When performance numbers come in for the first half of the year, chances are that at least eight of the top 10 stock mutual funds will be...
When performance numbers come in for the first half of the year, chances are that at least eight of the top 10 stock mutual funds will be in the energy and natural-resources sector.
That will get a lot of people wondering whether they should dive into an energy-sector fund, too.
The real answer depends less on the market and the energy companies than on the personality, temperament and portfolio of the investor involved.
Buying any asset after it heats up is risky business, the classic recipe for a “buy high, sell low” disaster.
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“Today’s energy investor resembles the tech investor of the late 1990s — who was overweight in technology, thinking the run was never going to end,” says Jeff Tjornehoj, research analyst for Lipper in Denver.
“But the energy business today does not resemble tech from 2000. Energy companies are making money, they have proven reserves, and they are paying dividends. … That means the outcome will not be the same — there won’t be a total collapse — but it doesn’t mean that energy automatically justifies how crazed people are for it right now.”
Like tech — and unlike real estate — energy also is a staple of many ordinary growth funds.
Pick any number of big-name funds such as Fidelity Contrafund (FCNTX) and Janus Growth & Income (JAGIX) and you will find more than 10 percent of the portfolio in energy.
Some funds, such as Artisan Mid-Cap Value, have more than 20 percent of their assets in energy.
That means that an ordinary portfolio might have 10 percent of its stock assets in energy, before an energy-sector fund ever enters the picture.
“Lots of growth funds have energy,” says Russel Kinnel, director of mutual-fund research at Morningstar, “and the last time all these funds had a lot of money committed to energy, it was in Enron. This current obsession with energy won’t turn out that badly, but it does show why you want to be very careful.”
Indeed, energy-sector funds topping the short-term performance charts is a clear sign of dangerous volatility, as chart-toppers often wind up at the bottom in a hurry.
“The Vanguard Energy fund (VGENX), was up 19 percent for the year in March, and dropped close to half of that a few weeks later,” says Dan Wiener, editor of The Independent Adviser for Vanguard Investors newsletter. “The investor who gets into something as volatile as energy needs to understand that if their timing is bad, they can get their head handed to them.”
No one is suggesting that energy funds will lose their momentum overnight. Barring a sudden drop in oil prices, most experts think the short-term outlook for natural resources and energy companies is pretty good.
But this is no time to mistake a good run for a “can’t miss.”
Says Kinnel: “Someone who looks at performance and who thinks they have too little energy is probably concerned about the wrong thing. I’d be much more concerned being overweight in the sector than not having enough, because buying more energy now is very much like buying tech in 2000.
“It may work out perfectly if everything goes as hoped for, but if anything goes wrong, look out.”
Chuck Jaffe is senior columnist at CBS Marketwatch. He can be reached at email@example.com or Box 70, Cohasset, MA 02025-0070.