By Ben Baden

Below-average fees and superior long-term returns make these funds good bets

With thousands of options to choose from, selecting the right mutual fund can be tough. While past performance is no guarantee of future success, one of the most proven strategies is selecting funds with solid long-term track records. Managers of these funds tend to invest for the long haul instead of making shortsighted bets or chasing the latest market trend.

Using our exclusive U.S. News Mutual Fund Score, we've compiled a list of the best long-term performers in some of the most popular mutual fund categories. Over the past 12 months, every fund on the list has received an average U.S. News score of 7 or higher. Our score is based on the ratings of some of the mutual fund industry's best-known analysts, including Morningstar, Lipper, Standard & Poor's, TheStreet, and Zacks.

To gauge performance, we screened our database to find funds with the highest 10-year trailing returns as of the end of March. Each fund on the list finished in the top quartile of its respective Morningstar category, with the exception of a few index funds, which we've included as options for investors who favor a passive investing approach.

Since high fees can eat away at long-term returns, the funds selected for this year's list charge annual expenses that are less than their respective category average. In the name of affordability, the funds also have minimum investments of $25,000 or less.

For those who prefer passive investing, we added a number of index funds to this year's list. Many investors forgo actively-managed funds -- the majority of which fail to outperform their peers over time -- and opt for index funds, which track the performance of indexes like the S&P 500. A few of these index funds didn't finish in the top quartile of their category over the past 10 years, but we added them because they give investors low-cost exposure to a wide range of asset classes.

Some funds were left off the list if they frequently change styles or employ specialized strategies that may not be appropriate for long-term investors. Funds that were closed to new investors were also excluded, as were funds without 10-year track records.

This year's list includes a few new categories.

World allocation funds -- also called "go-anywhere" funds -- have grown in popularity, and three of them made our list. While many fund managers are limited to investing in a particular size of company or slice of the market, managers of go-anywhere funds have the flexibility to invest across multiple asset classes such as stocks, bonds, and commodities throughout the world.

Domestic stock funds were screened by market capitalization and Morningstar style box. Each market-cap category (small, midsize, and large) includes a relevant index fund. Two broad-market index funds, Vanguard Total Stock Market Index (symbol VTSAX) and Vanguard Total Bond Market Index (VBTLX), were also added. These funds give investors exposure to the entire range of stocks and bonds in the United States in two simple investments.

Foreign stock funds were chosen in a similar fashion, and our list includes a mix of market caps and styles. Four foreign large-cap stock funds were added along with one fund that specializes in smaller foreign stocks. One actively-managed diversified emerging markets fund, Oppenheimer Developed Markets (ODMAX), made the list, as did the passively-managed Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock Index (VEMAX). A single world stock fund, which invests in stocks throughout the world, including the United States, rounds out the list: Oakmark Global (OAKGK).

Four balanced funds, which invest in a mix of stocks and bonds, were also included. Two Vanguard funds, Vanguard Wellington (VWELX) and Vanguard Wellesley Income (VWINX), made our list. The managers of the Wellington fund invest about 60 percent of its assets in stocks and the rest in bonds, while the managers of the Wellesley fund invest more heavily in bonds. Permanent Portfolio (PRPFX) also made the list, in part because of its unique strategy and holdings, which range from hard assets like gold and silver to currencies and treasuries.

Two speciality funds were also added, Cohen & Steers Realty Shares (CSRSX), which invests primarily in real estate investment trusts (REITs), and Van Eck Global Hard Assets (GHAAX), which specializes in natural resources like precious metals and commodities. These asset classes have seen plenty of interest from investors concerned about the threat of inflation.

On the fixed-income side, four intermediate-term bond funds were included. TCW Total Return Bond (TGLMX) tops this year's list of intermediate-term bond funds, thanks to its outstanding long-term performance, although a sudden management change in late 2009 leaves it a bit untested.

