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Unusual mutual fund investments

- Alan Lavine and Gail Liberman

There are specialized mutual funds designed to fit the customized needs of investors. Here are a few of the more unusual types.

Commodity Mutual Funds.
These funds track an index of commodities, such oil, gold, copper and timber. Typically, commodities perform well when inflation is on the rise or in periods like now, when oil prices are sky- high. The drawback: These can be volatile and give you wide performance swings from year to year.

There are a couple of well-known commodity funds available. They include the Oppenheimer Real Asset Fund and the PIMCO Commodity Real Return Strategy Fund.

Market Neutral Mutual Funds.
These funds try to earn a return that is independent of the direction of the overall stock market. The funds do that by investing in stocks for a profit when the price of the stock rises. They also sell stocks short and profit when stock prices drop. Over the past few years, market neutral funds have delivered positive returns while the stock market has been lackluster. Longer term, however, market neutral funds have registered some double-digit losses. The best-rated market neutral funds according to Morningstar Inc., Chicago, include the Robeco Boston Partners Long/Short Fund and the Calamos Market Neutral Fund.

Market Timing Mutual Funds.
These funds use technical analysis to trade stocks. Technical analysis looks at price trends and accordingly shifts investments into different kinds of securities. The funds typically move into stocks when prices are in an uptrend. Most importantly, they adjust when stocks look like they could go into a steep decline. The American Century Veedot Investment Fund is one of the few funds that use technical analysis to invest. The fund has performed in line with the S&P 500 over the past three years, according to Morningstar. In 2003, it was up 43 percent.


Alan Lavine and Gail Liberman are husband and wife columnist and authors of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Making Money With Mutual Funds, (Alpha Books). Al and Gail's new book is Rags to Retirement, (Alpha Books).

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