April 1, 2018

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

It’s spring.

It’s snowing.

Happy Easter.

Or Happy Eostre, if you prefer. The timing of Easter appears to be another instance of religious plagiarism, as early Christians borrowed a pagan spring festival as the (endlessly variable) date on which to celebrate the Resurrection. We don’t know that Eostre actually was a pagan goddess, since only the Venerable Bede testifies to her existence. Still, it makes sense and would be a great time to be hopeful.

So, Felices Pascuas and/or chag Continue reading →

Democratizing Quant: An Update on Alpha Architect

By Charles Boccadoro

“In investing, what is comfortable is rarely profitable.”

        Robert Arnott

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

        Benjamin Franklin

MFO profiled Alpha Architect’s US Quantitative Value ETF  (QVAL) in December 2014, shortly after the fund’s launch and after our colleague, Sam Lee, praised QVAL’s strategy in a Morningstar piece, entitled “A Deep Value Quantitative Hedge Fund Strategy.” The firm’s CEO Wes Gray first impressed us during his presentation “Beware of Geeks Bearing Formula” at Morningstar’s ETF Conference in Chicago earlier that same year.

I had a chance to visit Wes, his partner and CIO/CFO Jack Vogel, and the rest of his team recently at the Alpha Architect office in Broomall, Pennsylvania. The picturesque town is nearby Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore Colleges; Villanova and Drexel Universities; and The Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania. Wes earned his PhD from University of Chicago, with Nobel Prize Continue reading →

Snowball’s portfolio

By David Snowball

Roy Weitz, founder of FundAlarm and sort of godfather to MFO, annually shared his portfolio, and his reflections on it, with his readers. He owned up to his mistakes, talked through his logic and revealed his plans. When I began contributing to FundAlarm, he encouraged me to do likewise. This essay, then, is an annual “think aloud” exercise that might help you imagine how to make more informed, satisfying decisions for yourself. In constructing it, I drew on my reading and conversations with managers as well as the tools available at Morningstar and MFO Premium.

I’ve thought long and hard to create a portfolio that allows me to be dumb and lazy. My overarching goal is to have a portfolio that lets me Continue reading →

Popping the Balloon

By Edward A. Studzinski

“We live in an age of great events and little men.”

       Winston S. Churchill

We have made it through another month, and another quarter. It was not quite so painless for either investors or money managers, as year to date the S&P 500 has now dropped into negative territory. Volatility is clearly back. And while active managers made a valiant effort during the last week of the quarter to move the averages back up into positive territory, it was not to be.

What comes next? Stocks are Continue reading →

The Morningstar Minute

By David Snowball

Morningstar’s analysts can cover a limited number of funds, “those investments that are most relevant to investors and that hold a significant portion of industry assets.” When analysts cover a fund, they issue a forward-looking rating based on five research-driven “pillars.” Those ratings are described by medal assignments: Gold, Silver, Bronze, Neutral and Negative. The analyst ratings are distinct from the iconic star ratings; the star ratings are backward looking (they tell you how a fund did based on risk and return measures) while the analyst ratings are forward-looking (they aspire to tell you how a fund will do based on a broader set of Continue reading →

The 15 / 15 Funds

By David Snowball

It was ridiculously easy to make 15% total returns in 2017. 3,406 funds managed the feat.

And it was not particularly hard to hold 15% cash in 2017, though it was certainly unpopular with investors. 970 funds held that level of cash, either as collateral on derivative purchases, as a defensive move, or from the inability to find suitable investments.

Making 15% is good. It’s about 50% above the Continue reading →

great horned owl

Guinness Atkinson Global Innovators (IWIRX)

By David Snowball

Objective and strategy

The fund seeks long term capital growth through investing in what they deem to be 30 highly innovative, reasonably valued, companies from around the globe. They take an eclectic approach to identifying global innovators. They read widely (for example Fast Company and MIT’s Technology Review, as well as reports from the Boston Consulting Group and Thomson Reuters) and maintain ongoing conversations with folks in a variety of industries. That leads them to identify a manageable set of themes (from artificial intelligence to clean energy) which seem to be driving global innovation. They then identify companies substantially exposed to those themes (about 1000), then weed out the financially challenged (taking the list down to 500). Having identified a potential addition to the portfolio, they also Continue reading →

Launch Alert: T. Rowe Price Multi-Strategy Total Return Fund

By David Snowball

On February 23, 2018, T. Rowe Price launched Multi-Strategy Total Return (TMSRX / TMSSX) which combines six liquid-alt strategies in a single package. These multi-strategy or multi-alternative funds function in the way that hedged funds were originally envisioned to: they combine strategies whose returns are not dependent on the movements of the broad equity and bond markets and, ideally, are not correlated with each other. The goal is to produce the Continue reading →

old alarm clock

Manager changes, April 2018

By Chip

There were more than 57 funds that modified their management teams this month; the “more than” reflects the fact that one manager was pulled off literally uncounted Global X funds. While few of the changes are immediately consequential, several signal an impending changing of the guard. John B Walthausen, now in his 70s, has added a co-manager to the two Walthausen funds. Billy Hwan is joining Jerome L Dodson, also in his 70s, as co-manager of Parnassus Endeavor. Moving in the opposite direction, Thomas Marsico is moving to pick up responsibility for another fund, Marsico Flexible Capital, after several Continue reading →

old license plates on a wall

Funds in Registration

By David Snowball

The SEC requires advisers to give them 75 days to review and comment upon any proposed new fund offering. During those 75 days, the advisers aren’t permitted to say anything about the funds except “please refer to our public filing with the SEC.” This month there are 17 no-load retail funds and actively managed ETFs in the pipeline. I’m most intrigued by two funds that aren’t actually new: Seven Canyons Strategic Income and Seven Canyons World Innovators are the rechristened versions of two Wasatch funds, both managed by Wasatch founder Samuel Stewart. Mr. Stewart, now 75, appears to be distancing himself from the firm, though we don’t know the circumstances behind it. The Wasatch website, including Mr. Stewart’s most recent shareholder letter, offers no hints concerning the change. Wasatch has seen steady outflows every quarter since Q2 2014, with a net outflow of around $5.5 billion. One could imagine the departure of these funds, and the merger of Wasatch Long/Short into Wasatch Global Value (see this month’s “Briefly Noted” for details), as attempts to Continue reading →