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Natural gas, technology plays loom large for top small-cap funds

jnelson@globeandmail.com

What are we looking for?

Top performing smaller-company equity funds over the past year.

Today's search

We screened funds in the Canadian small- to mid-cap, and Canadian focused small- to mid-cap, categories for the year ended Feb. 28. U.S.-dollar, segregated, pooled, duplicate version and accredited-investor funds were excluded.

What did we find?

While the resource industry has taken a beating, some managers of the country's smaller-company Canadian stock funds are beginning to see opportunity in the commodities space.

"It's hard to get very aggressive into resources overall, but one of our big areas of performance this year - and something we've been bullish on for the last year - is natural gas in North America," said Brandon Snow, a portfolio manager with CI Investments Inc.

Two CI Cambridge funds - Canadian Growth Companies and Pure Canadian Equity - claimed the top spots on this screen. The former is a Canadian-focused fund that has about 55 per cent of its portfolio in Canada and saw annualized gains of 41.6 per cent. The latter must be 90 per cent invested in Canada and grew by 38.4 per cent.

Mr. Snow has also seen investment opportunities in infrastructure and some U.S. technology plays.

David Barr, portfolio manager at PenderFund Capital Management also likes technology - he's allocated 50 per cent of Pender Small Cap Opportunities' assets to the sector.

Mr. Barr credited "avoiding a lot of the resource stocks that dominate the Canadian small- and mid-cap market," for some of his success in the past 12 months. His fund returned 19.8 per cent in the year to Feb. 28, and was the top performer in the screen over three years with a return of 21.6 per cent.

But along with tech plays (and a preference for companies on the verge of being acquired), Mr. Barr has increased his portfolio's energy weighting from zero up to 10 per cent.

Teresa Lee, manager of Brandes Sionna Canadian Small Cap, says she tends to avoid junior miners and gold, which don't generate earnings that are predictable enough. Still, one of Ms. Lee's top performing companies this year depends on the industry: Pulse Seismic Inc., which owns a library of seismic data that helps energy companies find oil and gas.

Her fund posted annualized gains of 12.7 per cent, and has beat the index over the one-, three-, and five-year terms.

*****

CANADIAN AND CANADIAN-FOCUSED SMALL/MID-CAP EQUITY FUNDS: 1 YEAR TO FEB. 28

Fund1-yr % rtn (Feb. 28)3-yr % rtn (Feb. 28)5-yr % rtn (Feb. 28)10-yr % rtn (Feb. 28)2012 % rtn2011 % rtn2010 % rtn2009 % rtn2008 % rtnMERAssets ($-mil)
Cambridge Cdn Growth Companies41.6---40.5----2.6046.1
Cambridge Pure Canadian Equity38.4---34.3----2.591.7
Chou RRSP27.914.25.55.534.1-20.746.627.8-42.41.87112.3
Brandes Canadian Equity26.313.85.83.126.9-15.523.545.8-45.92.6842.9
Pender Small Cap Opportunities19.821.6--31.34.722.82.506.5
CI Can-Am Small Cap Corporate Class18.411.87.913.713.2-1.915.127.1-22.92.42109.3
IA Clarington Canadian Small Cap17.412.55.611.220.2-3.313.929.6-33.02.92309.4
Altamira Quebec Growth16.213.76.712.116.0-0.821.950.6-45.42.3725.1
NEI Ethical Special Equity16.112.35.411.419.6-2.913.229.6-32.62.76318.9
Fidelity Special Situations-A14.910.07.4-16.7-15.825.061.3-33.22.49181.5
Bissett Microcap-A14.320.69.712.125.0-1.753.955.3-49.03.8053.8
Sentry Diversified Inc Tr-X14.014.8--12.16.723.8--1.26566.9
Norrep Entrepreneurs Cl-A *13.4---22.5-2.0---*2.984.5
Sentry Small/Mid Cap Income13.316.813.3-15.56.526.343.5-22.22.84390.2
Brandes Sionna Canadian Small Cap12.711.26.7-19.1-6.219.142.4-31.22.5916.1
S&P/TSX Small Cap Total Return-12.72.7-0.3--2.2-16.435.162.4-50.0
BMO Nesbitt Burns Cdn Small Cap Index-8.15.83.210.42.5-14.238.575.1-46.6
* There is also a performance bonus attached to this fund. Source: Lipper

© 2007 The Globe and Mail. All rights reserved.

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