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Fidelity Star Manager to Take Short Leave

Fidelity Low-Priced Stock's Tillinghast plans fourth-quarter leave.

Christopher Davis, senior mutual fund analyst, 07/18/2011

Fidelity today said Joel Tillinghast, the longtime and hugely successful manager of Fidelity Low-Priced Stock FLPSX, would be taking a leave of absence beginning Sept. 6, 2011. Tillinghast plans to be back at the fund's helm in January 2012.

In the interim, Fidelity Advisor Small Cap's FSCTX Jamie Harmon will become the temporary lead manager and will have a five-member supporting cast each with sector specialties. This group, which includes Rayna Lesser, Shadman Riaz, Cathy Buck, John Mirshekari, and Justin Bennett, manages sector-focused sleeves in either Fidelity Stock Selector Small Cap FDSCX or Fidelity Large Cap Value FSLVX. According to Fidelity's equity fund chief Brian Hogan, Tillinghast handpicked each member of this team.

Tillinghast isn't checking out entirely. Hogan says he'll lead weekly seminars for Fidelity's younger analysts and possibly a Boston-based MBA program. Moreover, Harmon won't be able to trade stocks in the fund's top 50 holdings without consulting Tillinghast first. As a result, investors shouldn't expect significant changes to the portfolio. (Given the fund's $35 billion asset base and mid- and small-cap focus, even attempting to make them would be tough to pull off in the relatively short amount of time Harmon and his group will oversee the fund.)

For his part, Harmon sports a strong record at Advisor Small Cap, which he has run since late 2005. And his strategy shares a lot in common with Tillinghast's. Harmon also employs a value-oriented style; he favors steady-Eddies whose growth prospects are misunderstood. And he invests broadly, holding a much larger international stake than his peers and most of his Fidelity counterparts.

Given his talents, intelligence, and experience, Tillinghast is virtually irreplaceable. Were his departure permanent, there would be greater cause for concern. However, the fund will be in good hands while he steps back temporarily. His ongoing engagement while on leave and his continuing enthusiasm as an investor make it extremely likely he'll return to the helm in January.

 

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