As individual investors shift more money into low-fee investments, the pressure to cut expenses could make money management a less attractive career, a veteran fund manager said Wednesday in Minneapolis.
“Historically, the industry has been grossly overpaid, and that’s shaking out right now,” Bob Deere, investment director at Dimensional Fund Advisors in Los Angeles, said at Intellisight, the yearly conference of the CFA Society of Minnesota.
“That’s why it’s so big. People are attracted to it. An engineer will start a fund instead of going into engineering,” Deere said.
But the investment flows from actively run mutual funds to index-based and other passive investments show that high-fee fund management has been “outed,” he said. “The hurdle is really high” for fund managers to persuade investors they have better information, Deere added during a panel discussion about active and passive investments.
“Don’t be afraid to mix both in a portfolio,” said Scott Opsal, director of research at the Leuthold Group, a Minneapolis investment firm, noting that active- and passively run funds respond to economic and market conditions differently.
Passive investments tend to fare better when the economy and market are strong, while actively managed investments outperform in volatile conditions. Jessica Murray, a portfolio manager at Thrivent Financial, said active investors have found it can be lucrative to bet against herd-like movement of funds flowing in and out of index-based and other passively managed investments.
In other highlights from the conference, in which top executives from 42 Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Dakota publicly traded companies met with analysts and investors:
• Brett White of General Mills outlined the Golden Valley-based company’s strategy to integrate recently acquired Blue Buffalo Pet Products during fiscal 2019, which began May 28.
The company has four strategies for Blue Buffalo: growing the brand with younger pet owners, building brand awareness with “pet influencers,” making the products more widely available and increasing the brand’s share in wet foods and treats, White said.
Investors viewed the Blue Buffalo deal, which closed April 24, skeptically. Some said General Mills paid too much — $8 billion, a 23 percent premium to its stock price before the deal announcement. Others are giving chief executive Jeff Harmening time to prove the merit of his decision.
White, vice president of finance for General Mills’ North America retail business, said its yogurt business appears to be on the rebound. U.S. yogurt sales have been the company’s biggest weakness for several years, but it clawed its way back to a slight growth in market share at the end of its last fiscal year.
Product innovation, like Oui by Yoplait and Yoplait Mix-ins, played a key role in that uptick, he said. Oui, a French-style yogurt, hit $100 million in sales in its first year, a feat White called “incredibly rare.” He attributed some of the product’s appeal to its glass pot.
• Sheila Anderson of Daktronics, the Brookings, S.D.-based maker of huge video displays, including those at U.S. Bank Stadium and Target Center, said its newest innovation can be found in smaller settings, like the new Bat & Barrel bar at Target Field.
The company is seeing fast-rising demand for “narrow pixel pitch” displays that use the same technology, light emitting diodes, as giant scoreboards. They yield sharp images for displays that are bigger than LCD-TVs but smaller than scoreboards.
“These are higher-dollar, higher-margin products,” Anderson said. She said Daktronics is also seeing growing demand for highway road signs as states make updates.
• Andrew Rooke, CEO of Grand Rapids-based ASV Inc., was a first-timer at the conference, now in its seventh year. And for good reason: The company just got out from another owner last year.
ASV, a maker of rubber-tracked compact track loaders and wheeled skid steer loaders, was founded more than 30 years ago and was an independent public company in the early 2000s until it was acquired by Terex Corp. in 2008. ASV didn’t fare well under Terex ownership and returned to the public markets through an IPO in May 2017.
At the time of the 2008 acquisition, ASV had annual sales of $246 million. When it returned as a public company, sales had dwindled to $103.8 million. “We are rebuilding the brand and our own distribution,” Rooke said.
The company still has its proprietary “Posi-Track” undercarriage system that is a product differentiator in the industry. Rooke said ASV can get back to $250 million in annual revenue by 2022.