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Westwood's Byrne Drops Manager Title

Wintergreen legal drama ends and more. 

Rob Wherry, 03/09/2012

Susan Byrne is no longer a named manager at Westwood LargeCap Value WHGLX and Westwood Balanced WHGBX, according to a recent SEC filing. She remains co-chief investment officer and chairman of the board of Westwood Management Corp. WHG, the Dallas-based investment shop she founded in 1983. The firm, with $12 billion in assets under management, primarily serves institutional clients but started launching retail funds in 2001. However, Byrne's mutual fund track record dates back to 1987, when she began running GAMCO Westwood Equity WESWX. She's delivered strong long-term returns there, with the fund's cautious, risk-conscious approach helping it hold up particularly well in downturns. (Westwood LargeCap Value, launched in 2006, is a cheaper version of the GAMCO strategy.)

Westwood has had a succession plan in place for quite some time. During the past decade, the firm has fostered a more team-based stock-picking approach and bolstered its research ranks with both junior and veteran analysts. Byrne had stepped back from day-to-day management responsibilities during the past couple of years. The team overseeing LargeCap Value and Balanced remains in place. Byrne will continue to mentor the younger analysts in addition to working on the firm's new product launches.

Wintergreen Activism Gets Results, Sort Of
Wintergreen Advisers recently announced that it had reached an amicable resolution with Consolidated-Tomoka Land CTO, one of its portfolio holdings with which it had been fighting in court over access to the company's records. While the stock currently represents just 1.42% of assets in Wintergreen WGRNX as of Dec. 31, 2011, the advisor altogether owns more than 25% of the small-cap company when other accounts are included.

This resolution brings to an end legal wrangling that over the past few years had led to an almost entirely new board of directors and a new CEO at Consolidated-Tomoka, as well as other shareholder-friendly initiatives related to the board, such as separating the chairman and CEO roles.

While Wintergreen has been successful in its efforts to effect change at the company, CTO has not been a good investment for the fund. Wintergreen first bought CTO in 2006's first quarter, and at one point, the stock made up roughly 8% of fund assets. As of the end of 2011, the value of the fund's investment was roughly half its cost. That said, Wintergreen has been one of the world-stock category's best-performing funds since its inception in late 2005.

DFA Veteran to Head Firm's Institutional Business
Stephen Clark, head of portfolio management at Dimensional Fund Advisors, is becoming head of the firm's institutional group for North America. Clark, who joined DFA's portfolio management team in 2001, is replacing Dave Schneider, who is retiring. Schneider has been with DFA for 30 years, joining the firm shortly after the firm's founding in 1981.

Joseph Chi, who has been a DFA portfolio manager since 2005, and Jed Fogdall, who has been a DFA portfolio manager since 2004, will become co-heads of portfolio management. Chi works out of DFA's Santa Monica, Calif., office while Fogdall works out of its Austin, Texas, office, so their appointments provide representation in DFA's two major offices.

Like Clark, Chi and Fogdall have been members of DFA's senior investment committees, which regularly review strategy execution and recommend strategy changes. As is typical for most DFA managers, they have been managing a variety of strategies along with Clark, like DFA International Small Company DFISX and DFA Emerging Markets Value DFEVX. Clark will continue to be a named manager on several DFA funds as he will retain his positions on the investment committees. In his new role, Clark will head up the client-facing side of DFA's North American institutional business. DFA has a history of appointing those with asset-management experience to client-facing roles as its unique investment process can require additional client contact. Most of the firm's asset base is institutional.

American Beacon Liquidates Fund
American Beacon announced it will liquidate American Beacon Large Cap Growth ALCGX on May 18, 2012. According to a recent SEC filing, the company expects the $175 million fund to experience large redemptions. The filing didn't outline the reasons for the outflows.  

Meridian Funds Make a Move
The Meridian Funds have been in a state of transition ever since Richard Aster, the lineup's longtime manager, died in February 2012. Aster owned 96% of the fund's advisor, Aster Investment Management. When that stake was transferred to a trust after his death, the fund's board of directors considered it a "change in control" and terminated the management contracts between the funds and the advisor, according to a recent SEC filing. The board, though, is now taking steps to ensure that Aster Investment Management will remain the advisor going forward. It immediately re-hired the firm on an interim basis until July 15, 2012. In the meantime, the board is preparing new contracts between Aster Investment Management and the funds that shareholders will vote on before the temporary arrangement expires. The 150-day contract ensures the funds will be run by their existing managers using the same strategies. Given that all three funds-- Meridian Growth MERDX, Meridian Value MVALX, and Meridian Equity Income MEIFX--have relatively low turnover, shareholders shouldn't expect much change over the next five months. It also gives the firm plenty of time to hire addition staff if need be. The ratings for Meridian Value and Meridian Growth remain under review.

