Scout Unconstrained Bond Fund (SUBFX), November 2012

This fund is now the Carillon Reams Unconstrained Bond Fund.

Objective and Strategy

The fund seeks to maximize total return consistent with the preservation of capital.  The fund can invest in almost any sort of fixed-income instrument, though as a practical matter their international investments are quite limited.  The fund’s maturity will not normally exceed eight years, but they maintain the option of going longer in some markets and even achieving a negative duration (effectively shorting the bond market) in others.  They can use derivative instruments, such as options, futures contracts (including interest rate futures contracts), currency forwards or swap agreements (including credit default swaps) to enhance returns, increase liquidity and/or gain exposure to particular areas of the market.  Because they sell a security when it approaches fair market value, this may be a relatively high turnover fund.

Adviser

Scout Investments, Inc. Scout is a wholly-owned subsidiary of UMB Financial, both are located in Kansas City, Missouri. Scout advises the eleven Scout funds. As of June 30, 2012, assets under the management of the Advisor were approximately $22.37 billion.  Scout’s four fixed-income funds are managed by its Reams Asset Management division, including Low-Duration Bond (SCLDX), Core Bond (SCCYX, four stars) and Core Plus Bond (SCPZX, rated five star/Silver by Morningstar, as of October 2012).

Manager

Mark M. Egan is the lead portfolio manager of the Fixed Income Funds. Thomas M. Fink, Todd C. Thompson and Stephen T. Vincent are co-portfolio managers of the Fixed Income Funds. Mr. Egan joined the Advisor on November 30, 2010. He oversees the entire fixed income division of the Advisor, Reams Asset Management, and retains oversight over all investment decisions. Mr. Egan was a portfolio manager of Reams Asset Management Company, LLC (“Reams”) from April 1994 until November 2010 and was a portfolio manager of Reams Asset Management Company, Inc. from June 1990 until March 1994. Mr. Egan was a portfolio manager of National Investment Services until May 1990.

Management’s Stake in the Fund

Messrs. Egan, Fink and Thompson have each invested over $1,000,000 in the fund.  Mr. Vincent has between $10,000 – 50,000 in it.

Opening date

September 29, 2011.

Minimum investment

$1,000 for regular accounts, reduced to $100 for IRAs or accounts with AIPs.

Expense ratio

0.99%, after waivers, on assets of $45 million (as of October 2012).

Comments

There are 6850 funds of all kinds in Morningstar’s database.  Of those, precisely 117 have a better one-year record than Scout Unconstrained Bond.

There are 1134 fixed-income funds in Morningstar’s database.  Of those, precisely five have a better one-year record.

98.3% of all funds trail Scout Unconstrained between November 1, 2011 and October 30, 2012.  99.6% of all fixed-income funds trailed Scout for the same period.

Surprised?  You might not be if you knew the record of the management team that runs Scout Unconstrained.  Mark Egan and his team from Reams Asset Management have been investing money using this strategy since 1998.  Their audited performance for the private accounts (about $231 million worth of them) is stunningly better than the records of the most renowned bond fund managers.  The funds below represent the work of the three best-known bond managers (Jeff Gundlach at DoubleLine, Bill Gross at PIMCO, Dan Fuss at Loomis) plus the performance of the Gold-rated funds in Morningstar’s two most-flexible categories: multi-sector and world.

 

1 Yr.

3 Yrs.

5 Yrs.

10 Yrs.

Unconstrained Composite

33.98%

20.78

17.45

15.67

SUBFX

25.37

DoubleLine Core Fixed Income

8.62

Loomis Sayles Bond

14.25

10.83

7.08

10.41

Loomis Sayles Strategic Income

14.02

10.63

6.89

11.14

PIMCO Total Return

9.08

11.51

8.92

6.95

Templeton Global Bond

12.92

8.03

9.47

10.95

ML 3 Month LIBOR

0.48

0.37

1.44

2.26

Annualized Performance Ending September 30, 2012

You’ll notice that the performance of Scout Unconstrained does not equal the performance of the Unconstrained Composite.  The difference is that the team bought, in the private accounts, deeply distressed securities in the 2008 panic and they’re now harvesting the rewards of those purchases.  Since the fund didn’t exist, its investors don’t have the benefit of that exposure. Clark Holland, a Portfolio Analyst on the Fund, reports that, “We strive to invest the separate accounts and the mutual fund as closely as possible so returns should be similar going forward.”

Just because I’m a cautious person, I also screened all bond funds against the trailing record of the Unconstrained Bond composite, looking for close competitors.  There were none.

But I’m not sure why.  The team’s strategy is deceptively simple.  Find where the best values are, then buy them.  The Reams website posits this process:

STEP 1: Determine whether the bond market is cheap or expensive by comparing the current real interest rate to historical rates.

STEP 2: Focus on sectors offering relative value and select securities offering the highest risk‐adjusted return.

STEP 3: Continually measure and control exposure to security‐ and portfolio‐level risks.

It looks like the fund benefits from the combination of two factors: boldness and caution.

It’s clear that the managers have sufficient confidence in their judgment to act when other hesitate.  Their 2012 Annual Report cites one such instance:

A contribution to performance in the asset-backed securities (ABS) sector can be traced to our second lien or home equity holdings, which strongly outperformed.  We purchased these securities at an extreme discount after the 2008-2009 financial crisis, when defaults on home equity loans were high. Since then, default rates declined, the perceived risk of owning these securities lessened, and the prices of the securities have risen sharply.

As you comb through the fund’s reports, you find discussions of “airline enhanced equipment trust certificates” and the successful exploitation of mispricing in the derivatives market:

High-yield index swaps (CDX) such as those we own, which represent groups of credit default swaps (CDS), usually are priced similarly to high-yield cash bonds. Due to somewhat technical reasons, a price gap opened, in the second quarter of this year, between the price of high-yield CDX index swaps and high-yield cash bonds .We took advantage of the price gap to buy the CDX index swap at an attractive price and captured a nice return when pricing trended back toward a more normal level.

One simple and bold decision was to have zero long exposure to Treasuries; their peers average 35%.   As with RiverPark Short Term High Yield, the fact that their strategy (separate accounts plus the fund) has attracted a relatively small amount of investment, they’re able to drive performance with a series of relatively small, profitable trades that larger funds might need to skip over.

At the same time, you get a sense of intense risk-consciousness.  Cautious about rising interest rates, the managers expect to maintain a shorter average duration as they look for potential investments. In his October 3, 2012 letter to investors, Mr. Egan lays out his sense of how the market is evolving and how his team will respond:

What to do? Recognize the reality of a challenging environment, focus on your realistic goals as an investor, and be ready to seize opportunities as they arise.  A well-known investor recently opined as to the death of equity as an asset class.  Our take is the death of static risk allocations, or even what constitutes risk, along with buy and hold investing.  The successful investor will be aware of the challenges we face as a society, understand the efficacy or lack of it in the various (mostly political) solutions prescribed, and allow volatility, and the inevitable mispricing that will result, to be your guide. Flexibility and nimbleness will be required.  For our part, we have positioned accounts in a cautious, conservative stance as the cost of doing so has rapidly declined. We may be early and we may forgo some modest gains in risk assets, but it is both appropriate and in keeping with the style that has generated returns well in excess of our peers over most time periods.

Bottom Line

You need to approach any “too good to be true” investment with care and diligence.  The track record behind SUBFX, which is splendid and carefully documented, was earned in a different sort of investment vehicle.  As assets grow, the fund’s opportunity set will change and, possibly, narrow.  That said, the managers have successfully invested substantial sums via this strategy for nearly 15 years; the fact that they’ve placed millions of their own dollars at risk represents a very serious endorsement.

Fund website

Scout Unconstrained Bond.  Mr. Egan also wrote a very good white paper entitled “Fixed Income: The Search for Total Returns in Volatile Markets” (March 2012).  If you’re intrigued by the fund, you’ll get a better sense of the managers’ approach.  Even if you’re not, you might well benefit from their discussion of “the growing risks of not taking risks.”

Fact Sheet

© Mutual Fund Observer, 2012. All rights reserved. The information here reflects publicly available information current at the time of publication. For reprint/e-rights contact us.

Inflation, Trends, and Market Manipulation

This past week has seen some significant market turmoil as the yield on 10-year treasuries climbed quickly to 1.5% while the S&P 500 dipped 2.5% on Thursday, February 25th. I show the Moving Average Convergence Divergence indicator below. The trends are short-term bearish. In this article, I focus on funds that lost less than a half percent on Thursday and were trending up over the past several months for clues on where to invest with the possibility of inflation rising.

This article is divided into four sections for those Continue reading →

Trending Funds by Stage

Mention of “trending funds” often invokes thoughts of investors pouring into the hottest fund and that is probably true to an extent. This article looks at stages of trends for funds. This is an evolving experiment based on data about trends, moving averages and money flows from MFO Premium. As someone nearing retirement, I own core funds that are buy and hold for extended periods. I also invest a portion to take advantage of the economic and investing environment. Investors should develop storylines of why they own funds such as low valuations, a declining dollar, inflation, and stimulus expectations, but should look for confirming trends before investing.

The first stage of trending funds is after a correction for funds that are starting to recover, which I designated as the Continue reading →

As I Age

I won’t grow up,
I don’t want to wear a tie.
Or a serious expression
In the middle of July.
And if it means I must prepare
To shoulder burdens with a worried air,
I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up
Not me,
Not I,
Not me!

Peter Pan

Several readers have asked that I expand on a comment I made about aging a few months ago. This is a hard article for me to write because it means looking at investing from a different perspective. The typical American works 30 to 50 years before retiring and must save enough to last another 20 to 30 years, or more. This means saving diligently and investing wisely while Continue reading →

Enough…in the Coming Lost Decade

How much is “enough” to retire when there are likely to be multiple decades of low returns due to high starting valuations with low yields and dividends?

  • Section 1 of this article summarizes the investment philosophies of John Bogle, Warren Buffett, Ed Easterling, Charles Ellis, Benjamin Graham, and Howard Marks.
  • Section 2 looks at the benefits of combining actively and passively managed funds to reduce risk.
  • Section 3 shows the impact of high valuations and inflation for over 120 years.
  • Section 4 covers stock and bond performance during secular bear markets with rising inflation and interest rates.
  • Section 5 looks at nearly two dozen lower risk funds for investors seeking “all-weather” funds or safer yield.
  • Section 6 provides estimates of “enough” for retirement in the coming decades.

Readers can skip to Continue reading →

Searching for Yield in the Coming Lost Decade

In this article, I look at Janus Henderson Flexible Bond (JANFX), BlackRock iShares Aaa – A Rated Corporate Bond ETF (QLTA), Carillon Reams Unconstrained Bond (SUBFX), BBH Income (BBNIX), T Rowe Price Multi-Strategy Total Return (TMSRX), Advisory Research Strategic Income (ADVNX), and Vanguard LifeStrategy Income Inv (VASIX) as potential income funds to own during a lost decade that starts with high valuations and low interest rates. The second section looks at why I expect the next decade to have low returns for equity and bonds. The third section looks at Risk to Reward comparisons for Continue reading →

Alternative and Global Funds during a Global Recession

I am selective in the analysts that I receive market commentary from. They are overwhelmingly cautious. The buzz word “FOMO or Fear Of Missing Out” is used to describe retail investors piling into markets. The quote that sums up my feelings best comes from Liz Ann Sonders of Charles Schwab in “High Hopes: S&P 500 Hits All Time High Amid Pandemic/Recession”, published on Advisor Perspectives.

