Riverpark/Wedgewood Fund

By Chip

The fund:

RiverPark/Wedgewood (RWGFX)riverparkwedgewood


David Rolfe, manager since inception.

The call:

I had a chance to speak with David Rolfe of Wedgewood Partners and Morty Schaja, president of RiverPark Funds. A couple dozen listeners joined us, though most remained shy and quiet. Morty opened the call by noting the distinctiveness of RWGFX’s performance profile: even given a couple quarters of low relative returns, it substantially leads its peers since inception. Most folks would expect a very concentrated fund to lead in up markets. It does, beating peers by about 10%. Few would expect it to lead in down markets, but it does: it’s about 15% better in down markets than are its peers. Mr. Schaja is invested in the fund and planned on adding to his holdings in the week following the call.

The strategy: Rolfe invests in 20 or so high-quality, high-growth firms. He has another 15-20 on his watchlist, a combination of great mid-caps that are a bit too small to invest in and great large caps a bit too pricey to invest in. It’s a fairly low turnover strategy and his predilection is to let his winners run. He’s deeply skeptical of the condition of the market as a whole – he sees badly stretched valuations and a sort of mania for high-dividend stocks – but he neither invests in the market as a whole nor are his investment decisions driven by the state of the market. He’s sensitive to the state of individual stocks in the portfolio; he’s sold down four or five holdings in the last several months nut has only added four or five in the past two years. Rather than putting the proceeds of the sales into cash, he’s sort of rebalancing the portfolio by adding to the best-valued stocks he already owns.”

His argument for Apple: For what interest it holds, that’s Apple. He argues that analysts are assigning irrationally low values to Apple, somewhere between those appropriate to a firm that will never see real topline growth again and one that which see a permanent decline in its sales. He argues that Apple has been able to construct a customer ecosystem that makes it likely that the purchase of one iProduct to lead to the purchase of others. Once you’ve got an iPod, you get an iTunes account and an iTunes library which makes it unlikely that you’ll switch to another brand of mp3 player and which increases the chance that you’ll pick up an iPhone or iPad which seamlessly integrates the experiences you’ve already built up. As of the call, Apple was selling at $400. Their sum-of-the-parts valuation is somewhere in the $600-650 range.

On the question of expenses: Finally, the strategy capacity is north of $10 billion and he’s currently managing about $4 billion in this strategy (between the fund and private accounts). With a 20 stock portfolio, that implies a $500 million in each stock when he’s at full capacity. The expense ratio is 1.25% and is not likely to decrease much, according to Mr. Schaja. He says that the fund’s operations were subsidized until about six months ago and are just in the black now. He suggested that there might be 20 or so basis points of flexible room in the expenses. I’m not sure where to come down on the expense issue. No other managed, concentrated retail fund is substantially cheaper – Baron Partners and Edgewood Growth are 15-20 basis points more, Oakmark Select and CGM Focus are 15-20 basis points less while a bunch of BlackRock funds charge almost the same.

Bottom Line: On whole, it strikes me as a remarkable strategy: simple, high return, low excitement, repeatable and sustained for near a quarter century.

podcastThe conference call (When you click on the link, the file will load in your browser and will begin playing after it’s partially loaded.)

The profile:

Ellis argues that professional investors, in the main, play a losers game by becoming distracted, unfocused and undistinguished. Mr. Rolfe and his associates are determined not to play that game. They position themselves as “contrarian growth investors.”

The Mutual Fund Observer profile of RWGFX, September 2011.


The Riverpark/Wedgewood Fund website

Fund Focus: Resources from other trusted sources

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About Chip

Cheryl Welsch, MBA (Western Governors). Cofounder, technical director. Chip is the dean of curriculum and accreditation at Eastern Iowa Community Colleges. Chip is responsible for making the Observer actually happen; in cooperation with our graphic designer, she also controls how the Observer looks and acts. She also writes our monthly Manager Changes feature and whittles away at the typofest in our drafts.