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Fund Spy

Good Funds With Commodity Exposure

Commodities are a big part of these funds' portfolios, for better and for worse.

Commodities have been making a lot of financial headlines lately, for better and for worse. Most commodity prices have risen dramatically over the past year thanks to a variety of factors, including anticipated demand from emerging markets, unrest in the Middle East, and a desire to hedge against inflation and the falling dollar. Such a dramatic rise makes a pullback almost inevitable, and indeed, the past few weeks have seen commodity prices plunge amid increased economic skittishness and the exit of many speculators. Silver, which had been among the biggest gainers in the runup, fell 27% in the first week of May after hitting a 31-year high. Oil prices fell 15% in the same week, and major commodity indexes fell by double-digit percentages from their highs before rebounding somewhat in recent days.

These price gyrations illustrate the risks, but commodities can be a valuable addition to a portfolio if they're used in moderation and treated as a diversifier. There are a variety of ways for mutual fund investors to get such exposure. The most direct is through funds that specialize in commodities, either by tracking indexes composed of commodity futures, as in the $28 billion  PIMCO Commodity Real Return Strategy  (PCRIX), or by owning stocks of commodity firms, as in  Vanguard Precious Metals and Mining (VGPMX) or  T. Rowe Price New Era (PRNEX). There is also an ever-increasing number of exchange-traded funds specializing in commodities, ranging from broad-basket ETFs such as  PowerShares DB Commodity Index Tracking (DBC) to highly specialized ones such as Global X Copper Miners ETF (COPX).

Other types of funds can provide more indirect commodity exposure. For example, funds that specialize in Russia and Canada, the largest of which are  ING Russia (LETRX) and  Fidelity Canada (FICDX), have very high commodity weightings (typically around 50% of assets) because of the prominence of commodity firms in those countries' stock markets. More-diversified emerging-markets stock funds, such as  Templeton Developing Markets (TEDMX), often have lots of commodity exposure as well, as do emerging-markets bond funds such as  Fidelity New Markets Income (FNMIX).

Then there are diversified funds with relatively high weightings in commodity stocks or other commodity-related investments. These funds can own commodities as part of a bet on macroeconomic trends, or because they find the stocks fundamentally attractive, or for some combination of these reasons. They will naturally have less exposure than the types of funds described above, but that exposure can still be significant and can have a major impact on these funds' relative returns. The following four funds--a large-cap domestic-stock fund, a small-cap domestic-stock fund, a global-stock fund, and a world-allocation fund--all have significantly more commodity weightings than their peers, and they're all very good funds with strong track records.

 Columbia Value & Restructuring 
David Williams has run this fund for nearly 20 years, compiling an outstanding record by finding stocks trading at a discount to their long-term value and holding on to them for a long time. (He's planning to retire at the end of 2012; comanagers Guy Pope and Nick Smith will take over then.) For the past several years the portfolio has been heavy in energy and materials stocks, which currently make up about 40% of assets, far above the large-value category average. Williams thinks these stocks are cheap relative to their long-term asset values and that they'll benefit from trends in the global economy and help protect against inflation.

 Allianz NFJ Small Cap Value 
This closed small-value fund's cautious approach, focused on cheap dividend-paying stocks, results in a fairly defensive portfolio. The dividend focus has led the managers to a big weighting in energy, including master limited partnerships such as Linn Energy . But the top holdings also include a couple of agriculture-related stocks (Corn Products International (CPO) and  Compass Minerals (CMP)) as well as precious-metals holdings such as  Central Fund of Canada (CEF) (a closed-end fund that holds gold and silver bullion), Royal Gold (RGLD), and  IAMGold (IMG).

 Nuveen Tradewinds International Value (NAIGX)
This is one of several funds managed by the Tradewinds team overseen by CIO David Iben, all of which look for financially sound companies trading below their intrinsic values and none of which pay very much attention to benchmarks. This fund has big weightings in energy and materials stocks, especially gold miners, reflecting the belief of managers Peter Boardman and Alberto Crespo that these stocks are trading well below their intrinsic value. As of Feb. 28, 2011, this fund's top holding was  Barrick Gold (ABX) and the top 10 included two other gold stocks ( AngloGold Ashanti (AU) and  Kinross Gold (K)) and three oil and gas stocks ( Nexen ,  Suncor Energy (SU), and Royal Dutch Shell ). Siblings  Nuveen Tradewinds Global All-Cap  and  Nuveen Tradewinds Value Opportunities  have similarly heavy commodity exposure.

 BlackRock Global Allocation (MDLOX)
This is one of our favorites in the world-allocation category, which includes funds that can range across all different countries and asset classes. For the past several years, the managers have favored emerging markets over developed ones and have reduced the fund's bond exposure while holding gold and other metals to protect against inflation and the weakening U.S. dollar. While there are some other world-allocation funds with more commodity exposure, that exposure is significantly higher here than in the category's other big players, such as  American Funds Capital Income Builder (CAIBX),  First Eagle Global (SGENX), and  Ivy Asset Strategy (WASCX).

David Kathman does not own (actual or beneficial) shares in any of the securities mentioned above. Find out about Morningstar’s editorial policies.