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Catch These Three Managers on Their Way Up

"In Their Prime" panel features rising stars who still run nimble funds.

Joel P. Bruckenstein, 06/14/2007

We interrupt our usual discussion of how technology can improve your practice to bring you a preview of a panel at this year's annual Morningstar Investment Conference, held later this month in Chicago. I'll be back next month with more technology insights.

It's not often that advisors and investors have the opportunity to buy a nimble fund run by a rising star manager. The "In Their Prime" panel will showcase three such managers. Nick Thakore, Jason Yee, and Donald Kilbride are talented managers who are not yet widely known, presenting an opportunity for investors to get into these managers' funds before rising asset levels constrain the their flexibility. Each of the managers profiled possesses qualities that could make him a star of tomorrow.

Nick Thakore: Hooked on Stocks
If there is one thing that all successful mutual fund managers have in common, it is a true love of the investment process, and Nick Thakore is no exception.

"I've been a stock junkie since I was a kid," he says. From an early age, Thakore was reading Barron's to get information that he could paste into his own spreadsheets for analysis. "My father introduced me to the stock market, and I was trading stocks by the time I was in middle school." By high school, Thakore was trading stock options. His success cemented his interest in the market.

After graduating college, Thakore joined Fidelity Investments in 1993 as an analyst. During his nine-year tenure at Fidelity, Thakore served as an assistant at Fidelity Magellan FMAGX under both Jeff Vinik and Bob Stansky before taking over the helm at Fidelity Trend FTRNX in 1998. From there, he went on to manage Fidelity Fund FFIDX.

In 2002, Thakore joined RiverSource, where his primary investment vehicle is RiverSource Growth Fund INIDX. The fund is a large-cap growth fund, but it can invest up to 25% of assets in categories other than large-growth. Thakore describes the fund's investment approach as growth, but price sensitive growth. To Thakore, this means that the fund is willing to pay above-average multiples for good companies, provided the firm's fundamentals justify the price. Thakore is also willing to make sector bets, provided that he has a high degree of confidence. For example, almost 24% of the fund's portfolio was recently invested in telecom. "If a sector exhibits strong growth, is underappreciated, and underowned, we are willing to overweight it," he says.

Before Thakore took over, the fund was a perennial also-ran. Between 1997-2001, the fund, then known as the AXP Growth Fund, delivered bottom-quartile performance in its its category in four of five years. Between 2002-2006, however, performance has been much better, with four years of above-average performance and only one subpar calendar year. The fund also bested the Russell 1000 Growth Index, an appropriate benchmark, in four of the past five years. Better yet, these impressive returns have been achieved with below-average risk. Performance was helped by below-average expenses relative to similar large-cap front-end-load funds.

Thakore says that one of the keys to his success has been his firm's focus on independent research. "We really believe in independent research, and part of our analysts' compensation is based upon their ability to provide it." RiverSource tries to find unique sources of information that others overlook. This might include finding nuggets of published reports, but it also includes visits to trade shows, discussions with industry participants, and in the case of retailers, visits to malls to see how stores are performing.

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