Favorite Funds Update - Small Cap Growth Category
Mutual funds that invest in smaller cap stocks are a frustrating breed. Just when they start looking good, they attract loads of investor money and get too big to keep it going.
When we first picked Janus Triton (JATTX) in May 2007, it had just under $300 million in assets. As a fund family, Janus had fallen far out of favor by then, having lorded over mostly larger cap growth funds that all owned the same nifty-fifty, high P/E growth stocks in the tech bubble, only to see most funds and assets under management fall hard in 2000-2003.
By 2007, most fund investors were also favoring value and dividend-oriented funds (after getting burned in growth in 2000, probably in Janus funds, with a smattering of PBHG, Firsthand, and Van Wagoner funds thrown in for diversification…). This was not long before the banks collapsed and the so-called Great Recession began.
Fast forward to today, and growth stocks beat value stocks (remember banks were value stocks with high dividends). Most relevantly, Janus Triton has killed the typical fund in its fund category, the S&P 500, and small cap value. Of course, good performance doesn’t go unnoticed. Earlier this year, Triton tipped the scales at about $2 billion. Imagine trying to place that into fifty small cap stocks. Each holding would need $40 million – or 10% of the outstanding shares of a small cap $400 million dollar company. Keep in mind most funds don’t equally weight stocks. They own maybe 5% of fund assets in their top picks. That’s a $100 million dollar stake. Now the two managers running this fund own 85 holdings. The top pick is SBA Communications (SBAC), a nearly $5 billion dollar market cap stock prior to the 2011 stock slide. That’s a small cap fund pick?
At this point, you'd do better over the next three years in a small cap growth index (though not until now), and save on the higher active management fees (although Triton fund is not that expensive). Triton’s days in the top 1% of small cap growth funds, where it has been in recent years, are likely over. Note that index funds tend to have slightly more downside during down markets than similar actively managed funds.
At $214 million in assets, our replacement, Nicholas Limited Edition Class N (NNLEX), is still small enough to pick good companies. The established company behind the fund has had a good record with their other similar funds. This fund also carries a bit less risk than Triton, which we recommend until smaller cap growth is better positioned to beat the market. Keep an eye on the MAXfunds category rating for small cap growth.
To view the complete list of small cap growth favorites, click here.
Favorite Funds Update - Small-Cap Value Category
We’ve been using and recommending Royce funds for most of the 2000s – the decade of small-cap. We’ve had great returns with our current small-cap value favorite PENNX and several other Royce funds that have appeared both in our model portfolios and as favorites. However, we’re making a broad call on Royce as a family similar to the one we made in 2000 on Janus: it’s time to move on.
Royce has too much money under management and is focusing too heavily on stocks we think are in for a lousy few years. In 2000 this over-allocation was Janus’ love of larger cap high P/E growth and tech stocks. In 2011 that is Royce and smaller-cap gold mining stocks. This fund and many Royce funds have too large a stake in gold mines. I’m sure the stock experts at Royce would beg to differ, but then so could Janus managers about our take on large cap growth stocks in 2000.
To view the complete list of our favorite small-cap value funds, click here.
Revamped Our Favorite Funds List
Please check out our newly revamped and updated Our Favorite Funds section. In it you'll find a complete list of our single favorite fund in each of 24 fund categories, as well as our favorite exchange traded fund, low minimum, and no transaction fee options for each category.
Take That Rick Santelli
CNBC reporter Rick Santelli recently had his 15 minutes of fame when he went on a rant about having to pay for the mistakes of 'losers' through a recently announced government mortgage payment subsidy program. He then made the very big mistake of standing up the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Payback was delivered in the form of a mini-documentary of bad CNBC advice and commentary spanning the Dow's slide from over 14,000 to under 7,000.
Surprisingly the Daily Show doesn't note that the parent company of CNBC, GE, has received government support in the form of over a hundred billion in taxpayer backing of GE debt, without which GE could have failed during the commercial paper panic of 2008.
As the Great Real Estate Bubble deflates, those without sin should cast the first stone.
Leverage - Some Funds Are Hurtin' For Certain Too
While Buffett warns against the use of leverage, Wall Street and the banking system decided that leveraging up into high return, low risk assets (like real estate...) was a great idea.
