In the mutual fund world, of-the-moment trends come and go quickly. Money chases hot funds and hot managers, only to flee the scene once the magic seems to stop. As a result, many funds feature a veritable merry-go-round of managers. But there are fund shops who stick with their gurus over the years, including one firm that just celebrated two decades of leadership at its flagship fund.
Last week, Third Avenue Value reached its 20th birthday, all under the leadership of firm founder Marty Whitman. And while I like to see funds with long-tenured managers, it takes more than a seasoned professional for a fund to be a good buy for investors. So what's under the hood at Third Avenue Management?
Third Avenue Value
Third Avenue's largest fund, with more than $5 billion in assets, isn't afraid to take bets. Right now, nearly 60% of portfolio assets are housed in the financial sector. Whitman and co-manager Ian Lapey have loaded up on Hong Kong-based real estate firms, with Henderson Land Development and Cheung Kong Holdings accounting for more than a quarter of the fund's investments. Although the fund is heavily concentrated, the team feels that Asian real estate stocks are simply too cheap to sell right now.
You'll also find Canada's Brookfield Asset Management
Returns here have been very solid, with the fund earning just over 10% annually over the past 15 years. Third Avenue Value is appropriate for investors who want a fund that gives its manager a lot of leeway to invest and who aren't afraid of concentrated positions. Given that more than half of the fund is invested in foreign stocks, investors need to be flexible here. If you want a fund that sticks to one specific corner of a style box at all times, you should probably look elsewhere.
One thing that has rubbed me the wrong way a bit with Third Avenue was its decision last year to create two share classes for all of its funds. Its existing funds were converted to institutional shares with a $100,000 minimum. The new investor shares offer a more reasonable $2,500 minimum but come with higher expenses. This means new incoming retail investors now have to pay 1.42%, compared to 1.17% for the institutional share class of the same Third Avenue Value Fund. In my opinion, that means you should only buy this fund if you really trust in management here and are willing to pay the higher fees to get access to their investing expertise.
Third Avenue Real Estate Value
This fund is simply one of the better actively managed global real estate funds around. Manager Michael Winer likes to buy well-funded real-estate-related companies selling at a meaningful discount to estimated value. Returns can be volatile here, as evidenced by 2008's 45% loss, but over the long run, investors should do well.
As you might expect from seeing what the Value fund invested in, Hong Kong-based companies make up the largest foreign allocation here. U.S.-based firms Forest City Enterprises
Retail investors will have to pony up enough to foot the investor shares' 1.43% price tag, but given the fund's global focus and reliable track record, I think the extra cost may be justified here. If you're looking for a flexible real estate fund with a global focus, Third Avenue Real Estate Value is an excellent pick.
The rest of the gang
Beyond Third Avenue's two largest funds, it also offers Third Avenue International Value (TAVIX), a foreign stock fund that tends to focus on mid- and small-cap names; Third Avenue Small-Cap Value (TVSVX); and a newer offering, Third Avenue Focused Credit (TFCIX), which launched about a year ago and invests in distressed debt securities, one of the shop's and Whitman's specialties.
The Small-Cap Value fund is a reasonable choice for investors, but I don't think it is as compelling of a buy as Third Avenue Value or Third Avenue Real Estate Value. The International Value fund has done fairly well, but with a 1.76% expense ratio for the investors shares, it's a tad bit pricey. The Focused Credit fund is still a bit new to make a final judgment on, but if the firm's track record of distressed debt investing is any indication, it should do well for investors willing to endure the likely volatility and the high 1.71% investor share expense ratio.
Ultimately, there are some good choices for investors among the Third Avenue lineup, as long as you are careful about the expenses of your respective share class. Here's to hoping Third Avenue Management has another 20 years of solid investing results ahead of it!
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. Brookfield Asset Management is a Motley Fool Global Gains choice. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.