Posts tagged ‘mutual fund’

Yacktman’s Triangle of Success

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Donald Yacktman is no ordinary investor. As a matter of fact, he was a runner-up in Morningstar’s Fund Manager of the Decade award (see winner here). Besides stellar performance, how did Yacktman accomplish this honor? The answer is simple…a triangle. Yacktman wasn’t a geometry professor, but his investment philosophy is based on the three corners of this popular shape. Specifically, Yacktman looks to invest in companies trading at good prices, that are good businesses, with good management teams. Stated differently, one side of the investment philosophy represents a low purchase price, while the other sides represent good businesses and shareholder-oriented management.

Where the Magic Began

Like any legendary investor, experience plays a huge role in becoming a market master. Yacktman is no exception.  Yacktman is the President and Co-Chief Investment Officer of Yacktman Asset Management Co., overseeing about $7 billion in assets. Prior to founding the firm in April 1992, he worked for 10 years as a portfolio manager at Selected Financial Services, Inc. and before then he served 14 years as a portfolio manager at Stein Roe & Farnham. Geographically, he has been all over the map. He earned his economics degree from the University of Utah and an MBA with distinction from Harvard University. After working for a longtime in Chicago, he decided to start the Yacktman Funds in Austin, Texas. Who knows, maybe the next stop will be Alaska or Hawaii?

Despite all the successes, life has not always been a bed of roses for Yacktman. As a matter of fact, during the late-1990s, the fund board attempted to oust him and investors left in a mass exodus. Even after posting stellar results in 2000-2003 relative to the S&P 500, Yacktman underperformed significantly in three out of four years from 2004 – 2007.

Managing to sidestep the technology bubble in 2000 and then the financial sector bubble in 2008 contributed tremendously to Yacktman’s outperformance (see graph).


As you can see, the long-term track record of the Yacktman fund has been exceptional (#1 fund on a 3 yr., 5 yr., and 10 yr basis), but anyone can eventually lose the Midas touch – Bill Miller’s 15 consecutive market-beating returns subsequently reversed into a financial disaster in the following years (see Revenge of the Dunce). Even with all the boos and cheers Yacktman has received over the years, some of that attention should be directed towards his son Stephen Yacktman (Co-Manager of Yacktman funds) and other Co-Manager Jason Subotky.

More Yacktman Investment Nuts & Bolts

There are other key elements to the Yacktman strategy beyond the triangle philosophy. For example, Yacktman preaches  the importance of patience, long-term thinking, and the ability to develop a repeatable process.

And how does Yacktman find these great opportunities for his funds? Driving the process of picking stocks is the ability to price equity securities like bonds. Using cash flows, inflation expectations, and forecasted growth, the Yacktman team derives a forward rate of return that they can compare against a broad set of investment alternatives, including bonds. This framework is very consistent with my free cash flow yield ranking system I use. If opportunities do not present themselves, Yacktman is not afraid to raise cash levels to unorthodox levels (e.g., around 30% cash near the 2007 peak).

Since the differential in return opportunities has narrowed between what Yacktman defines as high quality and low quality, he has shifted more of the portfolios toward Blue Chip companies, like News Corporation (NWS), PepsiCo, Inc. (PEP),  Coca-Cola Company (KO),  Procter & Gamble Company (PG), and Microsoft Corporation (MSFT).  Since the return opportunity spreads have narrowed, Yacktman feels he can get more bang for his risk buck by investing in quality large capitalization stocks.

With a long-run magical track record like Donald Yacktman’s, it is difficult to critically critique his systematic investment process. By implementing a few cornerstones of Yacktman’s investment philosophy, we should all be able to triangulate a better investment strategy four ourselves.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in YACKX, YAFFX, NWS, PEP, PG, KO, MSFT, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

February 9, 2011 at 2:09 am 1 comment

The Invisible Giant

Bruce Berkowitz has not exactly been a household name (he apparently is not even Wikipedia-worthy). With his boyish looks, nasally voice, and slicked-back hair, one might mistake Berkowitz for a graduate student. However, his results are more than academic, which explains why this invisible giant was recently named the equity fund manager of the decade by Morningstar. It’s difficult to argue with long-term results, especially in the roller coaster market like we’ve experienced over the last ten years. The Fairholme Fund (FAIRX) fund earned a 13% annualized return over the ten-year period ending in 2009, beating the S&P 500 index by an impressive 14%.

 Click here to view Bloomberg invterview with Bruce Berkowitz

How He Did It

Berkowitz states the stellar performance was achieved by

“Ignoring the crowd and going towards stressed areas that many people are running from…We make our judgments based on the cash that securities generate.”


Fairholme is effectively a “go anywhere” fund that adheres tightly to the value-based philosophy. Berkowitz’s portfolio is centered on equity securities, but his team has also shown willingness to go up and down the capital structure, if they find value elsewhere.

The Fund and its History

Berkowitz started the fund in 1999 as an extension of his separate account business, which was created in his previous life at Smith Barney and Lehman Brothers. The Fairholme fund tends to concentrate around 15 to 25 securities on average, with some holdings accounting for more than 10% of the portfolio. An example of Fairholmes concentration is evidenced by its favorably timed trade in the energy sector, which resulted in a 35% weighting in the fund. Fortunately Berkowitz redeployed that winning position – before energy prices cratered in 2008 – into unloved areas like healthcare and defense stocks.