I worry about the signs of froth in the market and among some behavioral measures of investor sentiment: not to mention traditional valuation metrics that are historically stretched. This is not an environment in which greed should dominate investment decisions; but instead one for discipline around diversification and periodic rebalancing…

This article looks at a brief Continue reading →

February 1, 2013

Yep, January’s been good.  Scary-good.  There are several dozen funds that clocked double-digit gains, including several scary-bad ones (Birmiwal OasisLegg Mason Capital Management Opportunity C?) but no great funds.  So if your portfolio is up six or seven or eight percent so far in 2013, smile and then listen to Han Solo’s call: “Great, kid. Don’t get cocky.”  If, like mine, yours is up just two or three percent so far in 2013, smile anyway and say, “you know, Bill, Dan, Jeremy and I were discussing that very issue over coffee last week.  I mentioned your portfolio and two of the three just turned pale.  The other one snickered and texted something to his trading desk.”

American Funds: The Past Ten Years

In October we launched “The Last Ten,” a monthly series, running between then and February, looking at the strategies and funds launched by the Big Five fund companies (Fido, Vanguard, T Rowe, American and PIMCO) in the last decade.

Here are our findings so far:

Fidelity, once fabled for the predictable success of its new fund launches, has created no compelling new investment option in a decade.  

T. Rowe Price continues to deliver on its promises.  Investing with Price is the equivalent of putting a strong singles-hitter on a baseball team; it’s a bet that you’ll win with consistency and effort, rather than the occasional spectacular play.

PIMCO has utterly crushed the competition, both in the thoughtfulness of their portfolios and in their performance.

Vanguard’s launches in the past decade are mostly undistinguished, in the sense that they incorporate neither unusual combinations of assets (no “emerging markets balanced” or “global infrastructure” here) nor innovative responses to changing market conditions (as with “real return” or “inflation-tuned” ones).  Nonetheless, nearly two-thirds of Vanguard’s new funds earned four or five star ratings from Morningstar, reflecting the compounding advantage of Vanguard’s commitment to low costs and low turnover.

We’ve saved the most curious, and most disappointing, for last. American Funds has always been a sort of benevolent behemoth. They’re old (1931) and massive. They manage more than $900 billion in investments and over 50 million shareholder accounts, with $300 billion in non-U.S. assets. 

It’s hard to know quite what to make of American. On the one hand, they’re an asset-sucking machine.  They have 34 funds over $1 billion in assets, 19 funds with over $10 billion each in assets, and two over $100 billion.  In order to maximize their take, each fund is sold in 16 – 18 separate packages. 

By way of example, American Funds American Balanced is sold in 18 packages and has 18 ticker symbols: six flavors of 529-plan funds, six flavors of retirement plan accounts, the F-1 and F-2 accounts, the garden-variety A, B and C and a load-waived possibility.  Which plan you qualify for makes a huge difference. The five-year record for American Balanced R5 places it in the top 10% of its peer group but American Balanced 529B only makes it into the top 40%. 

On the other hand, they’re very conservative and generally quite successful. Every American fund is also a fund-of-funds; it has multiple managers … uhh, “portfolio counselors,” each of whom manages just one sleeve of the total portfolio.  In general, costs are below average to low, risk scores are below average to low and their Morningstar ratings are way above average.

 

Expected Value

Observed value

American Funds, Five Star Funds, overall

43

38

American Funds, Four and Five Star Funds, overall

139

246

Five Star funds, launched since 9/2002

1

0

Four and Five Star funds, launched since 9/2002

4

1

In the past decade, the firm has launched almost no new funds and has made no evident innovations in strategy or product.

It’s The Firm that Time Forgot 

Over those 10 years, American Funds launched 31 funds.  Sort of.  In reality, they repackaged existing American Funds into 10 new target-date funds.  Then they repackaged existing American Funds into 16 new funds for college savings plans.  After that, they repackaged existing American Funds into new tax-advantaged bond funds.  In the final analysis, their new fund launches are three niche bond funds: two muni and one short-term. 

The Repackaged College Funds

Balanced Port 529

Moderate Allocation

513

College 2015 529

Conservative Allocation

77

College 2018 529

Conservative Allocation

86

College 2021 529

Moderate Allocation

78

College 2024 529

Moderate Allocation

62

College 2027 529

Aggressive Allocation

44

College 2030 529

Aggressive Allocation

33

College Enrollment 529

Intermediate-Term Bond

29

Global Balanced 529

World Allocation

3,508

Global Growth Port 529

World Stock

139

Growth & Income 529

Aggressive Allocation

613

Growth Portfolio 529

World Stock

254

Income Portfolio 529

Conservative Allocation

596

International Growth & Income 529

 ★★★★

Foreign Large Blend

5,542

Mortgage 529

Intermediate-Term Bond

730

The Repackaged Target-Date Funds

 Target Date Ret 2010

 ★

Target Date

1,028

 Target Date Ret 2015

 ★★

Target Date

1,629

 Target Date Ret 2020

 ★★

Target Date

2,376

 Target Date Ret 2025

 ★★

Target Date

2,071

 Target Date Ret 2030

 ★★★

Target Date

2,065

 Target Date Ret 2035

 ★★

Target Date

1,416

 Target Date Ret 2040

 ★★★

Target Date

1,264

 Target Date Ret 2045

 ★★

Target Date

679

 Target Date Ret 2050

 ★★★

Target Date

622

 Target Date Ret 2055

Target-Date

119

The Repackaged Funds-of-Bond-Funds

 Preservation Portfolio

Intermediate-Term Bond

368

Tax-Advantaged Income Portfolio

Conservative Allocation

113

Tax-Exempt Preservation Portfolio

National Muni Bond

164

The Actual New Funds

 Short-Term Tax-Exempt

★ ★

National Muni Bond

719

 Short Term Bond Fund of America

Short-Term Bond

4,513

 Tax-Exempt Fund

New York Muni Bond

134

 

 

 

 

A huge firm. Ten tumultuous years.  And they manage to image three pedestrian bond funds, none of which they execute with any particular panache. 

Not to sound dire, but phrases like “rearranging the deck chairs” and “The Titanic was huge and famous, too” come unbidden to mind.

Morningstar, Part One: Rating the Rater

Morningstar’s “analyst ratings” have come in for a fair amount of criticism lately.  Chuck Jaffe notes that, like the stock analysts of yore, Morningstar seems never to have met a fund that it doesn’t like. “The problem,” Jaffe writes, “is the firm’s analysts like nearly two-thirds of the funds they review, while just 5% of the rated funds get negative marks.  That’s less fund watchdog, and more fund lap dog” (“The Fund Industry’s Worst Offenders of 2012,” 12/17/12). Morningstar, he observes, “howls at that criticism.” 

The gist of Morningstar’s response is this: “we only rate the funds that matter, and thousands of these flea specks will receive neither our attention nor the average investor’s.”  Laura Lallos, a senior mutual-fund analyst for Morningstar, puts it rather more eloquently. “We focus on large funds and interesting funds. That is, we cover large funds whether they are ‘interesting’ or not, because there is a wide audience of investors who want to know about them. We also cover smaller funds that we find interesting and well-managed, because we believe they are worth bringing to our subscribers’ attention.”

More recently Javier Espinoza of The Wall Street Journal noted that the different firms’ rating methods create dramatically different thresholds for being recognized as excellent  (“The Ratings Game,”  01/04/13). Like Mr. Jaffe, he notes the relative lack of negative judgments by Morningstar: only 235 of 4299 ratings – about 5.5% – are negative.

Since the Observer’s universe centers on funds too small or too new to be worthy of Morningstar’s attention, we were pleased at Morningstar’s avowed intent to cover “smaller funds that we find interesting and well-managed.”  A quick check of Morningstar’s database shows:

2390 funds with under $100 million in assets.

41 funds that qualify as “worthy of our subscribers’ attention.”  It could be read as good news that Morningstar thinks 1.7% of small funds are worth looking at.  One small problem.  Of the 41 funds they rate, 34 are target-date or retirement income funds and many of those target-date offerings are actually funds-of-funds.  Which leaves …

7 actual funds that qualify for attention.  That would be one-quarter of one percent of small funds.  One quarter of one percent.  Uh-huh.

But that also means that the funds which survive Morningstar’s intense scrutiny and institutional skepticism of small funds must be SPLENDID!  And so, here they are:

Ariel Discovery Investor (ARDFX), rated Bronze.  This is a small cap value fund that we considered profiling shortly after launch, but where we couldn’t discern any compelling argument for it.  On whole, Morningstar rather likes the Ariel funds despite the fact that they don’t perform very well.  Five of the six Ariel funds have trailed their peers since inception and the sixth, the flagship Ariel Fund (ARGFX) has trailed the pack in six of the past 10 years.  That said, they have an otherwise-attractive long-term, low-turnover value orientation. 

Matthews China Dividend Investor (MCDFX), rated Bronze.  Also five stars, top 1% performer, low risk, low turnover, with four of five “positive” pillars and the sponsorship of the industry’s leading Asia specialist.  I guess I’d think of this as rather more than Bronze-y but Matthews is one of the fund companies toward which I have a strong bias.

TCW International Small Cap (TGICX), rated Bronze also only one of the five “pillars” of the rating is actually positive.  The endorsement is based on the manager’s record at Oppenheimer International Small Company (OSMAX).  Curiously, TGICX turns its portfolio at three times the rate of OSMAX and has far lagged it since launch.

The Collar (COLLX), rated Bronze, uses derivatives to offset the stock market’s volatility.  In three years it has twice made 3% and once lost 3%.  The underlying strategy, executed in separate accounts, made a bit over 4% between 2005-2010.  Low-risk, low-return and different from – if not demonstrably better than – other options-based funds.

Quaker Akros Absolute Return (AAARFX) rated Neutral.  Well … this fund does have exceedingly low risk, about one-third of the beta of the average long/short fund.  On the other hand, over the eight years between inception and today, it managed to turn a $10,000 investment into a $10,250 portfolio.  Right.  Invest $10,000 and make a cool $30/year.  Your account would have peaked in September 2009 (at $11,500) and have drifted down since then.

Quaker Event Arbitrage A (QEAAX), rated Neutral.  Give or take the sales load, this is a really nice little fund that the Observer profiled back when it was the no-load Pennsylvania Avenue Event Driven Fund (PAEDX).  Same manager, same discipline, with a sales force attached now.

Van Eck Multi-Manager Alternatives A (VMAAX), which strikes me as the most baffling pick of the bunch.  It has a 5.75% load, 2.84% expense ratio, 250% turnover (stop me when I get to the part that would attract you), and 31 managers representing 14 different sub-advisers.  Because Van Eck cans managers pretty regularly, there are also 20 former managers of the fund.  Morningstar rates the fund as “Neutral” with the sole positive pillar being “people.” It’s not clear whether Morningstar was endorsing the fund on the dozens already fired, the dozens recently hired or the underlying principle of regularly firing people (see: Romney, Mitt, “I like firing people”).

I’m afraid that on a Splendid-o-meter, this turns out to be one Splendid (Matthews), one Splendid-ish (Quaker Event Driven), four Meh and one utterly baffling (Van Ick).

Of 57 small, five-star funds, only one (Matthews) warrants attention?  Softies that we are, the Observer has chosen to profile seven of those 57 and a bunch of non-starred funds.  We’re actually pretty sure that they do warrant rather more attention – Morningstar’s and investors’ – than they’ve received.  Those seven are:

Huber Small Cap Value (HUSIX)

Marathon Value (MVPFX)

Pinnacle Value (PVFIX)

Stewart Capital Mid Cap (SCMFX)

The Cook and Bynum Fund (COBYX)

Tilson Dividend (TILDX)

Tributary Balanced (FOBAX)

Introducing: The Elevator Talk

Being the manager of a small fund can be incredibly frustrating.  You’re likely very bright.  You have a long record at other funds or in other vehicles.  You might well have performed brilliantly for a long time: top 1% for the trailing year, three years and five years, for example.  (There are about 10 tiny funds with that distinction.)  And you still can’t get anybody to notice you.

