Green succeeds by doing what so few fund managers do these days. He bucks trends, ignores fads and shuns traditional sector weightings and allocations. Instead he calls himself a "deep-value contrarian." He looks for shares that are out of favor with investors but where he sees a catalyst that can bring them back into demand.It's the equivalent of a savvy fashionista who shuns the ludicrous prices on Fifth Avenue and instead picks through the bargain bins looking to grab next year's hot item on the cheap. So what's he buying now? In a word: growth. Green, in his latest missive to his investors, says he's raising his stakes on selected technology, media and telecoms stocks. He also sees "interesting opportunities" in certain retail and drug companies. The reason: So-called growth stocks have been out of favor for so long that today he thinks they offer the best "value" in the market. So much for all the institutional handcuffs that stop the managers of your "value" fund from investing in "growth" companies, even if they make exactly the same calculation. The old stock market division between cheap, low-growth "value" stocks and more expensive, high-growth stocks was only valid as long as shares in low-growth companies stayed cheap and their counterparts stayed expensive. Like most artificial investing rules, it started to become invalid almost as soon as it became orthodoxy. This is why great investing is an art as well as a science.
It's the end of an era. On Dec. 29, Andrew Green, one of the best mutual fund managers of the past two decades, finally closed his funds to new money. London-based Green, who works for UBS' ( UBS) Global Asset Management division, decided that $8 billion was about as much as he could handle if he wanted to continue to beat the market. It's something worth thinking about here in the U.S., where greedy fund management companies continue to put their own interests before those of their investors and let successful funds bloat with new money to $30 billion, $40 billion or even more. Green's success since launching his flagship International Growth (now Global Diversified) fund in January 1984 is something to write home about. Annual returns have averaged 15.2% over that period -- fully a third better than the MSCI index of the world stock markets he invests in. Over 23 years he's turned a $10,000 investment into about $360,000 -- compared to just $95,300 for his benchmark. OK, this figure is boosted by the falling dollar. But even at constant exchange rates, it would come to $260,000. The figure for the Standard & Poor's index over the same period? Just $85,000. No wonder so many investors were prepared to pay a 5% front load, plus 1.5% in fees a year, to get on board. How does he do it?
Green isn't alone in his view, incidentally. Other top managers, such as Oakmark's Bill Nygren, have been talking about the value among growth stocks for some time. Recent trends, Green says, suggest that "the anticipated change in leadership (from 'value' to 'growth') may be taking place." His current top 10 holdings include six international stocks listed on the NYSE and easily available to ordinary U.S. investors: the former British Telecom, BT Group ( BT); natural gas company El Paso ( EP); gold mining giant Barrick ( ABX); pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline ( GSK) and Bristol-Myers Squibb ( BMY); and Italian car company Fiat ( FIA). Green is also bullish on Japan. In 2006, Tokyo once again had a horrendous boom-and-bust that swung the Nikkei 225 index between 17,563 and 14,045. U.S. investors who want to follow his footsteps might look at Daiwa Securities' broadly based $135 million closed-end ( JEQ) Japan Equity Fund . At last count it traded at a useful 4.2% discount to net assets. Hey, it's not much -- but every bit counts. Green says that now he's keeping his eye on inflation and is holding a decent chunk of cash, but he's "cautiously optimistic" about markets for 2007. Intriguingly, that includes the U.S. He has long argued that U.S. shares are too expensive in relation to their overseas counterparts. And he still holds just 14% of his fund in dollar-denominated assets. However, after years of underperformance, he obviously now believes Wall Street is looking reasonable again, because he says he is gradually buying more shares here.