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Can Fidelity Build a Better Value Shop?

Better known for a sprawling suite of growth funds, Fidelity finally adds muscle to its value lineup. 

Christopher Davis, 05/29/2012

It's hard to become a jack of all trades, but that doesn't stop big asset managers such as Fidelity from trying. Like big competitors such as Vanguard and T. Rowe Price, it houses practically every asset class and investment style under the same roof.

Fidelity's record in mastering different investment disciplines has been mixed. There surely are big bright spots. Its Merrimack, N.H.-based fixed-income operation is top rate, for example, and there are pockets of excellence scattered about the Boston-based equity side of the house.

Success in the value realm has been more elusive, though, especially among large caps. Indeed, as of March 2012, eight of nine Fidelity large-value funds landed in the category's bottom half for the trailing five-year period, while all four with 10-year records lagged their typical rivals. The shop's three mid-cap value funds' five-year records also placed in the bottom half of the pack, with two of three  lagging over the 10-year period as well.

What's Gone Wrong?
While portfolio managers deserve plenty of time to prove their worth, Fidelity left value skippers such as Stephen Petersen and Bruce Dirks at the helm for too long. Petersen delivered relatively consistent results for nearly two decades at Fidelity Equity-Income FEQIX, though overall returns during his tenure, which ended last October, were only middling. Dirks turned in uninspiring returns for roughly six years before Fidelity left him with oversight responsibilities for just one fund--Fidelity Stock Selector Large Cap Value FSLVX (formerly Fidelity Large Cap Value)--in August 2011.

With nondescript strategies, it's not surprising Petersen and Dirks never stood out. Both managers hewed closely to their benchmark, limiting their ability to distinguish themselves from their competitors. And despite his dividend-oriented mandate, Petersen didn't set Equity-Income apart in terms of yield or company quality, so it failed to provide the kind of downside protection you'd expect from a fund of its type.

Fidelity is hardly a stranger to value investing--Equity-Income launched in 1966, after all--but its growth roots run much deeper. Most Fidelity managers focus primarily on companies that can beat earnings expectations, not on those that look cheap. Moreover, a far larger slice of the firm's assets resides in growth strategies: Fidelity's 34 diversified, domestic growth funds account for $240 billion in assets, versus $29 billion for the 12 diversified, domestic value funds. The firm's analyst research reflects this growth bias; Fidelity Stock Selector All-Cap FDSSX, which encompasses the analysts' top picks across major market sectors, lands in the large-growth camp. Although the value managers draw from the same vast analyst pool as their growth counterparts, it may well be that they've had a tougher time putting such research to good use.

How Fidelity Can Get It Right
It may be tough to master both value and growth investing, but it's not impossible. Other big firms, such as T. Rowe Price, have been successful in both realms. Like Fidelity, T. Rowe Price managers rely on the same central analyst team. And its broad lineup, which first included value funds in the 1980s, grew from growth roots. Indeed, the firm's founder, Thomas Rowe Price, pioneered growth investing in the 1950s. It's helped that despite the differences in style, both value and growth investors share moderate, valuation-conscious strategies. Both camps avoid the extremes, neither deep value nor aggressive growth. Fidelity tolerates a wider range of approaches, though, which requires its analyst group to serve a wider spectrum of constituencies. And at least some portfolio managers will have to customize the analysts' research to suit their strategies.

Other rivals have taken different paths. American Century, for example, is perhaps best known for momentum investing, but value offerings such as American Century Equity Income TWEAX are arguably its strongest suit. Unlike Fidelity and T. Rowe, American Century's analyst structure is decentralized, with a compact group of portfolio managers and analysts working in smaller, tight-knit teams. This model isn't inherently superior, but rather than serving different types of masters, analysts and managers are viewing stocks through the same lens.

Christopher Davis is a senior fund analyst with Morningstar and editor of Morningstar's Fidelity Fund Family Report, a monthly newsletter that offers independent, no-holds-barred guidance on the pros and cons of this dominant fund family. He welcomes e-mail but cannot give investment advice. Click here for a free issue of the Fidelity Fund Family Report.
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