These low-maintenance funds serve as great core investments.
By Katie Rushkewicz Reichart, CFA | 12-09-09 | 05:00 AM | Email Article

There are all types of investors: the enthusiasts who love building and checking in on their portfolios frequently (perhaps too often), the well-intentioned people who do some research and try to remember to rebalance every now and then, and the indifferent ones who don't enjoy investing but know they should do it. Don't despair if you fall into that last group. Below we'll look at some simple solutions that don't require much upkeep on your part.

Katie Rushkewicz Reichart, CFA, is a director of equity strategies for Morningstar.

 T. Rowe Price Personal Strategy Balanced 
Moderate-allocation (or balanced) funds are designed to offer investors a one-stop solution, providing exposure to stocks and bonds. While many traditional balanced funds have a fixed 60/40 split between stocks and bonds, this fund's composition can change slightly as manager Ned Notzon and a committee of T. Rowe Price veterans see fit. (Currently, equities are 64% of the portfolio, reflecting a slightly more aggressive stance than its category peers.) Once the security mix is set, Notzon doles out the fund's assets to some of T. Rowe Price's best managers, including Brian Rogers of  T. Rowe Price Equity Income  and Ian Kelson of  T. Rowe Price International Bond , both Fund Analyst Picks. With the fund's 1,200-plus holdings running the gamut from small-cap and large-growth stocks to high-yield and investment-grade bonds, it's truly a well-diversified option, and it has done well over time, landing in the category's top decile during the trailing 10-year period. Investors looking for greater equity exposure can turn to its more aggressive sibling,  T. Rowe Price Personal Strategy Growth , which typically has 80%-90% of assets in stocks and the rest in bonds. More-conservative investors might prefer Analyst Pick  T. Rowe Price Personal Strategy Income  because it limits stocks to 35% to 45% of the portfolio.

 Vanguard STAR 
Another competitive moderate-allocation choice is Vanguard STAR. Besides touting Vanguard's standard low costs, it has an impressive long-term record, with its trailing three-, five-, 10-, and 15-year annualized returns landing in the category's top quintile. The fund owes its success to the talented managers who run the 11 underlying funds, including Analyst Picks  Vanguard PRIMECAP  on the equity side and  Vanguard Long-Term Investment-Grade  on the bond side. The fund typically sticks with 62% stocks, 25% intermediate- and long-term bonds, and 12% short-term bonds, and it also has significant foreign exposure in  Vanguard International Growth  and  Vanguard International Value . It's a great fund for investors just starting out because its $1,000 minimum investment is a third of what most other Vanguard funds require.

 FPA Crescent 
This fund is also appealing but takes a much different approach than traditional balanced funds. Instead of adhering to a fixed stock and bond mix, longtime manager Steve Romick (who is nominated for Morningstar's Manager of the Decade award), invests wherever he is finding the greatest bargains. That can range from high-yield bonds, which he found attractive in the midst of last year's credit crisis, to a large cash stake, which he builds if he's not finding attractive valuations elsewhere in the market. He also shorts stocks on a limited basis, mostly to keep volatility in check. Because of Romick's flexibility, the fund often looks quite different from its peers; as of Sept. 30, it had 38% in stocks, 7% in short equity positions, 28% in bonds, 3% in preferred stocks, and the rest in cash. Not many managers can pull off such a free-wheeling strategy, but Romick has done remarkably well, with the fund's 11% annualized return since its 1993 inception one of the best in the category. It's hard to argue with those results, but prospective investors should understand that it's not a typical balanced fund and won't be a good fit for those who want to be fully invested at all times.

 Vanguard Balanced Index 
If you prefer a more static balanced option, you can't go wrong with Vanguard Balanced. This low-cost index fund keeps it simple, maintaining a 60/40 split between stocks and bonds. The fund doesn't get too adventurous, with its 3,000-plus equities tracking the MSCI U.S. Broad Market Index and a basket of small-cap stocks. The bond side mimics the Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index, focusing on U.S. government and highly rated corporate bonds while avoiding riskier high-yield and emerging-markets debt. Less flexible than actively managed funds, its stable asset allocation means it could lag in racier markets when stocks pull ahead; its big government bond stake means it will also trail corporate-bond-heavy balanced funds when the latter outperform. Nonetheless, it's a sturdy low-maintenance option.

Target-Date Funds
Another logical option for hands-off investors is target-date funds. These might be the best option for investors who don't ever want to worry about altering their portfolio allocations because a target-date fund's mix of stocks and bonds shifts over time, generally becoming more bond-heavy as the investor approaches retirement. Like moderate-allocation funds, there's a lot of variety among target-date funds, some more aggressive than others. That's why it's especially important to do your homework before investing in such a long-term option. Investors can learn more about target-date funds here. Ideas Week
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Katie Rushkewicz Reichart, CFA does not own shares in any of the securities mentioned above. Find out about Morningstar's editorial policies.
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