A Fund Giant's Next Act

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It goes without saying that the recent financial crisis will have long-lasting economic, political, and social implications for our nation. While we're still dealing with the aftermath and looking ahead for what's next, one thing has solidified in the minds of investors -- an intense distrust of Wall Street.

Investors have responded en masse by pulling billions of dollars out of the stock market and stuffing it into the perceived safety of bonds. Actively managed mutual funds are losing ground, while more inexpensive, passive investments like exchange-traded funds are gaining in popularity. However, one fund shop is fighting back by urging investors to get back to the business of long-term investing.

Are you Vanguarding?
Fund behemoth Vanguard recently unveiled its new PR campaign which asks, "Are you investing or are you Vanguarding?" Although investors may not be used to hearing the fund shop's name used as a verb, this move is part of an effort to get investors to associate the firm with its low-cost, prudent approach to investing. One ad points out that "Reacting to the stock market is just investing. Taking stock in the long-term is Vanguarding." Vanguard is wisely attempting to take advantage of uncertainty in the market to differentiate itself from other fund shops and position itself as the leader in low-cost, long-term investing.

Time will tell whether shell-shocked investors buy into the concept of "Vanguarding," but I think the fund shop's basic message is a good one. I've long been a fan of Vanguard's rock-bottom fund pricing. According to Morningstar data, the shop's most expensive offering clocks in with a mere 0.72% price tag, far below the admission price of the average mutual fund. On the other end of their scale, some of Vanguard's index funds and exchange-traded funds start at just 0.14%, while the shop offers several institutional index funds with a miniscule 0.03%-0.05% expense ratio. Now that's cutting prices to the bone!

I also think Vanguard's insistence on investing for the long run is a vitally important message that more investors should pay attention to, especially in today's environment. Far too many folks take a short-term view of investing, reacting and altering their investment plan based on today's news headline or a temporary drop in the market. I'm not advocating completely ignoring what's going on around you today, but investing is a long-term sport and should be treated as such. If Vanguard can get folks to see this common-sense approach as something that they explicitly embody, it will be to Vanguard's advantage, especially once the turmoil and uncertainty surrounding the recent financial crisis and recession subside.

A new toy for investors
In other Vanguard news, the fund shop recently announced that it would be adding a new actively managed mutual fund to its line-up. The Vanguard Explorer Value Fund will be the shop's only actively managed, value-oriented fund focused on the small-to-mid-cap market. The fund comes with a 0.59% expense ratio and will be subadvised by three firms -- Cardinal Capital Management, Frontier Capital Management, and Sterling Capital Management. This fund will add to Vanguard's line-up of roughly 30 actively managed equity mutual funds.

In general, I'm not a fan of brand-spanking-new funds. Management is oftentimes untested, with no prior investing track record to judge their abilities on. However, in this case, Vanguard is drawing on three asset managers with extensive, and favorable, track records. Vanguard has a solid history of choosing first-rate subadvisors, and I don't expect that the team behind this fund will be any different.

Vanguard Explorer Value will also fill an important gap in Vanguard's actively managed fund line-up. The shop already offers several excellent large-cap funds like the closed Vanguard Primecap (VPMCX) and Vanguard Windsor II (VWNFX), the latter of which invests in blue-chip names like Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) and Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) . Likewise, international funds such as Vanguard International Value (VTRIX) focus on larger foreign names such as Petroleo Brasileiro (NYSE: PBR  ) and Total S.A. (NYSE: TOT  ) .

On the smaller side of things, Vanguard Explorer (VEXPX) invests in small-to-mid-sized growth names such as TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO  ) and Discover Financial Services (NYSE: DFS  ) . Explorer Value will fill that last hole and take a value-oriented approach to small-cap investing. Of course, I'd like to see performance results from this newly minted fund before making a final call, but I suspect that the fund will do at least fairly well, given its pedigree. If you're on the hunt for a small-cap fund, keep an eye on Vanguard Explorer Value.

The Vanguard way
Ultimately, I think Vanguard is on the right track by trying to get folks to associate the very common-sense and time-tested ideas of low-cost, long-term investing with the "Vanguard" way of investing. Introducing new funds like Vanguard Explorer Value that are fully in line with these tenets will help strengthen its argument. Of course, Vanguard doesn't have exclusive claim to this type of approach, but if it can get even some small portion of investors to buy into the idea of Vanguarding, it will no doubt be to its benefit in the long run.

For more insider investing and personal financial planning tips, check out the Fool's Rule Your Retirement service, which provides top-notch retirement and mutual fund advice. You can start your free 30-day trial today.

Amanda Kish is the Fool's resident fund advisor for the Rule Your Retirement investment newsletter. At the time of publication, she did not own any of the funds or companies mentioned herein. Microsoft, Pfizer, and Discover Financial Services are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. Petroleo Brasileiro and Total SA are Motley Fool Income Investor choices. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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