Author Archives: David Snowball

About David Snowball

David Snowball, PhD (Massachusetts). Cofounder, lead writer. David is a Professor of Communication Studies at Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois, a nationally-recognized college of the liberal arts and sciences, founded in 1860. For a quarter century, David competed in academic debate and coached college debate teams to over 1500 individual victories and 50 tournament championships. When he retired from that research-intensive endeavor, his interest turned to researching fund investing and fund communication strategies. He served as the closing moderator of Brill’s Mutual Funds Interactive (a Forbes “Best of the Web” site), was the Senior Fund Analyst at FundAlarm and author of over 120 fund profiles. David lives in Davenport, Iowa, and spends an amazing amount of time ferrying his son, Will, to baseball tryouts, baseball lessons, baseball practices, baseball games … and social gatherings with young ladies who seem unnervingly interested in him.

January 1, 2017

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

Welcome to the New Year.

If you think contemporary politics are crazy, ask yourself “why is January 1 the start of the year?” Ancient cultures tended to align their calendars with the rhythm of the natural world: solstices, equinoxes, the waxing and waning of the moon, planting seasons and harvests. January 1 aligns with, well, nothing.

Which was the point. The ancient Roman had two calendars running simultaneously. The joint rulers, called consuls, took office around January 1 after the week of solstice celebrations. That began “the consular year.” The religious calendar recognized Continue reading →

For fund managers, a lesson from a failed squatter toilet

By David Snowball

People are weird. They doggedly do things that are stupid and self-destructive. If you ask them “why?” the answer is often “because that’s what I’m comfortable doing.”

Investors are people.

Fund managers are people.

People are people.

People are weird.

Our story begins with smoldering dung. Nearly half of the world’s population cooks their food in stoves, often unvented, that burns solid fuel, often dung. In some parts of Africa it’s 98% while folks in Continue reading →

Funds in registration

By David Snowball

The SEC requires managers to submit plans for their new funds 75 days before they’re offered for sale to the public. This month finds 16 new funds in the pipeline. The most intriguing are the two Rondure funds, launched by a partnership between former Wasatch star manager Laura Geritz and the folks at Grandeur Peak. We wrote in December about the partnership. One of pure EM, the other global and both are positioned to hold stocks that are somewhat larger and more seasoned than we associate with Grandeur Peak. Artisan, which rarely launches a bad fund, has registered plans for its niche-est fund, Artisan Thematic, led by an experienced hedge fund guy. Continue reading →

Launch Alert: GQG Partners Emerging Markets Equity Fund GQGPX

By David Snowball

On December 28, 2016, GQG Partners LLC launched their Emerging Markets Equity Fund which will be managed by Rajiv Jain.

The fund pursues an eminently sensible strategy. They are looking for companies that they believe are “reasonably priced, and have strong fundamental business characteristics, sustainable earnings growth and the ability to outperform peers over a full market cycle and sustain the value of their securities in a market downturn, while [trying to] avoid investments in companies that it believes have low profit margins or unwarranted leverage, and companies that it believes are particularly cyclical, unpredictable or susceptible to rapid earnings declines.” That will tilt the portfolio toward Continue reading →

Launch Alert: Cognios Large Cap Value Fund (COGLX & COGVX)

By David Snowball

On October 3, 2016, Cognios Capital launched Cognios Large Cap Value Fund, which represents the “long” sleeve of its long-short flagship fund, Cognios Market Neutral Large Cap Fund (COGMX/COGIX). They launched the fund in response to requests from existing clients, mostly investment advisors, who wanted easy access to the long-only option. Cognios waited until mid-December to publicize the fund’s launch.

