More lumps of coal for major misdeeds, stupidities of 2006

YOUR FUNDS

Your Money

December 19, 2006|By CHARLES JAFFE

I've made my list and checked it twice, and because picking on the naughty is always so nice, here is the second installment of the 2006 Lump of Coal Awards.

Lumps of Coal go to mutual fund managers, executives, firms, watchdogs and others who deserve nothing more than an inky chunk of carbon in their Christmas stocking this year. They earned that distinction in 2006 as a result of action, attitude, performance or behavior that is offensive, disingenuous, duplicitous, reprehensible or just plain stupid.

The remaining 2006 Lump of Coal Awards go to:

The Securities and Exchange Commission, for being more than three years into the rapid-trading scandals of 2003 and still not having resolved all of these cases. Fund companies actually were lining up to pay the fines, and yet the agency still hasn't gotten through all of the cases. Couple that with no real progress in turning collected fines into legitimate "investor education tools" and the fund industry's black eye has become contagious and stained the regulators too.

ProFunds, for a big gesture that investors should completely ignore.

Late in the summer, ProFunds Group filed registration papers on 66 new exchange-traded funds, all of them leveraged, hard-to-use and completely unnecessary for any typical investor.

ProFunds was hardly alone in creating esoteric, semi-active, head-scratching or goofy new products - Rydex, PowerShares and Claymore, among others, all were in the same boat - but no other firm did more to solidify the wrong public image of ETFs, the one which says they're only meant for traders and pros.

Jack Bogle, for continuing to rail against ETFs when he should celebrate them, up to a point.

This feels a bit like giving a lump of coal to Santa Claus, because Bogle - "Saint Jack" to some - gets much of the credit for convincing average investors that low-cost, index investing was a sound idea.

But Bogle has made no secret of the fact that he dislikes ETFs, speaking out against them seemingly at every opportunity. He has called them a "pretty shotgun - great for hunting, but equally perfect for suicide."

A message of "traditional funds good, ETFs bad" is wrong, because there are dumb, poorly constructed index funds (like the Stock Car Stock Index). With ETFs gaining steam, Bogle needs to stop fighting progress and focus instead on helping consumers identify the investments - whether fund or ETF - that best let them follow the investment strategy he has championed for decades.

Directors for the 27 mutual fund companies working with BISYS Fund Services. BISYS provides back-room operations for more than two-dozen small fund families, and revealed this year that it had been paying kickbacks to some of those funds to get and keep the accounts. That money came directly from shareholders, in the form of heightened expense ratios.

The boards of funds doing business with BISYS owed it to shareholders to investigate, and then to tell shareholders in a special letter what they found and what it means to investors. Just one of BISYS' customers bothered to inform the most important people - the shareholders.

Carole S. Kinney, the Lump of Coal Mis-Manager of the Year, for usurping her father to earn the title of worst fund manager in history.

Kinney's father, Charles Steadman, was widely considered the worst fund manager ever when he died in 1997. Over the 30 years leading to the time of his death, Steadman's worst mutual fund lost 90 percent of its value; during that three-decade period, the Standard & Poor's 500 was up more than 1,500 percent.

Kinney and her husband, Jerome, have been listed as managers of Ameritor Investment since April 2000, and while they purportedly left the stock picking to a consultant, she gets the heat because she could have closed the miserable Ameritor (nee Steadman) funds years ago.

Instead, she has done more in six years than her father accomplished in three decades; if you had $10,000 invested in Ameritor Investment fund at the start of 2000, you've got 48 bucks left today. That's a 99.5 percent loss, including a decline of more than 85 percent in 2006 alone. With shares now trading at a penny, assets down well below $100,000 and an expense ratio that is virtually impossible to calculate - but that might reach triple digits if you could - Ameritor appears set to become the first fund in history to ride bad management all the way to zero.

Finally, a follow-up to a Lump of Coal awarded last week. The Chicken Little Growth fund has raised capital and reimbursed shareholders for the extra expenses it sponged off the fund in November. That said, the fund warned in a filing that it may run short of cash again and that expenses could rise from 3 percent to 12.5 percent any time that happens. Translation: The sky is back in place, but it may start falling again soon.

Chuck Jaffe is senior columnist for MarketWatch. He can be reached at jaffe@marketwatch.com, or at Box 70, Cohasset, MA. 02025-0070.

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