Fund geek that I am, I always look forward to seeing Morningstar's choices for
fund manager of the year . I have only one minor grievance with the Morningstar awards: Since it's a backward-looking laurel, there's no way to profit from it. With that in mind, for today's column I humbly submit my early nominees for 2004's Manager of the Year. Hey, sportswriters are expected to make preseason predictions, why shouldn't financial journalists be required to the same? I base my early nominations on some hunches about the direction of the markets in 2004. The key themes will likely be: a flight to quality; dividend-paying stocks; value over growth; and the continued ascent of Asian markets. Of course, as the fund scandal continues to unfurl, firms that look out for us little folks will again draw the attention of Morningstar -- and more investor dollars. Of course the odds are pretty slim that I'll pick the eventual 2004 winners out of the universe of thousands of mutual funds. However, hopefully, this list will ameliorate the one grievance I have with the Morningstar choice: By calling them early, I'm making my prediction that these funds are poised to outperform the pack in 2004.