Category Archives: Mutual Fund Commentary

December 1, 2019

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

Welcome to the last 2019 issue of Mutual Fund Observer. Thanks for being here.

There’s rather a lot going on with this month’s issue whose theme might be “get some perspective while it’s still possible.” We’ll talk a bit about preparing for less hospitable markets. Vanguard’s Total Stock Market Index is up 27% YTD without a notable stumble along the way; it simply doesn’t get more hospitable. Since the economy, earnings and CPI didn’t grow by anywhere near that much, most of the gain comes from “multiple expansion,” the willingness of investors to pay more today than they did yesterday for the same thing. Vanguard itself is not Continue reading →

MFO’s Portfolio Pruning Primer

By David Snowball

We’re near year’s end, decade’s end, and quite possibly the bull market’s end and the economic expansion’s end. It’s been easy to be a bad investor for the past 10 years: the market’s relentless rise, fueled by enormous amounts of fiscal (hello, trillion-dollar deficits!) and monetary (hello, negative real interest rates!) stimulus, had made it likely that even a badly constructed portfolio booked acceptable – perhaps even double-digit – returns.

Do not bet your future on a repeat of that happy pattern.

The Observer’s core beliefs are (1) valuations Continue reading →

Liquidity Risks and Warnings

By David Snowball

What’s the worst that could happen? Managers’ own words on liquidity risks

Liquidity seems like an awfully esoteric concern, something akin to “coverage ratios” or “yield to call calculations.” In general, it feels like background noise.

Your fund managers disagree. New research estimates that 50% of high-yield funds and, more importantly, 15% of all fixed-income funds are vulnerable to a liquidity crunch. To understand what that means, you first need to understand that “liquidity” means. If you need to polish up your understanding of the term – or your ability to explain it to clients – start with the section entitled What’s Liquidity? If you’re rock solid on the concept, then jump ahead to Welcome to a Liquidity Crisis. Continue reading →

Business Cycle Portfolio Strategy

By Charles Lynn Bolin

The mere fact that a belief is common and comfortable does not make it true. Accepting such beliefs makes you part of “the herd,” which is good only when the herd is thriving. But when the herd faces serious threats from hostile changes in their environment, whether it’s drought or wolves, the last thing you want is to have your survival tied tightly to the herd’s.

That holds true in investing, as well as in pastures.

Two such errors animate this month’s essay. First, there appears to be Continue reading →

Small-Cap Dividend Options

By David Snowball

We’ve written in November and December about two excellent options for investors interested in small-cap funds with a dividend focus. Those are Crawford Small Cap Dividend (CDOFX) and North Star Dividend (NSDVX). What might interest you about such funds?

    1. Over the long term, small caps outperform large caps
    2. Over the long term, dividends bolster returns and dampen volatility
    3. There are hundreds of small stocks which pay dividends, but they’re mostly underfollowed and rarely included in passive ETFs / index funds

Readers who would like to Continue reading →

Launch Alert: Virtus KAR International Small-Mid Cap Fund

By David Snowball

On October 1, 2019, Virtus launched Virtus KAR International Small-Mid Cap Fund (VKIAX). The fund is managed by the KAR of the title: Kayne, Anderson Rudnick Investment Management, Virtus’s largest wholly-owned subsidiary. KAR, based in Los Angeles, manages rather more than $17 billion in assets. Across all of their portfolios, KAR emphasizes two core attributes Continue reading →

Funds in Reg

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 not become available until January, which is a really bad problem for those trying to market the funds. Because these funds won’t be trading on the first day of the year, they’re not eligible for “year-to-date” returns reports and reporting services such as Morningstar won’t give them “credit” for Continue reading →

Briefly Noted

By David Snowball

This is a first for us. Aspiriant Defensive Allocation Fund (RMDFX) will be reorganized as a newly created closed-end fund called (ready?) Aspiriant Defensive Allocation Fund that will operate as an interval fund.  The change should occur by the end of the first quarter of 2020.

Closed-end funds? Hard to remember that they’re alive and well. That slice of the industry originated in the 1890s and they’re sort of an open-end mutual/active ETF Continue reading →

November 1, 2019

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

It’s November 1, the traditional beginning of the holiday avoidance season. It’s the time of year when I program-out the local radio stations (not listening to you, Mix96) that switched to the 24/7 Christmas music today and the big box retailers who have declared that November 1 is Black Friday. (Looking at you, Kohls.) I will, with all my might, avoid their tinsel-festooned commercial caverns all of this month, and as much of next as I might.

That’s not because I dislike the year-end holidays. No, quite to the contrary: I’ve always embraced the communal spirit of celebration, the defiance Continue reading →

Living a Rewarding Retirement

By Robert Cochran

Some Thoughts on Social Security, Medicare, and the Markets

I’ve been officially retired for just more than two years. During that time, I have been asked numerous times about when to take Social Security retirement benefits. My general response is that it pays to delay receipt of benefits to age 70. After that, there is no incentive to delay other than potential income taxes.

