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Investment funds: Japanese equity, health care rose to the top in 2013

What are we looking for?

Cream-of-the-crop investment funds that offered the best performance in the last year.

The screen

We looked for top performers in all funds with the highest one-year returns to Nov. 30. We excluded a few categories such as alternative strategies and retail venture capital, which are difficult to compare to other funds. We also left out U.S. dollar, segregated and duplicate version of the funds, funds catering to one professional group and those with a minimum investment of more than $25,000.

What did we find?

One Japanese equity exchange-traded fund displayed a golden performance.

The Canadian-dollar hedged iShares Japan Fundamental Index ETF surged 67.2 per cent in the year. The fund tracks the biggest Japanese companies such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Sony Corp., which benefited from Japan's rising equity markets throughout the year. In 2011 and 2010 this ETF posted negative returns.

The mutual funds coming in second and third were completely different investments than the leader, both being health-care equity funds.

The CI Global Health Sciences Corporate Class, which specializes in health-care and medical-industry equity investments, gained 59.1 per cent. The majority of this fund's investments are outside of Canada, but its largest holding is Patheon Inc., a drug development and manufacturing company founded in Canada (although now headquartered in North Carolina).

The TD Health Sciences climbed 56 per cent in the period. The fund's top holdings include biotechnology giant Gilead Sciences Inc., which has a widely anticipated hepatitis C drug that made waves last week after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave it a positive review.

Portfolio managers on many health-care funds, including CI's Andrew Waight, have said investment in biotechnology stocks was crucial to posting strong performance through 2013.

Some funds focused on small to mid-cap companies in the United States, Canada and other markets also performed well this year. CIBC U.S. Small Companies was the best performer among this type of fund, up 52.9 per cent this year.

Rounding out the top five is the Chou Europe Series A, a European equity fund run by Francis Chou of Toronto-based Chou Associates Management Inc. Mr. Chou is known for his long-term view, and his investments span many industries – from airlines to pharmaceuticals. He has been charging low performance fees in recent years, because of the fund's troubled performance in the past, but he has expressed plans to raise these fees at some point.

Top 15 investment funds over the past year

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