Who’s in Charge?

Understanding who's managing your mutual fund

So you finally found a fund that’s been good to you and a portfolio manager who seems to be worth his or her salt. Too bad there’s no guarantee that your fund will continue humming along the same way and that the manager will stay in place.
The truth is that manager changes aren’t that uncommon. Morningstar Inc., the Chicago investment research firm, estimates that the average manager tenure is now just four years. And though fund shops will get the word out, shareholders are typically the last to know. So how do you find out who’s running your fund?

The first stop should be the fund company’s Website. By now, even the smallest firms should have information on managers on their site. Look for biographies, including past work experience and education, to help you assess the person’s qualifications. Of course, you’re relying on “the shareholder friendliness of a fund company,” says Kerry O’Boyle, an analyst with Morningstar. You can also check out the “Management” page for your fund’s profile on www.morningstar.com, which collects the information from fund filings.

When manager changes occur, however, you might have a harder time finding out who’s minding the shop. Certainly, such a change warrants a supplement to a fund’s prospectus, but prospectuses come out only once a year. Even then, however, it can still be difficult to find the information.

“Sometimes the companies will update the prospectus but not highlight the changes,” says Roy Weitz, publisher of the FundAlarm.com newsletter in Tarzana, California. “Now, unless you’ve memorized the entire prospectus, you’re not going to know about it.” For that reason, Fund Alarm, www.fundalarm.com, has a permanent section of the site devoted to manager changes.

Some fund companies, however, go a step further to notify shareholders. At T. Rowe Price, a series of manager changes was announced in April that will take effect in October. Robert Smith, manager of T. Rowe Growth Stock (PRGFX) will jump to T. Rowe Price International Stock (PRITX). Smith was replaced by Rob Bartolo, co-manager of the T. Rowe Price Media & Telecommunications (PRMTX) fund. Aside from being an unusual amount of shuffling, the change impacted a large swath of shareholders. Company higher ups didn’t want to wait until a shareholder letter went out in June to make the announcement, says Steve Norwitz, a T. Rowe spokesman. Instead, shareholders received a special letter a few days later.

Occasionally, manager departures are such big news that they end up in the press. For example, in late 2005, the long-beleaguered manager of Fidelity Magellan fund, Bob Stansky, finally threw in the towel and was replaced by Harry Lange. That move hit every major financial news outlet or business page.

However, relying on the financial media may not be enough. “Unless it’s really big news, manager changes are often given just one column inch of space in most newspapers,” Weitz says. The best rule of thumb to keep tabs on what your funds are up to is to get familiar with their Websites. Make a point of browsing

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