Funds Watch: Some Top Fund Performers in the First Half of 2011 (VGSLX, GASFX, VHCIX, VTCAX, RYAWX, AMLP)

Now that the first six months of 2011 is in the books, we thought a quick glance at some of the period’s top performers would be illuminating. We ran a number of screens at Morningstar and came up with a handful of top performers: Vanguard REIT Index Adm (VGSLX), FBR Gas Utility Index Investor (GASFX), Vanguard Health Care Index Adm (VHCIX), Vanguard Telecom Services Index Adm (VTCAX), and Rydex S&P 500 Pure Growth H (RYAWX). For comparison purposes, the S&P 500 has returned 6.02% over the first half of 2011

The Vanguard REIT Index Admiral Shares (VGSLX) tracks the performance of the MSCI US REIT Index and holds $20.7 billion in total assets. The fund has returned 10.3% year-to-date, and 3.58% in the last three months. There are 108 stocks in the fund, with Simon Property being the top holding. Of the top ten holdings, two are healthcare facilities REITs, HCP Inc. and Ventas Inc., neither of which has performed especially well year-to-date, posting gains of less than 2.5%. Simon and Boston Properties gained 18.43% and 24.46%, respectively, for the fund. For what it’s worth, Simon’s stock price has appreciated 18.05% and Boston Properties’ share price has risen 24.58% since the beginning of the year. Morningstar rates this fund at 3 stars.

The FBR Gas Utility Index Investor Fund (GASFX) tracks the total return of the American Gas Association’s Stock Index and owns all 62 stocks in the index, with a maximum of 5% of total assets for any individual stock. The fund holds total assets of $323.5 million and posted a six-month return of 15%, the best of this group. In the past three months the fund has returned 4.6%. Of the top ten holdings, nine are primarily natural gas and oil pipeline MLPs. Only Pacific Gas & Electric is primarily a utility. The better known and larger Alerian MLP ETF (NYSE: AMLP) returned 2.89% for the first half of the year, and is down -0.42% for the past 3 months. The fund carries a 4-star rating from Morningstar.

The Vanguard Health Care Index Admiral Shares (VHCIX) has posted a first-half return of 13.96% and a 6.86% return in the past three months. The fund tries to replicate the MSCI US Investable Market Health Care 25/50 Index. Fund assets total $897 million, but requires a minimum investment of $100,000. The fund holds 304 stocks, and about 42% of assets are invested in pharmaceuticals, while health care equipment gets about 17% and biotech gets over 13%. There are no health care REITs in the portfolio. The fund gets a 3-star rating from Morningstar.

The Vanguard Telecom Services Index Admiral Shares (VTCAX) tracks the performance of the MSCI US Investable Market Telecommunication Services 25/50 Index. Assets total $447 million and the minimum investment is $100,000. For the first half of 2011 the fund has returned 8.67%, and 4.15% for the first three months. Compared with the average return of other funds in its category, VTCAX returns are about 60% higher. More than 46% of the portfolio is comprised of AT&T and Verizon shares. There are 38 stocks in the fund’s portfolio. The fund gets a 4-star rating from Morningstar.

The Rydex S&P 500 Pure Growth H (RYAWX) holds assets of about $22 billion and has posted a year-to-date gain return of 9.10% and a three-month return of 2.05%. The fund seeks to duplicate the daily performance of the S&P 500 Pure Growth Index. This is a large growth fund and four of its top five holdings are consumer stocks like Netflix, Amazon, and Apple. Apple’s return so far this year is a measly 4.06%, compared with just shy of a 50% return from Netflix and 45% from Chipotle Mexican Grill. Nearly 32% of the fund’s assets are invested in consumer discretionary stocks, with IT getting 28%, and health care 17%. The fund gets a 4-star rating from Morningstar.

We’ve noted the high minimum investment required by a couple of these funds, so it is fair to note that VGSLX carries a very low expense ratio of 0.12%, and the other two Vanguard funds carry a low 0.24% expense ratio. GASFX’s expense ratio is 0.76% and RYAWX’s expense ratio is the highest, at 1.55%. GASFX also has the lowest minimum investment requirement, at $2,000.

Paul Ausick