Excelsior Value & Restructuring (800-446-1012) is not a well-known stock fund. But that hasn't hurt its performance, which is among the best of any stock fund over the past five years.
The fund, run by U.S. Trust, was called Excelsior Business & Industrial Restructuring until recently. Along with its name change, it dropped its 4.5 percent sales charge, which should bring it more recognition.Manager David Williams has done all he can to raise the visibility of the fund: He has beaten Standard & Poor's 500-stock index in each of the five years since the fund's inception, with only slightly more volatility than the index.
Williams, 55, looks for stocks that, as the fund's name implies, are either undervalued or undergoing restructuring - or both.
He began his money-management career in 1974, in the midst of the worst bear market since the Depression. The experience taught Williams respect for value. His average stock currently has a price just 15 times its 1998 earnings.
When aggressive-growth managers dump a stock because of disappointing earnings, Williams is often there to scoop up the unloved shares.
For instance, in February he bought Qualcomm, the telecommunications firm, which had plunged from $58 to $46 in one day after warning of lower-than-expected second-quarter earnings.
In fact, Williams has 25 percent of assets in technology firms, highly unusual for a value-oriented fund.
"I like the tech stocks that have disappointed," he says. "I think there's a lot of value there because the market is so focused on quarter-to-quarter earnings."
Williams also owns more-typical value fare: Another 25 percent of the fund is in financial stocks, which he says are benefiting from ongoing mergers and acquisitions as well as low interest rates.
As for restructurings, he looks for firms involved in mergers, takeovers, spinoffs or financial or management restructurings.
"I love a company that's in trouble that hires a new chief executive who says, `I'm going to change the way things are done here,"' he says.
Williams sells when a company doesn't revive or when its stock gets too pricey. Turnover was 62 percent last year, but Williams says he plans to reduce it to 25 percent or less.
He picks stocks one at a time and meets with managers at each of his 75 companies. Half the fund is in stocks of large companies, with the remainder split between medium-size and small firms.