For those mutual fund investors who were brave enough to be aggressive in the wake of last year's stock market crash, risk-taking has had its rewards to date.
In the first quarter of this year, "maximum capital gains" funds tracked by the Wiesenberger Mutual Funds Investment Report posted a 9.2 percent gain.
The managers of these funds pulled off the elusive feat of outperforming the overall market, as measured by Standard & Poor's 500-stock composite index. In the January-March period, the S&P 500 was up 5.7 percent.
Does this mean that people who took last fall's market collapse as a lesson in the hazards of speculation are missing out on a good thing?
Not necessarily. But with the stock market having perked up a bit again since the end of May, the time may be opportune to take a fresh look at the class of mutual funds that take the biggest risks in hopes of achieving dramatic returns.
Such funds are known by several names. In addition to "maximum capital gains," they are often described as "aggresive growth" or "capital appreciation" funds.
"In the 1960s," recalls Sheldon Jacobs in his Handbook for No-Load Fund Investors, "such funds were called `go-go,' a term that fell into disrepute after the 1974-74 stock market debacle, when the go-gos went-went."
By any name, these funds resemble free-swinging sluggers in baseball. They go for home runs, and they also tend to strike out a lot. Thier dividend yields are usually meager at best.
Rather than blue chips, these funds are prone to investing in smaller companies with bright promise, or "turnaround" stocks of troubled companies, whose days of prominence may be far in the future - or never come at all.
Over long periods of time, however, the best of the aggressive growth funds have produced some spectacular results. By Jacobs' reckoning, $10,000 invested in the Fidelity Magellan Fund in January 1975 would have grown to $334,150 by December 1987.
To experience that kind of prosperity in the real world, of course, your timing has to be pretty good. As it turned out, January 1975 was an ideal occasion to be making stock investment.
But it was hard to see that then, with the market having fallen drastically, the economy in recession, and the nation still nursing the wounds of Watergate and an energy crisis.
It is impossible to say whether similar opportunities exist now. While analysts at Standard & Poor's Corp. have recently published a list of recommended aggressive growth funds in the firm's weekly publication The Outlook, they aren't urging any headlong rush to buy them.
"While our favorites in this category are expected to produce worthwhile capital gains over a period of years," they said, "it would probably be wise to defer new purchases until the investment climate improves."
Questions of timing aside, who should consider aggressive growth funds, and who should avoid them?
John Laporte, president of the T. Rowe Price New Horizons Fund, which invests in small growth companies, put it candidly in a recent comment.
"To participate in this sector you have to be a long-term investor, be tolerant of volatility, and be able to accept the risk of extended periods of underperformance.
"Investors who fit that description might consider having one-third to one-half of their equity investments in the emerging growth area, because these stocks have consistently done better than the general market over long periods of time. My guess is that this will continue in the future."