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, 2019

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

Egad! The fall semester has begun and my campus is swarming with students! Worst of all, they expect me to have something sensible to say at 8:30 Tuesday morning.  I’m doomed!

Snowball elsewhere

For those of you thinking, “yes, that’s all well and good, but what does Snowball sound like? Does he have an annoying twang in real-life like he does when I hear him in my head? I’m sure he’s got a guilty-looking Continue reading →

Launch Alert: Harbor Focused International

By David Snowball

On May 31, 2019, Harbor Funds launched Harbor Focused International (HNFIX/HNFSX). Harbor has eight international and global funds, of which three were either launched or relaunched this year. HNFIX is the most recent of those innovations.

Harbor Focused International will pursue capital appreciation. The fund will invest in 25-40 stocks from developed and emerging international markets. It will be an all-cap portfolio (minimum cap is just $1.5 billion) that is benchmark-agnostic. As a result, it might substantially overweigh some regions, sectors or styles if that’s what Continue reading →

Elevator Talk: Clayton Triick, Angel Oak UltraShort Income (AOUAX/AOUIX)

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 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. Continue reading →

Funds in Registration, September 2019

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. Most funds currently in registration will become available by late October.

Our list contains 37 new funds and active ETFs, with another 15 (unlisted) high minimum institutional funds and passive ETFs. Funds worth putting on your radar include FPA Balanced, a 60/40 fund with A-tier managers; three new funds from Continue reading →

Briefly Noted

By David Snowball

Updates

Three advisers are vying for this month’s “they’re doing what? Did I read this right?” award for moves where we were, literally, reading the filings aloud, slowly, to be sure we weren’t missing something.

Nominee #1 BlackRock

BlackRock Focus Growth (MAFOX) will undergo “a reorganization with another BlackRock-advised fund” in the fourth quarter of 2019. In the reorganization, the $1 billion, Continue reading →

August 1, 2019

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

Welcome to our annual summer seersucker edition of Mutual Fund Observer! Lots of folks are on vacation – we got nearly 200 “I’m on vacation! Huzzah!” auto-replies to our monthly announcement – and lots of folks are coping with unprecedented heat. The triple digit temps that toasted about two-thirds of the US in mid-July are being repeated across Europe now.

American cities are poorly prepared for heat waves; European cities are far more poorly constructed for them since their summer highs used to be 10-20 degrees cooler than what’s typical in the Continue reading →

Mauritius Madness

By David Snowball

The word of the week is “Mauritius.”

For those of us who dozed through World Geography we’ve highlighted the country in question.

Google kindly offers the following snapshot: “Mauritius, an Indian Ocean island nation, is known for its beaches, lagoons and reefs. The mountainous interior includes Black River Gorges National Park, with rainforests, waterfalls, hiking trails and Continue reading →

Funds for Muslim investors

By David Snowball

One of the charms of our country is all of the stuff we don’t ask. Our federal census does not, and has not since the 1950s (quick thanks to David Moran for his insight into census history), asked people about their religious preference or practices. That’s good because it’s none of the guvmint’s damned business. It’s also bad because religion is an important element of our individual and collective culture; in the absence of official estimations, a host of (sometimes laughably inept) unofficial calculations substitute.

The Pew Research Center (2018) estimates that there are “3.45 million Muslims of all ages living in the U.S. in 2017, and that Continue reading →

Steven and Sisyphus

By David Snowball

Active management, as a discipline, is hard.

Active management, as a sustainable business, is harder.

Active management, as a sustainable business run by an independent investment boutique, no matter how skilled, is crazy hard, getting crazier and getting harder.

When, on top of all that, it feels like a megalithic corporation has it out for you, you’d surely feel like it’s time to surrender and put Sisyphus on the Continue reading →

Overachieving defenders: Your late-cycle shopping list

By David Snowball

Investors are pulled by three competing forces just now.

Force One: The market is going to crash soon enough.

Longest bull market in US history. Valuations, based on 10-year CAPE or Shiller average, have only been higher twice in market history: 1929 and 2000. Record earnings, which make stocks look cheaper, are starting to wobble. Economic policy is being made by tweet by a guy still in his jammies. Trade war. Brexit. $1,200,000,000,000 federal budget Continue reading →

Bright guys saying dumb things

By David Snowball

I’m inured to stupid stories (“12% annual returns from a three-stock portfolio allow smart investors to retire at age 24 with $12 million!”) originating from “financial journalists” that no one has ever heard of. Those folks exist because the news hole has become a black hole.