Mutual funds that use leverage - primarily closed end funds but also newfangled 130/30 funds, had a crummy 2008.
In recent years, more mutual funds have used borrowed money to juice returns and lure investors. Now, they are discovering the downside of leverage, and some are cutting back.
Early last year, Wall Street was heavily promoting several new types of funds that rely on borrowing money. These include so-called 130/30 funds that aim to amplify market returns by betting against some stocks, as well as "leveraged index" funds, which promise to double the return of a market index or double its inverse.
At the same time, closed-end funds, many of which have used leverage for decades, were growing rapidly until 2007.
While borrowing money can improve returns in good times, it also widens losses in bad times, and that is what happened in 2008. Some of these funds ended the year with even greater losses than the market as a whole. For instance, of the 15 mutual funds that apply the 130/30 strategy for U.S. stocks, only a third beat the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index in 2008, according to Morningstar Inc. Some of the laggards fell behind the index by five percentage points.
We remain amused by the mutual fund industrial complex's ability to generate new ideas to sell shortly before the market takes a long trip south.
Eighth Annual Mutual Fund Turkey Awards
It's Not an Honor Just to be Nominated.
Not exactly a rare breed even in the best of times, the Fund Turkey multiplies exponentially when the market turns south.
A bear market is a high-powered headlight bar across the top of your fund research pickup truck, shining a spotlight on bull market excess. Tis the season to hunt Fund Turkeys (squawking all the way about investing abroad or in commodities), and thin this breed.
So without further ado, it's high time for our 8th annual Fund Turkey Awards!
The "Audacity of Hope" Award
Winner: Bear Stearns
At the top of the list of suckers for the real estate bubble
was is Bear Stearns, the century-old Wall Street investment bank that collapsed well before the other leveraged "Masters of the Universe” suffered similar fates. What started innocuously enough with leveraged mortgage debt hedge funds didn’t end until the entire firm lay in ruins.
But failure's no reason to give up! You have to give Bear props for launching the first actively managed ETF, Bear Stearns Current Yield ETF (YYY). So what did this innovative new fund invest in? Mortgage securities. Naturally.
Bear's final hurrah didn’t last long. In September , the fund's Board of Trustees unanimously approved its liquidation "in the best interests of the Fund and its shareholders.”
Former Fund Turkey winner/loser Garrett Van Wagoner proves that a broken clock can be wrong all the time. Van Wagoner Emerging Growth (VWEGX) is down more than 50% this year – its third 50%+ calendar year drop in the past eight years.
The fund recently got a new subadvisor (Husic) and name (Embarcadero Small Cap Growth). Now the fund can embark on a new Van Wagoner-free era.
Bubble 1.0 wonderfund Firsthand Technology Value (TVFQX) doesn't look much better, having also fallen over 50% this year. The fund plummeted more than 56% in 2002, but a mere 44% drop in 2001 keeps this fund off the three-time-50%-plus-loser list.
The “Value Bubble” Award
Winner: Too many to list
Our current bear market has proven that focusing on fundamentals and valuations – dividends, book value, price-to-earnings ratios, and other Benjamin Graham good stuff – doesn’t work so well when earnings themselves are enclosed in a bubble.
The 2000 market was one of only 50 P/E ratios in which stocks traded on optimistic expectations for future earnings growth. This time around, the P/E ratios were sensible; it was the earnings that were in a bubble.
Many bank, natural resource, energy, real estate, and other old-economy stocks (those that don’t go belly up) won't see their (inflation-adjusted) future earnings return to their recent highs for another decade or so. Unfortunately for many Dodge & Cox, Legg Mason, and T. Rowe Price funds, as well as giant value funds like Vanguard Windsor (VWNDX), falling farther than many growth funds in a down market is indeed a reality. Did we mention Vanguard Capital Value Fund (VCVLX) was down 55% this year?
The “What Real Estate Bubble?” Award
Co-Winners: Marty Whitman and Bill Nygren
Third Avenue Value (TAVFX) is down over 50% year-to-date, thanks to Marty “I’m Back with Ambac” Whitman’s ill-fated real estate bubble bets. The famed Oakmark Select I Fund (OAKLX) hasn't fared much better from Bill “Woo-Hoo for WaMu” Nygren’s not-so-deft calls. Nygren is coming off of a bad 2007 to boot.
