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Investing Specialists

Which Fund Managers Stood Out in 2015?

Morningstar.com readers weigh in with some of their favorites.

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If  T. Rowe Price Capital Appreciation (PRWCX) manager Dave Giroux is looking for justification for a raise, Morningstar.com readers supplied him with some talking points this past week. 

In response to my query in Morningstar.com's Discuss forum about which managers deserve consideration for Morningstar's Fund Manager of the Year nominations and honors, Giroux received the most mentions by far. Giroux backers pointed to the now-closed moderate-allocation fund's string of excellent returns, including a 5.4% 2015 gain that landed it in its category's top 1% in last year's challenging market climate. 

Readers shared favorites within other categories, too. The discussion of potential Fixed-Income Fund Manager of the Year winners was particularly lively, as readers debated the virtues of established managers running giant funds as well as lesser-known skippers. 

To read the complete thread or to share the names of the fund managers you think are worthy of the Morningstar Fund Manager of the Year award, click here. Morningstar will announce the names of its winning managers on Morningstar.com and CNBC on Jan. 26.

'The Best Overall Fund With the Best Manager. Period.' 
Giroux's backers came out early and in force. Cegibbs kicked things off by noting that "his record and consistency are remarkable." 

Numerous posters lauded Giroux's ability to adjust to changing market conditions, which has helped his fund deliver remarkably smooth performance. Hdw4567 said that "when things get rocky in the markets [Giroux] can keep the ship afloat and gets a good amount of the upside when the markets are chugging along." 

That Giroux has managed to deliver despite the fund's size also sparked comment. Rich2884 noted that "the fund has actually done even better versus its moderate-allocation category since the fund closed to new investors in June 2014."

Other allocation-fund managers had their boosters, though. Rathgar suggested that the team at  American Funds American Balanced (ABALX) merits Fund Manager of the Year consideration for the moderate-allocation group; that fund added an impressive 2015 return to its string of successful campaigns. For cegibbs, Ramin Arani at  Fidelity Puritan (FPURX) rates a close second to Giroux; this poster called Arani "very underrated." Rogern and OceanMinded both touted Bruce Fund (BRUFX) as worthy of note among allocation managers. OceanMinded also gave a shout-out to conservative-allocation fund  Vanguard Wellesley Income (VWIAX)

'It's an Aggressive Winner'
Last year was a challenging one for equity investors, with the S&P 500 flatlining for the year. But growth stocks managed better results, so it's probably not surprising that posters tended to cite growth-leaning managers as worthy of consideration for Domestic-Stock Fund Manager of the Year honors.

Healthcare managers received repeat mentions. Funkywatusi, for example, nominated  Vanguard Health Care's (VGHCX) Jean Hynes for Domestic-Stock Fund Manager of the Year honors, pointing to this Gold-rated fund's 13% 2015 return as well as its very strong long-term numbers. (Hynes took over from longtime manager Ed Owens at the end of 2012.)

HAILERS, meanwhile, put forth Rajiv Kaul of Fidelity Select Biotechnology Portfolio (FBIOX) as a domestic-equity contender. Thanks to its narrow focus on a red-hot part of the market (or at least it was until recently; biotech has dropped like a rock so far in 2016), the fund's absolute and relative returns are outstanding.

Posters also enthused about various growth-leaning diversified domestic-equity funds. Amwendel nominated  Fidelity OTC (FOCPX) manager Gavin Baker, noting that the fund "has not only performed well in 2015 but over the last three years." Rogern seconded the nod for Fidelity OTC, but also found  Fidelity Contrafund (FCNTX) worthy of an honorable mention.

Several growth-oriented T. Rowe Price domestic-equity managers received mentions as well. A few posters named Brian Berghuis of  T. Rowe Price Mid-Cap Growth (RPMGX) as worthy of consideration, while Rightismight believes  T. Rowe Price Blue Chip Growth's (TRBCX) Larry Puglia should be in the running for Fund Manager of the Year honors. T. Rowe sector fund managers also received mentions, including Joshua Spencer of T. Rowe Price Global Technology (PRGTX) and Paul Greene of T. Rowe Price Media and Telecommunications (PRMTX).

Rathgar believes that Michael Carmen, who manages Hartford Growth Opportunities (HGOAX), a large-growth fund, merits more attention. "He has been flying under the radar for a long time," Rathgar wrote.

The team at the closed  Brown Capital Management Small Company (BCSIX), a small-growth fund with a remarkably strong long-term track record, received mention as well. "It's an aggressive winner and my first choice," wrote Rogern; OceanMinded also views the fund as worthy of consideration.

'The Energizer Bunny of Funds'
Posters didn't have as many nominees in the international-equity and alternatives groups--probably not surprising that these groups were generally disappointing in 2015.

Yet, the management team that stood out most for skipperchg does, in fact, hold most of its portfolio overseas, and that's the group running  Tweedy, Browne Global Value (TBGVX). This poster calls it "the Energizer Bunny of funds," thanks to its string of recently strong returns. In contrast to many of its foreign-stock fund peers, this offering avoids foreign currencies and downplays emerging markets--fortuitous in a period in which the dollar has appreciated and emerging markets have tumbled.

The managers of Lazard Global Listed Infrastructure Portfolio (GLFOX),  MFS International Value (MINIX), Morgan Stanley International Global Opportunity (MGGPX), and  Thornburg International Value (TGVIX) also received mentions.

On the alternatives side, just one team's name came up: the team running AQR Equity Market Neutral (QMNIX) and AQR Long-Short Equity (QLEIX). In a year in which stocks and bonds were trending sideways, both funds posted double-digit gains in 2015.

'A Definite Frontrunner'
Among bond-fund managers, Dan Ivascyn, manager of  PIMCO Income (PONDX) (and now the firm's chief investment officer), received several mentions. Under the direction of Ivascyn and comanager Alfred Murata, PIMCO Income added to its string of successful calendar-year campaigns in 2015, generating a 2.3% return even as the Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index managed just a tiny gain.

Dtconroe wrote, "[The PIMCO Income managers] actively manage and adjust their portfolio over the years to stay competitive, even when its assets under management have grown to over $50 billion." Racqueteer seconded Ivascyn's nomination, calling him a "definite frontrunner."

 DoubleLine Total Return Bond's (DLTNX) Jeffrey Gundlach also received repeat mentions, thanks in large part to its continuing string of very strong relative returns. Posters also suggested that the team running the tiny Performance Trust Strategic Bond (PTIAX), a multisector fund, is worthy of consideration for Fixed-Income Fund Manager of the Year honors, as well as the team in charge of the Bronze-rated  TCW Total Return Bond (TGMNX).

Christine Benz has a position in the following securities mentioned above: TBGVX. Find out about Morningstar’s editorial policies.