Dang.

The Observer helps, both because we’ve got 11,000 or so regular readers and an interest in small and new funds.  Sadly, there’s a limit to how many funds we can profile; likely somewhere around 20 a year.  I’m frequently approached by managers, asking if we’d consider profiling their funds.  When we say “no,” it’s as often because of our resource limits as of their records.

Frustration gave rise to an experimental new feature: The Elevator Talk.  We’ve decided to offer one or two managers each month the opportunity to make a 200 word pitch to you.  That’s about the number of words a slightly-manic elevator companion could share in a minute and a half.   In each case, I’ve promised to offer a quick capsule of the fund and a link back to the fund’s site.  Other than that, they’ve got 200 words and precisely as much of your time and attention as you’re willing to share.  These aren’t endorsements; they’re opportunities to learn more.

Elevator Talk #1: Tom Kerr, Rocky Peak Small Cap Value (RPCSX)

Mr. Kerr manages the Rocky Peak Small Cap Value Fund (RPCSX), which launched on April 2, 2012. He co-managed RCB’s Small Cap Value strategy and the CNI Charter RCB Small Cap Value Fund (formerly RCBAX, now CSCSX) fund. Tom offers these 200 words on why folks should check in:

Although this is a new Fund, I have a 14-years solid track record managing small cap value strategies at a prior firm and fund. One of the themes of this new Fund is improving on the investment processes I helped develop.  I believe we can improve performance by correcting mistakes that my former colleagues and I made such as not making general or tactical stock market calls, or not holding overvalued stocks just because they are perceived to be great quality companies.

The Fund’s valuation process of picking undervalued stocks is not dogmatic with a single approach, but encompasses multivariate valuation tools including discounted cash flows, LBO models, M&A valuations and traditional relative valuation metrics. Taken together those don’t give up a single “right number” but range of plausible valuations, for which our shorthand is “the Circle of Value.”

As a small operation with one PM, two intern analysts and one administrative assistant, I can maintain patience and diligence in the investment process and not be influenced by corporate politics, investment committee bureaucracy and water cooler distractions.

The Fund’s goal is to be competitive in up markets but significantly outperform in down markets, not by holding high levels of cash (i.e. making a market call), but by carefully buying stocks selling at a discount to intrinsic value and employing a reasonable margin of safety. 

The fund’s minimum initial investment is $10,000, reduced to $1,000 for IRAs and accounts set up with AIPs. The fund’s website is Rocky Peak Funds . Tom’s most-recent discussion of the fund appears in his September 2012 Semi-Annual Report.  If you meet him, you might ask about the story behind the “rocky peak” name.

Morningstar, Part Two: “Speaking of Old Softies”

There are, in addition, 123 beached whales: funds with more than a billion in assets that have trailed their peer groups for the past three, five and ten years.  Of those, 29 earn ratings in the Bronze to Gold range, 31 are Neutral and just six warrant Negative ratings.  So, being large and consistently bad makes you five times more likely to earn a positive rating than a negative one. 

Hmmm … what about being very large and consistently wretched?  There are 25 funds with more than two billion in assets that have trailed at least two-thirds of their peers for the past three, five and ten years.  Of those, seven earn Bronze or Silver ratings while just three are branded with the Negative.  So, large and wretched still makes you twice as likely to earn Morningstar’s approval as their disapproval.

What are huge and stinkin’ like Limburger cheese left to ripen in the August sun? Say $5 billion and trailing 75% of your peers?  There are five such funds, and not a Negative in sight.

Morningstar’s Good Work

Picking on Morningstar is both fun and easy, especially if you don’t have the obligation to come up with anything better on your own.  It’s sad that much of the criticism, as when pundits claim that Morningstar’s system has no predictive validity (check our “Best of the Web” discussion: Morningstar has better research to substantiate their claims than any other publicly accessible system), is uninformed blather.  I’d like to highlight two particularly useful pieces that Morningstar released this month.

Their annual “Buy the Unloved” recommendations were released on January 24.  This is an old and alluring system that depends on the predictable stupidity of the masses in order to make money.  At base, their recommendation is to buy in 2013 funds in the three categories that saw the greatest investor flight in 2012.  Conversely, avoiding the sector that others have rushed to, is wise.  Katie Rushkewicz Reichart reports that

From 1993 through 2012, the “unloved” strategy gained 8.4% annualized to the “loved” strategy’s 5.1% annualized. The unloved strategy has also beaten the MSCI World Index’s 6.9% annualized gain and has slightly beat the Morningstar US Market Index’s 8.3% return.

So, where should you be buying?  Large cap U.S. stocks of all flavors.  “The most unloved equity categories are also the most unpopular overall: large growth (outflows of $39.5 billion), large value (outflows of $16 billion), and large blend (outflows of $14.4 billion).”

A second thought-provoking feature offered a comparison that I’ve never before encountered.  Within each broad fund category, Morningstar tracked the average performance of mutual funds in comparison to ETFs and closed-end funds.  In terms of raw performance, CEFs were generally superior to both mutual funds and ETFs.  That makes some sense, at least in rising markets, because CEFs make far greater use of leverage than do other products.  The interesting part was that CEFs maintained their dominance even when the timeframe included part of the 2007-09 meltdown (when leverage was deadly) and even when risk-adjusted, rather than raw, returns are used.

There’s a lot of data in their report, entitled There’s More to Fund Investing Than Mutual Funds (01/29/13), and I’ll try to sort through more of it in the month ahead.

Matthews Asia Strategic Income Conference Call

We spent an hour on Tuesday, January 22, talking with Teresa Kong of Matthews Asia Strategic Income. The fund is about 14 months old, has about $40 million in assets, returned 13.6% in 2012 and 11.95% since launch (through Dec. 31, 2012).

For folks interested but unable to join us, here’s the complete audio of the hour-long conversation. 

The MAINX conference call

When you click on the link, the file will load in your browser and will begin playing after it’s partially loaded. If the file downloads, instead, you may have to double-click to play it.

Quick highlights:

  1. this is designed to offer the highest risk-adjusted returns of any of the Matthews funds. In this case “risk-adjusted” is measured by the fund’s Sharpe ratio. Since launch, its Sharpe ratio has been around 2.0 which would be hard for any fixed-income fund to maintain indefinitely. They’ve pretty comfortable that they can maintain a Sharpe of 1.0 or so.
  2. the manager describes the US bond market, and most especially Treasuries, as offering “asymmetric risk” over the intermediate term. Translation: more downside risk than upside opportunity. She does not embrace the term “bubble” because that implies an explosive risk (i.e., “popping”) where she imagines more like the slow leak of air out of a balloon. (Thanks for Joe N for raising the issue.)
  3. given some value in having a fixed income component of one’s portfolio, Asian fixed-income offers two unique advantages in uncertain times. First, the fundamentals of the Asian fixed-income market – measures of underlying economic growth, market evolution, ability to pay and so on – are very strong. Second, Asian markets have a low beta relative to US intermediate-term Treasuries. If, for example, the 5-year Treasury declines 1% in value, U.S. investment grade debt will decline 0.7%, the global aggregate index 0.5% and Asia fixed-income around 0.25%.
  4. MAINX is one of the few funds to have positions in both dollar-denominated and local currency Asian debt (and, of course, equities as well). She argues that the dollar-denominated debt offers downside protection in the case of a market disruption since the panicked “flight to quality” tends to benefit Treasuries and linked instruments while local currency debt might have more upside in “normal” markets. (Jeff Wang’s question, I believe.)
  5. in equities, Matthews looks for stocks with “bond-like characteristics.” They target markets where the dividend yield in the stock market exceeds the yield on local 10-year bonds. Taiwan is an example. Within such markets, they look for high yielding, low beta stocks and tend to initiate stock positions about one-third the size of their initial bond positions. A new bond might come in at 200 basis points while a new stock might be 75. (Thanks to Dean for raising the equities question and Charles for noticing the lack of countries such as Taiwan in the portfolio.)
  6. most competitors don’t have the depth of expertise necessary to maximize their returns in Asia. Returns are driven by three factors: currency, credit and interest rates. Each country has separate financial regimes. There is, as a result, a daunting lot to learn. That will lead most firms to simply focus on the largest markets and issuers. Matthews has a depth of expertise that allows them to do a better job of dissecting markets and of allocating resources to the most profitable part of the capital structure (for example, they’re open to buying Taiwanese equity but find its debt market to be fundamentally unattractive). There was an interesting moment when Teresa, former head of BlackRock’s emerging markets fixed-income operations, mused, “even a BlackRock, big as we were, I often felt we were a mile wide and [pause] … not as deep as I would have preferred.” The classic end of the phrase, of course, is “and an inch deep.” That’s significant since BlackRock has over 10,000 professionals and about $1.4 trillion in assets under management.

AndyJ, one of the members of the Observer’s discussion board and a participant in the call, adds a seventh highlight:

  1. TK said explicitly that they have no neutral position or target bands of allocation for anything, i.e., currency exposure, sovereign vs. corporate, or geography. They try to get the biggest bang for the level of risk across the portfolio as a whole, with as much “price stability” (she said that a couple of times) as they can muster.

Matthews Asia Strategic Income, Take Two

One of the neat things about writing for you folks is the opportunity to meet all sorts of astonishing people.  One of them is Charles Boccadoro, an active member of the Observer’s discussion community.  Charles is renowned for the care he takes in pulling together data, often quite powerful data, about funds and their competitors.  After he wrote an analysis of MAINX’s competitors, Rick Brooks, another member of the board, encouraged me to share Charles’s work with a broader audience.  And so I shall.

By way of background, Charles describes himself as

Strictly amateur investor. Recently retired aerospace engineer. Graduated MIT in 1981. Investing actively in mutual funds since 2002. Was heavy FAIRX when market headed south in 2008, but fortunately held tight through to recovery. Started reading FundAlarm in 2007 and have followed MFO since inception in May 2011. Tries to hold fewest funds in portfolio, but many good recommendations by MFO community make in nearly impossible (e.g., bought MAINX after recent teleconference). Live in Central Coast California.

Geez, the dude’s an actual rocket scientist. 

After carefully considering eight funds which focus on Asian fixed-income, Charles concludes there are …

Few Alternatives to MAINX

Matthews Asia Strategic Income Fund (MAINX) is a unique offering for US investors. While Morningstar identifies many emerging market and world bond funds in the fixed income category, only a handful truly focus on Asia. From its prospectus:

Under normal market conditions, the Strategic Income Fund seeks to achieve its investment objective by investing at least 80% of its total net assets…in the Asia region. ASIA: Consists of all countries and markets in Asia, including developed, emerging, and frontier countries and markets in the Asian region.

Fund manager Teresa Kong references two benchmarks: HSBC Asian Local Bond Index (ALBI) and J.P. Morgan Asia Credit Index (JACI), which cover ten Asian countries, including South Korea, Hong Kong, India, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and China. Together with Japan, these eleven countries typically constitute the Asia region. Recent portfolio holdings include Sri Lanki and Australia, but the latter is actually defined as Asia Pacific and falls into the 20% portfolio allocation allowed to be outside Asia proper.

As shown in following table, the twelve Asian countries represented in the MAINX portfolio are mostly republics established since WWII and they have produced some of the world’s great companies, like Samsung and Toyota. Combined, they have ten times the population of the United States, greater overall GDP, 5.1% GDP annual growth (6.3% ex-Japan) or more than twice US growth, and less than one-third the external debt. (Hong Kong is an exception here, but presumably much of its external debt is attributable to its role as the region’s global financial center.)

