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Early Favorites for Manager of the Year--Domestic Stock

Who's in front heading 'round the bend?

Russel Kinnel, 09/15/2010

It's September, and the end of the year is in sight. With that in mind, I took a look around to find out which managers appear to be in the running for our Domestic-Stock Manager of the Year award. I looked for managers having a great year, but I also wanted a great long-term track record (at least 10 years). For the sake of variety here, I skipped over those who have already won the award--but they are eligible to win.

Our award recognizes managers who have contributed to shareholder well being over both the short and long haul. We also look for good stewards. The award is intended as recognition of past contributions rather than a prediction of future success. (Our Analyst Picks do the latter.)

So, what follows is a list of front-runners. It's not a short list that we will choose from. In fact, the way the markets are whipping around these days, you can be sure that year-to-date performance rankings will shift quite a bit from now until the end of the year.

Phil Davidson/Michael Liss/Kevin Toney--American Century Equity Income TWEIX and American Century Value TWVLX
It's the tough years when American Century Equity Income stands out. In 2008, lead manager Phil Davidson helped the fund to lose just 20%--tops in the large-value category. It also held up quite nicely in the 2000-02 bear market. Today, the fund is up about 3% for the year to date while its typical peer has lost around 2%. But it's not all defense--its 10-year return is an annualized 6.8%, and its 15-year return is an annualized 9.5%. Both are in the top 2% of the large-value category.

Davidson takes a conservative tack in selecting low-valuation but solid-yielding stocks. He also buys convertible bonds to boost the fund's yield and temper the downside.

Richie Freeman--Legg Mason ClearBridge Aggressive Growth SHRAX
Richie Freeman is an extremely patient growth manager. His years of outperformance are just as likely to come in a rally as a bear market, but the important thing is that the good years have outweighed the bad. This year, the fund's 2.5% gain is near the top of large growth, but it's the 15-year 8% annualized return that's really impressive. With a concentrated eclectic portfolio, it's always a stock-specific story here.

This year, strong performance at Genzyme GENZ, UnitedHealth Group UNH, and Cablevision CVC have the fund outperforming. Each stock is up for a different reason, and each has been in the portfolio for a long time. When a manager has single-digit turnover as Freeman does, he or she is forced to focus intently on both the quality and sustainability of the company's competitive edge and its valuation. Skimp on either and you have to sell or suffer. Freeman has executed that strategy beautifully.PAGEBREAK

Bob Goldfarb and David Poppe--Sequoia SEQUX
Like Phil Davidson, Bob Goldfarb and David Poppe have been at their best in tough markets. The fund's 10-year return of about 6% tops all but 2% of the large-blend category. This year, it's up about 8%, or 900 basis points ahead of the S&P 500, thanks to top holding Berkshire Hathaway BRK.A, a hefty stake in cash (which offered downside protection), and a number of other strong top holdings. The fund's next largest three, TJX TJX, Idexx Laboratories IDXX, and Fastenal FAST, are also enjoying strong years. Like Warren Buffett, they look for great companies trading for fair prices. They want strong management and competitive advantages. While they are the second generation of managers at the fund, they certainly had a big hand in its long-term success. Goldfarb is coming up on his 40th anniversary at the firm, and Poppe has been there for 10 years.

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