There's more than one reason mutual fund managers wind up on
Sure, it would be nice if these networks chased down the best and the brightest to dish out kernels of investment wisdom. But a big reason why one mutual fund portfolio manager or other appears on your favorite financial news program may be because the fund company he or she works for shelled out the dough to build an on-site television studio. With financial markets coverage now round the clock and investment gurus like Peter Lynch so much in demand, television producers are all too happy to broadcast from remote television studios built by investment firms on their own.
Fund companies have been joining the big brokerage firms lately in building full-blown, on-location TV studios. It's all part of an investment firm's carefully choreographed advertising and branding strategy. So, head's up, investors: There are plenty of reasons to buy into a fund because of the manager, but face time on the tube doesn't guarantee outsize performance.
installed a camera on its trading floor in Pittsburgh at the cost of several hundred thousand dollars. Since then, TV interviews with Federated portfolio managers have expanded from 25 to 250 a year, says J.T. Tuskan, vice president, director of corporate communications at Federated.
This has translated into millions of dollars in new assets that Federated would not have been able to attract had it not gotten its name out there, Tuskan says.
But if you invested in a few Federated equity funds just because it's become more of a household name, you'd be in for a surprise. Three core Federated equity funds have delivered pretty significant negative returns this year, according to
. Federated Aggressive Growth, which has $203 million of assets under management, is down 33.8% in the year to date through Nov. 10, pushing it into the bottom 98th percentile among its small growth fund peers. Federated Growth Strategies, a mid-cap growth fund with $1.201 billion of assets under management, is underwater 14.1% in the year to date, putting it in the bottom 87th percentile among its peers. And Federated Large-Cap Growth, a large growth fund with $427 million of assets under management, is off 23.2% in the year to date. This fund is in the bottom 97th percentile among its peers.
Firms like Federated that are located outside major financial centers have also built on-site television studios.
T. Rowe Price
of Valley Forge, Pa., and
of Milwaukee are among them. Fund behemoths
John Hancock Funds
, all located in Boston, have built on-site TV studios.
Lord Abbett Funds
, headquartered in the New York area, is currently building one.
"They want exposure, and it's good for their brand," says Lou Harvey, president of
, a mutual fund marketing and communications research and consulting firm in Boston.
The explosion of financial news coverage "has created a feeding frenzy among fund portfolio managers and analysts to get on camera," says Philadelphia-based fund consultant Burton Greenwald. The star power of becoming a glib talking head can mean much higher compensation levels for a fund manager, and the people who are giving these interviews are very aware of the promise of more money, Greenwald says.
But what's good for the portfolio manager isn't automatically good for the investor, Greenwald notes. Ryan Jacob, who rode the Internet wave to fame at
Kinetics Asset Management
, has taken it hard on the chin with his own Jacob Internet Fund. He is a good case of celebrity status possibly misleading investors, Greenwald says. Jacob got enough TV face time while he was "hotter than the blazes" with his triple-digit Internet returns to become an Internet fund cause celeb, Greenwald says. But his fund is off 66.5% so far this year, according to Morningstar.
Vanguard reasons that having an on-site TV studio enables its portfolio managers to give their insight on market-moving developments while keeping their eye on their portfolios, says Brian Mattes, a spokesperson for Vanguard. Knowing that a Vanguard talking head on the television screen still has his pulse on the market should be a solace to Vanguard investors, Mattes says.
"There has been a steady growth in both brokerage firms and fund companies putting in studios," agrees Andy Breslau, director of guest bookings at
. "It doesn't surprise me, given the explosion of interest in finance by the media," says Breslau, who believes on-location studios at a wide variety of companies and business sites -- not just fund companies and the floor of the
New York Stock Exchange
-- is going to become more common.