They target high-quality value stocks, rather than growth ones. They use a quantitative screen called ROTA/ROMEROTA (Return on Tangible Assets) is a way of identifying high-quality businesses. At base, it measures a Continue reading →

Updates

By David Snowball

PIMCO pays up

PIMCO has agreed to write to $19.8 million check to resolve a long-running enforcement action initiated by the SEC. The short version: PIMCO launched PIMCO Total Return ETF (BOND), one of the earliest actively-managed ETFs, in 2012. Early performance was eye-opening, since the ETF outperformed PIMCO’s $175 billion flagship Total Return Fund (PTTRX). It turns out that the outperformance was achieved by mispricing 43 of the fund’s 156 holdings and was supported by “other, misleading reasons” offered for the fund’s success.  PIMCO’s description speaks of “43 smaller-sized positions of non-agency mortgage-backed securities using third-party vendor prices, as well as PIMCO’s policies and procedures related to these matters.”

Jaffe on the move

Chuck Jaffe has announced his imminent Continue reading →

Briefly Noted

By David Snowball

SMALL WINS FOR INVESTORS

Effective January 1, 2017, the management fee for AMG River Road Long-Short Fund (ARLSX, formerly ASTON/River Road Long-Short Fund) will be reduced from 1.10% to 0.85% . At the same time AMG River Road Select Value Fund (ARSMX, formerly ASTON/River Road Select Value Fund) drops from 0.9 to 0.75%. In both cases, the total e.r. then falls as well.

AQR Global (AQGNX) and International Equity Funds (AQINX) have reduced their expense ratios by 10 and 5 basis points, respectively.

Ariel has lowered fees on both International (AINTX) and Continue reading →

December 1, 2016

By David Snowball

What a busy month.

On Monday, November 21, four U.S. stock indexes all reached all-time highs: the S&P 500, Dow, Russell 2000 and Nasdaq; it might be that the S&P Midcap 400 did the same, but that’s less clear to me. That feat was last accomplished on December 31, 1999. The coincidence led Chip, our estimable tech director, to launch into a spirited rendition of Prince’s “1999”:

I was dreamin’ when I wrote this
Forgive me if it goes astray
But when I woke up this mornin’
Could of sworn it was judgment day

The sky was all purple
There were people runnin’ everywhere
Tryin’ to run from the destruction
You know I didn’t even care

‘Cause they say two thousand zero zero
Party over, oops out of time
So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999

I was dreamin’ when I wrote this
So sue me if I go too fast
But life is just a party
And parties weren’t meant to last

Continue reading →

The three coolest studies of 2016

By David Snowball

There are scholars whose entire lives are consumed by the need to study mutual funds. Not “study” in the carefree way I do or the deeply-tainted way that marketing-driven organizations do, but “study” with considerable rigor, sophisticated tools and a willingness to struggle with complexity.

While much of the content of these studies is inaccessible to Continue reading →

Tributary Small Company (FOSCX)

By David Snowball

Objective and strategy

The fund pursues long-term capital appreciation. They invest in a portfolio of 60-70 small-cap stocks, mostly domiciled in the U.S. Their fundamental approach is value-oriented and broadly diversified across economic sectors. In general, each position in the portfolio starts out about equally weighted; 50 of the 65 current holdings are each between 1-2% of the portfolio. They hold minimal cash, currently about 4%. Portfolio turnover is in the range of 25-35%, far below the small cap average.   Continue reading →

Elevator Talk: Colin Symons, Symons Value (SAVIX)

By David Snowball

Since the number of funds we can cover in-depth is smaller than the number of funds worthy of in-depth coverage, we’ve decided to offer one or two managers each month the opportunity to make a 200 word pitch to you. That’s about the number of words a slightly-manic elevator companion could share in a minute and a half. In each case, I’ve promised to offer a quick capsule of the fund and a link back to the fund’s site. Other than that, they’ve got 200 words and precisely as much of your time and attention as you’re willing to share. These aren’t endorsements; they’re opportunities to learn more.