Whitman laid out the case to shareholders for MBIA Inc. (MBI) shortly before it collapsed even further. His big moves abroad to Japan and into distressed debt proved equally ill-timed.
Many fund managers were just as deluded about the real estate bubble, and many more owned stock in the now infamous blowups of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Washington Mutual, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Citigroup, etc. But some managers simply bet the farm on companies going way overboard lending money to no-money-down buyers of inflated homes.
Perhaps fund managers focused too much on the ‘value’ -- earnings, sales, branches, growth -- and too little on the scary scenario developing in the real estate market.
The “My, How the Mighty Have Fallen” Award
Winner: Bill “Freddie Friendster” Miller
Remember Bill Miller, the famous fund manager boasting the longest streak of calendar year S&P 500-beating performances – the one that ended in 2006? Well, he missed the mark in 2007. And so far in 2008, he’s not even in the ballpark.
So why blame a guy who beat the benchmark for years? Did you see Bill’s 2008 return? Down over 60% thus far. You’d have fared better buying the S&P 500 ten years ago. In fact, if you'd invested in the S&P 500 15 years ago, you would have beaten Miller’s flagship fund, Legg Mason Value Prim (LMVTX).
The “Too Smart For Their Own Good Award”
Winner: Wall Street
What is it that Wall Street actually does? There are people with money to invest, and companies with a genuine need for investors. Wall Street stands in the middle, inventing financial products to hustle instead of acting as sensible intermediaries between borrowers and investors. Somewhere along the way, investment banks became heads-I-win, tails-you-lose leveraged hedge funds.
If any of the big investment banks survive the crisis they've brought upon themselves, a word of advice from MAXfunds: financial engineer less, consider the investment merits of what you sell more.
The “Ultimate Charlatan” Award
Winner: Harry S. Dent
The worst investing advice usually arrives near the top and bottom of stock market cycles. Demographic trends guru Harry S. Dent is making the rounds again, and touting his latest book, The Great Depression Ahead: How to Prosper in the Crash Following the Greatest Boom in History.
Out in January 2009, the book arrives just in time to profit from the market downturn. When the new book drops, those who made massive profits after reading Dent's The Next Great Bubble Boom: How to Profit from the Greatest Boom in History: 2006-2010 (published in January 2006 at the very peak of the real estate bubble) can parlay their winnings into even greater profits.
In his 2006 work, Dent predicts, “The Dow hitting 40,000 by the end of the decade, the Nasdaq advancing at least ten times from its October 2001 lows to around 13,500, and potentially as high as 20,000 by 2009…The Great Boom resurging into its final and strongest stage in 2007, and even more fully in 2008, lasting until late 2009 to early 2010.”
Of course, those who read The Roaring 2000s, Dent's 1999 masterpiece, should soon be buying each of us a turkey with all the fixin's. According to the book, only a year remains before the Dow breaks 40,000 and the Nasdaq hits 20,000, at which time we'll simply amplify our fortunes by shorting stocks in the coming depression. We can’t underestimate how big this final move up will be before the depression kicks in, since The Dow and Nasdaq are currently quite a bit lower than they were back in 1999 when The Roaring 2000s was published.
Of course, profiting from epic changes takes time. Perhaps the AIM Dent Demographic Trends Fund (ADDAX) – a mutual fund ascribing to the Dent path to riches - tanked after raising over $1 billion simply because short-sighted investors didn’t give stocks like JDS Uniphase (JDSU) time to come back from the current blip. Merged out of existence by AIM fund executives who clearly don’t understand long-term demographic trend investing, the fund didn't survive to demonstrate its full potential.
This was not the only mutual fund launched by gurus who can see the future better than the rest of us. It was not the only one quashed due to poor performance, either.
Bottom line, when investors are feeling irrationally exuberant, feed ‘em Dow 40,000. When they're feeling irrationally pessimistic, it’s time to pull out the Depression talk. It might not make your investors money, but you’ll make a killing in book sales.
