Few things can get the adrenaline flowing like a stock-car race. Unless, for some investors, it's a stock-car mutual fund.
The StockCar Stocks Index Fund (877-223-3863) is a no-load mutual fund that invests in NASCAR-related race track companies. The fund, which zoomed across the starting line on Oct. 1, last year, is up over 22 percent through early February.
Wait: You're not into speedways, shrieking engines, and high-octane fuel? Yours is a more genteel sport, such as golf? Green meadows, quiet crowds, and the gentle whack of the nine-iron as the ball floats down the fairway?
No problem. Look for the Value Trend Links Fund, (800-590-0898), a golf-related no-load fund, which is up 2.6 percent since its inception on Jan. 1.
Golf and stock-car racing may not represent a wave rushing over the mutual-fund industry, but the two new funds point to at least a mini-trend, experts say: the linkage of investments and popular sports activities.
Most sports teams are privately held, some by families. Only a few pro teams are publicly owned, such as the New York Knicks basketball team and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks hockey team, both subsidiaries of entertainment conglomerates.
Shaky sports track record
But watch out. The few funds that have keyed in to sports in the past have usually gone belly up after a few months. Or they are load funds that require commission fees and are offered through selected dealers.
Yet what's different about the golf and NASCAR funds is that they are no-load and sport-specific - linked to two highly popular sports that attract millions of fans.
Still, many mutual-fund experts argue that such funds are not for most average investors. Sports funds are "very narrowly-themed funds" that offer no real diversification, as a mutual fund is supposed to do. They represent a "marketing gimmick," says Scott Cooley, who follows large-cap equity funds for information-firm Morningstar Inc. in Chicago.
Sports funds -like niche funds in general -tend to be risky, experts say. Niche funds, such as the Homestate Y2K Fund (800-232-0224), which invests in companies that work on the year 2000 problem, or the Women's Equity Fund (800-385-7003) are highly specialized and susceptible to market gyrations.
Such funds usually lack the "deep management" of large-fund families, such as Vanguard, T. Rowe Price, or Fidelity, says Mr. Cooley.
Still, the aficionados don't seem to care. In fact, the NASCAR and golf funds have characteristics that set them apart from many narrowly focused offerings. The Value Trend Links Fund, for example, is part of a large-fund family (Value Trends). It has attracted some $250,000 since inception. The NASCAR fund is an index fund, based on a portfolio representing diverse types of firms.
The fund has picked up more than a million dollars. Far more is expected. John Allen, chief executive officer of the StockCar Stocks Index Fund, notes that there are more than 40 million stock-car fans in the US.
Both funds rely on large-growth companies -including team sponsors - in their portfolios. The NASCAR fund lists International Speedway Corporation, Coca-Cola, Kellogg's, and General Motors. The fund also lists beverage companies Anheuser-Bush and Coors.
The golf fund's portfolio includes apparel firm Ashworth, Inc.; DaimlerChrysler, Ford, Bank of America ("official bank of the PGA"), and CVS, a drug store chain which sponsors the CVS Charity Classic.
Both funds can be accessed on the Internet at www.stockcarstocks.com and www.valuetrend.com.
Minimum investment for each fund is $1,000. For IRAs, the golf fund requires $250; the NASCAR fund $500.
Can tennis, bowling, and volleyball funds be far behind?