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The money in most large pensions funds has typically been multi-managed. That is, doled out to the best money handlers in the business in hopes of getting primo results.

Years ago, big institutions figured out that two, three, four or more minds could be better than one in the money game so it's been their practice to spread their assets around among several managers. Now, more fund famiies are doing the same.

The New England Fund Group was the first fund group to give that notion a try when they introduced The New England Star Advisers Fund (800-225-5478) five years ago.

It's a large growth fund with its assets equally managed by four different money management firms. Managers include Robert Sanborn, of Oakmark/Harris Associates; Fred Kobrick, of Kobrick Funds; Warren Lammert, from Janus; and Mary Champagne and Jeffrey Petherick of Loomis, Sayles & Company.

With hundreds of stocks in its portfolio---336 as of Sept. 30, according to Morningstar reports--- the fund's performance has been impressive. For the past 12-month, 3-year and 5-years ending Sept. 30, the New England Star Advisers Fund has beaten its two benchmarks, the S & P 500 and Russell Top 200 Growth Companies. Year-to-date performance through the third-quarter show the fund up 11.99 percent, outpacing both indexes. Top holdings include Nokia, TYCO, Amazon.com, AT&T and Cisco Systems.

More recently, Litman/Gregory Fund Advisors introduced two multi-managed funds. The first, The Masters' Select Equity Fund, ( 800-960-0188), introduced Dec. 31,1996, was up 13.9 percent year-to-date through 9/30/99; and The Masters' Select International Fund came to market on Dec. 1, 1997. It was up 24.1 percent for the same time.

One thing that sets these two fund families apart is the number of stock holdings found in each portfolio. In the New England Star Adviser there is no limit to the amount of stocks each portfolio manager can choose and each typically selects between 75 and 125 stocks. In The Masters' Select Funds, it's a whole different story.

"We've given our portfolio managers a mandate to concentrate only on their best ideas and they can't own more than 15 stocks. They can own fewer, but they can't own more, " says Kenneth Gregory, president and chief investment officer of Litman/Gregory & Company, advisors for The Masters' Select Funds.

What Gregory looks for from his portfolio managers is "conviction". He figures that the more understanding and confidence a money manager has in the companies he or she selects, the better the odds are of a concentrated portfolio outperforming its benchmark. "We're pulling together very good stock pickers and giving them the structure we think gives them a great chance to succeed in. One in which they can focus on their best ideas, " says Gregory.

Managing The Masters' Select Equity Fund, in which each managers can choose no fewer than 5 or more than 15 stocks, are Shelby Davis and Christopher Davis of New York Venture Fund; Foster Friess from Brandywine; Mason Hawkins of Longleaf Partners Fund; Robert Sanborn, the Oakmark Fund; Spiros " Sig" Segalas of Harbor Capital Appreciation Fund; and Dick Weiss from the Strong Common Stock Fund. Holdings include Ocar Intenational, Philips Electronic,Texas Instruments and American Express.

Concentrated multi-managed portfolios are also what the SunAmerica Style Select Focus Funds,( 800-858-8850), are all about. With three Focus funds in that series, the newest being The Focus Value Fund introduced on Nov.1, total portfolio holdings can exceed 30. Bill Fries, from Thornburg Investment, Marty Whitman of Third Avenue Value Funds, and Phil Davidson of American Century are the Focus Value Fund's managers.

"We have multiple managers because underlying our approach and philosophy is that style is kind of a fleet full notion," says Steve Schoepke, vice-president of research and product development at SunAmerica Asset Management. " And when you start to define style more precisely, it's nice to have several managers essentially triangulate that position."

As you can see, there are lots of differences between these cream-of-the-crop multi-managed funds. Some have portfolios that are diversified by market cap or investment style or both; annual expenses also vary among them; and The Masters' Select Funds will close once they reach certain asset levels. So what interested investors need to remember is to A) do their homework, and B) understand that just because these funds come with pedigree doesn't mean they are risk-free.

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