The “The First and Last Name in Money Market Funds”
Winner: Reserve Funds
The money market business is truly the toughest niche in asset management. If the fund drops by even one penny, you're basically out of business. Heck, hardly anybody talks about the deep double-digit losses posted by many near money-market funds – funds pitched as the next-best-thing-to-cash by giant firms like State Street and Charles Schwab. But lose a few pennies a share on some Lehman debt, and the entire multi-trillion dollar world of money market funds comes crashing down.
Ironically, The Reserve funds essentially invented the money market fund decades ago and then caused a near-stampede on every money market fund in sight. Fortunately, the government stepped in and insured money market funds, so the panic subsided. For all those who want free markets with no government intervention, we’d recommend staying out of the money market fund business.
Awards given during commercial breaks:
The “Yield Reach Gone Wrong” Award
Winner: Schwab Yield (not so) Plus Select (SWYSX)
When bond funds pitched as "safe" fall 37% in a few months, the holiday season is here. For class action lawyers.
The “Working Keeps the Mind Healthy” Award
Winner: Oppenheimer Target Date Funds
I’m retiring in 2010, so it’s cool to lose 44% in 2008, right? If you invested your nest egg in Oppenheimer Transition 2010 (OTTAX), hoping to retire at the end of the decade, you may want to give back that gold watch, or mail it to one of those late night TV sell-your-gold-by-mail outfits while gold is still worth something. OTTAX is down 44% so far in 2008, just two years before its supposed target date for those retiring in 2010, a period when the fund should presumably be making conservative investments.
According to Oppenheimer, the fund is “designed for investors around 60 years old who expect to retire in their mid-60s”. Apparently, owning a chunk of Oppenheimer Commodity Strategy Total Return – one of this fund's holdings – is a good investment shortly before you retire.
The “Giving You Your Money Back, Less Fees Award”
Winner: Managed payout funds
Borrowing a bad idea from the world of closed-end funds, Vanguard launched managed payout funds, which create the illusion of steady retirement income by giving investors their own money back, even if the fund’s investments tank. Of course, if this bear market keeps up, these funds won’t have any of your money left to give back.
The “My Doctor Recommends Cigarettes for Stress Relief” Award
Winner: Pax World Funds
Socially (un)conscious Pax World funds paid a big fine for buying stock in companies that turned out to be not so socially conscious – or at least unconscionable enough to warrant SEC action for violating their own promises.
The “Disruptive Technologies” Award
For continuing to brag about "Pick-A-Payment" mortgages earlier this year. Apparently, many customers picked "zero." (Wells Fargo snapped up Wachovia before it essentially collapsed.)
The “Day Late and A Euro Short” Award
Winner: Wisdom Tree
This ultimate untimely fund launch company recently launched currency ETFs, just in time for investors to lose money on the rebound of the U.S. dollar. This is almost as bad as launching tons of foreign value-oriented funds right before value and international investing stop working. Oh, snap! They did that, too.
Stocks Get Less Risky
A blog at the Wall Street Journal notes that investors tend to think of risk as something that falls as prices rise:
If the history of the financial markets and the psychology of investing have anything to teach us, it is that present emotion and future returns are inversely correlated. Today’s feelings of pain and fear are the building blocks for tomorrow’s wealth. Eras of good feeling are terrible times to buy stocks.
The corollary is that perceived risk and actual risk tend to be polar opposites. When did your house feel like the safest investment? Just as its appraised value hit an all-time high, of course. The Dow felt safe when it was at 14000, and it feels risky as hell now that it is clinging to the edge of 8000 with its fingernails. That’s perceived risk: low when prices go up, and high when prices go down."
Investors often could do better doing the opposite of what they think will happen.
Ask MAX: Why Is My Gold Fund Down?
Why did Evergreen Precious Metals A (EKWAX) tank so badly? Is there a bright side?"
After Monday’s drop, Evergreen Precious Metals had fallen about 68% since its peak in March 2008. That's more than the S&P 500, Dow, Nasdaq, MSCI EAFE Index, junk bond market, emerging market bond market, classic car market, housing market, and subprime loan market. Okay, maybe not more than subprime, but you get the point.
