December 2016 IssueLong scroll 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:

Geritz replaced long-term International Opportunities manager Blake Walker, who left to run Grandeur Peak International Opportunities (GPIOX) in October 2011. Since then, the two funds have been neck and neck—Grandeur Peak produced a cumulative 94% return to Wasatch’s 90% but Wasatch had less volatility—and both have crushed their peers’ average of 55%. Neither Geritz nor Walker was the only one responsible for that outcome. (“Should You Follow a Star Money Manager?” Barron’s, 9/10/2016)

Wasatch Frontier Emerging Small Countries (WAFMX), from 2012. It’s a fund with a distinctive focus on “frontier markets and small emerging market countries.” Its 6.1% annual return has beaten its Lipper peer group by 570 basis points/year since inception; another way of saying the same thing is that WAFMX had returns 15-times greater than its peers’. By all of our measures, it was (and is) substantially less risky than they are.

Wasatch Emerging Markets Small Cap (WAEMX), from 2009. The contrast here is even sharper. Since inception, this fund has earned 3.0% annually which seems modest until you realize that the average emerging markets fund has lost 2.2% annually in the same period.

In short, she’s been doing a really good job and it wasn’t at all clear why she left or where she’d head.

We now know. Ms. Geritz left, at least in part, because “desire to do her own thing, build her own firm and be her own boss,” according to Grandeur Peak president Eric Huefner. That’s much the same motivation that led Robert Gardiner and some of his associates to leave Wasatch and found Grandeur Peak five years ago.

That’s the “why?” The “where” is Rondure Global Advisors. Rondure is a new firm that she’s launching in collaboration with Grandeur Peak. It is, for now, a one-person operation with Ms. Geritz spending a chunk of her time bouncing ideas around with the Grandeur Peak analysts.  While she does that and does portfolio planning, Mr. Huefner is working to prepare prospectuses for two Rondure funds. One will focus on developed markets, the other on developing markets. It’s likely that the funds will be in registration by the end of 2016 and will be available for purchase by late winter, 2017.

What’s up with “Rondure”? If you’re asking, “why choose the name ‘rondure’?” the answer is sort of playful. “Rondure” is French for “round,” as in “the globe.” Since she’s a global investor, that worked. And her father was an English lit professor with a passion for Shakespeare, whose Sonnet 21 speaks of:

Making a couplement of proud compare,
With sun and moon, with earth and sea’s rich gems,
With April’s first-born flowers, and all things rare
That heaven’s air in this huge rondure hems.

Too, it sort of rhymes with “Grandeur,” which is also French. And a bunch of other names were already taken.

A more serious question is “why start Rondure rather than simply join Grandeur”?  I put that question to Mr. Huefner. Rondure will have its own research team and client managers, with Grandeur Peak providing the back-office (and moral) support. His explanation seemed to point in two directions: (1) Ms. Geritz really wants to run her own firm and (2) both teams might be stronger if she operates in cooperation with, but independent of, Grandeur Peak.

Here’s his explanation:

Laura is definitely somebody we’ve thought very highly of. She was a great partner when we were all at Wasatch and one of the most prolific travelers out there. We were visiting companies like crazy – 1800 touches/year across our team – and she was doing the same. When she decided to leave Wasatch, we were excited to have the conversation.

Her approach is globally-focused, deep due-diligence; she’s more all-cap, core, really high-quality. She’s not looking for 15% annual growth in her firms the way we do; she’s much more about consistent compounders. She also works further up the market cap scale than we do; her focus is much more mid-, large- and mega-cap than ours.  That makes her a little tangential to what we’re doing. She’s also better at macro-level things than we are. She has more insight, for example, into the macro environment in Japan and its impact on individual firms. We love the idea of overlaying her knowledge, expertise and passion. Every day someone comes in to bounce an idea off her. Our contrasting perspectives are, I think, helping us both.

It’s an intriguing, and promising, development. We’ll follow up for you as soon as her funds go into registration.

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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.