September 2017 IssueLong scroll reading

The Land of the Investment Dervishes

By David Snowball

America’s best-selling poet is a Muslim theologian who died 750 years ago. Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi (alternately, Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi) is not only namesake to Beyonce’s new child, but also founder of Sufism, a branch of Islam. Sufism is both mystical and ecstatic. Rumi was given to a whirling dance that reflects the boundless joy and energy that overwhelms a believer; it helped believers express and achieve ecstasy, was codified by his son and practiced by dervishes, literally “poor monks.” They became famous as whirling dervishes, who spun with an almost unhuman grace, energy and tenacity.

I thought of them as I read of Turner Investment Partners recent announcement of the closure of their last three actively-managed mutual funds. Turner was founded in 1990 was renowned for their aggressive style of growth investing, primarily in smaller U.S. firms. But those haven’t been the only arrows in the Turner quiver. Here’s a quick quiz: which of the following is a fund that Turner hadn’t already launched and liquidated?

  • Turner Core Growth 130/30: 130/30 funds were all the rage in the mid2000s despite being a dumb idea. Turner closed theirs in 2008.
  • Turner Global TMT: only half-credit here. Global TMT was one of Turner’s hedge funds. It builds on the tradition of Turner Wireless & Comm which dropped 81% in its last year of existence, 2001, and was merged into their B2B internet fund. Remember those?
  • Turner Market Neutral: nope, they ran a decent market neutral fund through 2014 but drew only $3 million in assets.
  • Turner Shariah-compliant Growth: ding, ding, ding! Two outside investors, including “His Excellency Abdul Jabbar Al Sayegh of Abu Dhabi, Chairman and Chief Executive of Al Sayegh Brothers Group of Companies,” praised Turner’s global growth strategy for both its high quality and compatibility with a Sharia-compliant portfolio, but the firm never launched a fund dedicated to the strategy.
  • Turner Core High Quality Fixed Income Fund: nope, they had a series of sub-advised conservative fixed-income funds, including this one and several short-term bond funds, around the turn of the century.

Turner was founded at a time when a number of very smart, very ambitious managers all looked to become The Next Ned Johnson. Dick Strong aspired to the role. Tom Marsico, Bill Nasgovitz, Jim Oberweis and Garrett van Wagoner likely did.

And, most plausibly, so did Rob Turner. You get a sense of Turner’s drive and ambition not by looking at the funds they’re liquidating, but at all of the Turner funds that have preceded them. After a long slog through the SEC Edgar database, I think this is a nearly-comprehensive roster.

Turner All Cap Growth Fund

Turner B2b-Ecommerce Fund

Turner Concentrated Growth Fund

Turner Core Growth 130/30 Fund

Turner Core High Quality Fixed Income Fund

Turner Emerging Growth Fund

Turner Emerging Markets Fund

Turner Future Financial Services

Turner Global Opportunities Fund

Turner Global Top 40 Fund

Turner International Growth Fund

Turner Large Cap Growth Fund

Turner Large Growth Fund

Turner Market Neutral Fund

Turner Medical Sciences Long/Short

Turner Micro Cap Growth Fund

Turner Midcap Equity Fund

Turner Midcap Growth Fund

Turner New Enterprise Fund

Turner Quantitative Broad Market Equity Fund

Turner Quantitative Large Cap Value Fund

Turner Short Duration Government Funds: – Three Year Portfolio

Turner Short Duration Government Funds: – One Year Portfolio

Turner Small Cap Equity Fund

Turner Small Cap Growth Fund

Turner Spectrum Fund

Turner Strategic Growth Fund

Turner Tax Managed Us Equity

Turner Technology Fund

Turner Titan Fund

Turner Titan Long/Short

Turner Top 20 Fund

Turner Ultra Large Cap Fund

And now, we turn turn turn to the next Turner: in the past 10 years, Turner lost 99% of its assets under management (“Two Fallen Fund Firms Merge,” Barron’s); dozens of funds have come and gone; active funds are out, ETFs are in; “quantitative” is out, “multifactor” is in. They added European funds and Middle Eastern investors, filed for an IPO, withdrew the filing for the IPO, cut bonuses, sued departed employees, merged with one firm and acquired two more.

Turner acquired Elkhorn Capital Group in August, 2017. Elkhorn’s founder drove a major move into ETFs at his previous employer, the Invesco Powershares, but has had minimal market success with Elkhorn’s ETFs. Elkhorn gives Turner quick entre into ETFs, Turner gives Elkhorn is brand name and marketing muscle. “Turner was introduced to us as they were going through a metamorphosis,” according to Elkhorn’s Ben Fulton.

It will be fascinating and instructive. Joseph Schumpeter celebrated capital’s “gale of creative destruction,” it’s penchant for blowing away what used to work in order to clear space for what might work next. It’s clear that Turner’s previous reinventions availed little; perhaps this one will finally give the industry an example of their future.

Or, perhaps, the whirling dancers will finally fall. Stay tuned.

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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.