A recent study, “The Retirement Solution Hiding in Plain Sight” by United Income (June, 2019), indicates most people would say “yes” to making one simple retirement planning decision that could mean more income during retirement. But the same study shows that 96% of retirees take their first Social Security check at Continue reading →

Limiting Choices

By Charles Lynn Bolin

Oddly enough, the most time-consuming part of investing for me is limiting my choices. To simplify and streamline the process, I looked at fund families with top performing mutual funds that are available as no-load funds with low minimum investments through Charles Schwab, Fidelity or Vanguard.

Investment Model

Hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio, in our Continue reading →

Your holiday shopping list starts here: 15/15 funds

By David Snowball

The S&P500 posted, and the DJIA approached, new all-time highs at the end of October while unemployment remained at half century lows. And yet the health of the economy is so fragile that the Federal Reserve felt compelled to cut interest rates for a third time. Skeptics believe that effectively zero-to-negative interest rates is more likely to encourage corporate financial engineering than it is to encourage productive investment. Rupal Bhansali, manager of Ariel Global and Ariel International and now a member of the Barron’s Roundtable, warned that “the market, which had been on steroids, is now on Continue reading →

Castle Focus (MOATX)

By David Snowball

Objective and strategy

Castle Focus Fund seeks long-term capital appreciation. They have a bottom-up, absolute value focus, which means a ready willingness to hold substantial amounts of cash when they’re not able to find good companies selling at substantial discounts. The portfolio is typically comprised of 15 to 30 positions. Currently about 30% of the portfolio is in cash and about 30% is invested in non-US companies.

Adviser

Castle Investment Management, which is Continue reading →

Launch Alert: Avantis International Small Cap Value (AVDV)

By David Snowball

Between September 17 – September 24, 2019, Avantis Investors launched a series of five actively-managed ETFs. They are:

Avantis Emerging Markets Equity ETF AVEM, e.r. 0.33%

Avantis International Equity ETF AVDE, e.r. 0.23%

Avantis International Small Cap Value ETF AVDV, e.r. 0.36%

Avantis U.S. Equity ETF AVUS, e.r. 0.15%

Avantis U.S. Small Cap Value ETF AVUV, e.r. 0.25%

Because of the fundamental Continue reading →

Briefly Noted . . .

By David Snowball

Updates

GMO is now urging you to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. In a new GMO Insights piece titled “Emerging Market Stocks: Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable,” they look at how lackluster emerging market equity returns in recent years have led many to write off the asset class. They note that” value stocks within emerging markets are particularly cheap, trading at their largest discount since December 2001.” Profitably remains solid about EM corporations, despite the obvious headwinds.

Effective October 11, 2019, Inbok Song ceased Continue reading →

October 1, 2019

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

We live, indeed, in interesting times.

You might think you hear in that statement an echo of “an ancient Chinese curse, ‘may you live in interesting time.’” Yes and no. I was thinking of the phrase but it’s not ancient. Also not Chinese. It appears to have been invented in 1936 by a member of the British foreign service who was trying to sound … uh, profound.

The sentiment remains, though the source is not Continue reading →

Getting What You Paid For: High capture ratio funds

By David Snowball

Investors are interested in returns: the answer to the question, “how much are you going to make me?” Sophisticated investors are interested in how those returns are delivered.

Over the current market cycle, Fidelity Blue Chip Growth (FBGRX) has returned 10.7%, among the best of all funds. AMG Yacktman Focus (YAFFX) trails it at 10.5% and costs a lot more to boot (1.27% versus 0.72%). On surface, that’s pretty clear: Fido offers Continue reading →

Sideways Markets

By Charles Lynn Bolin

Every strategy should be evaluated not just on a “benefit of being right”, but at least as importantly, on a “cost of being wrong”, basis…

The Little Book of Sideways Markets, Vitaliy N. Katsenelson

I just finished The Little Book of Sideways Markets (2010) by Vitaliy N. Katsenelson. Mr. Katsenelson is a value investor, an author and CEO of a small but classy Colorado investment advisor; he offers a singularly engaging personal bio on his well-read Contrarian Edge blog. His two books cover the same ground, but are written for different audiences: professional (Active Value Investing) and lay (The Little Book of Sideways Markets). His concern here is with markets that can go up and down for 10 or 20 years and end up near where they started. In this article, I look at investing in a turbulent market which I believe will occur over the Continue reading →

Emerging Market Value investing revisited

By David Snowball

About a year ago we identified emerging markets value funds as one of the market’s few bright spots, at least if valuations are important. (And they are.) Since we published that story, three things occur to us.

  1. Some emerging markets value funds have, indeed, done well.
  2. The long-term case for emerging market value remains strong.
  3. The options for prospective EM value investors have become clearer

Continue reading →