Malcolm Fobes III is no
. And he's no Malcolm Forbes, either, despite the similarity between his name and that of the deceased founder of the
Fobes is the portfolio manager of the
Berkshire Capital Growth and Value
fund, which is not connected to the esteemed company Buffett heads,
, in any way -- except maybe through its portfolio.
"We do own Berkshire Hathaway," says Fobes, adding that it's "totally coincidental."
"We are a focused fund, but we do want to have exposure to companies like
," Fobes says. Through Berkshire Hathaway, "we get our exposure to those fantastic companies without having to have those companies in our portfolio itself," he says.
Fobes says he named his fund after the county of Berkshire in England, to which he says he has distant familial ties. "It goes way back," he says without offering specifics. "It's a family thing."
The fund typically holds fewer than 20 stocks, most of them with a technology bent. Coincidentally, Buffett believes in a concentrated portfolio as well.
Fobes' fund returned 104% in 1998 and is up 21% in 1999. The performance has earned the 20-month-old "Rookie of the Year" fund acclaim from
Mutual Fund Magazine
. Now that's a tag that
helped Fobes with his fund, he says.
"Having the name Berkshire did not make us one dime until we made a name for ourselves," says Fobes.
Another fund, though, is trying to capitalize on the Berkshire name and makes no bones about it. The
, offered by the
Atlanta Investment Counsel
, was launched in February to try to match returns of Buffett's investments.
"We're trying to emulate the portfolio as much as possible," says Douglas Davenport, president of Atlanta Investment Counsel.
Of course, the fund won't be able to hold the private companies in Buffett's portfolio, such as
. But Davenport says he'll try to substitute other companies in the same industries to try to match the returns of Buffett's portfolio.
Funny, then, that he wasn't poring over Buffett's annual shareholder letter that made news last week.
"We haven't had a chance to look at it," Davenport said a few days after its release. "Our portfolio will not look exactly like that portfolio."
Davenport's fund gained
Securities and Exchange Commission
approval to use the Berkshire name, and it outlines clearly on the first page of its prospectus that the fund has no connection to Berkshire Hathaway.
Of course, buying the same companies as Buffett can't guarantee the same returns that have been emblematic of Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett, perhaps the most famous value investor in history, has held many of his companies for years, and he bought them when they were much cheaper.
The fund carries a hefty 5.75% load on top of a 1.4% expense ratio.
Presumably, it's the returns of
funds that have made them popular among socially responsible investors.
Citizens Emerging Growth has turned in a 23% annual return since its birth five years ago, besting the 14.3% return of its mid-cap peers.
But it's no wonder. If you look at the holdings of Emerging Growth, it had 43% of its assets in tech stocks as of Jan. 31, according to
. Since tech has been such a good bet in recent years, who couldn't post good returns with that much tech?
Joe Keefe, executive vice president of Citizens, says tech just happens to be a very successful sector that is also very progressive in its social ways.
"We believe our social and environmental screens help us identify well-managed companies that are the companies of the future," Keefe says.
Socially responsible funds usually seek companies that are environmentally friendly, have progressive work policies and are responsive to shareholder advocacy. But sometimes it seems they're defined more by what they
invest in -- for example, cigarette maker
or oil giant
. But they do invest in
despite its antitrust difficulties because it has a reputation for progressive work policies.
So how can you tell how socially responsible a socially responsible fund is?
Franklin Research & Development
, a Boston-based socially responsible investment house, grades these funds. For the fourth quarter of 1998, Citizens Emerging Growth got an A-minus. That's as high as any equity fund got last quarter.
"We think there's always room for improvement for everybody," says Eric Becker, editor of the
Investing for a Better World
newsletter, which Franklin publishes.
Becker says Citizens does well on the social rankings because "it has among the broadest screens, including covering animal rights. That's something a lot of funds don't cover."
Delaware Social Awareness, for example, got a low C-minus, Becker says, because it doesn't have any "positive" or proactive screens, which seek out socially responsible companies rather than just trying to omit irresponsible ones.
As for Citizens, Becker says it's one socially responsible company that's got the drill down -- both in terms of conscience and returns.
"The track record of Citizens is really quite impressive," he says. "It's starting to get to be long enough where you can say this is no fluke and compares favorably" with the returns of mainstream funds.