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The Best Growth Funds

Last week, we took a look at some of our favorite value funds. The time seemed right. After all, value stocks have shredded growth stocks during the past several weeks--and despite the recent resurgence, investors may likely find that they’re still light on value stocks after years of growth-stock outperformance.

Today, we’re taking a look at some of the top growth funds. Granted, there are fewer reasons to be examining these funds today. Investors who own core stock mutual funds or exchange-traded funds--especially those tracking a broad market index such as the S&P 500 or Wilshire 5000 index--already have exposure to growth stocks. They’re diversified. It’s unlikely they need to add more growth to their portfolios--they already have plenty.

Moreover, if you’ve been using discrete funds for your growth and value exposures, your once-balanced style portfolio is likely out of whack. It is probably growth-heavy after that style’s extended period of outperformance: The Morningstar US Growth index has outrun the Morningstar US Value index by nearly 10 full percentage points annually during the past three years.

However, you may be among those who think growth stocks are the place to be, and you’d like to tilt your portfolio toward that style. If that sounds like you, read on. And if not, you can always bookmark this article for a future time when you are in the market for a solid growth fund.

There are many fine growth funds and ETFs to choose from. Today, we’re examining those that land in the U.S. large-growth, mid-growth, or small-growth Morningstar Categories that earn Morningstar Analyst Ratings of Silver or better.

For most investors, your search can begin and end in the large-growth category, and more than two dozen funds and ETFs in this group earn our top ratings.

Managers plying growth strategies covet growth over price--they’re less concerned about finding bargains than their value counterparts. As with any type of fund, though, don’t over-rely on a fund’s category placement to tell you everything you need to know. There’s a good deal of variety among strategies in the large-growth category. And these various approaches can lead to different performance and risk profiles.

Most funds in this camp focus on earnings growth. To invest in a company, they demand that a company’s earnings growth exceeds that of the market. Within this subset, some managers practice a momentum strategy, which pretty much ignores a stock’s price and instead focuses on companies with accelerating earnings whose stocks are already on the upswing--the idea being that stocks that have outperformed will continue to do so, at least in the short run. Other managers are willing to invest in stocks without any earnings--they’re focused instead on revenue growth, with the hope that earnings will eventually follow. Other funds, meanwhile, focus on stocks with more moderate--but steady--earnings growth. These funds tend to boast portfolios of steady-growing and more reasonably priced blue-chip stocks.

Other differences exist, too. For example, a few funds on the list--including Akre Focus (AKREX), Jensen Quality Growth (JENSX), and Loomis Sayles Growth (LSGRX)--maintain compact portfolios consisting of fewer than 40 securities, while others, such as Fidelity Contrafund (FCNTX) and many of the passive choices on the list, own upward of 300 stocks.

Speaking of passive funds: Even the index funds in this category take slightly different approaches. For instance, Vanguard Growth ETF (VUG) targets the faster-growing half of the U.S. large-cap market. However, it extends its reach further down the market-cap ladder and offers a broader portfolio than sibling Vanguard Mega Cap Growth ETF (MGK).

The bottom line: Do your research before you buy. Our investment categories and Analyst Ratings are just a starting point.

While most investors will likely be able to find a strategy that suits their needs in the large-growth category, those with a greater risk tolerance may choose to move down the market-cap ladder and explore smaller companies. Twenty-five mutual funds and ETFs in the mid-cap growth and small-cap growth categories are rated Gold or Silver. Note that several of these funds are closed to new investors today.