Very few fixed income fund portfolios match Matthews MAINX (or MINCX, its institutional equivalent), as summarized below. None of these alternatives hold stocks.

 

Aberdeen Asian Bond Fund CSBAX and WisdomTree ETF Asian Local Debt ALD cover the most similar geographic region with debt held in local currency, but both hold more government than corporate debt. CSBAX recently dropped “Institutional” from its name and stood-up investor class offerings early last year. ALD maintains a two-tier allocation across a dozen Asian countries, ex Japan, monitoring exposure and rebalancing periodically. Both CSBAX and ALD have about $500M in assets. ALD trades at fairly healthy volumes with tight bid/ask spreads. WisdomTree offers a similar ETF in Emerging Market Local Debt ELD, which comprises additional countries, like Russia and Mexico. It has been quite successful garnering $1.7B in assets since inception in 2010. Powershares Chinese Yuan Dim Sum Bond ETF DSUM (cute) and similar Guggenheim Yuan Bond ETF RMB (short for Renminbi, the legal tender in mainland China, ex Hong Kong) give US investors access to the Yuan-denominated bond market. The fledgling RMB, however, trades at terribly low volumes, often yielding 1-2% premiums/discounts.

A look at life-time fund performance, ranked by highest APR relative to 3-month TBill:

Matthews Strategic Income tops the list, though of course it is a young fund. Still, it maintains low down side volatility DSDEV and draw down (measured by Ulcer Index UI). Most of the offerings here are young. Legg Mason Western Asset Global Government Bond (WAFIX) is the oldest; however, last year it too changed its name, from Western Asset Non-U.S. Opportunity Bond Fund, with a change in investment strategy and benchmark.

Here’s look at relative time frame, since MAINX inception, for all funds listed:

Charles, 25 January 2013

February’s Conference Call: Seafarer Overseas Growth & Income

As promised, we’re continuing our moderated conference calls through the winter.  You should consider joining in.  Here’s the story:

  • Each call lasts about an hour
  • About one third of the call is devoted to the manager’s explanation of their fund’s genesis and strategy, about one third is a Q&A that I lead, and about one third is Q&A between our callers and the manager.
  • The call is, for you, free.  Your line is muted during the first two parts of the call (so you can feel free to shout at the danged cat or whatever) and you get to join the question queue during the last third by pressing the star key.

Our next conference call features Andrew Foster, manager of Seafarer Overseas Growth and Income (SFGIX).  It’s Tuesday, February 19, 7:00 – 8:00 p.m., EST.

Why you might want to join the call?

Put bluntly: you can’t afford another lost decade.  GMO is predicting average annual real returns for U.S. large cap stocks of 0.1% for the next 5-7 years.  The strength of the January 2013 rally is likely to push GMO’s projections into the red.  Real return on US bonds is projected to be negative, about -1.1%.  Overseas looks better and the emerging markets – source of the majority of the global economy’s growth over the next decade – look best of all.

The problem is that these markets have been so volatile that few investors have actually profited as richly as they might by investing in them.  The average e.m. fund dropped 55% in 2008, rose 75% in 2009, then alternated between gaining and losing 18% per year before 2010 – 2012.  That sort of volatility induces self-destructive behavior on most folk’s part; over the past five years (through 12/30/12), Vanguard’s Emerging Market Stock Index fund lost 1% per year but the average investor in that fund lost 6% per year.  Why?  Panicked selling in the midst of crashes, panicked buying at the height of upbursts.

In emerging markets investing especially, you benefit from having an experienced manager who is as aware of risks as of opportunities.  For my money (and he has some small pile of my money), no one is better at it than Andrew Foster of Seafarer.  Andrew had a splendid record as manager of Matthews Asian Growth and Income (MACSX), which for most of his watch was the least risky, most profitable way to invest in Asian equities.  Andrew now runs Seafarer, where he runs an Asia-centered portfolio which has the opportunity to diversify into other regions of the world.  He’ll join us immediately after the conclusion of Seafarer’s splendid first year of operation to talk about the fund and emerging markets as an opportunity set, and he’ll be glad to take your questions as well.

How can you join in?

Click on the “register” button and you’ll be taken to Chorus Call’s site, where you’ll get a toll free number and a PIN number to join us.  On the day of the call, I’ll send a reminder to everyone who has registered.

Would an additional heads up help?

About a hundred readers have signed up for a conference call mailing list.  About a week ahead of each call, I write to everyone on the list to remind them of what might make the call special and how to register.  If you’d like to be added to the conference call list, just drop me a line.

Bonus Time!  RiverNorth Explains Dynamic Buy-Write

A couple months ago we profiled RiverNorth Dynamic Buy-Write Fund (RNBWX), which uses an options strategy to pursue returns in excess of the stock market’s with only a third of the market’s volatility.  RiverNorth is offering a webcast about the fund and its strategy for interested parties.  It will be hosted by Eric Metz, RNBWX’s manager and a guy with a distinguished record in options investing.  He’s entitled the webcast “Harnessing Volatility.”  The webcast will be Wednesday, February 20th, 2013 3:15pm CST – 4:15pm CST.

The call will feature:

  • Overview of volatility
  • Growth of options and the use of options strategies in a portfolio
  • How volatility and options strategies pertain to the RiverNorth Dynamic Buy-Write Fund (RNBWX)
  • Advantages of viewing the world with volatility in mind

To register, navigate over to www.rivernorthfunds.com and click on the “Events” link.

Cook & Bynum On-Deck

Our March conference call will occur unusually early in the month, so I wanted to give you advance word of it now.  On Tuesday, March 5, from 7:00 – 8:00 CST, we’ll have a chance to talk with Richard Cook and Dow Bynum, of The Cook and Bynum Fund (COBYX).  The guys run an ultra-concentrated portfolio which, over the past three years, has produced returns modestly higher than the stock market’s with less than half of the volatility. 

You’d imagine that a portfolio with just seven stocks would be wildly erratic.  It isn’t.  Our bottom line on our profile of the fund: “It’s working.  Cook and Bynum might well be among the best.  They’re young.  The fund is small and nimble.  Their discipline makes great sense.  It’s not magic, but it has been very, very good and offers an intriguing alternative for investors concerned by lockstep correlations and watered-down portfolios.”

How can you join in?

If you’d like to join in, just click on register and you’ll be taken to the Chorus Call site.  In exchange for your name and email, you’ll receive a toll-free number, a PIN and instructions on joining the call.

Remember: registering for one call does not automatically register you for another.  You need to click each separately.  Likewise, registering for the conference call mailing list doesn’t register you for a call; it just lets you know when an opportunity comes up.

Observer Fund Profiles

Each month the Observer provides in-depth profiles of between two and four funds.  Our “Most Intriguing New Funds” are funds launched within the past couple years that most frequently feature experienced managers leading innovative newer funds.  “Stars in the Shadows” are older funds that have attracted far less attention than they deserve. This month’s lineup features:

Artisan Global Equity (ARTHX): after the January 11 departure of lead manager Barry Dargan, the argument for ARTHX is different but remains compelling.

Matthews Asia Strategic Income (MAINX):  the events of 2012 and early 2013 make an already-intriguing fund much more interesting.

PIMCO Short Asset Investment, “D” shares (PAIUX): Bill Gross trusts this manager and this strategy to management tens of billions in cash for his funds.  Do you suppose he might be good enough to warrant your attention to?

Whitebox Long Short Equity, Investor shares (WBLSX): yes, I know I promised a profile of Whitebox for this month.   This converted hedge fund has two fundamentally attractive attributes (crushing its competition and enormous amounts of insider ownership), but I’m still working on the answer to two questions.  Once I get those, I’ll share a profile.  But not yet.

Funds in Registration

New mutual funds must be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission before they can be offered for sale to the public.  The SEC has a 75-day window during which to call for revisions of a prospectus; fund companies sometimes use that same time to tweak a fund’s fee structure or operating details.  Every day we scour new SEC filings to see what opportunities might be about to present themselves. Many of the proposed funds offer nothing new, distinctive or interesting.  Some are downright horrors of Dilbertesque babble.

Funds in registration this month won’t be available for sale until, typically, the beginning of March 2013. We found a dozen funds in the pipeline, notably:

Artisan Global Small Cap Fund (ARTWX) will be Artisan’s fourth overly-global fund and also the fourth for Mark Yockey and his team.  They’re looking pursue maximum long-term capital growth by investing in a global portfolio of small-cap growth companies.  .  The plan is to apply the same investing discipline here as they do with Artisan International Small Cap (ARTJX) and their other funds.  The investment minimum is $1000 and expenses are capped at 1.5%.

Driehaus Event Driven Fund seeks to provide positive returns over full-market cycles. Generally these funds seek arbitrage gains from events such as bankruptcies, mergers, acquisitions, refinancings, earnings surprises and regulatory rulings.  They intend to have a proscribed volatility target for the fund, but have not yet released it.  They anticipate a concentrated portfolio and turnover of 100-200%.  K.C. Nelson, Portfolio Manager for Driehaus Active Income (LCMAX) and Driehaus Select Credit (DRSLX), will manage the fund.  The minimum initial investment is $10,000, reduced to $2000 for IRAs.  Expenses not yet set.

Details on these funds and the list of all of the funds in registration are available at the Observer’s Funds in Registration page or by clicking “Funds” on the menu atop each page.

On a related note, we also tracked down 20 fund manager changes, including a couple high profile departures.

Launch Alert: Eaton Vance Bond

On January 31, Eaton Vance launched Eaton Vance Bond Fund (EVBAX), a multi-sector bond fund that can invest in U.S. investment grade and high yield bonds, floating-rate bank loans, non-U.S. sovereign and corporate debt, convertible securities and preferred stocks.  Why should you care?  Its lead manager is Kathleen Gaffney, once the investing partner of and heir apparent to Dan Fuss.  Fuss and Gaffney managed Loomis Sayles Bond (LSBRX), a multisector fund strikingly similar to the new fund, to an annualized return of 10.6% over their last decade together.  That beat 94% of their peers, as well as beating the long-term record of the stock market.  “A” class shares carry a 4.75% front load, expenses after waivers of 0.95% and a minimum initial investment of $1000.

Launch Alert: Longleaf Global Opens

On Jan. 2, Southeastern Asset Management rolled out its first U.S. open-end fund since 1998 and its first global mutual fund ever available in the United States. The new fund is Longleaf Global (LLGLX), a concentrated fund that invests at least 40% of its assets outside the U.S. A version of the strategy already is available in Europe.

Mason Hawkins and Staley Cates, who received Morningstar’s Domestic-Stock Fund Manager of the Year award in 2006, manage the fund. Like other Longleaf funds, the portfolio targets holding between 15 and 25 companies. The fund will have an unconstrained portfolio that invests in companies of all market capitalizations and geographies. Its expense ratio is capped at 1.65%.

Sibling funds   Longleaf Partners (LLPFX) and   Longleaf Partners Small-Cap (LLSCX) receive Morningstar Analyst Ratings of Gold while   Longleaf Partners International (LLINX) is rated Bronze.

Launch Just-A-Second-There: Longleaf Global Closes

After just 18 trading days, Longleaf Global closed to new investors.  The fund drew in a manageable $28 million and then couldn’t manage it.  On January 28, the fund closed without warning and without explanation.  The fund’s phone reps said they had “no idea of why” and the fund’s website contained a single line noting the closure.

A subsequent mailing to the fund’s investors explained that there simply was nowhere immediately worth investing.  The $16 trillion U.S. stock market didn’t contain $30 million in investible good ideas.  With the portfolio 50% in cash, their judgment was that the market offered no more than about $15 million in worthwhile opportunities.