A few bond funds that serve more supporting roles were included. Loomis Sayles Bond (LSBRX) and Fidelity Strategic Income (FSICX) are both high-performing funds that invest in a range of fixed-income asset classes. Two high-yield funds also made this year's list. The managers of these funds invest in high-yield bonds -- sometimes referred to as "junk" bonds -- which are considered more risky than investment-grade bonds like treasuries. However, they also provide a higher yield in return for that additional risk. A short-term bond fund, Vanguard Short-Term Bond Index (VBIRX), was also included. The fund's returns were mostly in line with other funds in its category, and its rock-bottom fees give it a leg up in a low-yield environment.

Here is the full list of 50 funds:

LARGE-CAP Mutual Funds

Fund Name Morningstar
Total Net Assets ($ mil.) 3-Year Return 5-Year Return 10-Year Return Expense Ratio
Yacktman Fund (YACKX) Large Value 5,100 14.2% 10.1% 12.5% 0.85%
Fairholme Fund (FAIRX) Large Value 16,800 7.5% 8.1% 11.4% 1.00%
Amana Trust Growth (AMAGX) Large Growth 2,200 6.4% 6.0% 8.3% 1.20%
Parnassus Equity Income Portfolio (PRBLX) Large Blend 4,000 6.7% 7.2% 7.7% 0.99%
Fidelity Contrafund (FCNTX) Large Growth 81,300 3.9% 4.9% 7.6% 0.91%
Sequoia Fund (SEQUX) Large Blend 4,300 5.3% 4.9% 6.8% 1.00%
Vanguard Total Stock Market Index (VTSAX) Large Blend 170,100 3.8% 3.2% 4.5% 0.06%
Vanguard 500 Index (VFIAX) Large Blend 112,600 2.4% 2.6% 3.3% 0.06%



Fund Name Morningstar
Total Net Assets ($ mil.) 3-Year Return 5-Year Return 10-Year Return Expense Ratio
Delafield Fund (DEFIX) Mid-Cap Value 1,400 11.7% 8.3% 13.0% 1.27%
FPA Perennial (FPPFX) Mid-Cap Growth 300 9.7% 4.8% 10.8% 1.02%
Aston/Fairpointe Mid Cap (CHTTX) Mid-Cap Blend 3,000 11.1% 10% 10.7% 1.14%
Meridian Growth (MERDX) Mid-Cap Growth 2,600 14.2% 7.9% 10.6% 0.84%
Heartland Select Value (HRSVX) Mid-Cap Value 800 8.9% 5.9% 9.8% 1.23%
Westport Fund (WPFRX) Mid-Cap Blend 400 8.0% 7.5% 9.4% 1.27%
>Vanguard Mid-Cap Index (VIMAX) Mid-Cap Blend 30,200 7.5% 4.5% 9.0% 0.12%



Fund Name Morningstar
Total Net Assets ($ mil.) 3-Year Return 5-Year Return 10-Year Return Expense Ratio
Berwyn Fund (BERWX) Small Value 200 10.8% 5.1% 12.2% 1.25%
Homestead Small Company Stock (HSCSX) Small Value 200 14.8% 8.0% 12.1% 1.17%
Royce Special Equity (RYSEX) Small Blend 2,500 10.9% 7.4% 12.1% 1.16%
Royce Heritage (RGFAX) Small Blend 300 14.2% 6.9% 11.7% 1.38%
LKCM Small-Cap Equity (LKSCX) Small Growth 800 10.5% 3.6% 9.9% 0.96%
Wasatch Small-Cap Growth (WAAEX) Small Growth 1,600 12.5% 5.2% 9.4% 1.27%
Vanguard Small-Cap Index (VSMAX) Small Blend 27,400 10.2% 4.9% 9.0% 0.12%



