The Wells Fargo Advantage C&B Large Cap Value Fund, one of the top-performing U.S. mutual funds of the past decade, may trail the Standard...

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The Wells Fargo Advantage C&B Large Cap Value Fund, one of the top-performing U.S. mutual funds of the past decade, may trail the Standard & Poor’s 500 index for the first time since 1999 after sticking to a strategy of limiting investments in energy stocks.

The $516 million fund, run by a team led by Kermit Eck, had risen 0.7 percent in 2005, through Nov. 21, lagging behind the S&P 500’s 5.3 percent gain, including reinvested dividends.

The Wells Fargo fund advanced at an average annual rate of 8.8 percent in the past five years, ranking third of 66 competing large-company value funds, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The Target Large Cap Value Portfolio and Merrill Lynch Large Cap Value rose 9.9 percent and 9.8 percent, respectively.

The managers have limited investments in oil stocks while guiding the fund to an average annual advance of 12 percent during the past decade, outpacing the index’s 9.4 percent return.

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“We’re not generally attracted” to the energy sector, said Eck, 53. “We like good businesses that have competitive advantages that aren’t dependent on commodity prices.

“We are long term in sort of a short-term world,” said Eck, who tends to hold stocks for three to five years, compared with an industry average closer to one year. The fund has owned MBIA shares for 11 years.

“We’ve always recognized that we are buying a piece of business rather than just a stock certificate that we’re going to flip to the next guy.”

About 5 percent of the fund’s assets are in energy stocks, compared with the group’s 9.2 percent weighting in the S&P 500.

The S&P energy index had jumped 28 percent this year, through Nov. 21, the biggest gain among the index’s 10 industry groups.

Eck, a partner at Philadelphia-based Cooke & Bieler, manages the fund for Wells Fargo with six colleagues. They focus on companies with low stock prices relative to earnings growth. Wells Fargo, the fifth-biggest U.S. bank, has 120 mutual funds and employs 16 external money-management companies, including Cooke & Bieler, to oversee them.

Cooke & Bieler, which has run the fund since 1990, linked up with Wells Fargo in July 2004, with the San Francisco-based bank handling marketing and sales. The fund’s assets have increased about threefold since then, Eck said.

The fund’s biggest investment is Armonk, N.Y.-based MBIA, the world’s No. 1 bond insurer, with about 2.4 percent of assets. McDonald’s, the world’s largest restaurant chain; Zale, the biggest U.S. jewelry retailer; and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway are other top holdings.

Eck limits his energy holdings because of concern about rapid gains and declines in the oil markets.

“There is an awful lot of money out there that says, ‘We don’t really know if oil should be at $35 or $60 [a barrel], but the train is leaving the station — let’s get on,’ ” Eck said. “We’re sort of willing to go the other way.”