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 →

sky divers falling through the clouds

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 →

Brand or Generic?

By Edward A. Studzinski

The Romans had a maxim, “Shorten your weapons and lengthen your frontiers.” But our maxim seems to be, “Diminish your weapons and increase your obligations.” Aye, and diminish the weapons of your friends.

Winston S. Churchill, speech to the House of Commons, 14 March 1934

There has been a lot of discussion in recent months about the Kraft Heinz 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 →

Introducing MFO Premium’s Compare Funds Tool

By Charles Boccadoro

The Compare Funds tool displays all the data from MultiSearch Results table, our main search tool on the MFO Premium site, for up to 10 funds in an easy-to-compare and export/pdf format. Basically, it transposes the table from horizontal to vertical orientation. Thanks to our friends at Gaia Capital Management for requesting this display feature.

We use the Oakmark fund family to illustrate. Here’s summary only risk and return metrics across the current full market cycle through Continue reading →

windmills against an evening sky

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 →

great horned owl

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 →

old license plates on a wall

Funds in registration

By David Snowball

Before funds and ETFs can be offered to the public, they’ve got to be submitted to the SEC which has 70 days to review the application. In general, advisers try to launch just before year’s end because that allows them to have clean “year to date” and calendar year results to share. These launches will likely occur in late May or June so that they’ll at least have full-quarter results for 2019 Q3.

The team behind Harbor Focused International has been recognized as one of the best asset managers in Europe, while the advisers behind DoubleLine Emerging Markets Local Currency Bond Fund and Vanguard Global ESG Select Stock Fund are among the best in US fixed income and equity investing, respectively. And yet, the Kensington Managed Income Fund might have the best underlying performance of them all. That makes it a Continue reading →

old alarm clock

Manager changes, March 2019

By Chip

It’s been a quiet but consequential month on the manager change front. While Chip tracked down changes at just 28 funds, barely one-third of what we see in many months, a couple of the changes strike me as worth following.

The unexplained departures of Messrs Cipolloni and Saylor from Berywn Income (BERIX) is a game-changer, and a fund changer. The pair had been managing the fund together for a dozen years with a distinctive Continue reading →

fountain pen writing a note

Briefly Noted . . .

By David Snowball

Each month we share developments in the industry that are, individually, to minor to warrant their own story. Since about three-quarters of it are stories of failure and the subsequent thrashing about, it mostly gets downplayed. This month saw, in particular, the liquidation of a lot of funds that were trying to deal with a low-interest rate, high stock valuation world: their names invoke global allocations and global bonds, alternative and unconstrained income, flexible opportunities and the occasional quantamental bent. Continue reading →