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Leuthold Core Investment: A Flexible Fund With Muscle



If investing during recent years has left you confused about how much to put into stock funds and how much to invest in bond funds, here's an idea: Consider a flexible fund and leave that thinking up to the management pros.

Unlike balanced funds, where the typical stock to bond ratio is around 60/40, flexible funds have free reign over where their assets can be invested. If the portfolio manager likes stocks, the fund's portfolio might be loaded with them. If he's currently a fan of bonds or real estate or foreign country stocks, he can put them in the fund as well.

The Leuthold Core Investment fund, (888-200-0409), is a flexible fund that's up about 24.5 percent this year and has a top-notch 3- and 5- year performance record. While not for everyone's personal portfolio because of its high initial investment requirement of $10,000. those who like the fund's management style can place it in an IRA with a minimum investment as little as $1000.

James Floyd, one of this quantitative fund's portfolio managers, says one of the advantages of managing a flexible portfolio is that "we don't have our hands tied behind our back" because the fund's prospectus doesn't restrict them to investing in one type of stock or bond. "We can use all the tools that are available to us and can pretty much go with the flow of where we think we ought to invest."

Because of its flexibility, the fund's portfolio holdings are likely to change frequently, as will its blend of stocks and bonds. Here's more about the Leuthold Core Investment fund (LCORX):

Q: Why is this fund so expensive to invest in?

A: We're looking for a certain type of investor. One that's a little bit more sophisticated because our fund is different than most. It's not a specific sector fund or a specific growth or value fund. It's a kind of core fund and the idea is for a person to let us manage their money. So, we can own stocks, bonds, real estate, or most anything that we think has a good risk/reward profile.

Q: What's the make up of the portfolio today?

A: Right now we're about 70 percent in stocks. Eleven percent of that is in emerging country stocks---that would be in China and Russia closed-end funds---and 59 percent in domestic equities.

We probably look like a mid-cap fund but the size of the companies go from a minimum of $100 million to many billion so it really is a mixed-market cap fund. A couple of the names in the portfolio you might be familiar with are Amgen, Foundry Networks and Canon, the camera and copier folks.

The rest of the portfolio, (30 percent), gets kind of tricky. We have about 5 percent in REITs (real estate investment trusts), about 13 percent in high yield bonds, a short position in Treasury bonds that's about 8 percent, and cash is about 4 percent.

Q: Why the short position in bonds?

A: We think interest rates are going to go higher because the economy is improving much more than people recognize. Plus, we see the budget deficit as a big negative. And, all the over stimulus with the tax package and the money supply and the government spending---all those things translate to higher interest rates down the road. So, we don't like the bond market and we're shorting it.

Q: But does the fund have any kind of target range regarding how much can ultimately be invested in stocks or bonds?

A: We normally have a range of 30 to 70 percent invested in stocks and 30 to 70 percent in bonds. And we rarely go above 70 percent in either area. But, near the end of the bull market in 2000, we had 10 to 25 percent in stocks because we thought the market was so overvalued.

When we pick stocks, we take a package. For example, we like biotechs right now but we don't try to decide which is the best biotech, we'll buy a package of maybe a dozen or so names.

Q: What are the risks to this fund?

A: The risks to this fund would be for an investor who is chasing performance. The fund has performed well this year but we wouldn't want people to expect that we're always going to beat the stock market. That's not the focus of the fund. Because the fund only has up to 70 percent in stocks there are going to be times when it beats the S&P and times when it underperforms it.

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This fund is categorized as a flexible fund by Lipper, Inc. and a moderate allocation fund by Morningstar.

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Dian Vujovich is a nationally syndicated mutual fund columnist, author of a number of books including Straight Talk About Mutual Funds (McGraw-Hill), and publisher of this web site.


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