Here’s the official text:

We are temporarily closing Longleaf Partners Global Fund to new investors. Although the Fund was only launched on December 31, 2012, our Governing Principles guide our decision to close until we can invest the large cash position currently in the Fund. Since October when we began planning to open the Global Fund, stock prices have risen rapidly, leaving few good businesses that meet our 60% of appraisal discount. Limited qualifying investments, combined with relatively quick inflows from shareholders, have left us with more cash than we can invest. Remaining open would dilute existing investors by further raising our cash level.

Our Governing Principle, “We will consider closing to new investors if closing would benefit existing clients,” has caused us to close the three other Longleaf Funds at various times over the past 20 years. When investment opportunities enable us to put the Fund’s cash to work, and additional inflows will benefit our partners, we will re-open the Global Fund to new investors.

Artisan Gets Active

One of my favorite fund advisers are the Artisan Partners.  I’ve had modest investments with the Artisan Funds since 1996 when I owned Artisan Small Cap (ARTSX) and Artisan International (ARTIX).  I sold my Small Cap stake when Small Cap Value (ARTVX) became available and International when International Value (ARTKX) opened, but I’ve stayed with Artisan throughout.  The Observer has profiles of five Artisan funds.

Why?  Three reasons.  (1) They do consistently good work. (2) Their funds build upon their teams’ expertise.  And (3) their policies – from low minimums to the willingness to close funds – are shareholder friendly.

And they’ve had a busy month.

Two of Artisan’s management teams were finalists for Morningstar’s international fund manager of the year honors: David Samra and Daniel O’Keefe of Artisan International Value (ARTKX) and Artisan Global Value (ARTGX) and the team headed by Mark Yockey of Artisan International (ARTIX) and Artisan International Small Cap (ARTJX).

In a rarity, one of the managers left Artisan.  Barry Dargan, formerly of MFS International and lead manager of Artisan Global Equity (ARTHX), left the firm following a year-end conversation with Yockey and others.  ARTHX was managed by a team led by Mr. Dargan and it employed a consistent, well-articulated discipline.  The fund will continue being managed by the same team with the same discipline, though Mr. Yockey will now take the lead. 

Artisan has filed to launch Artisan Global Small Cap Fund (ARTWX), which will be managed by Mark Yockey, Charles-Henri Hamker and David Geisler.  Yockey and Hamker co-manage other funds together and Mr. Geisler has been promoted to co-manager in recognition of his excellent work as a senior analyst on the team.   Artisan argues that their teams have managed such smooth transitions from primarily domestic or primary international charges into global funds because all of their investing has a global focus.  The international managers need to know the U.S. market inside and out since, for example, they can’t decide whether Fiat is a “buy” without knowing whether Ford is a better buy.  We’ll offer more details on the fund when it comes to market.

Briefly Noted …

FPA has announced the addition of a new analyst, Victor Liu, for FPA International Value (FPIVX).  The fund started with two managers, Eric Bokota and Pierre Py.  Mr. Bokota left suddenly for personal reasons and FPA has been moving carefully to find a successor for him.  Mr. Py expects Victor Liu to become that successor. Prior to joining FPA, Mr. Liu was a Vice President and Research Analyst for a highly-respected firm, Causeway Capital Management LLC, from 2005 until 2013.  The fund posted top 2% results in 2012 and investors have reason to be optimistic about the year ahead.

Rivers seem to be all the rage in the mutual fund world.  In addition to River Road Asset Management which sub-advises several ASTON funds, there’s River Oak Discovery (RIVSX) and the Riverbridge, RiverFront (note the trendy mid-word capitalization), RiverNorth, RiverPark and RiverSource fund families.  Equally-common bits of geography seem far less popular.  Hills (Beech, Cavanal, Diamond), lakes (Great and Partners), mounts (Lucas), and peaks (Aquila, Grandeur, Rocky) are uncommon while ponds, streams, creeks, gorges and plateaus are invisible.  (Swamps and morasses are regrettably common, though seldom advertised.)

Small Wins for Investors

Calamos Growth & Income (CVTRX) reopened to new investors in January. Despite a lackluster return in 2012, the fund has a strong long-term record, beating 99% of its peers during the trailing 15-year period through December 2012. In August 2012, Calamos announced that lead manager and firm co-CIO Nick Calamos would be leaving the firm. Gary Black, former Janus CIO, joined the management team as his replacement.

The folks at FPA have lowered the expense ratio for FPA International Value (FPIVX). FPA has also extended the existing fee waiver and reduced the Fund’s fees effective February 1, 2013.  FPA has contractually capped the Fund’s fees at 1.32% through June 30, 2015, several basis points below the current rate.

Scout Unconstrained Bond (SUBYX and SUBFX) is now available in a new, lower-cost retail package.  On December 31, 2012, the old retail SUBFX became the institutional share class with a $100,000 minimum.  At the same time Scout launched new “Y” shares that are no-load with the same minimum investment as the old shares, but also with a substantial expense reduction. When we profiled the fund in November, the after-waiver e.r. was 99 basis points while the “Y” shares are at 80 bps.  Scout also reduces the minimum initial investment to $100 for accounts set up with an automatic investing plan.

Scout has also released “Unconstrained Fixed-Income Investing: A Timely Alternative in a Perilous Environment.” They argue that unconstrained investing:

  • Has the potential to make portfolios less vulnerable to higher interest rates and enduring economic uncertainty;
  • May better position assets to grow long term purchasing power;
  • Is worth consideration as investors may need to consider more opportunistic strategies to complement or replace the core strategies that have worked well so far.

They also explain the counter-cyclical investment approach which they have successfully employed for more than three decades.  Mark Egan and team were also finalists for 2012 Fixed Income Manager of the Year honors.

Vanguard has cut expense ratios on four more funds, by 1 -3 basis points.  Those are Equity Income, PRIMECAP Core, Strategic Equity and Strategic Small Cap Equity.  It raised the e.r. on Growth Equity by 2 basis points. 

Closings

ASTON/River Road Independent Value (ARVIX) closed to new investors on January 18 after being reopened just four months. I warned you.

Fairholme Fund (FAIRX) is closing on February 28, 2013. Here’s the perfect illustration of the risks and rewards of high-conviction investing: top 1% in 2010, bottom 1% in 2011, top 1% in 2012, closed in 2013.  The smaller Fairholme Allocation (FAAFX), which has actually outperformed Fairholme since launch, and Fairholme Focused Income (FOCIX) funds are closing at the same time.

Fidelity Small Cap Discovery (FSCRX) closed to new investors on January 31.  The fund has been a rarity for Fidelity: a really good small cap fund.  Most of its success has come under manager Chuck Myers.  Fans of his work might still check out Fidelity Small Cap Value (FCPVX).  It’s nearly as big as Discovery ($3.1 versus $3.9 billion) but hasn’t had to deal with huge inflows. 

JPMorgan Mid Cap Value (JAMCX) will close to new investors at the end of February.

MainStay Large Cap Growth Fund closed to new investors on January 17.  They ascribe the decision to “a significant increase in the net assets” and a desire “to moderate cash flows.”

Virtus announced it will close Virtus Emerging Markets Opportunities (HEMZX) to new investors on Feb. 1. The fund had strong inflows in recent years, ending 2012 with more than $6.8 billion in assets.  Rajiv Jain was named Morningstar International-Stock Fund Manager of the Year for 2012. In three of the past five calendar years the fund has outpaced more than 95% of its peers (it landed in the bottom decile of its category for 2009, despite a 48% return for the year, and placed in the top half of the category in 2011).

Old Wine in New Bottles

DWS is changing the names of its three Dreman Value Management-run funds, including the Neutral-rated  DWS Dreman Small Cap Value (KDSAX), to drop the subadvisor’s name. Dreman’s assets under management have shrunk dramatically to just $4.1 billion today from $20 billion in 2007. The firm previously subadvised a large-cap value fund for DWS but was dropped after that fund (now called DWS Equity Dividend (KDHAX)) lost 46% in 2008, leading to massive outflows. The three funds Dreman subadvises for DWS now account for roughly half of the firm’s total assets under management.

We noted earlier in fall that several of the Legg Mason affiliates are shrinking from the Legg name.  The most recent manifestations: Legg Mason Global Currents International All Cap Opportunity and Legg Mason Global Currents International Small Cap Opportunity changed their names to ClearBridge International All Cap Opportunity (SBIEX) and ClearBridge International Small Cap Opportunity (LCOAX) on Dec. 5, 2012.

Off to the Dustbin of History

ASTON Dynamic Allocation (ASENX) has been closed to new investment and will be shut down on January 30.  The fund’s performance has been weak and 2012 was its worst year yet.   The fact that it drew only $22 million in investments and carried a one-star rating from Morningstar likely contributed to the decision. The fund, subadvised by Smart Portfolios, was launched early 2008. This  will be ASTON’s third closure of late, following the shutdown of ASTON/Cardinal Mid Cap Value and ASTON/Neptune International in mid-autumn.

Fidelity plans to merge the Fidelity 130/30 Large Cap (FOTTX) and Fidelity Advisor Strategic Growth (FTQAX) into Fidelity Stock Selector All Cap  (FDSSX) in June in June.  Neither of the deadsters had distinguished records and neither drew much in assets, at least by Fidelity’s standards.

Invesco Powershares will liquidate thirteen more ETFs on February 26.  Those are  

  • Dynamic Insurance Portfolio (PIC)
  • Morningstar StockInvestor Core Portfolio (PYH)
  • Dynamic Banking Portfolio (PJB)
  • Global Steel Portfolio (PSTL)
  • Active Low Duration Portfolio (PLK)
  • Global Wind Energy Portfolio (PWND)
  • Active Mega-Cap Portfolio (PMA)
  • Global Coal Portfolio (PKOL)
  • Global Nuclear Energy Portfolio (PKN)
  • Ibbotson Alternative Completion Portfolio (PTO)
  • RiverFront Tactical Balanced Growth Portfolio (PAO)
  • RiverFront Tactical Growth & Income Portfolio (PCA)
  • Convertible Securities Portfolio (CVRT)

Just when you thought the industry was all dull and normal, along comes Janus.   Janus’s Board approved the merger of Janus Global Research into Janus Worldwide (JAWWX) on March 15, 2013.  Now in a dull and normal world, that would mean the disappearance of the Global Research fund.  Not with Janus!  Global Research will merge into Worldwide, resulting in “the Combined Fund.”  The Combined Fund will then be named “Janus Global Research,” will adopt Global Research’s management team and will use Global Research’s performance record.  Investors get rewarded with a four basis point decrease in their expense ratio.

The RS Capital Appreciation Fund will be merged with RS Growth Fund in March.  In the interim, RS removed Cap App’s entire management team and replaced them with Growth’s:  Stephen Bishop, Melissa Chadwick-Dunn, and D. Scott Tracy.

RiverPark Small Cap Growth (RPSFX) liquidated on Jan. 25, 2013.  I like and respect Mr. Rubin and the RiverPark folks as a whole, but this fund never struck me as particularly compelling.  With only $4.5 million in assets, it seems the others agreed.  On the upside, this leaves the managers free to focus on their noticeably-promised RiverPark Long/Short Opportunity (RLSFX) fund. 

Scout Stock (UMBSX) will liquidate in March. Scout has always been a very risk averse fund for which Morningstar and the Observer both had considerable enthusiasm.  The problem is that the combination of low risk with below average returns was not compelling in the marketplace and assets have dropped by well over half in the past decade.

In a move fraught with covert drama, Sentinel Asset Management is merging the $51 million Sentinel Mid Cap II (SYVAX) into Sentinel Mid Cap (SNTNX). The drama started when Sentinel fired Mid Cap II’s management team in 2011.  The fund’s shareholders then refused to ratify a new management team.  Sentinel responded by converting Mid Cap II into a clone of Mid Cap with the same management team.  Then in August 2012, that management team resigned to join a competitor.  Sentinel rotated in the team that manages Sentinel Common Stock (SENCX) to manage both and, soon, to manage just the survivor.