What's most surprising, and probably the root of your question, is that the fund has fallen far further than gold itself, that shiny metal that comprises the core of the precious metals funds. If you compare this fund to the Gold ETF (see streetTRACKS Gold Trust ETF [GLD]), you won't be impressed with your fund's performance. But if you compare it to other gold funds, you might feel a bit better. Popular gold funds like Vanguard Precious Metals And Mining (VGPMX), Fidelity Select Gold (FSAGX), Oppenheimer Gold & Special Miners (OPGSX), Franklin Gold And Precious Metals (FKRCX), and USAA Mutual Funds Precious Metals (USAGX) are in equally rough (or worse) shape.
As it turns out, gold-related companies are no more magical than any other commodity-related companies you'd find in a natural resource fund. We've just witnessed one of the fastest drops in broad commodity prices in history. The fact that the nosedive followed the launch of dozens of commodity funds inspired by investor fascination with 'hard assets' should come as no surprise.
Gold funds usually own mining companies like Barrick Gold (ABX) and Newmont Mining (NEM). These companies function as leveraged plays on gold itself, so if gold climbs, mining shares will climb even more. The flip-side is this: when gold slips, (as it has by about 25% since the roughly $1,000 peak earlier this year,) gold mining stocks can fall far further. Even worse, this year we witnessed the emergence of political risk associated with mining shares, which scared investors (we’d argue the political risk never went away, investors just ignored it). Traditionally, many gold mines are also poorly-run companies, which only adds to the problem.
So here's the bottom line: your fund tanked because gold mining shares fell much faster than gold itself. Many mining stocks (not just gold mines) collapsed, because leveraged hedge funds and other international funds of intrigue were forced to bail on increasingly stupid momentum bets.
This phenomenon left many fund investors scratching their heads, since they actually purchased gold funds to offset potential losses caused by "riskier" ordinary stock funds – gold is often called a “safe haven” in the financial press. Many doom and gloom experts have advised buying gold mining stocks as a way to "crash-proof" your portfolio. Few thought such a move could actually "crash-induce" their investments.
You asked us for a bright side, so we'll try to deliver. However, keep in mind that we can't get too optimistic about gold or gold funds until investors bail out and gold prices fall below the cost of production at say, sub-$500 an ounce. In fact, we've been shorting gold along with other commodities in our more aggressive Powerfund Portfolios.
Here's silver lining #1: if you bought the fund over four years ago, you might still be ahead of the S&P 500. Unfortunately, this isn't likely, since many gold funds brought in most of their current assets in recent years.
Silver lining #2: if gold prices don't fall significantly, this fund will likely do well, since most gold mining companies can turn a profit with gold prices around $750. However, it's also possible mining shares are down in anticipation of the inevitable (in our opinion) fall in gold prices.
We can't say we were caught off guard by the drop, only that it came much later than we'd anticipated. This fund is one of the better Precious Metals Sector funds (albeit a bit too enamored with more speculative mining names). But if you check out the MAXfunds page on this fund, we're forecasting a -21% return over the next 12 months (and had negative forecasts before this drop as well), along with a worst case peak-to-trough estimate for a 95% drop - among the worst on our site. Keep in mind these warning signs apply to precious metals funds in general. Unlike everybody else, our rating system looks at the future of the fund category as well as the fund itself.
* Note: At the time of this writing, the author of this article is short gold and gold mining shares in his personal accounts, and owns inverse gold ETFs in client accounts.
Death Spiral In Risky Stocks Takes Spotlight From....Death Spiral In Safe Bonds
With the Dow falling a few hundred points every single stinking day, you may not have noticed the carnage in almost all bond categories other than U.S. Government bonds. The nightly news doesn't show bond prices. Our guess is that this is what is really keeping some investors up at night.
Sure, the 40%+ drop from the peak in major market indexes is stunning, as is the performance of so many 'value' funds that seem to be falling faster than 'growth' funds did in the last bear market. Case in point Vanguard Capital Value Fund (VCVLX) is now down over 50% since the begining of 2008 after a manager change led to increased stakes in Russian stocks - the stock market than now routinely is shut down from panic selling - and energy picks, snapped up at pre-commodity bubble crash prices of course. Wellington Management Company was founded in 1928 so would think they would have learned their lesson about crashes...
