It's difficult for a giant to move quickly.
The nation's biggest stock funds have held their own in 1991, but many of their lumbering blue-chip portfolios have failed to provide the zip that more diminutive funds investing in small-company stocks offer.
Conservative investors, who seek out these massive funds for talented management that protects them from negative surprises, should find the latest double-digit returns perfectly acceptable.
But they shouldn't expect any hefty 30 percent gains.
Among the biggest, $15.2 billion-asset Fidelity Magellan has turned in a strong 20.23 percent gain, thanks to the fact that portfolio manager Morris Smith holds many small-company stocks. That's unusual for a big fund.
Meanwhile, $7.6 billion-asset Windsor Fund has managed an 18.25 percent gain.
Is it difficult to be nimble when your fund is elephant-size?
"The big mental change in portfolio management is moving from $500 million to $1 billion in assets, but beyond that point there's not a big difference," explained Beth Terrana, portfolio manager of the $4.1 billion-asset Fidelity Equity-Income Fund, who last October left the $2 billion-asset Fidelity Growth & Income Fund after five years at its helm.
"I own 300 names in my portfolio and it's a lot of work to track them, but I do have help from more than 60 analysts and Fidelity's other fund managers."
Terrana's fund is up a creditable 13.86 percent, emphasizing inexpensively priced, well-known companies.
For example, she holds stock in Kmart because its management is gradually improving the company; Entergy Corp. because of its huge cash generation and its steps to buy back stock and increase dividends; and Continental Corp. since it's the insurance firm most hated by Wall Street.
"The big funds don't offer the romance of a flashy small fund, but they don't provide ugly losses either," said Don Phillips, editor of the Chicago-based Mutual Fund Values advisory service. "With the tide turning toward smaller-company stocks, the small funds will gain assets more rapidly, but remember that the reasons these well-known funds are so big are the quality of their managers and their long-term performance."
Here, ranked in order of asset size by Mutual Fund Values, are the nation's biggest stock mutual funds and their first-quarter 1991 performances:
Fidelity Magellan Fund, Boston; $15.2 billion in assets; 3 percent "load" (initial sales charge); up 20.23 percent.
Windsor Fund, Valley Forge, Pa.; $7.6 billion; no load, but currently closed to new investors; up 18.25 percent.
Investment Co. of America, Los Angeles; $7 billion; 5.75 percent RTC maximum load; up 12.12 percent.
Washington Mutual Investors, Washington, D.C.; $6.4 billion; 5.75 percent load; up 10.89 percent.
Fidelity Puritan Fund, Boston; $4.7 billion; 2 percent load; up 11.27 percent.
Fidelity Equity-Income Fund, Boston; $4.1 billion; 2 percent load; up 13.86 percent.
Pioneer II, Boston; $4.1 billion; 8.5 percent load; up 11.71 percent.
Templeton World, St. Petersburg, Fla.; $4.1 billion; 8.5 percent load; up 14.67 percent.
American Mutual, Los Angeles; $3.7 billion; 5.75 percent load; up 8.09 percent.
Twentieth Century Select Investors, Kansas City, Mo.; $3.7 billion; no load; up 12.68 percent.