Schwab Hires Manager for Allocation Funds
In February 2012, Schwab named Zifan Tang as the new portfolio manager for its allocation funds, which includes the Schwab target-date series, the Schwab MarketTrack funds, the Schwab Monthly Income funds, and Schwab Balanced SWOBX. After former manager Dan Kern left the firm in mid-2011, Schwab temporarily named Jake Gilliam from its collective trust team to run the funds while it searched for a full-time replacement. Tang joined Schwab at the beginning of 2012, having previously worked at Barclays Global Investors where she was involved with that firm's target-date series. Tang was not named a manager on those funds, though, and does not have a public track record as a portfolio manager elsewhere. The Schwab Target funds have been plagued by manager turnover and frequent changes to the portfolio allocations since their 2005 inception.

Pioneer Board Elects a New Chairman
Pioneer Funds announced Thomas Perna will replace John F. Cogan Jr. as chairman of the board. Perna was previously one of the board's trustees. Cogan, the firm's previous CEO before it was sold to UniCredit in 2000, will remain on the board as a trustee.

More Layoffs at AllianceBernstein
AllianceBernstein AB reportedly laid off a dozen employees from its marketing and communications departments. The news comes on the heels of an earlier round of layoffs two weeks ago that cut 31 investment positions. The firm has been beset with management turnover and poor performance.

JPM Shifts Manager Ranks
Christopher Blum has been promoted to the head of global equity solutions for global wealth management within JPMorgan's asset management division. His new role will require him to step down as comanager at JPMorgan's Intrepid series of funds, which use quantitative screens based on behavioral-finance factors. Dennis Ruhl and Pavel Vaynshtok will be added as comanagers at JPMorgan Intrepid America JIAAX, JPMorgan Intrepid Value JIVAX, and JPMorgan Intrepid Growth JIGAX. Ruhl will also be added to JPMorgan Intrepid Multi Cap JICAX.

Invesco IVZ announced changes to its municipal-bond team. The changes reflect a series of consolidations that have occurred at the firm since its acquisition of the Van Kampen mutual fund lineup in 2010. Gerard Pollard has been removed as a manager at Invesco High Income Municipal AHMAX and Invesco Van Kampen High Yield Municipal ACTHX but remains as an analyst at the firm. Franklin Ruben, also formerly listed as a co-portfolio manager on the funds, will be leaving Invesco. Richard Berry and Stephen Turman, members of Invesco's investment-grade municipal-bond team, have also left the firm. The current comanagers remain at the helm.

Wasatch recently launched Wasatch Frontier Emerging Small Countries WAFMX. The fund is led by veteran manager Laura Geritz, co-portfolio manager for the closed Wasatch Emerging Markets Small Cap WAEMX.

Yulin Li is now comanager on Buffalo China BUFCX. He joined the firm as a research analyst in 2010.

Hussman Funds is launching Hussman Strategic Value. It applies the firm's discounted cash-flow valuation approach to dividend-paying companies with yields greater than the S&P 500 Index average.

The Aberdeen board of trustees approved the merger of Aberdeen Emerging Markets GEGAX into Aberdeen Emerging Markets Institutional ABEMX. The merger is expected to occur in the second quarter of 2012. There shouldn't be many changes: The funds run similar strategies.

Ryan Kelly was added as portfolio manager at Prudential High-Yield PBHAX. Kelly has worked at Prudential for nearly 10 years as a high-yield credit analyst.

Ashish Swarup has replaced Robert von Rekowsky as comanager of Fidelity Total International Equity FTIEX, joining Jed Weiss and Alexander Zavratsky. Swarup also runs Fidelity Advisor Emerging Markets Discovery FEDAX and is based in London. His appointment should make it easier for the firm to incorporate its European team's work into the international fund.

Joseph Wolfe is no longer listed as a comanager on Northern Enhanced Large Cap NOLCX. Stephen Atkins is no longer listed as comanager of Northern Large Cap Value NOLVX. The other portfolio managers on each strategy remain in place.

Dreyfus/Standish Fixed-Income SDFIX manager Peter Vaream is no longer listed as a portfolio manager. Manager David Bowser remains.

Fidelity has replaced comanager Michael Valentine with Rayna Lesser on Fidelity Advisor Stock Selector Mid Cap FMCDX.

Rob Wherry is a mutual fund analyst with Morningstar.

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