Torray Institutional (TORRX) liquidated at the end of December.  Like many institutional funds, it was hostage to one or two large accounts.  When a major investor pulled out, the fund was left with too few assets to be profitable.  Torray Fund (TORYX), on which it was based, has had a long stretch of wretched performance (in the bottom quartile of its large cap peer group for six of the past 10 years) but retains over $300 million in assets.

In Closing . . .

We received a huge and humbling stack of mail in January, very little of which I’ve yet responded to.  Some folks, including some professional practices, shared contributions (including one in the … hmm, “mid three digit” range) for which we’re really grateful.  Other folks shared holiday greetings (Zak, Hoyt and River Road Asset Management won, hands down, for the cutest and classiest card of the season), offers, reflections and requests.  Augustana settles into Spring Break in early February and I’m resolved to settle in for an afternoon and catch up with you folks.  Preliminary notes include:

  • Major congratulations, Maryrose!  Great news.
  • Pretty much any afternoon during Spring Break, Peter
  • Thanks for sharing the Fund Investor’s Classroom, Richard.  I’ll sort through it as soon as I’m out of my own classroom.
  • Rick, Mohan, it’s always good to hear from old friends
  • Fraud Catcher, fascinating book and a fascinating life.  Thanks for sharing it, Tom.
  • And, to you all, it’s always good to hear from new friends.

Thanks, as always, for your support and encouragement.  It makes a world of difference.   Do consider joining us for the Seafarer conference call in a couple weeks.  Otherwise, I’ll see you all in March.

 

 

Bond Fund Performance During Periods of Rising Interest Rates

From the Mutual Fund Observer discussion board, December 2012

Current trend on MFO is discussion of negative impact to bond-heavy income and retirement portfolios, if and when rates rise.

In David’s inaugural column on Amazon money and markets “Trees Do Not Grow To The Sky”, he calls attention to: “If interest rates and inflation move quickly up, the market value of the bonds that you (or your bond fund manager) hold can drop like a rock.” And there have been several recent related posts about an impending “Bond Bubble.”

Here’s look back at average intermediate term bond fund performance during the past 50 years:

Intermediate Term Bond Fund Performance

Background uses same 10-year Treasury yield data that David highlights in his guest column. Also plotted is the downside return relative to cash or money-market, since while these funds have held up fairly well on absolute terms, on relative terms the potential for under-performance is quite clear.

More dramatic downside performance can be seen the higher yield (generally quality less than BB) bond funds, where relative and even absolute losses can be 25%:

High Yield Bond Fund Performance

Taking a closer look, the chart below compares performance of intermediate, high-yield, and equities when interest rates rise (note year, 10-year Treasury yield, and rate increase from previous year):

Investment Performance When Rates Rise

I included for comparison 2008 performance. Here declines were not driven by increasing rates, but by the financial crisis, of course. Presumably, such strong relative performance for intermediate bonds in 2008 is what has driven the recent flight to bonds. That said, several previous periods of increasing rates happened during bear markets, like 1974, making alternatives to bonds tough to find.

Over the (very) long run, equities out-perform bonds and cash, as is evident below, but may not be practical alternative to bonds for many investors, because of investment horizon, risk-tolerance, dependence on yield, or all the above.

Long Term Investment Performance

What’s so interesting about this look-back are the distinct periods of “ideal” investments, by which I mean an investment vehicle that both outperformed alternatives and did not incur a sharp decline, as summarized in table below:

 Return Table

In the three years from 1963-65, stocks were the choice. But in the 19 years from 1966-84, cash was king. Followed by the extraordinary 15-year bull run for stocks. Ending with the current period, if you will, where bonds have been king: first, intermediate term bonds from 2000-08, but most recently, alluring high yield bonds since 2009.

Despite its flat-line performance since 2009, cash is often mentioned as a viable alternative (eg, Scout Unconstrained Bond Fund SUBFX and Crescent Fund FPACX are now cash heavy). But until I saw its strong and long-lived performance from 1966-84, I had not seriously considered. Certainly, it has offered healthy growth, if not yield, during periods of rising interest rates.

Here is link to original thread.

November 1, 2012

Dear friends,

I had imagined this as the “post-storm, pre-cliff” edition of the Observer but it appears that “post-storm” would be a very premature characterization.  For four million of our friends who are still without power, especially those along the coast or in outlying areas, the simple pleasures of electric lighting and running water remain a distant hope.  And anything that looks like “normal” might be months in their future.  Our thoughts, prayers, good wishes and spare utility crews go out to them.

I thought, instead, I’d say something about the U.S. presidential election.  This is going to sting, but here it is:

It’s going to be okay.

Hard to believe, isn’t it?  We’re acculturated into viewing the election if as it were some apocalyptic video game whose tagline reads: “America can’t survive .”  The reality is, we can and we will.  The reality is that both Obama and Romney are good guys: smart, patriotic, obsessively hard-working, politically moderate, fact-driven, given to compromise and occasionally funny.  The reality is that they’re both trapped by the demands of electoral politics and polarized bases.

But, frankly, freed of the constraints of those bases, these guys would agree on rather more than they disagree on.  In a less-polarized world, they could run together as a ticket (Obomney 2020!) and do so with a great deal of camaraderie and mutual respect. (Biden-Ryan, on the other hand, would be more than a little bit scary.)  Neither strikes me as a great politician or polished communicator; that’s going to end up constraining – and perhaps crippling – whoever wins.

Why are we so negative?  Because negative (“fear and loathing on the campaign trail”) raises money (likely $6 billion by the time it’s all done) and draws viewers.  While it’s easy to blame PACs, super PACs and other dark forces for that state, the truth is that the news media – mainstream and otherwise – paint good men as evil.  A startling analysis conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that 72% of all character references to Messrs. Obama and Romney are negative, one of the most negative set of press portrayals on record.

I live in Iowa, labeled a “battleground state,” and I receive four to six (largely poisonous) robo-calls a day.  And so here’s the final reality: Iowa is not a battleground and we’d all be better off if folks stopped using the term.  It’s a place where a bunch of folks are worried, a bunch of folks (often the same ones) are hopeful and we’re trying to pick as best we can.

The Last Ten: T. Rowe Price in the Past Decade

In October we launched “The Last Ten,” a monthly series, running between now and February, looking at the strategies and funds launched by the Big Five fund companies (Fido, Vanguard, T Rowe, American and PIMCO) in the last decade.  We started with Fidelity, once fabled for the predictable success of its new fund launches.  Sadly, the pattern of the last decade is clear and clearly worse: despite 154 fund launches since 2002, Fidelity has created no compelling new investment option and only one retail fund that has earned Morningstar’s five-star designation, Fidelity International Growth (FIGFX).  We suggested three causes: the need to grow assets, a cautious culture and a firm that’s too big to risk innovative funds.

T. Rowe Price is a far smaller firm.  Where Fidelity has $1.4 trillion in assets under management, Price is under $600 billion.  Fidelity manages 340 funds.  Price has 110.  Fidelity launched 154 funds in a decade, Price launched 22.

Morningstar Rating

Category

Size (millions, slightly rounded)

Africa & Middle ★★★ Emerging Markets Stock

150

Diversified Mid Cap Growth ★★★ Mid-Cap Growth

200

Emerging Markets Corporate Bond

Emerging Markets Bond

30

Emerging Markets Local Currency

Emerging Markets Bond

50

Floating Rate

Bank Loan

80

Global Infrastructure

Global Stock

40

Global Large-Cap ★★★ Global Stock

70

Global Real Estate ★★★★★ Global Real Estate

100

Inflation Protected Bond ★★★ Inflation-Protected Bond

570

Overseas Stock ★★★ Foreign Large Blend

5,000

Real Assets

World Stock

2,760

Retirement 2005 ★★★★ Target Date

1,330

Retirement 2010 ★★★ Target Date

5,850

Retirement 2015 ★★★★ Target Date

7,340

Retirement 2025 ★★★ Target Date

9,150

Retirement 2035 ★★★★ Target Date

6,220

Retirement 2045 ★★★★ Target Date

3,410

Retirement 2050 ★★★★ Target Date

2,100

Retirement 2055 ★★★★★ Target-Date

490

Retirement Income ★★★ Retirement Income

2,870

Strategic Income ★★ Multisector Bond

270

US Large-Cap Core ★★★ Large Blend

50

What are the patterns?

  1. Most Price funds reflect the firm’s strength in asset allocation and emerging asset classes. Price does really first-rate work in thinking about which assets classes make sense and in what configuration. They’ve done a good job of communicating that research to their investors, making things clear without making them childish.
  2. Most Price funds succeed. Of the funds launched, only Strategic Income (PRSNX) has been a consistent laggard; it has trailed its peer group in four consecutive years but trailed disastrously only once (2009).
  3. Most Price funds remain reasonably nimble. While Fido funds quickly swell into the multi-billion range, a lot of the Price funds have remaining under $200 million which gives them both room to grow and to maneuver. The really large funds are the retirement-date series, which are actually funds of other funds.
  4. Price continues to buck prevailing wisdom. There’s no sign of blossoming index fund business or the launch of a series of superfluous ETFs. There’s a lot to be said for knowing your strengths and continuing to develop them.

Finally, Price continues to deliver on its promises. Investing with Price is the equivalent of putting a strong singles-hitter on a baseball team; it’s a bet that you’ll win with consistency and effort, rather than the occasional spectacular play. The success of that strategy is evident in Price’s domination of . . .

The Observer’s Honor Roll, Unlike Any Other

Last month, in the spirit of FundAlarm’s “three-alarm” fund list, we presented the Observer’s second Roll Call of the Wretched.  Those were funds that managed to trail their peers for the past one-, three-, five- and ten-year periods, with special commendation for the funds that added high expenses and high volatility to the mix.

This month, I’d like to share the Observer’s Honor Roll of Consistently Bearable Funds.  Most such lists start with a faulty assumption: that high returns are intrinsically good.

Wrong!

While high returns can be a good thing, the practical question is how those returns are obtained.  If they’re the product of alternately sizzling and stone cold performances, the high returns are worse than meaningless: they’re a deadly lure to hapless investors and advisors.  Investors hate losing money much more than they love making it.

In light of that, the Observer asked a simple question: which mutual funds are never terrible?  In constructing the Honor Roll, we did not look at whether a fund ever made a lot of money.  We looked only at whether a fund could consistently avoid being rotten.  Our logic is this: investors are willing to forgive the occasional sub-par year, but they’ll flee in terror in the face of a horrible one.  That “sell low” – occasionally “sell low and stuff the proceeds in a zero-return money fund for five years” – is our most disastrous response.

We looked for no-load, retail funds which, over the past ten years, have never finished in the bottom third of their peer groups.   And while we weren’t screening for strong returns, we ended up with a list of funds that consistently provided them anyway.

