Category Archives: Mutual Fund Commentary

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 →

The long and short of a defensive fund

By David Snowball

People bandy about the phrase “long/short fund” as if it had meaning. It does not. It is, instead, a catch-all term  that includes funds with very different objectives and very different strategies, including some funds that do no shorting at all. Some short individual stocks, some short groups of stocks through ETFs and others short entire markets. Some are market-neutral, some are permanently defensive, some switch between defense and offense, others are always playing offense.

A 2013 analysis of all funds listed as “long/short”  in Morningstar’s database by Long Short Advisors found “just 25 funds that are Continue reading →

Grandeur Peak reopening: the limited time offer

By David Snowball

On January 14, 2019, Grandeur Peak announced the partial reopening of four of their funds: Global Opportunities, International Opportunities, Global Reach and Emerging Markets Opportunities funds. The first three had been hard closed, while the last had been soft-closed. Under the terms of the reopening, the funds are open to additional purchases by existing shareholders but also to new shareholders willing to purchase the funds directly from Grandeur Peak Funds at  Financial advisors and retirement plans with clients in one of these funds will be able to continue investing in the fund for both existing as well as new clients.

Long-term investors should take this opportunity seriously. Continue reading →

Launch Alert: FPA Flexible Income Fund (FPFIX)

By David Snowball

On December 31, 2018, FPA launched FPA Flexible Income Fund (FPFIX). The fund seeks to provide long-term total return, which includes income and capital appreciation, while considering capital preservation. This marks FPA’s first new bond fund since becoming adviser to FPA New Income (FPNIX) in 1984. Morningstar celebrates New Income for “a strong management, process, and risk/reward profile and has been a safe haven from losses and bond-market excess.” FPA hopes to leverage those virtues by applying them to a fund that has permission, but not the obligation, to follow a modestly more aggressive path.

FPA tends to be the home of absolute Continue reading →

Briefly Noted

By David Snowball


Effective January 1, 2019, Castle Financial & Retirement Planning Associates discontinued its voluntary fee waiver for All-Terrain Opportunity (TERIX) and will not seek reimbursement of any fees it voluntarily waived.

Welcome back to our readers employed by the Securities and Exchange Commission! The whole “shut the government down” thing struck me as unproductive lunacy and ended up with a number of our readers (most visibly the SEC folks) furloughed. Continue reading →

Optimism is not always the answer

By David Snowball

But, it is, in general, the best place to begin the search for the answer. Optimists, who assume things will work out, tend to see more paths forward, more options worth considering, than pessimists (often dubbing themselves “realists”) who know that it’s eternally time to duck-and-cover.

The word “optimism” entered the English language (1759, in French 1737) several generations before pessimism (1794) did. 

The psychological research on Continue reading →

Terrific twos: Intriguing funds not yet on your radar

By David Snowball

Most funds don’t show up on investors’ radar until they have at least a three year record, which is also the point at which they receive their inaugural Morningstar rating. That’s a generally sensible, sometimes silly constraint since many funds that have been operating for fewer than three years are actually long-tested strategies managed by highly experienced professionals which are just coming to market in a new form. Relatively recent examples of such funds include Andrew Foster’s Seafarer Overseas Growth & Income (SFGIX), Rajiv Jain’s GQG Partners Emerging Markets Equity (GQGPX), Abhay Deshpande’s Centerstone Investors (CETAX), and Amit Wadhwaney’s Moerus Worldwide (MOWNX). Collectively, those four managers had overseen more than $100 billion using strategies later embodied in their “too new to be on the radar” funds.

As a result, MFO Premium has Continue reading →

Launch Alert: Artisan International Small-Mid Fund (ARTJX)

By David Snowball

Effective 4 December 2018, the Artisan Partners officially rechristened Artisan International Small Cap as Artisan International Small-Mid Fund. Four other consequential changes were attendant to it:

On 15 October 2018, the fund reopened to new investors

On that same date, a new manager, Rezo Kanovich, took control of the fund. Mr. Kanovich and his analyst team, all of whom resigned on rather short notice, have guided Oppenheimer International Small-Mid Company (OSMAX) since early 2012.

On 4 December 2018, the fund’s investment guidelines formally changed to broaden the investable universe, though Continue reading →

Launch Alert: Centaur Total Return (TILDX)

By David Snowball

On November 1, 2018, the Board of Trustees of the Centaur Total Return Fund announced an epochal change: Zeke Ashton, Centaur Fund’s longest-tenured manager and one of its four founding managers, had notified the Board that he intended to resign after a run of 13.5 years. The Board announced an interim management agreement, effective November 15, 2018, under which DCM Advisors, LLC, would assume responsibility for the fund.

