Like a shiny English pound coin in a dustbin, Jean-Marie Eveillard and Charles de Vaulx's
First Eagle SoGen Global fund is a standout in the battered foreign fund pack. That's why they're our foreign stock fund managers of the year.
Let's face it, in a year when every foreign stock fund category
lost ground, it's not easy to hand out hardware. But unlike most of its competitors, the broker-sold First Eagle SoGen fund, which blends stock and bond investments, is well in the black this year, up 9.1% since Jan. 1. The co-managers' conservative tack might not get your pulse racing, but in a lousy year like this one, it's been downright thrilling.
Since the fund's launch in ye olde 1979, Eveillard has practiced a cautious, value-oriented approach. He and de Vaulx, who became a co-manager in 1987, invest in obscure, foreign, small- and mid-cap stocks they believe are trading for less than they're worth, and hold them for years. The fund's top holding at the end of October, for instance, was
, a German maker of heating systems, in which 6.5% of the fund's money was invested. A third of the global fund's assets were invested in U.S. securities on Oct. 31.
Charles de Vaulx and Jean-Marie Eveillard
Assets: $1.5 billion
1-Year Return: 10.7%, Beats 98% of Peers
10-Year Return: 11.1%, Beats 67% of Peers
*Since fund inception, de Vaulx since 1987. Sources: Morningstar
The veteran managers undercut the volatility of their stock holdings by typically keeping between 10% and 15% invested in bonds. That's paid off, given that the fund's worst one-year loss over the past 20 years was its 1.3% dip in 1990.
Even though the fund's bond stakes churn out taxable income, Eveillard and de Vaulx's modest trading have made their style more tax-efficient than their average peer, and the fund's 1.32% annual expense ratio is below average for the category.
Though these two boast a solid record, their cautious style is designed to shine brightest in a tough year like this -- the fund's 9.7% gain last year trounced its peers as well. But there are downsides to the slow and steady approach. Their strategy will often seem winded in a market led by pricey growth stocks, as it did in 1995 and 1998. That said, this year proves the value of this defensive, price-conscious approach and the managers practicing it.
Other managers who were on our short list in this category were Hakan Castegren (
Harbor International), the team behind the
EuroPacific Growth fund, as well as Richard Pell and Rudolph-Riad Younes (
Julius Baer International Equity).
Speaking the Language
Source: Morningstar. Returns through Dec. 26.
Ian McDonald writes daily for TheStreet.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He invites you to send your feedback to
firstname.lastname@example.org, but he cannot give specific financial advice.