Will Your Fund Manager Be Fired Next?

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Fidelity Investments fired Harry Lange as manager of the Fidelity Magellan (FMAGX) fund, once the firm's flagship and an industry bellwether.

Magellan's record since famed investor Peter Lynch oversaw the fund is marked by fund-manager turnover and a big run-off in assets as its performance has lagged its benchmark and that of its peers.

Magellan isn't alone in seeing shrinking assets as skittish investors are jumping in and out of funds this year. Redemptions from long-term mutual funds reached $32.5 billion in August after outflows of about $17.1 billion in July. "August marked the most severe mutual fund outflows since November 2008," Morningstar said.

The industry's actively managed funds, from which fund firms generate most of their revenue, have felt the lingering sting of losses from 2008's stock-market blowup and individual investors' move toward indexed exchange traded funds, said Todd Rosenbluth, a mutual fund industry analyst for Standard & Poor's Capital IQ.

ETFs took in $947 million in August, following July's huge $17.2 billion. U.S. ETFs have realized only a single month of outflows in the trailing 12 months, according to Morningstar.

As for manager turnover, Mark Coffelt, manager of the $40 million Empiric Core Equity Fund ( EMCAX), said that "every manager is under the gun. It's been a horrible decade and a very difficult time to invest."

He said it's particularly tough on managers of the biggest funds because sometimes there's too much money and not enough attractive investments. "Look at what Warren Buffett said: 'Size is the anchor of performance.' Even he did better in the market when he didn't have as much capital."

The returns at Magellan have been bitterly disappointing to investors, many of whom expected it to continue to post the annual 29% returns seen under Lynch, who ran Magellan from 1977 through 1990.

During that period, Magellan's assets under management grew to $14 billion from $20 million, as people new to investing avidly bought mutual funds and helped spur the mutual fund industry's exponential growth. By 2000, Magellan's assets had ballooned to $110 billion.

Unfortunately for Fidelity, Lynch's successors couldn't come close to his record.

Now there have been five managers since Lynch, with Lange holding the longest tenure at six years.

Since he started in November 2005 and through his departure last week, Magellan lagged more than 90% of its large-growth rivals with its mere break-even returns, according to Morningstar. In 2008 alone, Magellan lost 49% versus the S&P 500's 37% decline.

Fund assets are now down to $17 billion. Morningstar gives Magellan a lowly one-star rating out of a possible five.

Lange was preceded by Robert Stansky, who during his tenure was criticized for tracking the S&P 500 Index.

Russ Kinnel, a mutual fund industry analyst at Morningstar, said the replacement of Lange came as no surprise. "I had been speculating it would happen in the first quarter."

He said Lang and Stansky "were both quite disappointing" as managers of Magellan.

The new manager is Jeffrey Feingold, a Fidelity employee since 1997 and currently the manager of Fidelity Trend Fund ( FTRNX) since 2007. He also manages the $152 million Fidelity Large Cap Growth Fund ( FSLGX), and two small funds.

The $1 billion Trend fund, a large-cap growth fund, beat the S&P 500 in three out of the past four years, but it's down 2.5% this year versus the S&P 500's 3% gain.

Another big mutual fund seeing manager turnover is the $2.1 billion Janus Worldwide Fund ( JAWWX). On March 14, George Maris took over the fund from interim manager Brent Lynn who was on the job 10 months. He replaced Laurent Saltiel, who managed the fund for all of 13 months.

Janus Worldwide, a large blend fund, is down 13% this year versus the 10% decline for other funds in its category, putting it in the 81st percentile. Perhaps more telling is that it's eked out an average annual return of 0.8% over the past 10 years, putting it in the 97th percentile for the period, a performance that long-term investors should find tough to stomach.

Venerable fund manager Bill Miller, once named a Morningstar fund manager of the decade for his work at the Legg Mason Value Trust ( LGVAX), is also under pressure, even though he's been on the job since 1982.

Over the past five years, the Value Trust has fallen an annual average 8.3%, and this year it's down 11%. That performance has likely contributed to investor run-off, as it now has $3.4 billion in assets, compared with $21 billion at its peak a decade ago.

Morningstar's Kinnel said the situation for Miller is different from that of Lange due to his longevity and good -- formerly great -- long-term record. "But I would expect he's feeling the pressure as he's had a long difficult go at it."

Miller is reportedly increasingly sharing the management burden with other fund managers at the firm.

Fidelity fund manager Keith Quinton, who has run the $10 billion Fidelity Disciplined Equity Fund ( FDEQX) since 2006, may also be looking over his shoulder.

Over the past three years, Disciplined Equity's performance ranking puts it in the 96th percentile in its large blend fund category, as ranked by Morningstar. It's not much better over five years, where it's in the 91st percentile.

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Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors and reporters from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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