While the fund will Continue reading →

Briefly noted

By David Snowball

Both the stock market’s recent volatility and the financial service industry’s ongoing revolution (there’s blood in the streets!) create and foreclose opportunities. Each month we note, briefly, the recent developments that might change the number and nature of opportunities available to you.

And, in the ongoing spirit of our predecessor FundAlarm, we do occasionally point and Continue reading →

December 1, 2018

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

Winter is coming.

I’m so thankful.

Traditionally, year’s end has been a slower time. The growing season has ended, and both the farm fields and the sports fields lie mostly empty in this part of the country. Going out at night is just a touch less attractive when “night” settled in at about 4:30. New projects and wild ambitions are set aside for the new year. Traditionally, it’s a season for festivals and celebrations, only occasionally draped in religious garb. In the northern hemisphere, every religion and every culture seems to have reached the same conclusion: it’s cold, it’s dark, it’s time to get together!

Too, it’s time to reflect on the year just past and all the things we have to be thankful for. (Yes, I was awake pretty much all year in 2018, but that doesn’t change my sense of Continue reading →

Emerging markets value: a rare ray of sunshine from GMO’s strategists

By David Snowball

GMO monthly issues their “7‐Year Asset Class Real Return Forecasts” for 10 – and, beginning this month, 11 – asset classes. Their method is fairly simple: assume that things – P/E ratio, profit margin, sales growth and dividend yield – will revert to “normal” over the next 5-7 years and sketch the line from here to there. The “real” part is that you deduct the effect of inflation from the resulting “nominal” returns.

Several scholars have examined their predictive validity and found it to be pretty robust. One, examining projections from 2000-2010 then comparing them with Vanguard index funds concluded Continue reading →

Of Centaurs and unicorns

By David Snowball

Zeke Ashton never met Brenda Barnes, so far as I can tell. That’s too bad. He had, sometime this fall, his Brenda Barnes Moment. I think he would have enjoyed talking with her about it.

Brenda Barnes was many things but, for the purpose of our story, she was one of the most powerful business leaders in America. She became COO of Pepsi-Cola in 1993 then president and CEO in 1996. Later, as president of Sara Lee, Forbes ranked her as the 8th most powerful woman in the world, just ahead of Oprah Winfrey (2005). That same year, Fortune ranked her third.

But Brenda was not just Continue reading →

Your 2019 funds watchlist: Draft #1

By David Snowball

It is exceedingly unlikely that your best options in the year and years ahead are going to look much like the winners of the past two years. That reflects, in part, the market’s unresolved turmoil and, in part, the fact that the market has been unmoored from reality of late. Commentators fear that “the sugar rush” provided by the Republicans’ indiscriminate tax cut will, at best, fade and, at worst, be followed by a “sugar crash” as the consequences of trillion dollar annual deficits, rising interest costs and global instability begin to hit home.

A quick snip from my most recent newsfeed:

Is Another Market Crash Coming?

The Latest Stock Market Crash Signal Is Blaring Out of Texas

A Market Crash Is Continue reading →

Briefly Noted

By David Snowball


In the three months from September through November, 2018, Morningstar registered 199 new funds. As it turns out, 190 of the 199 are additional share classes for existing funds. Think of share classes as marketing games: The American Funds, for example offer 17 share classes with, literally 17 different expense ratios ranging from 0.20% (529F shares) to 1.80% (529C shares). At base, the adviser creates new share classes as they cut distribution deals with various new constituencies.

Only nine, none of which I find Continue reading →

November 1, 2018

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

It’s fall.

By the oddity of scheduling, Augustana’s fall trimester ended just as it felt that fall had descended. My students decamped on November 1, numbed from long nights of study and challenging finals, anxious to get home for “some real food.” They leave behind a campus preparing itself, at long last, for the sere and snowy season to come. Continue reading →

Who won October?

By David Snowball

October was an exciting month for investors. By various reckonings, it was the worst month since September, 2011. US stocks declined by $2 trillion in value, with Amazon alone dropping $250 billion. It was so bad that Jeff Bezos reportedly had to postpone plans to buy several small countries. Global markets, equity and fixed-income together, shrank by $5 trillion. Unless you ask The Guardian, which tallies the global equity loss at $8 trillion.  That seems unnecessarily depressing (and unattributed), so I resolved not to ask Continue reading →