Al Frank Fund (VALUX), April 2008

By Editor

. . . from the archives at FundAlarm

These profiles have not been updated. The information is only accurate as of the original date of publication.

April 1, 2008

FundAlarm Annex – Fund Report

Objective

The objective of the Al Frank Fund is long-term capital appreciation. The manager selects equity securities that he believes are out of favor and undervalued, then purchases and holds them until it believes that the securities have reached a fair value. That tends to take a while, so portfolio turnover is quite low and the portfolio is quite diverse: just under 300 holdings, across all valuations and size ranges. Currently the portfolio is comprised mostly of U.S. names.

Adviser

Al Frank Asset Management. The adviser, named for its late founder, manages two mutual funds (Al Frank and Al Frank Dividend Value) and about 800 separate accounts. Altogether, it manages about $750 million in assets.

Managers

John Buckingham and Jessica Chiaverini. Mr. Buckingham is the Chief Investment Officer for Al Frank, which he joined in 1987. He’s responsible for the fund’s day-to-day management. He’s also the Director of Research and editor of both The Prudent Speculator and the TechValue Report newsletters. Ms. Chiaverini works mostly with the firm’s separate accounts and the analysts.

Management’s Stake in the Fund

Mr. Buckingham has between $100,000 and $500,000 in each of the funds and owns about 20% of the adviser. Ms. Chiaverini has a marginal investment in the fund, but does buy many of the individual stocks recommended by The Prudent Speculator and held in the fund. Because Al Frank is part of the Advisers Series Trust, which provides the fund’s administrative and legal services, their board is actually a group designated to oversee all of the Advisers Series funds. As a result, they generally have no investment in either of the Al Frank funds.

Opening date

January 2, 1998.

Minimum investment

$1,000 for regular and IRA/UGMA accounts.

Expense ratio

1.50% after an expense cap that the advisor has agreed to extend “indefinitely.” There’s a 2.0% redemption fee on shares held fewer than sixty days.

Comments

Since I’m working on next week’s quizzes for my Advertising and Social Influence class at Augustana, I thought I’d toss in a short quiz for you folks, too. Here’s the set-up to the question:

Fund-tracker Morningstar provides an analysis in visual form of each mutual fund’s “ownership zone.” They define the “ownership zone” this way:

Ownership zones are the shaded areas of the style box intended to be a visual measure of a fund’s style scope–that is, the primary area of a fund’s ownership within the style box. Some key points to remember about the ownership zone are that it encompasses 75% of the stock holdings in the fund’s portfolio, and that it is centered around a centroid that is determined using an asset-weighted calculation.

Please match each fund with its corresponding ownership zone:

a. Al Frank Fund b. Fidelity Low-Priced Stock c. Vanguard Total Stock Market

 

1. 2. 3.

 

If you thought Fidelity’s Low-Priced is represented by image #1, you get a point. If you thought Vanguard’s Total Stock Market index is represented by index #3, you’re wrong. Terribly wrong. Image #3 represents a picture of the Al Frank Fund’s holdings.

For a fund whose ticker is VALUX, you might imagine . . . well, you know, “value” stocks in the portfolio. And while Mr. Buckingham thinks of himself as a value investor, he is wary of letting his portfolio get anchored merely to traditional value sectors like financials and utilities (the latter of which, by the way, he does not own). He argues that non-traditional realms, like tech, can offer good – and occasionally spectacular – values which are missed when you stick strictly to traditional valuation metrics. He argues that tech firms (the subject of his TechValue Report) might have no earnings but nonetheless represent legitimate “value” investments if the business shows evidence of substantial growth potential and the available valuations are at the low end of their historic ranges. He write:

In short, we seek bargains wherever they reside. If Blue-Chips seem cheap, we buy them. If technology stocks appear undervalued, we snap them up. We believe that limiting our investment universe by market-cap or value-versus-growth distinctions likely will serve only to limit our potential returns.

As new money comes (slowly, he grumps) into the fund, Mr. Buckingham rebalances the portfolio by investing in the new names with the most compelling valuations rather than adding to his existing positions. He argues that having a sprawling portfolio offers the best prospect for long-term success, in part because much of a portfolio’s gain is driven by a relative handful of wildly successful investments. Since it’s hard to predict which invest will be spectacular as opposed to merely “good” and since something like a third of any good investor’s choices “simply don’t work out,” he holds “200 or more stocks in our Funds, to improve our chances of owning those rare few stocks that everyone wishes they’d noticed earlier. This disciplined approach makes it possible for us to put patience – perhaps the most elusive of investment qualities – to work.” Skeptics might recall that Joel Tillinghast, on the short list of the best investment managers ever to work for Fidelity, consistently holds 700 or more stocks in his Fidelity Low-Priced Stock (FLPSX) portfolio. That’s complemented by the fact that Mr. Buckingham’s newsletter, “The Prudent Speculator has evolved to become the #1 newsletter as ranked by The Hulbert Financial Digest in its fifteen-, twenty- and twenty-five-year categories for total return performance through May 31, 2007.”

Over the decade of Al Frank fund’s existence, it’s landed in the top 2% of its peer group clocking in with annual returns of 12.7%, which tops the S&P500 and its mid-cap blend peer group by about 5% a year. Its absolute returns over the past five years – 19% annually – are stronger while its relative returns and about the same as for the longer period. The headache for investors comes in the pattern of year-to-year performance that leads to those strong, long-term numbers.

 


Year


Peer Group Ranking


2001


Top 10%


2002


Bottom 10%


2003


Top 10%


2004


Bottom 10%


2005


Top 10%


2006


Bottom 10%


2007


Just below average

 

On whole, that pattern doesn’t bother him. Citing Warren Buffett’s famous dictum, “At Berkshire, we would rather earn a lumpy 15% over time than a smooth 12%,” Mr. Buckingham takes lumpiness as an inevitable consequence of independent thinking.

Bottom Line

Al Frank definitely offers lumpy returns. The manager neither aspires to nor achieves smoothly mediocre results. He tends to make a lot of money for his investors, but punctuates periods of stout returns with periods where a good glass of stout might be called for. For folks willing to take the bad with the good, they’ve got access to a strong track record and devoutly original thinking.

Fund website

http://www.alfrankfunds.com/

FundAlarm © 2008