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In an all-too-rapidly changing market place, where hundreds of like-funds are competing for investor dollars, and performance more important than ever, finding out what's up with a fund takes more digging than just reading its name.

Once upon a time, investors could get some clues about the kinds of investments they'd find inside a stock fund's portfolio merely by reading the fund's name. Twenty years ago, if you looked at something called the ABC Growth and Income Fund, you might have assumed that it was a dividend paying growth fund, probably a blue-chip one at that, and be right. But that was yesterday.

Today things aren't always that cut and dried. People who a year or two ago had selected a fund because of its income component, might not be getting the income flow they once did. Others, thinking they'd invested in say growth stocks, could be surprised to find that the growth component in that portfolio was comprised of value stocks.

While changes like those can be unnerving, change is what the markets are all about. And change isn't always a signal of bad news. Case in point, David Ullom, lead portfolio manager of USAA's Growth and Income Fund, (800-531-8181. He knows all too well about change and how those in the market place can impact where, and how, he invests the fund's assets.

"The definition of growth and income moves around a little bit, " says Ullom who's been in the money business for more than 20 years.

When he first came to USAAs Growth and Income Fund in 1996, the fund ---which started in 1993--- had had dividend yields as high as 2.5 percent. Today, its yield is running about 1 percent.

That drop in dividend yield isn't so much a function of his stock picks---this fund gets all of its income from stocks dividends not bonds--- as it is the market. Dividend increases haven't been as prevalent as they once were, plus, many companies are using monies once ear-marked for dividends to do other things, like acquire other companies, pay down debt or research and development.

On the appreciation side, the types of stocks making the most money changes all the time. As a result, over his fund tenure, Ullom says,"The fund has evolved to the point that we have a bit more growth in there and it's not what I would term a pure value fund."

Did he say "value"? Yup, he did. Now, if you're wondering how a growth and income fund can have a value component, the answer is a simple one: Stocks typically fall under two heading types--- growth and value. Both types can be dividend paying. Growth stocks represent companies expected to be rapid growers in the near term. Value stocks purchased because they are considered to be good companies selling at bargain basement prices. Which ones perform the best often depends upon which way the market winds are blowing. Over the past couple of years, it's been on growth's side.

So, even though Ullom is a value guy by nature, he's knows where the money is being made these days, and, thanks to the fund's broad investment mandate, has been able to made changes in the portfolio holdings to reflect that. As a result, the USAA Growth and Income Fund today is, "Really a combination of growth and value (stocks). More or less split 50/50, " he says.

Ullom's willingness to change has paid off. At year-end last year, the fund's performance lagged that of its benchmark, the S & P 500. Currently, the fund's year-to-date total return, through August 25, was up 14.01 percent outpacing that of the S & P 500s.

To learn things about things like where a fund may, or may not, invest its assets read its prospectus. Want to know what it's investment style is? Morningstar's style boxes can show you that. If you're interested in how much leeway the fund's managers have in changing their investment styles, that info is in the fund's prospectus, too. If you're curious about which investments did and did not work for the fund, portfolio managers often address those issues in their shareholder annual reports.

And above all, keep reading the information that the fund sends you. It's hip to stay informed.

To read more articles, please visit the column archive.

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