Category Archives: Mutual Fund Commentary

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 →

Around the Isle in Eleven Days

By David Snowball

Chip and I aspire to travel internationally once every two years. Our hope, in part, is to get far away from the noise long enough that we actually manage to unwind. Our ideal trips feature cool sites, the opportunity to sit and talk with people, and one outstanding meal a day. Two years ago that took place in Scotland, this year Ireland, and two years hence, Italy. Continue reading →

Thirty days in The Shadows

By David Snowball

I write, frequently, with admiration and gratitude, about the contributions TheShadow makes both to our discussion board and to our final double-check of coverage in each month’s Briefly Noted column. For those wondering exactly how much cool stuff one person might extract from the swamp of SEC filings each month, here are The Shadow’s contributions for the month of June 2019.

The live, clickable version Continue reading →

Briefly Noted

By David Snowball

Updates

“At a special meeting held on June 7, 2019, shareholders of Nuveen High Income Bond Fund did not approve the proposed reorganization of the Fund into TIAA-CREF High-Yield Fund that was previously approved by the Board of Directors of the Fund in December 2018 … the Board will review and take such action as it deems to be in the best interests of the Fund, including continuing to operate the Fund as described in the prospectus, liquidating the Fund, or such other options the Board may consider. Fund shareholders will be notified when the Board approves a course of action for the Fund.”

Shareholder democracy in action! The shareholders say “no” and Continue reading →

June 1, 2019

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

Oops … I did it again!

On May 19, 2019, I helped launch my 35th cohort of Augustana grads on an unsuspecting world. With modest pomp, stirring music, one thoughtful address (that no one will remember) and one clunky one (likewise, thank God), I participated in the college’s 159th commencement. Afterward, by long tradition, the graduates filtered through the throng of faculty, exchanging tears and laughter, thanks and hugs.

And then they were gone. It’s bittersweet to have a career forever predicated upon bidding farewell to amazing young folks just as they hit their stride. They were a challenge, and they’re Continue reading →

Launch Alert: Zeo Sustainable Credit Fund (ZSRIX)

By David Snowball

On May 31, 2019, Zeo Capital Advisors launched Zeo Sustainable Credit Fund (ZSRIX). The fund seeks to provide risk-adjusted total returns consisting of income and moderate capital appreciation. This marks the launch of Zeo’s second fund, after Zeo Short Duration Income (ZEOIX).

ZEOIX has performed exceedingly well over its eight years. The fund’s risk-adjusted returns have been best-in-class and its expenses have fallen. The limitation perceived by some of its major investors is that it is duration-constrained; that is, it doesn’t have the flexibility to pursue many attractive longer-duration opportunities. ZSRIX is designed to Continue reading →

Launch Alert: Cannabis Growth Fund (CANNX/CANIX)

By David Snowball

On February 22, 2019, Foothill Capital Management launched the Cannabis Growth Fund (CANNX/CANIX). The fund seeks to provide long-term capital appreciation through investing globally in companies “engaged exclusively in legal cannabis activities under applicable national and local laws, including U.S. federal and state law.” This marks the launch Continue reading →

Briefly Noted

By David Snowball

Updates

The Balter Invenomic Fund (BIVIX) is in the process of shedding Balter. As a practical matter, that will translate to a name change, Invenomic Fund, and little more. BIVIX is, as we noted in our May 2019 profile, an exceptionally strong performer with steady asset growth.  The manager is both talented and self-assured, so I’m not particularly concerned though I am curious. The proxy document offers this somewhat cryptic explanation for the change:

BLA (i.e., Balter Liquid Alts) informed the Board that it was making this request because it is currently exiting the investment advisory business due to uncertainty involving a “seed investor” which could potentially affect its ability to provide services to the Fund and other funds in the future. BLA believes that this transition is in the best interest of the Fund and its shareholders as it will provide continuity for the Fund and create a more direct relationship between shareholders and Invenomic. The seed investor currently holds a non-voting equity interest in BLA and initially contributed seed capital for the Fund. 

Continue reading →

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 →

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 →