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Third Avenue Hires Managers for New Bond Fund

Plus, American Century's asset allocation chief retires.

Morningstar Analysts, 06/08/2009

Morningstar's fund analysts cover 2,000 mutual funds. Their full analyst reports, including Stewardship Grades, are available in Morningstar Principia Mutual Funds Advanced and Morningstar Advisor Workstation Office Edition.

Sometime this fall, Third Avenue Management will launch a new fund for both institutional and retail investors focused on credit opportunities and high-yield investments. While this will not be the first time that the firm has launched a bond fund, it will be the only bond fund available from Third Avenue once it becomes available. Third Avenue previously had a high-yield fixed-income fund. It was managed by Margaret Patel but was eventually acquired by Pioneer and renamed Pioneer High Yield TAHYX.

Jeffrey Gary, who joined the firm earlier this week, will run the new fund. Gary has more than 20 years of experience managing high-yield, long/short credit and distressed-debt investment portfolios. Most recently, Gary had been at BlackRock and since 2003 was the lead portfolio manager and head of the high-yield/distressed investment team, which managed approximately $17 billion.

Thomas LaPointe, who has more than a decade of experience in the credit arena, will assist Gary. Previously, he was responsible for managing approximately $6 billion in high-yield assets as co-head of high-yield investments for Columbia Management.

JPMorgan Merges Funds
JPMorgan is planning to merge JPMorgan Capital Growth VCAGX into JPMorgan Diversified Mid Cap Growth OSGIX. Pending shareholder approval, the proposed merger will take place June 26, 2009. Both funds are run by the same management team, who originally ran Capital Growth and took over Diversified Mid Cap Growth after the merger of JPMorgan Chase and Bank One in 2004; it runs the two portfolios as clones, and the funds' respective three-, five-, and 10-year returns are similar. The 1.24% expense ratio of Diversified Mid Cap Growth, the proposed survivor of the two funds, is higher than the 1.14% charged by Capital Growth, which is being merged away. However, if the proposed merger is approved, JPMorgan will keep the combined fund's net expenses at or below Capital Growth's pre-merger expenses until at least Oct. 31, 2010.

American Century Asset Allocation Chief Retires
Jeff Tyler, who ran American Century's Strategic Allocation funds (TWSAX, TWSCX, TWSMX) is retiring after 21 years at the firm's Mountain View, Calif., office. His comanager since 2000, Irina Torelli, is staying on, and CIO Enrique Chang is stepping up as manager during the one-month transition.

American Century also announced that it hired Scott Wittman to take the lead on the allocation and Livestrong funds. Wittman was managing director of quant and alternative strategies at Munder prior to his departure and at one time was lead manager on Munder Energy MPFAX and International Core Equity MAICX funds. Wittman had worked with Chang at Munder.

Since 1996, Tyler has done a good job managing the allocation funds. While it's reassuring to see that Torelli is staying on to comanage the funds, it's unclear how Wittman will steer the firm's asset-allocation strategies. It's hard not to view this as a blow to the firm as Tyler's retirement follows a year marked by manager departures on the firm's domestic-equity team based in Kansas City, Mo., as well as the international equity team located in New York.

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