It's difficult to argue with success, and stock mutual funds in 1991 served up just about all the success a happy investor could possibly wish.
Shrugging off recession, general equity funds gained more than 35 percent. That's not only their best performance in 24 years, but it bested the 30 percent gain of the Standard & Poor's 500 with dividends reinvested. Leading groups included health and biotechnology, financial services, small growth companies, and science and technology.
"I'd be hard-pressed to find one biotech stock that didn't do well for us, but I would note that Amgen is our largest holding and it quadrupled in price," said Jon Fossel, chairman of Oppenheimer Funds, whose Global Bio-Tech skyrocketed 121.13 percent.
The Dow Jones industrial average should be at the 3600 level by the end of 1992, Fossel predicted. He urges taking a five- to six-year view of biotech equities, since they're in a young industry that's shaping and reshaping itself daily.
Thinking small paid off for many managers.
"Using our philosophy of seeking out fast-growing companies at reasonable prices, just about all our holdings did well in 1991," said Mark Geist, investment adviser to Montgomery Small Cap Fund, up 98.75 percent.
Moving quickly made sense for some managers, since not all stock groups maintained leadership throughout the entire year. American Heritage Fund, up 96.59 percent, started 1991 in blue chips and biotechnology stocks. It then shifted to cyclical and consumer stocks, before returning to biotech, medical technology and telecommunications.
Top-performing stock funds of 1991, according to Lipper Analytical Services:
Oppenheimer Global Bio-Tech, New York, $202 million in assets, now closed to new investors, up 121.13 percent.
CGM Capital Development, Boston, $284 million in assets, now closed to new investors, up 99.08 percent.
Fidelity Select Biotechnology, Boston, $1.12 billion in assets, 3 percent "load" (initial sales charge), $1,000 minimum initial purchase, up 99.05 percent.
Montgomery Small Cap Fund, San Francisco, $74 million in assets, no load, $5,000 minimum initial purchase, up 98.75 percent.
American Heritage Fund, New York, $5.25 million in assets, no load, $5,000 minimum initial purchase, up 96.59 percent.
Financial Strategic Health Sciences Portfolio, Denver, $1 billion in assets, no load, $250 minimum initial purchase, up 91.81 percent.
Berger 100, Denver, $185 million in assets, no load, $250 minimum initial purchase, up 88.81 percent.
United New Concepts, Kansas City, Mo., $80 million in assets, no load, $500 minimum initial purchase, up 88.81 percent.
The 10 largest funds boosted their performances since this column last examined them in December. Listed in order of 1991 asset size: Fidelity Magellan closed up 41.03 percent; Investment Co. of America, up 26.54 percent; Windsor Fund, up 28.55 percent; Washington Mutual Investors Fund, up 23.50 percent; Fidelity Puritan, up 24.46 percent; Fidelity Equity-Income, up 29.40 percent; Templeton World, up 29.8 percent; Twentieth Century Select Investors, up 31.44 percent; American Mutual Fund, up 21.72 percent; and Pioneer II, up 25.75 percent.