Your guide to the best performers

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Performance tables are like Plasticine. They can be moulded to suit the claims of any fund manager desperate to increase the size of the portfolio for which they are responsible.

That said, investors can always glean some useful information from the charts. The figures given on this page are a useful start, but here are some more tips worth following:

l First, decide the area you want to invest in. There is little point in picking, say, the best US fund manager if you know the US market is set for a major correction. It may be worth noting that most experts believe Europe is set for growth next year.

l Second, don't base your choice purely on one year. Obtain three-, five- and seven-year returns on the fund manager of your choice. Look for performance in the top quarter of funds in that sector. Check the volatility of funds being managed. There is no point in basing choice on one year's performance if the value constantly yo-yos. Micropal and HSW, the two leading statistics providers, measure volatility as well as performance.

l Charges will eat a vast amount of your funds each year. The cheapest are 0.5 per cent or lower for "tracker" funds from Virgin and Gartmore and some investment trusts. The most expensive are up to 2 per cent a year. They would have to out-perform the cheapest by that amount every year to give you the same amount of money. That is often a tall order n

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