Berkowitz models his investment style after Warren Buffett, focused on good businesses with prolific cash flows. Like many value investors, Berkowitz fishes for contrarian based ideas residing in pockets of the market that are out of favor. He also likes to have a significant weighting in “special situations,” which are limited to about 25% of the portfolio. In order to take advantage opportunities, Berkowitz is not shy or bashful about carrying around a good chunk of cash in his pocket. He likes to keep about 15% on average to scoop up out of favor opportunities.

The Future of Fairholme

I commend Berkowitz for his admirable record, but I caution investors to not go hog wild over outperforming funds. He has crushed the market over an extremely challenging investment period, but investors need to remember that “mean reversion,” the tendency for a trend to move towards averages, applies to investing styles too. Concentrated, go-anywhere, large cap value, market timing funds that outperform for ten years at a time may underperform or outperform less dramatically over the next ten years. Just ask Bill Miller (see also Bill Miller Revenge of the Dunce article), concentrated value manager at Legg Mason, about mean reversion. Miller beat the market for 15 consecutive years before recently ending up in the bottom 10-year decile (1-star Morningstar rated) after some bad concentrated bets and poor investment timing. Another challenge for Fairholme is size (currently around $10.5 billion in assets under management). Having managed a multi-billion fund myself (see also my book), I can attest to the complexities Berkowitz faces in managing a much larger fund now.

Regardless, Berkowitz’s performance should not be ignored given his sound philosophy and achievement over an unprecedented period. Already, just a few weeks into 2010, Fairholme is ranked #1 in its fund category by Morningstar.

This is one invisible man you should not let disappear off your radar.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at time of publishing had no direct positions in FAIRX, LM, BRKA/B or MORN. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

January 18, 2010 at 11:00 pm 1 comment

Fuss Making a Fuss About Bonds

Photo Source: Evan Kafka (BusinessWeek)

Dan Fuss has been managing bond investments since 1958, longer than many of his competing managers have lived on this planet. At 75 years old, he is as sharp, if not sharper, than ever as he manages the flagship $18.7 billion Loomis Sayles Bond Fund (LSBRX). Over his 33-year tenure at Loomis, Sayles & Company (he started in 1976), he has virtually seen it all. After a challenging 2008, which saw his bond fund fall -22%, the bond markets have been kinder to him this year – Fuss’s fund performance registers in the top quartile on a 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year basis, according to (through 12/3/09). With a track record like that, investors are listening. Unfortunately, based on his outlook, he now is making a loud fuss about the dreadful potential for bonds.

Rising Yields, Declining Prices

Fuss sees the bond market at the beginning stages of a rate-increase cycle. In his Barron’s interview earlier this year, Fuss made a forecast that the 10-Year Treasury Note yield will reach 6.25% in the next 4-5 years (the yield currently is at 3.38%). Not mincing words when describing the current dynamics of the federal and municipal bond markets, Fuss calls the fundamentals “absolutely awful.” Driving the lousy environment is a massive budget deficit that Fuss does not foresee declining below 4.5% of (GDP) Gross Domestic Product – approximately two times the historical average. Making matters worse, our massive debt loads will require an ever increasing supply of U.S. issuance, which is unsustainable in light of the aggressive domestic expansion plans in emerging markets. This issuance pace cannot be maintained because the emerging markets will eventually need to fund their development plans with excess reserves. Those foreign reserves are currently funding our deficits and Fuss believes our days of going to the foreign financing “well” are numbered.

Fuss also doesn’t see true economic expansion materializing from the 2007 peak for another four years due to lackluster employment trends and excess capacity in our economy. What does a bond guru do in a situation like this? Well, if you follow Fuss’ lead, then you need to shorten the duration of your bond portfolio and focus on individual bond selection. In July 2009, the average maturity of Fuss’ portfolio was 12.8 years (versus 13.8 years in the previous year) and he expects it to go lower as his thesis of higher future interest rates plays out. Under optimistic expectations of declining rates, Fuss would normally carry a portfolio with an average maturity of about 20 years. In Barron’s, he also discussed selling longer maturity, high-grade corporate bonds and buying shorter duration high-yield bonds because he expects spreads to narrow selectively in this area of the market.

Unwinding Carry Trade – Pricking the Bubble

How does Fuss envisage the bond bubble bursting? Quite simply, the carry trade ending. In trading stocks, the goal is to buy low and sell high. In executing a bond carry trade, you borrow at low rates (yields), and invest at high rates (yields). This playbook looks terrific on paper, especially when money is essentially free (short-term interest rates in the U.S. are near 0%). Unfortunately, just like a stock-based margin accounts, when investment prices start moving south, the vicious cycle of debt repayment (i.e., margin call) and cratering asset prices builds on itself.  Most investors think they can escape before the unwind occurs, but Fuss intelligently underscores, “Markets have a ferocious tendency to get there before you think they should.” This can happen in a so-called “crowded trade” when there are, what Fuss points out, “so many people doing this.”

The Pro Predictor

Mr. Fuss spoke to an audience at Marquette University within three days of the market bottom (March 12, 2009), and he had these prescient remarks to make:

“I’ve never seen markets so cheap…stocks and bonds…not Treasury bonds.”


He goes on to rhetorically ask the audience:

“Is there good value in my personal opinion? You darn bethcha!”


Bill Gross, the “Bond King” of Newport Beach (read more) receives most of the media accolades in major bond circles for his thoughtful and witty commentary on the markets, but investors should start making a larger fuss about the 75 year-old I like to call the “Leader of Loomis!”

Adviser Perspectives Article on Dan Fuss and Interest Rates

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds (including fixed-income) and is short TLT. At time of publishing, SCM had no positions in LSBRX. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

December 4, 2009 at 1:45 am 2 comments

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