Author Archives: David Snowball

About David Snowball

David Snowball, PhD (Massachusetts). Cofounder, lead writer. David is a Professor of Communication Studies at Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois, a nationally-recognized college of the liberal arts and sciences, founded in 1860. For a quarter century, David competed in academic debate and coached college debate teams to over 1500 individual victories and 50 tournament championships. When he retired from that research-intensive endeavor, his interest turned to researching fund investing and fund communication strategies. He served as the closing moderator of Brill’s Mutual Funds Interactive (a Forbes “Best of the Web” site), was the Senior Fund Analyst at FundAlarm and author of over 120 fund profiles. David lives in Davenport, Iowa, and spends an amazing amount of time ferrying his son, Will, to baseball tryouts, baseball lessons, baseball practices, baseball games … and social gatherings with young ladies who seem unnervingly interested in him.

September 1, 2020

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

Another school year has begun, likely the most fascinating in my 35 years as a college professor. My students were in class this morning, cheerful and masked. When asked about their summers, they did not say what the rest of us might: “it sucked.” To the contrary, they were uniformly positive about the experience (“I had a good summer! We didn’t get to travel anywhere, but I put in a lot of hours on my job and spent a bunch of time with my family!”) and hopeful for the year ahead.

The number of students was, quite understandably, reduced: Augustana welcomed something like 550 first-years when we’d normally see 700, with a lot of the deficit coming from international students – well more than a tenth of the college – not able (or willing) to travel Continue reading →

The Long (and Short) of It: Top-Tier Long-Short Options

By David Snowball

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Simon Cable declared “‘Long-Short’ Funds Missed Their Moment” (8/9/2020, paywall). His argument: “The stock-market volatility in the first half of 2020 should have been a near-perfect period for ‘long-short’ mutual funds and exchange-traded funds to make a killing. Unfortunately, less than one in three such funds made money for investors during this tumultuous period.” His analysis was that the market’s moves were too quick for most investors to capitalize on them (even if they recognized the opportunity).

He notes that Neuberger Berman Long-Short (NLSIX) raked in the most cash and that the ProShares Long Online/Short Stores ETF had the top YTD performance.

“Most funds are mediocre” is not a terribly Continue reading →

Matthews Asia: High Profile Shuffle, Limited Downside

By David Snowball

On August 24, 2020, Matthews Asia announced a long set of manager changes and one fund liquidation. While they appear in a single document, there are at least two distinct triggering events behind them.

Event One: The departure of managers Tiffany Hsiao and YuanYuan Ji. Ms. Hsiao managed Matthews China Small Companies (MCSMX, since 2015) and, with long-time lead manager Michael Oh, Matthews Asia Innovators (MATFX, since 2018). Ms. Ji was the second manager of China Small Companies. Their departure was, so far as I can tell, a surprise to all. There is no word on their reason for leaving or their Continue reading →

Portfolio update #1: added Palm Valley Capital

By David Snowball

On August 26, I added Palm Valley Capital Fund (PVCMX) to my non-retirement portfolio.

Why does this make sense?

My portfolio has a simple, static asset allocation: 50% stocks, 50% not. Within stocks, the default is 50% here, 50% there plus 50% larger, 50% smaller. When we calculated the likely downside of my portfolio in a 2008-like event, the loss was in the range of 25%. That’s not catastrophic.

Currently, my portfolio is Continue reading →

Portfolio update #2: added T. Rowe Price Multi-Strategy Total Return

By David Snowball

On August 31, I added T. Rowe Price Multi-Strategy Total Return (TMSRX) to my non-retirement portfolio. I funded that position by transferring about half of my stake in T. Rowe Price Spectrum Income (RPSIX).

Why does this make sense?

I traditionally have minimal savings, in the sense of money in a savings account at the bank. That decision makes sense for me because my income is incredibly predictable (a perk of being a tenured senior member of the faculty at a strong college), though it grows minimally. Because savings accounts have for so long offered near-zero to negative real returns, I chose to keep the money otherwise destined for savings in exceedingly low volatility funds that offered the prospect of low- to mid-single-digit returns. RiverPark Short Term High Yield (RPHYX, 3% annual returns, 0.8% standard deviation, 1% maximum Continue reading →

Launch Alert: T. Rowe Price active ETFs

By David Snowball

On August 5, 2020, T. Rowe Price launched ETF versions of four of its largest actively-managed domestic equity funds.

Those are:

T. Rowe Price Blue Chip Growth ETF (TCHP)

  • The strategy targets mid- to large-cap, blue-chip companies that have the potential for above-average earnings growth and are well established. About 90% US stocks.
  • The strategy is managed by Larry Puglia, who has run it for 26 years.
  • The mutual fund version of the same name (TRBCX) is a five-star fund with a Silver analyst rating from Morningstar. It has $92 billion in assets.
  • The net expense ratio for the ETF is 0.57%, lower than the 0.69% charged by the fund.

Continue reading →

Launch Alert: Towpath Focus Fund

By David Snowball

On December 31, 2019, Oelschlager Investments launched the Towpath Focus Fund (TOWFX). The fund invests in 25-40 domestic stocks regardless of market capitalization. The fund is managed by Mark Oelschlager.

In general, we intend Launch Alerts to occur within six weeks of a fund’s launch. We entirely goofed up the Launch Alert for Towpath because we were looking for it under its preliminary name, Oelschlager Equity. As a result, we entirely missed the launch and the fund’s first eight months of existence. Regrets for the slip!