Colin Symons manages SAVIX and has managed it since the fund launched in Continue reading →

Prelaunch Alert: Laura Geritz, Grandeur Peak and the Rondure Funds

By David Snowball

When Laura Geritz left Wasatch Advisors in June after a decade with the firm, there was a clear and understandable sense of loss. Ms. Geritz had three public charges:

Wasatch International Opportunities (WAIOX), : a $635 million international small-growth fund. It’s got a five-star rating from Morningstar. Over the past five years, it’s posted higher returns with lower volatility than its Lipper peer group. The estimable Lewis Braham reports Continue reading →

Funds in registration

By David Snowball

You know it’s a bad month for fund registrations when the most interesting thing out there is a bad idea: The ETF Market ETF (TETF). If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “there’s nothing I want more than to be trapped investing in a very limited universe of companies, almost none of whom have enduring competitive advantages,” you can now not only invest there, you can day trade if you want. (sigh) Otherwise, year-end is a slow time in the fund launch world. Continue reading →

Briefly noted

By David Snowball

In a peculiarly peculiar move, Praxis Small Cap (MMSCX) is becoming Praxis Small Cap Index Fund. Praxis might, charitably, be described as “bad” (its five-year record trails its peers by 600 basis points annually) and “expensive” (1.68% with a 5.25% sales load). In an attempt to be less “bad,” they’re giving up active management but remaining expensive (1.13% with a 5.25% sales load). Here’s advice to prospective providers of index funds: if you can’t make it cheap, you’re going to lose. Praxis is attempting to dodge that ugly truth by being not-quite-an-index funds: its benchmark is the S&P SmallCap 600 but “the Fund seeks to avoid companies that are deemed inconsistent with the stewardship investing core values. In addition, the Adviser uses optimization techniques to Continue reading →

November 1, 2016

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

I walked along today, kicking leaves, marveling at the maples, crunching through my last Golden Russet apple and wondering at the tension between local delight and global despair. Things are good in my life. My classes are full and my students are … hmmm, fascinating in a “bright but so very different from what I recall” way. My son just earned his driver’s license and I bought him a respectable used car. I harvested my first-ever potato crop and the last of my carrots and onions, so roasted root veggies are on the menu this week. I’m happy.

The world beyond mine is less happy. Weather forecasters report that Continue reading →

Ten million miles high

By David Snowball

Technically, 10,315,656 miles high.

The IMF reported in October that global debt, government, corporate and individual, is now $152 trillion. (That’s $152 followed by 000,000,000,000.) That’s historically high, both in absolute terms and relative to global GDP. And it’s not limited to slow-growing developed economies; increasingly emerging markets are issuing debt at a record pace.

Folks at the Endowment for Human Development, who have either spiffy calculators or too much free time, calculate that Continue reading →

Counting on the winners

By David Snowball

There’s a good chance that the next five years will be far more challenging for investors than the past five. It’s rare that a market delivers returns (12% annual returns) greater than its volatility (11% standard deviation). We’ve had five years of extraordinary monetary policy; if the next five years look more ordinary (say, 10 year rates back to their normal 3-4% range), there’s likely to be a “repricing” of assets, possibly dramatic, surely erratic. GMO’s asset class projections, which simply assume a return to normal levels of profits and earnings, say that almost all asset classes are set for negative real returns.

For folks looking for managers well-equipped to handle hostile markets, we used Continue reading →

Elevator Talk: Don Porter, DGHM MicroCap Value (DGMMX/DGMIX)

By David Snowball

Since the number of funds we can cover in-depth is smaller than the number of funds worthy of in-depth coverage, we’ve decided to offer one or two managers each month the opportunity to make a 200 or 300 word pitch to you. That’s about the number of words a slightly-manic elevator companion could share in a minute and a half. In each case, I’ve promised to offer a quick capsule of the fund and a link back to the fund’s site. Other than that, they’ve got 200 words and precisely as much of your time and attention as you’re willing to share. These aren’t endorsements; they’re opportunities to learn more.

Donald Porter leads the team which manages the Continue reading →

Update: RiverNorth Marketplace Lending Corporation (RMPLX) webcast

By David Snowball

In October, we offered a Launch Alert for RiverNorth’s latest fund, RMPLX. It’s a closed-end interval fund which offers institutional investors access to the quickly evolving marketplace lending sphere. The fund has a million dollar minimum initial investment and, structurally, has some similarities to a hedge fund.

In mid-November, RiverNorth will host a webcast helping investors understand the potential risks, returns and distinctive characteristics of this slice of the market. They’ve done good work with their webcasts before, so folks with the interest and wherewithal might Continue reading →