Objective and Strategy
The fund will pursue long-term capital growth by investing in a portfolio of global equities with a strong bias towards small- and micro-cap companies. Investments will include companies based in the U.S., developed foreign countries, and emerging/frontier markets. The portfolio has flexibility to adjust its investment mix by market cap, country, and sector in order to invest where the best global opportunities exist. The managers expect to typically have 100-150 holdings, though they are well above that for the short-term.
Grandeur Peak Global Advisors is a small- and micro-cap focused global equities investment firm, founded in mid-2011, and comprised of a very experienced and collaborative investment team that worked together for years managing some of the Wasatch funds. Global Opportunities and International Opportunities are their only two investment vehicles. The funds have over $85 million in assets after three months of operation.
Robert Gardiner and Blake Walker. Robert Gardiner managed or co-managed Wasatch Microcap (WMICX), Small Cap Value (WMCVX) and Microcap Value (WAMVX, in which I own shares). In 2007, he took a sort of sabbatical from active management but continued as Director of Research. During that sabbatical, he reached a few conclusions: (1) he loved managing money and needed to get back on the front lines, (2) the best investors will be global investor, (3) global microcap investing is the world’s most interesting sector, (4) and he had an increasing desire to manage his own firm. He returned to active management with the launch of Wasatch Global Opportunities (WAGOX), a global go anywhere fund, focused primarily on micro and small cap companies. From inception in late 2008 to June 2011 (the point of his departure), WAGOX turned a $10,000 investment into $23,500 while an investment in its average peer would have led to a $17,000 portfolio. Put another way, WAGOX earned $13,500 or 92% more than its average peer managed.
Blake Walker co-managed Wasatch International Opportunities (WAIOX) from 2005-2011. The fund was distinguished by outsized returns (top 10% of its peer group over the past five years, top 1% over the past three), and outsized stakes in emerging markets (nearly 50% of assets) and micro- to small-cap stocks (66% of assets, roughly twice what peer funds have). In March 2011, for the second year in a row, Lipper designated WAIOX as the top International Small/Mid-Cap Growth Fund based on consistent (risk-adjusted) return for the five years through 2010.
They both speak French. Mais oui!
Management’s Stake in the Fund
As of 1/27/2012, Mr. Gardiner is the largest shareholder in both funds, Mr. Walker “has a nice position in both funds” (their phrase) and all nine members of the Grandeur Peak Team are fund shareholders. Eric Huefner makes an argument that I find persuasive: “We are all highly vested in the success of the funds and the firm. Every person took a significant pay cut (or passed up a significantly higher paying opportunity) to be here.”
October 17, 2011.
$2000 for regular accounts, $1000 for IRAs. The fund’s available for purchase through all of the big independent platforms: Schwab, Fidelity, TD Ameritrade, Vanguard, Scottrade and Pershing.
1.75% on $65 million in assets (as of January 27, 2012).
This is a choice, not an echo. Most “global” funds invest in huge, global corporations. Of roughly 250 global stock funds, 80% have average market caps over $10 billion. Only six qualify as small cap funds. While that large cap emphasis dampens risk, it also tends to dampen rewards and produces rather less diversification value for a portfolio.
Grandeur Peak Global Opportunities goes where virtually no one else does: tiny companies across the globe. While these are intrinsically risky investments, they also offer the potential for huge rewards. The managers invest exclusively in what they deem to be high-quality companies, measured by factors such as the strength of the management team, the firm’s return on capital and debt burden, and the presence of a sustainable competitive advantage. They look for a mix of three sorts of securities:
Best-In-Class Growth Companies: fast earnings growth, good management, strong financials. The strategy is to “find them small & undiscovered; buy and hold” until the market catches on. In the interim, capture the compounded earnings growth.
Fallen Angels: good growth companies that hit “a bump in the road” and are priced as value stocks. The strategy is to buy them low and hold through the recovery.
Stalwarts: basically, blue chip micro-cap stocks. Decent but not great growth, great financials, and the prospect of dividends or stock buy-backs. The strategy is to buy them at a fair price but be careful of overpaying since their growth may be decelerating.
The question is: can this team manage an acceptable risk / reward balance for their investors. The answer is: yes, almost certainly.
The reason for my confidence is simple: they’ve done it before and they’ve done it splendidly. As their manager bios note, Gardiner and Blake have a record of producing substantial rewards for mutual fund investors and the two Grandeur Peak funds follow the same discipline as their Wasatch predecessors.
The real question for investors interested in global micro/small-cap investing is “why here rather than Wasatch?” I put that question to Eric Huefner, Grandeur Peak’s president, who himself was a Wasatch executive. He made three points:
- We have structured our team differently. All six members of our research team are global analysts. At Wasatch we had an International Team and a Domestic Team. The two teams talked with each other, but we didn’t have global analysts. We believe that to pick the best companies in the world you have to be looking at companies from every corner of the world. Each of our analysts (which includes the PMs) has primary responsibility for 1-2 sectors globally. This ensures that we are covering all sectors, and developing sector expertise, but with a global view. Yet, our team is small enough that all six members are actively involved in vetting every idea that goes into the portfolios.
- We feel more nimble than we did at Wasatch. Today (01/29/12) we have $87 million under management, whereas Wasatch has billions in Global Small Caps (including both funds and other accounts). When you are trying to move in and out of micro cap stocks this nimbleness really pays off – small amounts that add up. We plan to keep our firm a small boutique so that we don’t lose our ability to buy the stocks we want to.
- We have great respect for the team at Wasatch and believe they are well positioned to continue their success. Running our own firm has simply been a long-time dream of ours. I would be kidding you to say that 2011 wasn’t a distracting year for Robert and Blake as we got our new firm up and running. We feel like we’re off to a good start, and the organizational tasks are now behind us. Robert and Blake are very much re-focused on research as we begin 2012, and we have committed to minimizing their marketing efforts in order to keep our priority on research/performance. The good news is that since it’s our own firm everyone is highly energized and having a great time.
The final point in Grandeur Peak’s favor is obvious and unstated: they have the guys that actually produced the record Wasatch now holds.
Both the team and the strategy are distinctive and proven. Few people pursue this strategy, and none pursue it more effectively than Messrs. Gardiner and Blake. Folks looking for a way to add considerable diversity to the typical large/domestic/balanced portfolio really owe it to themselves to spend some time here.