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.

May 1, 2019

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

HESCO barriers are really impressive.  They were conceived by James “Jimi” Heselden, a British entrepreneur and former coal miner. They are, at base, portable protective barriers; a box of heavy steel mesh that gets lined with a heavy plastic tarp and filled with sand. Start to finish, two guys and a front-loader can get one of these things built, positioned and filled in 20 minutes. The alternative, about 1500 sandbags, would take 10 guys far longer.  They’re strong enough that the military uses them as blast-proof fortifications and governments worldwide use them as protection against hurricanes. They can be strung together to form a continuous barrier a mile long.

They’re really impressive.

But the Mississippi, running at flood crest, is Continue reading →

The Investors Guide to the End of the World, Part 2: Concrete advice

By David Snowball

Much has been written about the threat of climate destabilization and investors are more and more aware that there are distinct challenges between posed to their own portfolios. Whether it’s rising sea levels, intolerable summer temperatures, frequent extreme weather (droughts, super-sized hurricanes, flooding, blizzards) or assertive government regulators, it is clear that these things are going to impact our portfolios.

But how? What, other than moving to Minnesota (or investing in Mairs & Power, which is located in Minnesota and is famous for investing in Minnesotans), should Continue reading →

Balter Invenomic (BIVRX/BIVIX/BIVSX)

By David Snowball

Objective and strategy

Balter Invenomic Fund is seeking long term capital appreciation. They pursue that through a widely diversified long-short portfolio comprised, primarily, of domestic stocks. The long and short portfolios each held about 150 positions, as of early 2019. The long portfolio is always fully invested in undervalued, timely stocks while the size of the short portfolio varies based on the opportunities available. The long portfolio is all-cap and might include equity securities other than just common stocks. The fund’s short portfolio is broadly diversified and targets stocks which are both overvalued and are likely to fall. The short portfolio is not designed merely as a defensive buffer; it is designed to deliver positive returns and reduce the overall risk of the portfolio through Continue reading →

Elevator Talk: Alexander Oxenham, Hilton Tactical Income Fund (HCYAX/HCYIX)

By David Snowball

Since the number of funds we can cover in-depth is smaller than the number of funds worthy of in-depth coverage, we’ve decided to offer one or two managers each month the opportunity to make a 300 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 a few hundred 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. 

Sometimes relationships start in unexpected ways. Unbeknownst of us, our relationship with Continue reading →

Funds in Registration

By David Snowball

Before funds and ETFs can be offered to the public, they’ve got to be submitted to the SEC which has 70 days to review the application. In general, advisers try to launch just before year’s end because that allows them to have clean “year to date” and calendar year results to share. These launches will likely occur in late June so that they’ll at least have full-quarter results for 2019 Q3.

The dominant themes this month seem to be enhanced risk-management (Aptus, Horizon, Hussman, Quadratic, RG) and ESG emphasis (Horizon, Kennedy, Wahed). Also cannabis. Continue reading →

April 1, 2019

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

It’s been an especially distressing month. Rapid and widespread flooding following a hard winter destroyed the lives and livelihoods of many thousands of good folks in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa. Levees failed, bridges and roads were swept away, homes and equipment left mangled. Many are in despair at the loss of thousands of newborn calves, with loss to private and public property exceeding a billion dollars. At the same time, Cyclone Idai, the second-worst in the region’s history, swept across eastern Africa, likely killing more than a thousand and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless and hungry. While it is only “weather,” persistent patterns in the weather define our climate and the pattern of the past five years has been increasing numbers of extreme weather events.  We really need to work together to figure out how best to manage these challenges.

Speaking of challenges, presidential wannabees are beginning to Continue reading →

Death Cleaning my portfolio

By David Snowball

Or, since I teach at a historically Swedish-Lutheran college, I might use the original Swedish term: I was döstädning my portfolio.

By way of background, my income comes from teaching at the aforementioned Augustana College; it’s exceedingly secure but has not increased much, in real or inflation-adjusted terms, in quite a while. It has “bond-like” qualities. I invest about 13% pretax for retirement, the college has a match that adds about 10% and I squirrel away around 10% of my take-home pay each month. Our home in Davenport is small, snug and affordable. Our cars are used but clean and efficient. Our splurges often enough involve live music and Continue reading →

Learning from the fall fall

By David Snowball

The last substantial decline in the US stock market occurred between 2007-09. Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTSMX) declined by 50.9% and remained under water for 52 months. Vanguard International Stock Market Index (VGTSX) fell 58.5% and did not recover for 114 months. Investors in Vanguard Emerging Market Index (VEIEX) would be at least a little envious of the fact that VGTSX investors were in the red for almost ten years, since they were at a loss for more than 10 years after their portfolio hit bottom. Investors who hewed to the “stocks for the long-term” mantra and faithfully held their VEIEX shares ended the decade with an average annual loss of 0.1%.