But stocks are stocks, and investors almost have to expect 20%, 30%, even 40% drops every few decades - given the long-term upside and potential for one-year double-digit gains, it would be foolish to expect only big upside and no downside.
Bonds, on the other hand, are for adding diversification, stability, and regular income. You'll never get rich, but you wont lose much either. That is, until the great debt panic of 2008, which in its most recent form has hit safe debt categories like commercial paper (short term corporate borrowing), investment grade bonds, convertible bonds, and perhaps most stunningly - municipal bonds.
Municipal bonds are bonds issued by state and local governments. Some bonds not backed by the full taxing authority of the state are higher risk, but between the power to tax and the insurance that is frequently behind muni bonds, actually losing money by default is a fairly rare event. Muni bonds are typically sold to wealthier risk-averse investors who want steady, tax exempt income.
This is why the 10%-40% hits in muni bond funds in recent weeks is so startling. Over the last thirty days or so a conservative unleveaged fund like Vanguard Insured Long-Term Tax-Exempt Fund Investor Shares (VILPX), which "Invests primarily in high-quality municipal securities." and "Holds bonds covered by insurance guaranteeing the timely payment of principal and interest." is down 10%. Take a gander at more aggressive leveraged closed end muni bond funds - popular with brokers who sell them at IPO - and you'll find dozens in which the underlying holdings of the fund are down 20%-30% - which when you add in the widening discount to fund price means investors are seeing hits of around 50%. Recently some of these funds are moving up and down (mostly down) 10%-20% per day, much like leveraged junk bond funds have done of late. California muni bonds are acting like emerging market bonds.
It's bad enough when Internet fund drops like a rock but when 'safe' assets like your house and muni bonds start to act like Pets.com stock,well you can see why investors have become a little unnerved of late.
Your Stocks Are Down More Than The S&P 500. Admit It.
The stock market is having its worst stretch since the 1930s, but as bad as it is, foreign markets across the board are faring much worse.
Those who have viewed MAXfunds' fund data pages or Our Favorite Funds lists from time to time over the last year may have wondered why most emerging market funds have negative forecasts for future performance and lousy metrics (or why we sold our emerging market fund picks from our Powerfund Portfolios in recent years).
Long time MAXfunds.com readers will remember we had similar negative ratings on most tech funds in 2000. The rationale then and today was the same.
Our fund metrics are designed to help fund investors avoid funds that are likely to fall - the very funds attracting the most money after posting big returns. Most fund ratings and rankings only direct attention to the overvalued - they encourage performance chasing.
The reason we have used this anti-performance chasing methodology is to help you avoid the inevitable result of buying into popular funds and categories: below-market returns.
An article that appeared this week in the Wall Street Journal describes the carnage experienced by the throngs of fund investors who flocked into international markets in recent years. The only difference between this after-the-fact article and the ones published in 2002 is then it was tech and growth funds that were falling faster than the S&P 500 - the very funds that brought in the most money before the drop.
The average diversified foreign stock fund, which invests primarily in developed markets, is down 33% since the start of the year through Friday, versus a 25.5% decline for the average diversified U.S. stock fund, according to Morningstar Inc.
It's even worse in less-established foreign markets. The average emerging-markets stock fund, which includes funds dedicated to China, India and Latin America, is down 42.5% so far this year.
This is a sharp reversal from the heady gains of recent years. In 2007, the average emerging-market fund gained 40%, while the average foreign developed-market fund gained 12%.
On Monday, some European markets had their worst decline in 20 years. Britain's FTSE 100 index fell 8%, while France's benchmark CAC-40 index fell 9%, the largest one-day declines for both markets at least since 1987. Also on Monday, stock trading was halted repeatedly in Russia and in Brazil, where shares registered declines of 19% and 5.4%, respectively. Asian markets fell as much as 6%, but they have been hit worse than European markets since the start of the year.
Mutual-fund investors have piled into foreign markets in recent years partly to diversify their portfolios. Some $463 billion in net contributions poured into these funds from 2003 to 2007, boosting assets to $1.48 trillion at the end of 2007, according to Morningstar."
The more things change, the more they stay the same...