Cash Piles Up at Some Funds

Having too much cash on hand is a problem most people would like to have. But a number of prominent value funds are finding so few opportunities in the market that they have been forced to stockpile cash -- or even close their funds to new investment. Mutual fund analysts, however, say the data point to less of a trend towards cash than simply the bearish behavior of a few picky portfolio managers.

The $8.2 billion ( LLPFX) Longleaf Partners fund is the latest to close to new investors. The fund's board of directors said it will reopen the fund "when additional investment opportunities exist and cash inflows would again benefit existing shareholders." The fund will close July 16 with 29% of its assets in cash.

The Longleaf announcement comes hot on the heels of high profile fund manager Robert Rodriguez's decision to close his $1.4 billion ( FPPTX) FPA Capital fund -- with over 30% of its assets in cash -- to new investors. The change was effective July 8.

According to Longleaf co-portfolio manager Mason Hawkins, "We are unwilling to commit capital to marginally attractive investments because the risks are higher and the prospective returns are lower. We believe that our patience and discipline today will pay off handsomely over the next five years."

With $2.4 billion in cash to spend, there's no doubt that Hawkins has the ability to go on the mother of all shopping sprees when he feels the time is right.

He might just have some competition. The $4.2 billion ( WVALX) Weitz Value fund is currently holding 28% of its assets in cash and the $6.7 billion ( CFIMX) Clipper fund was up to 33% cash at the end of the first quarter (Clipper's second-quarter cash stake will be released next week).

Roseanne Pane, mutual fund analyst at Standard & Poor's, says a buildup in cash is often seen as a bullish indicator because fund managers who keep their powder dry will eventually bid up prices when they return to the market. Furthermore, fund managers with cash stockpiles can also be forced off the sidelines by anxious shareholders afraid of missing a rally.

Pane says market rumors of a cash buildup have been persistent, but she has not actually seen it reflected in industry data. Likewise, Charles Biderman, founder of fund-tracking firm TrimTabs, says there is little evidence -- other than the growling of "some bearish fund managers making individual decisions" -- to support the theory that cash is building up on the sidelines.

In fact, the data reveal a drop in overall cash levels, which lends credence to the belief that this is merely a phenomenon isolated to a few value funds. The Investment Company Institute, or ICI, reported that cash for U.S. equity funds dipped to $127.6 billion in May from $134.6 billion in April. The ICI also reported that cash as a percentage of total net assets for U.S. stock funds declined to 3.9% in May from 4.1% in April. June results will not be released until late July.

Kunal Kapoor, director of fund analysis at Morningstar, says the cash crowd is a small but loud one.

"It's not a trend, but a lot of well-known large-cap managers are getting louder when they say its getting harder to find things to buy," says Kapoor.

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