4-star rating from Morningstar.

The Fairholme (FAIRX) fund invests in solid businesses run by excellent managers. The fund’s largest stock holding, American International Group Inc. (NYSE: AIG), has completely collapsed since January losing some 50% of its value. FAIRX is very heavily tilted toward financial stocks with about 74% of its assets in the sector. The fund’s second largest holding is in real estate. Both have done poorly this year, but fund manager Bruce Berkowitz is sitting tight. He believes that the sector is working through its problems and that it will emerge stronger than ever in a year or so.

The fund’s NAV was $31.68 on June 14th, within a 52-week range of $29.91-$36.53. Assets total almost $15 billion. The expense ratio is an average 1.00% and the yield is 1.13%. The fund carries a 4-star rating from Morningstar.

Fairholme aside, these funds all trade near 52-week highs, likely a result of investors’ continuing search for value. Fairholme, near its 52-week low, needs a recovery in the financial sector.

Continuing high prices for oil should help support more energy-heavy AWSHX and PRFDX. VWNFX, like FAIRX, needs some help from the financial sector to get back on track. Even though oil prices are falling as the dollar gains strength against the euro, over the course of the year, average prices per barrel will be higher, pushing oil company profits higher.

A smaller screen at value funds and ETFs was made earlier this week.

Paul Ausick