U.S. stock funds

Strategy

Assets (millions)

2011 Honoree or the reason why not

Fidelity Growth Company (FDGRX)

Large Growth

44,100

Rotten 2002

Laudus Growth Investors US Large Cap Growth (LGILX)

Large Growth

1,400

2011 Honoree

Merger (MERFX)

Market Neutral

4,700

Rotten 2002

Robeco All Cap Value (BPAVX)

Large Value

400

Not around in 2002

T. Rowe Price Capital Opportunities (PRCOX)

Large Blend

400

2011 Honoree

T. Rowe Price Mid-Cap Growth (RPMGX)

Mid-Cap Growth

18,300

2011 Honoree

TIAA-CREF Growth & Income (TIIRX)

Large Blend

2,900

Not around in 2002

TIAA-CREF Mid-Cap Growth (TCMGX)

Mid-Cap Growth

1,300

Not around in 2002

Vanguard Explorer (VEXPX)

Small Growth

9,000

2011 Honoree

Vanguard Mid Cap Growth (VMGRX)

Mid-Cap Growth

2,200

2011 Honoree

Vanguard Morgan Growth (VMRGX)

Large Growth

9,000

2011 Honoree

International stock funds

American Century Global Growth (TWGGX)

Global

400

2011 Honoree

Driehaus Emerging Markets Growth (DREGX)

Emerging Markets

900

2011 Honoree

Thomas White International (TWWDX)

Large Value

600

2011 Honoree

Vanguard International Growth (VWIGX)

Large Growth

17,200

2011 Honoree

Blended asset funds

Buffalo Flexible Income (BUFBX)

Moderate Hybrid

600

2011 Honoree

Fidelity Freedom 2020 (FFFDX)

Target Date

14,300

2011 Honoree

Fidelity Freedom 2030 (FFFEX)

Target Date

11,000

Rotten 2002

Fidelity Puritan (FPURX)

Moderate Hybrid

20,000

2011 Honoree

Manning & Napier Pro-Blend Extended Term (MNBAX)

Moderate Hybrid

1,300

2011 Honoree

T. Rowe Price Balanced (RPBAX)

Moderate Hybrid

3,400

2011 Honoree

T. Rowe Price Personal Strategy Balanced (TRPBX)

Moderate Hybrid

1,700

2011 Honoree

T. Rowe Price Personal Strategy Income (PRSIX)

Conservative Hybrid

1,100

2011 Honoree

T. Rowe Price Retirement 2030 (TRRCX)

Target Date

13,700

Not around in 2002

T. Rowe Price Retirement 2040 (TRRDX)

Target Date

9,200

Not around in 2002

T. Rowe Price Retirement Income (TRRIX)

Retirement Income

2,900

Not around in 2002

Vanguard STAR (VGSTX)

Moderate Hybrid

14,800

2011 Honoree

Vanguard Tax-Managed Balanced (VTMFX)

Conservative Hybrid

1,000

Rotten 2002

Specialty funds

Fidelity Select Industrials (FCYIX)

Industrial

600

Weak 2002

Fidelity Select Retailing (FSRPX)

Consumer Cyclical

600

Weak 2002

Schwab Health Care (SWHFX)

Health

500

2011 Honoree

T. Rowe Price Global Technology (PRGTX)

Technology

700

2011 Honoree

T. Rowe Price Media & Telecomm (PRMTX)

Communications

2,400

2011 Honoree

Reflections on the Honor Roll

These funds earn serious money.  Twenty-nine of the 33 funds earn four or five stars from Morningstar.  Four earn three stars, and none earn less.  By screening for good risk management, you end up with strong returns.

This is consistent with the recent glut of research on low-volatility investing.  Here’s the basic story: a portfolio of low-volatility stocks returns one to two percent more than the stock market while taking on 25% less risk.

That’s suspiciously close to the free lunch we’re not supposed to get.

There’s a very fine, short article on low-volatility investing in the New York Times: “In Search of Funds that Don’t Rock the Boat” (October 6, 2012).  PIMCO published some of the global data, showing (at slightly numbing length) that the same pattern holds in both developed and developing markets: “Stock Volatility: Not What You Might Think” (January 2012). There are a slug of ETFs that target low-volatility stocks but I’d be hesitant to commit to one until we’d looked at other risk factors such as turnover, market cap and sector concentration.

The roster is pretty stable.  Only four funds that qualified under these screens at the end of 2011 dropped out in 2012.  They are:

FPA Crescent (FPACX) – a 33% cash stake isn’t (yet) helping.  That said, this has been such a continually excellent fund that I worry more about the state of the market than about the state of Crescent.

New Century Capital (NCCPX) – a small, reasonably expensive fund-of funds that’s trailing 77% of its peers this year.  It’s been hurt, mostly, by being overweight in energy and underweight in resurgent financials.

New Century International (NCFPX) – another fund-of-funds that’s trailing about 80% of its peers, hurt by a huge overweight in emerging markets (primarily Latin), energy, and Canada (which is sort of an energy play).

Permanent Portfolio (PRPFX) – it hasn’t been a good year to hold a lot of Treasuries, and PRPFX by mandate does.

The list shows less than half of the turnover you’d expect if funds were there by chance.

One fund deserves honorable mentionT. Rowe Price Capital Appreciation (PRCWX) has only had one relatively weak year in this century; in 2007, it finished in the 69th percentile which made it (barely) miss inclusion.

What you’ve heard about T. Rowe Price is true.  You know all that boring “discipline, consistency, risk-awareness” stuff.  Apparently so.  There are 10 Price funds on the list, nearly one-third of the total.  Second place: Fidelity and Vanguard, far larger firms, with six funds.

Sure bets?  Nope.  Must have?  Dear God, no.  A potentially useful insight into picking winners by dodging a penchant for the occasional disaster?  We think so.

In dullness there is strength.

“TrimTabs ETF Outperforms Hedge Funds”

And underperforms pretty much everybody else.  The nice folks at FINAlternatives (“Hedge Fund and Private Equity News”) seem to have reproduced (or condensed) a press release celebrating the first-year performance of TrimTabs Float Shrink ETF (TTFS).

(Sorry – you can get to the original by Googling the title but a direct-link always takes you to a log-in screen.)

Why is this journalism?  They don’t offer the slightest hint about what the fund does.  And, not to rain on anybody’s ETF, but their trailing 12-month return (21.46% at NAV, as of 10/18) places them 2050th in Morningstar’s database.  That list includes a lot of funds which have been consistently excellent (Akre Focus, BBH Core Select (closing soon – see below), ING Corporate Leaders, Mairs & Power Growth and Sequoia) for decades, so it’s not immediately clear what warrants mention.

Seafarer Rolls On

Andrew Foster’s Seafarer Overseas Growth & Income Fund (SFGIX) continues its steady gains.

The fund is outperforming every reasonable benchmark: $10,000 invested at the fund’s inception has grown to $10,865 (as of 10/26/12).  The same amount invested in the S&P’s diversified emerging markets, emerging Asia and emerging Latin America ETFs would have declined by 5-10%.

Assets are steadily rolling in: the fund is now at $17 million after six months of operation and has been gaining nearly two million a month since summer.

Opinion-makers are noticing: Andrew and David Nadel of Royce Global Value (and five other funds ‘cause that’s what Royce managers do) were the guests on October 26th edition of Wealth Track with Consuelo Mack.  It was good to hear ostensible “growth” and “value” investors agree on so much about what to look for in emerging market stocks and which countries they were assiduously avoiding.  The complete interview on video is available here.  (Thanks to our endlessly vigilant Ted for both the heads-up and the video link.)

Legg Mason Rolls Over

Legg Mason seems to be struggling.  On the one hand we have the high visibility struggles of its former star manager, Bill Miller, who’s now in the position of losing more money for more people than almost any manager.  Their most recent financial statement, released July 27, shows that assets, operating revenue, operating income, and earnings are all down from the year before.   Beside that, there’s a more fundamental struggle to figure out what Legg Mason is and who wants to bear the name.

On October 5 2009 Legg announced a new naming strategy for its funds:

Most funds that were formerly named Legg Mason or Legg Mason Partners will now include the Legg Mason name, the name of the investment affiliate and the Fund’s strategy (such as the Legg Mason ClearBridge Appreciation Fund or the Legg Mason Western Asset Managed Municipals Fund).

The announced rationale was to “leverage the Legg Mason brand awareness.”

Welcome to the age of deleveraging:  This year those same funds are moving to hide the Legg Mason taint.  Western Asset dropped the Legg Mason number this summer.  Clearbridge is now following suit, so that the Legg Mason ClearBridge Appreciation Fund is about to become just Clearbridge Appreciation.

Royce, another Legg Mason affiliate, has never advertised that association.  Royce has always had a great small-value discipline. Since being acquired by Legg Mason in 2001, the firm acquired two other, troubling distinctions.

  1. Managers who are covering too many funds.  By way of a quick snapshot, here are the funds managed by 72-year-old Chuck Royce (and this is after he dropped several):
    Since … He’s managed …

    12/2010

    Royce Global Dividend Value

    08/2010

    Royce Micro-Cap Discovery

    04/2009

    Royce Partners

    06/2008

    Royce International Smaller-Companies

    09/2007

    Royce Enterprise Select

    12/2006

    Royce European Smaller Companies

    06/2005

    Royce Select II

    05/2004

    Royce Dividend Value

    12/2003

    Royce Financial Services

    06/2003

    Royce 100

    11/1998

    Royce Select I

    12/1995

    Royce Heritage

    12/1993

    Royce Total Return

    12/1991

    Royce Premier

    11/1972

    Royce Pennsylvania Mutual

     

    Their other senior manager, Whitney George, manages 11 funds.  David Nadel works on nine, Lauren Romeo helps manage eight.

  2. A wild expansion out of their traditional domestic small-value strength.  Between 1962 and 2001, Royce launched nine funds – all domestic small caps.  Between 2001 and the present, they launched 21 mutual funds and three closed-end funds in a striking array of flavors (Global Select Long/Short, International Micro-Cap, European Smaller Companies).  While many of those later launches have performed well, many have found no traction in the market.  Fifteen of their post-2001 launches have under $100 million in assets, 10 have under $10 million.  That translates into higher expenses in some already-expensive niches and a higher hurdle for the managers to overcome.Legg reports progressively weaker performance among the Royce funds in recent years:

    Three out of 30 funds managed by Royce outperformed their benchmarks for the 1-year period; 4 out of 24 for the 3-year period; 12 out of 19 for the 5-year period; and all 11 outperformed for the 10-year period.

That might be a sign of a fundamentally unhealthy market or the accumulated toll of expenses and expansion.  Shostakovich, one of our discussion board’s most experienced correspondents, pretty much cut to the chase on the day Royce reopened its $1.1 billion micro-cap fund to additional investors: “Chuck sold his soul. He kept his cashmere sweaters and his bow ties, but he sold his soul. And the devil’s name is Legg Mason.”  Interesting speculation.

Observer Fund Profiles

Each month the Observer provides in-depth profiles of between two and four funds.  Our “Most Intriguing New Funds” are funds launched within the past couple years that most frequently feature experienced managers leading innovative newer funds.  “Stars in the Shadows” are older funds that have attracted far less attention than they deserve.  This month’s lineup features

Scout Unconstrained Bond (SUBFX): If these guys have a better track record than the one held by any bond mutual fund (and they do), why haven’t you heard of it?  Worse yet, why hadn’t I?

Stewart Capital Mid-Cap (SCMFX):  If this is one of the top two or three or ten mid-cap funds in operation (and it is), why haven’t you heard of it?  Worse yet, why hadn’t I?

Launch Alert: RiverNorth Dynamic Buy-Write Fund (RNBWX)

On  October 12, 2012, RiverNorth launched their fourth fund, RiverNorth Dynamic Buy-Write Fund.  “Buy-write” describes a sort of “covered call” strategy in which an investor might own a security and then sell to another investor the option to buy the security at a preset price in a preset time frame.  It is, in general, a defensive strategy which generates a bit of income and some downside protection for the investor who owns the security and writes the option.

As with any defensive strategy, you end up surrendering some upside in order to avoid some of the downside.  RiverNorth’s launch announcement contained a depiction of the risk-return profiles for a common buy-write index (the BXM) and three classes of stock:

A quick read is that the BXM offered 90% of the upside of the stock market with only 70% of the downside, which seems the very definition of a good tradeoff.

