Manning & Napier Pro-Blend Conservative (EXDAX), September 2015

By David Snowball

Objective and strategy

The fund’s first objective is to provide preservation of capital. Its secondary concerns are to provide income and long-term growth of capital. The fund invests primarily in fixed-income securities. It tilts toward shorter-term, investment grade issues while having the ability to go elsewhere when the opportunities are compelling. It also invests in foreign and domestic stocks, with a preference for dividend-paying equities. Finally, it may invest a bit in a managed futures strategy as a hedge. In general, though, bonds are 55-85% of the portfolio. In the past five years, stocks have accounted for 25-35% of the portfolio though they might be about 10% higher or lower if conditions warrant.

Adviser

Manning & Napier. Manning & Napier was founded in 1970 by Bill Manning and Bill Napier. They’re headquartered near Rochester, NY, with offices in Columbus, OH, Chicago and St. Petersburg. They serve a diversified client base of high-net-worth individuals and institutions, including 401(k) plans, pension plans, Taft-Hartley plans, endowments and foundations. It’s a publicly-traded company (symbol: MN) with $43 billion in assets under management. Of that, about $18 billion are in their team-managed mutual funds and the remainder in a series of separately-managed accounts.

Manager

The fund is managed by a seven-person team, headed by Jeffrey Herrmann and Marc Tommasi. Both of them have been with the fund since its launch. The same team manages all of Manning & Napier’s Pro-Blend and Target Date funds.

Management’s stake in the fund

We generally look for funds where the managers have placed a lot of their own money to work beside yours.  The managers work as a team on about 10 funds. While few of them have any investment in this particular fund, virtually all have large investments between the various Pro-Blend and Lifestyle funds.

Opening date

November 1, 1995.

Minimum investment

$2,000. That is reduced to $25 if you sign up for an automatic monthly investing plan.

Expense ratio

0.87% on $1.5 billion in assets, as of August 2015. That’s about average for funds of this type.

Comments

Pro-Blend Conservative offers many of the same attractions as Vanguard STAR (VGSTX) but does so with a more conservative asset allocation. Here are three arguments on its behalf.

First, the fund invests in a way that is broadly diversified and pretty conservative. The portfolio holds something like 200 stocks and 500 bonds, plus a few dozen other holdings. Collectively those represent perhaps 25 different asset classes. No stock position occupies as much as 1% of the portfolio and it currently has much less direct foreign investment than its peers.

Second, Manning & Napier is very good. The firm does lots of things right, and they’ve been doing it right for a long while. Their funds are all team-managed, which tends to produce more consistent, risk-conscious decisions. Their staff’s bonuses are tied to the firm’s goal of absolute returns, so if investors lose money, the analysts suffer, too. The management teams are long-tenured – as with this fund, 20 year stints are not uncommon – and most managers have substantial investments alongside yours.

Third, Pro-Blend Conservative works. Their strategy is to make money by not losing money. That helps explain a paradoxical finding: they might make only half as much as the stock market in a good year but they managed to outperform the stock market over the past 15. Why? Because they haven’t had to dig themselves out of deep holes first. The longer a bull market goes on, the less obvious that advantage is. But once the market turns choppy, it reasserts itself.

At the same time, the fund has the ability to become more aggressive when conditions warrant.  It just does so carefully. Chris Petrosino, one of the Managing Directors at Manning, explained it this way:

We have the ability to be more aggressive. For us, that’s based on current market conditions, fundamentals, pricing and valuations. It may appear contrarian, but valuations dictate our actions. We use those valuations that we see in various asset classes (not only in equities), as our road map. We use our flexibility to invest where we see opportunities, which means that our portfolio often looks very different than the benchmark.

Bottom Line

Pro-Blend Conservative has been a fine performer since launch. It has returned over 6% since launch and 5.4% annually over the past 15 years. That’s about 1% per year better than either the Total Stock Market or its conservative peers. In general, the fund has managed to make between 4-5% each year; more importantly, it has made money for its investors in 19 of the past 20 years. It is an outstanding first choice for cautious investors.

Fund website

Manning & Napier Pro-Blend Conservative homepage. From there you can download the fund’s fact sheet, a two page .pdf document which gives you updated information on what the fund has been investing in and how it’s doing. From there it’s easy to open a mutual fund account and set up your AIP.

© Mutual Fund Observer, 2015. All rights reserved. The information here reflects publicly available information current at the time of publication. For reprint/e-rights contact us.
This entry was posted in Stars in the shadows on by .

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.