Morningstar to the industry: Move over. We can do it better ourselves.

By David Snowball

On March 6, 2017, Morningstar announced their intention to displace 50 existing mutual funds from their $30 billion Morningstar Managed Portfolio program and replace them with nine brand-new Morningstar-branded funds. Understandably, there’s been a bit of interest in the financial media, though much of it is behind paywalls. (I’m not complaining, by the way. Journalists need to be compensated.) The most notable “free” articles are:

Advisers split on Morningstar’s new mutual funds

Morningstar makes bid to offer mutual funds for exclusive use of advisers

Like everyone else, Morningstar expands its advisory business

By far the most thorough and balanced piece was How and why Morningstar sliced 16 bps for RIAs by dumping third-party mutual funds and stamping its Switzerland brand on its own mutual funds, written by Janice Kirkel of RIABiz. Continue reading →

Nothing Personal, It’s Just Business

By Edward A. Studzinski

“This is the business we’ve chosen. I didn’t ask who gave the order, because it had nothing to do with business.”

Hyman Roth speaking to Michael Corleone in the movie “Godfather II”

Another month has gone by, and the current period of disruption has not only continued, but accelerated in the mutual fund management business. For all but the true believers (or perhaps those holding stock in the publicly-traded fund managers), it should be apparent that we are witnessing not just a cyclical decline, but a secular one.

Let’s start with the settlement between Bill Gross and Continue reading →

Planning a Rewarding Retirement, Part 3: When Should I Start Retirement Plan Withdrawals?

By Robert Cochran

This is the third in a series of articles. 

My original intent was to retire when I turned 70.  However, as I noted in Part 2 of this series, the realization that “it’s time” bumped up my retirement to this fall, when I turn 67.  Thus the mental switch was flipped, then the “Can I afford to retire?” review and decision was made.  A large number of people find that their retirement plan (IRA, 401k, 403b, company pension, profit sharing, or other) account is the biggest part of their financial picture, often bigger than any Social Security benefits for which they qualify.  My own picture is probably not that much different.

Social Security retirement benefits are much more modest than many people realize, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Benefits represent Continue reading →

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Northern Global Tactical Asset Allocation (BBALX), April 2017

By David Snowball


The fund seeks a combination of growth and income. Northern Trust’s Investment Policy Committee develops tactical asset allocation recommendations based on economic factors such as GDP and inflation; fixed-income market factors such as sovereign yields, credit spreads and currency trends; and stock market factors such as domestic and foreign earnings growth and valuations. The managers execute that allocation by investing in other Northern funds and ETFs. As of 12/31/2016, the fund held two Northern funds and nine ETFs.


Northern Trust Investments is part of Northern Trust Corp., a bank founded in 1889. The parent company provides Continue reading →

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iMGP Alternative Strategies Fund (formerly Litman Gregory Masters Alternative Strategies), (MASFX/MASNX), April 2017

By Charles Boccadoro

At the time of publication, this fund was named Litman Gregory Masters Alternative Strategies.

Objective and Strategy

The Litman Gregory Masters Alternative Strategies Fund seeks to provide attractive “all-weather” returns relative to conservative benchmarks, but with lower volatility than the stock market. It seeks this objective through a combination of skilled active managers, high conviction “best ideas,” hedge fund strategies, low beta, and low correlation to stock and bond market indices.

The fund’s risk-averse managers, asset allocations, and hedging strategies position it as an alternative to traditional 80/20% or 60/40% bond/stock portfolios for conservative or Continue reading →

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Grandeur Peak Global Stalwarts/Grandeur Peak International Stalwarts (GGSYX/GISYX), April 2017

By Samuel Lee

Objective and strategy

Grandeur Peak calls fast-growing, high-quality stocks with market capitalizations above $1.5 billion “stalwarts”. They are too big for Grandeur Peak’s small- and micro-cap funds, but too good to let go, so Grandeur Peak rolled out two funds to hold them.

It is a little appreciated fact that most of the gains in the stock market are driven by a handful of runaway winners; most stocks earn sub-par returns. Grandeur Peak’s strategy is to try to find them when they’re small—the tinier, the better—and ride them up. Founder Robert T. Gardiner made an ungodly sum of money applying this strategy for the lucky shareholders of Wasatch Micro Cap (WMICX) from 1995 to 2006. Continue reading →

Launch Alert: 361 US Small Cap Equity ASFQX

By David Snowball

On December 30, 2016, 361 Capital Management launched 361 US Small Cap Equity (ASFQX). This fund is the newest embodiment of an investment strategy initiated by John Riddle and Mark Jaeger of BRC Investment Management. Messrs. Riddle and Jaeger co-founded BRC in 2005, then merged with 361 Capital in October 2016. BRC was managing about $800 million in assets at the time of the merger, 361 had about $1.3 billion.

What do you need to know? Continue reading →

old license plates on a wall

Funds in Registration

By David Snowball

Some months, fund registrations are just weird. Perhaps that’s “the new normal,” a phrase that we’re allowed to use again now that former PIMCO chief Bill Gross and current PIMCO management have hugged, made up and announced that they can’t even remember what the silly fight was all about. PIMCO wrote a check of $81 million to Mr. Gross, which Mr. Gross rounded up to $100 million … and gave it to his own charitable foundation.  Beyond that, a fund about childhood, one with a $350 million minimum investment, nine Morningstar funds that you can’t have (and might not want), three inexplicable ones and a couple that are reasonably promising. Continue reading →

old alarm clock

Manager changes, March 2017

By Chip

It’s really rare that the world’s largest investment firm stages a full-scale revolution, but the scope of BlackRock’s changes this month – including the dismissal of 30 investment professionals including seven lead managers and the shift of billions in assets to new quant-based disciplines – seems to have that feel. Not quite a whiff of desperation but certainly determination. And, oh yes, investing legend Mark Mobius has moved into the shadows and 70 other funds underwent less changes. Continue reading →

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Briefly Noted

By David Snowball


Third Avenue Management, Marty Whitman and former president David Barse have agreed to a $14.25 million cash settlement of a lawsuit brought on behalf of investors in Third Avenue Focused Credit. The fund, if you recall, made headlines first through huge losses in the completely illiquid positions that dominated the portfolio, then by moving all of its assets into a locked trust which kept investors from reclaiming their money. The plan was to liquidate the illiquid when “rational” prices prevailed; after about 18 months, that process is still not complete. The whole mess has cost Third Avenue over $3 billion in assets and threatened its Continue reading →