What do they do?

Towpath is a concentrated, all-cap equity fund. The portfolio currently holds 38 securities. About 11% of the portfolio is invested in non-US stocks. Portfolio construction begins with macro-level Continue reading →

Osterweis Emerging Opportunity (OSTGX)

By David Snowball

Objective and strategy

OSTGX pursues long-term capital appreciation. Their target universe is high quality, small- to mid-cap companies with the ability to generate rapid, sustainable revenue growth. The markers of quality include: (1) a distinct proprietary advantage; (2) a leading position in the industry; (3) potential for margin expansion; and (4) the presence of a strong management team. “Rapid revenue growth” translates to organic growth that averages 30% annually. It invests primarily in domestic companies; as of June 30, 2020, 11% of the portfolio is invested internationally though the prospectus permits up to 30%. As of June 30, 2020, just over 50% of the Fund’s assets were invested in securities within the health care and information technology sectors, slightly lower exposure than the Continue reading →

Funds in Registration

By David Snowball

The Securities and Exchange Commission, by law, gets between 60 and 75 days to review proposed new funds before they can be offered for sale to the public. Each month, Funds in Registration gives you a peek into the new product pipeline. We found 20-some active funds and ETFs in registration. (I hedge on the number because one of the entries covers an entire line of funds which is likely to grow over time.) Expect them to launch by the end of October 2020.

Every month the ETF industry breathlessly trots out a few ideas designed to seize the moment. Think: “Virtual Work and Life ETF.” This month’s leading candidate is Continue reading →

Briefly Noted

By David Snowball


As of August 13, 2020, SouthernSun Asset Management bought Affiliated Managers Group’s interest in SouthernSun. As a result, SouthernSun is no longer affiliated with AMG; it’s now wholly owned by its employees.

Briefly Noted . . .

AdvisorShares Vice ETF (ACT) has amended its prospectus to allow that “companies that derive at least 50% of their net revenue from the food and beverage industry” are sinful while, at the same time, “the Fund will no longer invest in cannabis or Continue reading →

August 1, 2020

By David Snowball

Welcome to our annual summer-lite edition of Mutual Fund Observer.

It’s the summer in which things might be … hmmm, a little lighter than usual. It’s normally a time when we quiet down for a month while you folks are off doing sensible and wonderful things, like hanging out at the beach with friends and family. Except, now, well … Continue reading →

H.R. Pufnstuf: 10 funds to buy when things get rough.

By David Snowball

Jimmy, Freddy the magic flute and Mayor Pufnstuf (right).

H.R. Pufnstuf was the answer to the question, “Who’s your friend when things get rough?” Pufnstuf starred in a Sid and Marty Krofft cult classic TV show which debuted during “the summer of love” in 1969 and continued in reruns as late as 1999. The show’s theme song assured us that Pufnstuff, Mayor of The Living Island, was “your friend when things got rough” because “he knew just what Continue reading →

Between here and the end of the world: Ten things to know

By David Snowball

In the spring of 2019, MFO ran a two-part series on the investment implications of climate change: The Investor’s Guide to the End of the World and The Investors Guide to the End of the World, Part 2: Concrete advice. The former laid out the scientific consensus behind the human role in climate change and explained the four ways in which even the broad perception of climate change would affect your portfolio through a combination of physical, biological, regulatory, and reputational risks. We finished with three investment strategies (divest, invest, innovate) and two fund recommendations: Brown Advisory Sustainable Growth Fund (BIAWX) and Green Century Balanced (GCBLX). Since then, Brown returned 27% (versus 7% for its peers) and Green Century made 8.8% (versus 4% for its peers).

Our second article reviewed the investing recommendations of Continue reading →

Queens Road Small Cap Value (QRSVX)

By David Snowball

Objective and strategy

The fund seeks capital appreciation by investing in the stocks or preferred shares of U.S. small-cap companies. Small caps are companies whose stocks are, at the time of purchase, valued at under $5 billion. The manager pursues a sort of “quality value” strategy: he seeks high-quality firms (strong balance sheets and strong management teams) whose stocks are undervalued (based on estimates of intrinsic value using free cash flow and book value growth models.).

In general, the portfolio holds Continue reading →

Funds in Registration

By David Snowball

The Securities and Exchange Commission, by law, gets between 60 and 75 days to review proposed new funds before they can be offered for sale to the public. Each month, Funds in Registration gives you a peek into the new product pipeline. We found 17 active funds and ETFs in registration, some quite notable. Expect them to launch by the end of September 2020. All but two of those funds are either conservative income funds or hedged alternative funds.

The key additions are a growing number of low-cost ESG options, across a range of asset classes. We do not cover passively-managed ETFs, but fans of Continue reading →

July 1, 2020

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

Welcome to the summer of our discontent.

I admit to being a bit distracted this month. My son, Will, was exposed last week to an individual who subsequently tested posted for the coronavirus. Neither she nor he was… uh, optimally cautious during their interaction and she’s subsequently fallen ill. We promptly sought a test from the State of Iowa’s preferred provider, only to learn that they couldn’t see him for four days and weren’t sure how quickly they’d have results. We turned, instead, to our local hospital which administered the test immediately, promising the results “in two to three days.” Four days later, we’ve been told that actually means Continue reading →