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 →

Rearranging the Deck Chairs

By Edward A. Studzinski

Democracy is grounded upon so childish a complex of fallacies that they must be protected by a rigid system of taboos, else even half-wits would argue it to pieces. Its first concern must thus be to penalize the free play of ideas. In the United States, this is not only its first concern, but also its last concern.

Henry Louis Mencken, In Defense of Women (1918)

We are at that time of year when people should be Continue reading →

great horned owl

North Star Dividend Fund (NSDVX), December 2019

By David Snowball

Objective and strategy

For North Star Dividend, generating dividend income is the primary goal. Capital appreciation comes second. They pursue that goal by investing primarily in dividend-paying small- and micro-cap stocks. They typically target stocks under $1 billion in market cap, which is quite low even for a small-cap fund. Their preference is for stocks yielding over 3%.

The fund’s strategy has them seeking companies with market capitalizations of less than $1 billion that pay dividends, have a history of paying and increasing dividends, and have high free cash flow and attractive values, as measured by their Continue reading →

Elevator Talk: Joseph Shaposhnik, TCW New America Premier Equities (TGUSX/TGUNX)

By David Snowball

Since the number of funds we can cover in-depth is smaller than the number of funds worthy of in-depth coverage, we’ve decided to offer one or two managers each month the opportunity to make a 200-word pitch to you. That’s about the number of words a slightly-manic elevator companion could share in a minute and a half. In each case, I’ve promised to offer a quick capsule of the fund and a link back to the fund’s site. Other than that, they’ve got 200 words and precisely as much of your time and attention as you’re willing to share. These aren’t endorsements; they’re opportunities to learn more.

Joe Shaposhnik manages TGUSX which launched January 29, 2016. The underlying strategy, launched on 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 →

old license plates on a wall

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 →

old alarm clock

Manager Changes, November 2019

By Chip

Because the manager change at Elfun Diversified (ELDFX) made Chip’s brain itch (“I’m sorry. ‘Elf Fun,’ what on earth is that about?”) I wanted to take a moment to explain the distinctive moniker. The Elfun funds were originally part of the General Electric retirement system. Their names are a contraction of “Electric Funds.” In a remembrance of his recently-deceased father, Walt Thiessen wrote:

Elfun (short for “electric fund”) was originally a Continue reading →

fountain pen writing a note

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 →