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Fund Times: Shakeup Causes Tremors at Columbia Funds

Plus, Fidelity fund reopening, UMB Scout's new fund, and more.

Morningstar Analysts, 10/29/2007

Change is in the works at the top of Columbia Management, Bank of America's asset management branch and advisor to the Columbia Funds. The bank announced on Oct. 24 that Keith Banks, president of Columbia Management, will leave his current post at the end of the year for the firm's investment banking unit where he will serve as president of global wealth and investment management. Although Bank of America has yet to announce Banks' successor, the news follows the September appointment of Colin Moore, head of equity, to the firm's chief investment officer role.

Under Banks' watch, Columbia made significant strides on the stewardship front, including streamlining the sprawling hodge-podge of funds that resulted from the 2004 merger between Columbia Funds and Nations Funds and shoring up the organizational weaknesses that contributed to regulatory violations at both firms.

Other shareholder-friendly actions overseen by Banks include improved communication with shareholders and an overhaul of portfolio manager compensation to emphasize long-term performance over short-term performance and asset growth. While we think Columbia's corporate culture has room to improve, we're encouraged by the considerable progress that's already been made and hope to see this continue under a new chief.

Fidelity Reopens Fund, Announces Multimanager Group
Fidelity announced on Oct. 25 that Fidelity Advisor New Insights FNIAX, run by manager Will Danoff, will reopen to investors on Nov. 1. The fund has been closed since April 2006. The company cites slowing cash flows and Danoff's reduced responsibilities elsewhere as reasons for the reopening. But with Danoff running roughly $87 billion between this fund and sibling Fidelity Contrafund FCNTX, we question whether the reopening serves shareholders' interests.

Fidelity also announced that some of its former managers are returning to run the first of what could be more investment vehicles using a multimanager approach. The team consists of eight managers who will each run separate sector-based portfolios. Former Growth & Income FGRIX manager Steve Kaye will run the health-care sleeve, for example, while Advisor Capital Development's FDTTX Adam Hetnarski will manage the technology-stock portfolio. Robert Stansky, former Fidelity Magellan FMAGX skipper, will oversee broader duties at the fund, such as daily cash flow and risk management, but stock selection for each sector rests squarely in the hands of the individual managers. So far, the firm has not announced plans to launch a mutual fund in this strategy.PAGEBREAK

Manager-of-the-Year Contender to Helm New Fund
UMB Scout Funds is leveraging proven talent in its plans to launch a new international fund. James Moffet, who has successfully run the all-cap UMB Scout International UMBWX since its 1993 inception, will spearhead efforts at this new fund, which will focus on mid- and small caps. We recently highlighted Moffet as an early contender for our 2007 International-Stock Manager of the Year award. Although he hasn't won in the past, Moffet was one of three finalists for the award in 2005. Michael Stack, a comanager on the International fund, will join Moffet here.

The fund, to be called UMB Scout International Discovery, would be only the second international fund offered by the family. The firm plans to open the fund around the end of this year.

Apart from its lower-market-cap mandate, this fund will diverge from Moffet's current charge in one other respect: steep costs. The fund's proposed initial expense ratio of 1.6% is well above the median levy in its no-load peer group.

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