The “news hole” is the amount of space, in a newspaper or magazine, or time, in a news broadcast, available for the news of the day. It used to be a constraining factor: if you only have 23 minutes (or 400 column inches) a day available, you had to make editorial judgments about what was Continue reading →

Launch Alert: Vanguard Global ESG Select Stock Fund

By David Snowball

On May 21, 2019, Vanguard launched its Global ESG Select Stock Fund (VEIGX/VESGX). The fund is subadvised by Wellington Management. It is Vanguard’s fourth socially-screened product after FTSE Social Index (VFTSX), ESG U.S. Stock ETF (ESGV) and ESG International Stock ETF (VSGX). Vanguard funds sponge up money pretty promptly: Social Index, launched in 2000, has $5.6 billion but the domestic and international ETFs are under a year old and have gathered $570 million and $380 million, respectively. Morningstar likes them all.

Matthew Brancato of Vanguard claims the fund “is taking a distinctive approach to ESG investing, seeking long-term outperformance through the selection of companies that integrate leading ESG practices into 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. Most funds currently in registration will become available by mid-October.

Eighteen new funds, available just in time for Halloween! Spoooky!

Most of the buzz surrounds the new line of Avantis active ETFs. Avantis is the product of a collaboration between American Century Investments and long-time Dimensional Fund Advisor (DFA) managers. DFA probably invented Continue reading →

Briefly Noted . . .

By David Snowball

Updates

The ETF industry has continued to distinguish itself for its almost laughable me-tooism. The themes of the day are marijuana (ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF MJ, AdvisorShares Pure Cannabis ETF YOLO, AdvisorShares Vice ETF ACT which splits time between tobacco, pot and alcohol, The Cannabis ETF THCX, Cambria Cannabis ETF TOKE, Amplify Seymour Cannabis ETF CNBS, Cannabis Growth Opportunity Corp CWWBF) and pets (and pet parents). There are even articles now on the top marijuana ETFs for 2019 and the best marijuana ETFs for conservative portfolios. Uhhh … note to conservative investors, (1) the oldest and largest of these ETFs substantially trails the Vanguard Total Stock Market over the past three years yet has triple the volatility and (2) possession of marijuana is still a federal crime. Continue reading →

July 1, 2019

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

It’s not yet the height of summer, but it’s starting to feel like it at Augustana. Our summer classes, held only in June, have ended and the hubbub of the new year is still a distant cloud on the horizon. I visit campus to catch up on my reading – it’s what scholars do – and to pursue bits and pieces of administrative work for my dean. Rather than camp in my office all day, I wander around at lunchtime and recently discovered our always-bustling patio and picnic lawn look Continue reading →

The Rise of the Active ETFs

By David Snowball

Active ETFs are a sort of hybrid between more-traditional ETFs and actively-managed mutual funds. Like traditional ETFs, they trade on the secondary market which means that the advisor doesn’t need to keep cash on hand in order to meet day-to-day withdrawal needs. Some of the expenses traditionally borne by the advisor either don’t exist (ETFs have fewer shareholder reports than, by law, mutual funds do) or are shifted to the brokerage firm. They also offer a structural tax advantage: shareholders aren’t responsible for the yearly tax consequences (and record-keeping) of the manager’s moves; shareholders are taxed only when they Continue reading →

Launch Alert: Harbor International Small Cap (HIISX)

By David Snowball

On May 23, 2019, Harbor Capital Advisors did a hard reset on Harbor International Small Cap (HIISX). Over its first three years, the fund’s returns trailed nearly three-quarters of its peers with only a tiny bit less volatility. Harbor chose to empanel a new subadvisor, Cedar Street Asset Management which was founded in April of 2016, is an employee-owned investment management firm and has $220 million in assets under management as of May 31, 2019. Since Cedar Street brings a distinct strategy that has little in common with their predecessors, MFO classifies this as Continue reading →

Launch Alert: Palm Valley Capital Fund (PVCMX)

By David Snowball

On April 30, 2019, Palm Valley Capital Management launched their first, and likely only, fund: Palm Valley Capital Fund (PVCMX). The managers are seeking long-term total return. The plan is to invest in a compact portfolio of high-quality, substantially undervalued small cap stocks.

What are they planning to do?

Their goal is to provide “an attractive Continue reading →

Matthews Asia Value (MAVRX / MAVAX)

By David Snowball

Objective and strategy

Matthews Asia Value pursues long-term capital growth by investing in a diversified portfolio of securities of undervalued companies from the Asian region. The target is firms that are high quality, undervalued with strong balance sheets, focused on their shareholders, and well-positioned to take advantage of Asia’s economic and financial evolution. The goal is to buy shares at a discount of 30% or more to their calculation of intrinsic value.

It is an all-cap portfolio, which translates to Continue reading →