Category Archives: Mutual Fund Commentary

January 1, 2020

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

Welcome to the New Year. May it be blessed and joyful, full of mirth and mischief (really, what’s life without a bit of mischief?) for us all.

As I finish this essay on New Year’s Eve Day, the stock market is handing out returns with the enthusiasm (and responsibility) of a politician handing out tax cuts or a central banker handing out liquidity boosts. The Vanguard Total Stock Market Index (VTSMX) stands to end the year with a 30% gain.

Heck, it was almost impossible Continue reading →

“We’re here because you’re looking for the best of the best of the best, sir!”

By David Snowball

When I first started writing regularly about funds and investing, it was as an analyst for FundAlarm, a site whose publisher proclaimed

Our view of the mutual fund industry is slightly off-center. We help you decide when it’s time to sell a fund, instead of when it’s time to buy. The mutual fund industry is full of broken promises, arrogance, greed, hypocrisy — the list goes on. We try to shine a light in the darker corners, and poke holes in balloons that could use some poking.

In honoring that heritage, we routinely Continue reading →

In celebration of Ted Didesch (1937-2019)

By David Snowball

On 9 December 2019, the longest-tenured member of the MFO Discussion Board passed away. Theodore J. Didesch, universally known as “Ted” though he dearly wished for the sobriquet “The Linkster,” died of congestive heart failure.

We mourn his passing even as we celebrate his life. I’d like to share a few words about Ted, interspersed with the comments left by other members of our community on a memorial thread.

FundAlarm launched its “moderated Bulletin Board” in 1998. Ted arrived Continue reading →

Vanguard – I can get it for you retail!

By Ira Artman

By Ira Artman, December 2019

Do we pay attention to the competitive environment? Absolutely. Are we reactive to what one competitor does? Absolutely not…

Investors always have to ask themselves when they see an offering like this [zero fee expense ratio mutual funds], ‘What’s the catch?”‘ The question becomes what else are investors going to be charged in other products? … Continue reading →

Launch Alert: Harbor Robeco US Conservative Equities

By David Snowball

On December 2, 2009, Harbor Funds launched six new offerings, including four overtly “conservative equities” funds. Those funds are:

  • Harbor Robeco US Conservative Equities
  • Harbor Robeco International Conservative Equities
  • Harbor Robeco Global Conservative Equities
  • Harbor Robeco EM Conservative Equities

All four are being advised by a team from Continue reading →

Briefly Noted

By David Snowball


Seafarer thrills! Russ Kinnel, anyway. Russ’s December 30thThe Thrilling 34” article sought to create “a short list of outstanding funds accessible to individual investors.” The plan was to screen for the more important investment factors, “and let them do the weeding for me.”  They are

  • Expense ratio in the category’s cheapest quintile.
  • Manager investment of more than $1 million in the fund.
  • Morningstar Risk rating below the High level.
  • Morningstar Analyst Rating of Bronze or higher.
  • Parent rating better than average/neutral.
  • Returns above the fund’s benchmark for a minimum of five years.
  • Must be a share class accessible to individual investors

On a list dominated by Continue reading →

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 →