RiverNorth believes they can do better through active management of the portfolio.  The fund will be managed by Eric Metz, who joined RiverNorth in 2012 and serves as their Derivatives Strategist.  He’s been a partner at Bengal Capital, a senior trader at Ronin Capital and worked at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) and Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE).   The investment minimum is $5000.  Expenses are capped at 1.80%.

Because the strategy is complex, the good folks at RiverNorth have agreed to an extended interview at their offices in Chicago on November 8th.  With luck and diligence, we’ll provide a full profile of the fund in our December issue.

Funds in Registration

New mutual funds must be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission before they can be offered for sale to the public.  The SEC has a 75-day window during which to call for revisions of a prospectus; fund companies sometimes use that same time to tweak a fund’s fee structure or operating details.  Every day we scour new SEC filings to see what opportunities might be about to present themselves.  Many of the proposed funds offer nothing new, distinctive or interesting.  Some are downright horrors of Dilbertesque babble.

Twenty-nine new no-load funds were placed in registration this month.  Those include three load-bearing funds becoming no-loads, two hedge funds merging to become one mutual fund, one institutional fund becoming retail and two dozen new offerings.  An unusually large number of the new funds feature very experienced managers.  Four, in particular, caught our attention:

BBH Global Core Select is opening just as the five-star BBH Core Select closes.  Core Select invests about 15% of its money outside the U.S., while the global version will place at least 40% there.  One of Core Select’s managers will co-manage the new fund with a BBH analyst.

First Trust Global Tactical Asset Allocation and Income Fund will be an actively-managed ETF that “seek[s] total return and provide income [and] a relatively stable risk profile.”  The managers, John Gambla and Rob A. Guttschow, had been managing five closed-end funds for Nuveen.

Huber Capital Diversified Large Cap Value Fund, which will invest in 40-80 large caps that trade “at a significant discount to the present value of future cash flows,” will be run by Joseph Huber, who also manages the five-star Huber Small Cap Value (HUSIX) and Huber Equity Income (HULIX) funds.

Oakseed Opportunity Fund is a new global fund, managed by Greg L. Jackson and John H. Park. These guys managed or co-managed some “A” tier funds (Oakmark Global, Acorn, Acorn Select and Yacktman) before moving to Blum Capital, a private equity firm, from about 2004-2012.

Details on these funds and the list of all of the funds in registration are available at the Observer’s Funds in Registration page or by clicking “Funds” on the menu atop each page.

On a related note, we also tracked down about 50 fund manager changes, including the blockbuster announcement of Karen Gaffney’s departure from Loomis Sayles.

RiverPark Long/Short Opportunity conference call

Based on the success of our September conference call with David Sherman of Cohanzick Asset Management and RiverPark’s president, Morty Schaja, we have decided to try to provide our readers with one new opportunity each month to speak with an “A” tier fund manager.

The folks at RiverPark generously agreed to participate in a second conference call with Observer readers. It will feature Mitch Rubin, lead manager of RiverPark Long/Short Opportunity (RLSFX), a fund that we profiled in August as distinctive and distinctly promising.  This former hedge fund crushed its peers.

I’ll moderate the call.  Mitch will open by talking a bit about the fund’s strategy and then will field questions (yours and mine) on the fund’s strategies and prospects. The call is November 29 at 7:00 p.m., Eastern. Participants can register for the conference by navigating to  http://services.choruscall.com/diamondpass/registration?confirmationNumber=10020992

We’ll have the winter schedule in our December issue.  For now, I’ll note that managers of several really good funds have indicated a willingness to spend serious time with you.

Small Funds Communicating Smartly

The Mutual Fund Education Alliance announced their 2012 STAR Awards, which recognize fund companies that do a particularly good job of communicating with their investors.  As is common with such awards, there’s an impulse to make sure lots of folks get to celebrate so there are 17 sub-categories in each of three channels (retail, advisor, plan participant) plus eleven overall winners, for 62 awards in total.

US Global Investors was recognized as the best small firm overall, for “consistency of messaging and excellent use of the various distribution outlets.”  Matthews Asia was celebrated as the outstanding mid-sized fund firm.  Judges recognized them for “modern, effective design [and] unbelievable branding consistency.”

Ironically, MFEA’s own awards page is danged annoying with an automatic slide presentation that makes it hard to read about any of the individual winners.

Congratulations to both firms.  We’d also like to point you to our own Best of the Web winners for most effective site design: Seafarer Funds and Cook & Bynum Fund, with honorable mentions to Wintergreen, Auxier Focus and the Tilson Funds.

Briefly Noted . . .

Artio meltdown continues.  The Wall Street Journal reports that Richard Pell, Artio’s CEO, has stepped down.  Artio is bleeding assets, having lost nearly 50% of their assets under management in the past 12 months.  Their stock price is down 90% since its IPO and we’d already reported the closure of their domestic-equity funds.  This amounts to a management reshuffle, with Artio’s president becoming CEO and Pell remaining at CIO.  He’ll also continue to co-manage the once-great (top 5% over 15 years, bottom 5% over the past five years) Artio International Equity Fund (BJBIX) with Rudolph-Riad Younes.

SMALL WINS FOR INVESTORS

Dreyfus/The Boston Company Small Cap Growth Fund (SSETX) reopened to new investors on November 1, 2012. It’s a decent little fund with below average expenses.  Both risk and return tend to be below average as well, with risk further below average than returns.

Fidelity announced the launch of a dozen new target-date funds in its Strategic Advisers Multi-Manager Series, 2020 through 2055 and Retirement Income.  The Multi-Manager series allows Fidelity to sell the skills of non-Fidelity managers (and their funds) to selected retirement plans.  Christopher Sharpe and Andrew Dierdorf co-manage all of the funds.

CLOSINGS

The board of BBH Core Select (BBTEX) has announced its imminent closure.  The five-star large cap fund has $3.2 billion in assets and will close at $3.5 billion.  Given its stellar performance and compact 30-stock portfolio, that’s certainly in its shareholders’ best interests.  At the same time, BBH has filed to launched a Global Core fund by year’s end.  It will be managed by one of BBTEX’s co-managers.  For details, see our Funds in Registration feature.

Invesco Balanced-Risk Commodity Strategy (BRCAX) will close to new investors effective November 15, 2012.

Investment News reports that 86 ETFs ceased operations in the first 10 months of 2012.  Wisdom Tree announced three more in late October (LargeCap Growth ROI,  South African Rand SZR and Japanese Yen JYF). Up until 2012, the greatest number of closures in a single calendar year was 58 during the 2008 meltdown.  400 more (Indonesian Small Caps, anyone?) reside on the ETF Deathwatch for October 2012; ETFs with tiny investor bases and little trading activity.  The hidden dimension of the challenge provided by small ETFs is the ability of their boards to dramatically change their investment mandates in search of new assets.  Investors in Global X S&P/TSX Venture 30 Canada ETF (think “Canadian NASDAQ”) suddenly found themselves instead in Global X Junior Miners ETF (oooo … exposure to global, small-cap nickel mining!).

OLD WINE, NEW BOTTLES

Under the assumption that indecipherable is good, Allianz announced three name changes: Allianz AGIC Structured Alpha Fund is becoming AllianzGI Structured Alpha Fund. Allianz AGIC U.S. Equity Hedged Fund becomes AllianzGI U.S. Equity Hedged Fund and Allianz NFJ Emerging Markets Value Fund becomes AllianzGI NFJ Emerging Markets Value Fund.

BBH Broad Market (BBBIX) has changed its name to BBH Limited Duration Fund.

Effective December 3, 2012, the expensive, small and underperforming Forward Aggressive Growth Allocation Fund (ACAIX) will be changed to the Forward Multi-Strategy Fund. Along with the new name, this fund of funds gets to add “long/short, tactical and other alternative investment strategies” to its armamentarium.  Presumably that’s driven by the fact that the fund does quite poorly in falling markets: it has trailed its benchmark in nine of the past nine declining quarters.  Sadly, adding hedge-like funds to the portfolio will only drive up expenses and serve as another drag on performance.

Schwab Premier Income (SWIIX) will soon become Schwab Intermediate-Term Bond, with lower expenses but a much more restrictive mandate.  At the moment the fund can go anywhere (domestic, international and emerging market debt, income- and non-income-producing equities, floating rate securities, REITs, ETFs) but didn’t, while the new fund will invest only in domestic intermediate term bonds.

Moving in the opposite direction, Alger Large Cap Growth Institutional (ALGRX) becomes Alger Capital Appreciation Focus at the end of the year. The fund will adopt an all-cap mandate, but will shrink the target portfolio size from around 100 stocks to 50.

OFF TO THE DUSTBIN OF HISTORY

The Board of Directors of Bhirud Funds Inc. has approved the liquidation of Apex Mid Cap Growth Fund (BMCGX) effective on or about November 14, 2012. In announcing Apex’s place on our 2012 “Roll Call of the Wretched,” we noted:

The good news: not many people trust Suresh Bhirud with their money.  His Apex Mid Cap Growth (BMCGX) had, at last record, $192,546 – $100,000 below last year’s level.  Two-thirds of that amount is Mr. Bhirud’s personal investment.  Mr. Bhirud has managed the fund since its inception in 1992 and, with annualized losses of 9.2% over the past 15 years, has mostly impoverished himself.

We’re hopeful he puts his remaining assets in a nice, low-risk index fund.

The Board of Trustees of Dreyfus Investment Funds approved the liquidation of Dreyfus/The Boston Company Small Cap Tax-Sensitive Equity Fund (SDCEX) on January 8, 2013.  Ironically, this fund has outperformed the larger, newly-reopened SSETX.  And, while they were at it, the Board also approved the liquidation of Dreyfus Small Cap Fund (the “Fund”), effective on January 16, 2013

ING will liquidate ING Alternative Beta (IABAX) on December 7, 2012.  In addition to an obscure mandate (what is alternative beta?), the fund has managed to lose money over the past three years while drawing only $18 million in assets.

Munder International Equity Fund (MUIAX) is slated to be merged in Munder International Fund — Core Equity (MAICX), on December 7, 2012.

Uhhh . . .

Don’t get me wrong.  MUIAX is a bad fund (down 18% in five years) and deserves to go.  But MAICX is a worse fund by far (it’s down 29% in the same period).  And much smaller.  And newer.

This probably explains why I could never serve on a fund’s board of directors.  Their logic is simply too subtle for me.

Royce Mid-Cap (RMIDX) is set to be liquidated on November 19, 2012. It’s less than three years old, has performed poorly and managed to draw just a few million in assets.  The management team is being dispersed among Royce’s other funds.

It was named Third Millennium Russia Fund (TMRFX) and its charge was to invest “in securities of companies located in Russia.”  This is a fund that managed to gain or lose more than 70% in three of the past 10 years.  Investors have largely fled and so, effective October 10, 2012, the board of trustees tweaked things.  It’s now called Toreador International Fund and its mandate is to invest “outside of the United States.”  As of this writing, Morningstar had not yet noticed.

In Closing . . .


We’ve added an unusual bit of commercial presence, over to your right.  Amazon created a mini-site dedicated to the interests of investors.  In addition to the inevitable links to popular investing books, it features a weekly blog post, a little blog aggregator at the bottom (a lot of content from Bloomberg, some from Abnormal Returns and Seeking Alpha), and some sort of dead, dead, dead discussion group.  We thought you might find some of it useful or at least browseable, so we decided to include it for you.

And yes, it does carry MFO’s embedded link.  Thanks for asking!

Thanks, too, to all the folks (Gary, Martha, Dean, Richard, two Jacks, and one Turtle) who contributed to the Observer in October.

We’ll look for you in December.