The good news is that Continue reading →

ETFs and the fine art of propaganda

By David Snowball

I teach about propaganda and persuasion for a living. “Propaganda” in the Hitler, Goebbels, rise of the Nazis sense of the term. It’s an important and fascinating study, though it seems reasonably tangential to contemporary investing.

Then I started reading about ETF marketing.

The Institute for Propaganda Analysis, 1937-1942, was an honest attempt to help American citizens detect and dissect Continue reading →

Finding ESG Fund One

By David Snowball

By Morningstar’s calculation, there are 486 “socially-conscious” funds.  While bond and mixed-asset funds can be “socially-conscious,” Morningstar does not rate the sustainability of their portfolios. If you subtract the 183 funds in those categories, you’re left with 303 “socially-conscious” equity funds. Only 93 (or 31%) have portfolios that score “high” on Morningstar’s sustainability ratings while 101 more are “above average,” so about two-thirds of ESG funds earn good-to-great sustainability scores.

At the other end of the spectrum, 18 (about 6%, including one with “environmental” in the name) have the Continue reading →

Brown Advisory Sustainable Growth Fund (BAFWX/BIAWX/BAWAX)

By David Snowball

Objective and strategy

The managers seek long-term capital appreciation by investing in a concentrated portfolio of 30-40 mid and large capitalization companies that use sustainable business strategies (SBA) to drive future earnings growth.

They focus on finding companies whose sustainability strategies are generating tangible business results such as revenue growth, cost improvement, or enhanced franchise value. Such companies may enjoy competitive advantages from environmentally efficient design or manufacturing or offer Continue reading →

Funds in registration

By David Snowball

Before funds and ETFs can be offered to the public, they’ve got to be submitted to the SEC which has 70 days to review the application. In general, advisers try to launch just before year’s end because that allows them to have clean “year to date” and calendar year results to share. These launches will likely occur in late May or June so that they’ll at least have full-quarter results for 2019 Q3.

The team behind Harbor Focused International has been recognized as one of the best asset managers in Europe, while the advisers behind DoubleLine Emerging Markets Local Currency Bond Fund and Vanguard Global ESG Select Stock Fund are among the best in US fixed income and equity investing, respectively. And yet, the Kensington Managed Income Fund might have the best underlying performance of them all. That makes it a Continue reading →

Briefly Noted . . .

By David Snowball

Each month we share developments in the industry that are, individually, to minor to warrant their own story. Since about three-quarters of it are stories of failure and the subsequent thrashing about, it mostly gets downplayed. This month saw, in particular, the liquidation of a lot of funds that were trying to deal with a low-interest rate, high stock valuation world: their names invoke global allocations and global bonds, alternative and unconstrained income, flexible opportunities and the occasional quantamental bent. Continue reading →

March 1, 2019

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

It’s spring and it’s about 10 degrees above zero here which means it’s Spring Break at Augustana College! Winter term on Augie’s singularly bizarre academic calendar runs from roughly Halloween to Valentine’s Day, gulping down Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s along the way. We offer, I suppose, the antithesis of the old MTV spring break beach parties with raucous guys dancing with girlfriends clad only in whipped cream. Nope, Swedish-Lutherans we, we hand the kids their parkas and urge them to go off and have a good time, but just Continue reading →

The Investor’s Guide to the End of the World

By David Snowball

Human actions are causing our planet’s climate to become increasingly unstable. We are beyond the point where that fact is open to debate. Most Americans, Republicans and Democrats both, now accept the reality of climate change. That’s based on fascinating data visualizations provided by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. Republicans, far more than Democrats and others, are unsure that there’s a human role or that scientists have reached agreement on what is happening.

The short version is that every serious inquiry reaches the same conclusion: the climate Continue reading →

Funds in Registration

By David Snowball

Before funds can be offered to the public, they’ve got to be submitted to the SEC which has 70 days to review the application. In general, advisers try to launch just before years end because that allows them to have clean “year to date” and calendar year results to share. These launches will likely occur in late April or May.

Palm Valley Capital Fund is sort of a stand-out here, despite the name that vaguely calls a retirement community (with golf!) to mind. It will be a small cap stock fund managed by Continue reading →

Briefly Noted

By David Snowball

Updates

The Ghost Ship sails every onward. Voya Corporate Leaders (LEXCX, once Lexington Corporate Leaders) continues its skipperless voyage. The fund was launched in 1935 with a simple strategy (buy an equal number of shares of what were then America’s best companies, and never sell) and no manager. Right: no manager changes in more than 83 years ‘cause it’s had no manager in more than 83 years. How’s that working for Continue reading →

February 1, 2019

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

Please join me in bidding a fond adieu to January. It was a month in which our increasingly unstable global climate manifested itself in record-breaking cold and snow. Davenport, Iowa, my adopted hometown, saw the lowest temperature (-33, six degrees colder than the old record) and coldest wind chill readings (-54) in its recorded history. Despite having no precipitation in the first eleven days of January, it still managed 30.2” of snow by month’s end, the most since record-keeping began in 1884. Local drivers responded Continue reading →