Fund Name Morningstar
Total Net Assets ($ mil.) 3-Year Return 5-Year Return 10-Year Return Expense Ratio
Oppenheimer Developing Markets (ODMAX) Diversified Emerging Markets 23,300 9.8% 12.5% 19.5% 1.35%
Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock Index (VEMAX) Diversified Emerging Markets 62,700 4.1% 10.3% 16.7% 0.22%
First Eagle Overseas (SGOVX) Foreign Small/Mid Value 10,500 5.7% 7.1% 13.9% 1.17%
Oakmark Global (OAKGX) World Stock 2,600 3.6% 4.9% 12.1% 1.15%
Oakmark International (OAKIX) Foreign Large Value 8,600 7.2% 5.3% 9.8% 1.08%
Manning & Napier World Opportunities Series (EXWAX) Foreign Large Blend 8,100 0.9% 5.5% 9.5% 1.11%
Thornburg International Value (TGVAX) Foreign Large Blend 30,800 0.5% 5.8% 9.2% 1.33%
Scout International (UMBWX) Foreign Large Growth 8,300 1.0% 5.4% 8.1% 0.97%



Fund Name Morningstar
Total Net Assets ($ mil.) 3-Year Return 5-Year Return 10-Year Return Expense Ratio
Permanent Portfolio (PRPFX) Conservative Allocation 13,200 9.2% 10.2% 11.9% 0.77%
T. Rowe Price Capital Appreciation (PRWCX) Moderate Allocation 11,800 6.3% 5.9% 8.7% 0.70%
Vanguard Wellington (VWELX) Moderate Allocation 58,600 4.5% 5.8% 6.7% 0.30%
Vanguard Wellesley Income (VWINX) Conservative Allocation 21,700 6.5% 6.7% 6.6% 0.28%



Fund Name Morningstar
Total Net Assets ($ mil.) 3-Year Return 5-Year Return 10-Year Return Expense Ratio
TCW Emerging Markets Income (TGEIX) Emerging Markets Bond 2,200 16.2% 11.7% 13.7% 0.92%
Templeton Global Bond (TPINX) World Bond 55,300 10.8% 12.1% 12.2% 0.91%
Fidelity Capital & Income (FAGIX) High Yield Bond 11,000 14.7% 10.4% 10.0% 0.76%
Loomis Sayles Bond (LSBRX) Multisector Bond 20,600 8.4% 7.9% 9.9% 0.93%
BlackRock High Yield Bond Portfolio (BHYAX) High Yield Bond 4,400 11.9% 8.3% 8.7% 1.04%
Fidelity Strategic Income (FSICX) Multisector Bond 8,600 9.3% 8.2% 8.6% 0.71%
TCW Total Return Bond (TGLMX) Intermediate-Term Bond 5,300 10.2% 8.9% 7.3% 0.44%
Harbor Bond (HABDX) Intermediate-Term Bond 7,400 7.6% 7.8% 6.9% 0.55%
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Bond Index (VBILX) Intermediate-Term Bond 11,700 6.1% 6.9% 6.2% 0.11%
Vanguard Total Bond Market Index (VBTLX) Intermediate-Term Bond 88,900 5.2% 6.0% 5.4% 0.11%
Vanguard Short-Term Bond Index (VBIRX) Short-Term Bond 21,500 3.6% 5.1% 4.4% 0.11%



Fund Name Morningstar
Total Net Assets ($ mil.) 3-Year Return 5-Year Return 10-Year Return Expense Ratio
First Eagle Global (SGENX) World Allocation 30,200 6.2% 7.7% 13.3% 1.16%
Ivy Asset Strategy (WASAX) World Allocation 27,400 2.5% 9.7% 10.5% 1.05%
BlackRock Global Allocation (MDLOX) World Allocation 53,600 3.8% 7.0% 9.2% 1.08%



Fund Name Morningstar
Total Net Assets ($ mil.) 3-Year Return 5-Year Return 10-Year Return Expense Ratio
Van Eck Global Hard Assets (GHAAX) Natural Resources 5,000 5.3% 12.8% 18.9% 1.40%
Cohen & Steers Realty Shares (CSRSX) Real Estate 3,700 4.7% 2.6% 12.4% 0.99%

Investing Books available at

The Triumph of Value Investing: Smart Money Tactics for the Postrecession Era

The Seven Deadly Sins of Investing: How to Conquer Your Worst Impulses and Save Your Financial Future

Generation Earn: The Young Professional's Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back

What Investors Really Want: Know What Drives Investor Behavior and Make Smarter Financial Decisions

Investing - 50 Best Funds for the Everyday Investor

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