The Best Fund Managers – As Voted by their Peers
Everybody is flocking to index funds and ETFs, but in my Inside Information newsletter recently, I wrote about something that isn’t getting a lot of attention. I have nothing against passive investments, but when I attended several recent conferences and asked polite (and sympathetic) questions of active fund managers I’ve known for years, I got back a surprising answer.
They told me that they’ve never had more fun in their entire careers.
What? Isn’t, you know, all the money flowing into funds that are, you know, not like yours?
Yes [I was told excitedly], absolutely.
And… That’s a good thing???
Today’s indexing mania is driving the marketing people at the best active fund complexes completely crazy, but the top portfolio managers – that is, the people who really, truly enjoy investing – are seeing a lot of new opportunities.
I talked with people at T. Rowe Price, who said that entire industries are being disrupted. Think: auto industry when Uber will soon have autonomous self-driving vehicles. Who would want to own their own car? Who would want to own the stock of auto companies when sales are likely to be a fraction of what they are today?
Or oil companies when solar is suddenly encroaching on their energy market share. Or airlines when auto-piloted drones are being developed as you read this.
Their point is that nobody at an ETF is making basic judgments about which firms or industries are getting disrupted right off the economic landscape – and that’s going to have a huge impact on returns these next 10 years.
I talked with people at Caldwell & Orkin, a boutique long-short equity manager, who said that the money flowing into index funds is giving the entire market an artificial uplift, and there are some very unhealthy companies whose stock prices are being propped up merely because the (index-driven) investment dollars are being allocated indiscriminately. Once again, making those judgments is going to be crucial when fund flows turn around.
Bond managers at Osterweis said that fixed-income ETF inflows and outflows are dictating buying and selling decisions for billions of dollars, which means that a patient active manager could wait for forced sales and get as much as a 1% higher annual coupon than was possible yesterday or last week.
Chris Davis at Selected Funds said that the passive and closet indexers can no longer afford any tracking error, which means no matter how compelling an opportunity, they have to walk past it if it’s likely to take two or three years to play out. More for him!
David Marcus at Evermore Global said that many of the restructuring plays that he looks at in Europe are not easily categorized in an index until the restructuring is complete. So the index funds and passive managers typically invest after the restructuring is complete and most of the money has been made. Better for him!
You can find my full article here. Fund managers who have a passion for what they do are really enjoying this environment, and they may well outperform over the next five or 10 years.