By Aja Carmichael (WSJ)
Once well respected among mutual-fund heavyweights, portfolio manager Don Yacktman in recent years has been buffetted by critics taking swings at his conservative investment strategy.
But the 67-year-old may be quieting that criticism. Yacktman Fund’s (trading symbol YACKX) recent asset growth and healthy returns have once again put Mr. Yacktman on an all-star path.
Despite last year’s plummeting market, Mr. Yacktman’s flagship large-cap fund has managed a loss of about 2% during the past 12 months; the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index has dropped roughly 30% in that period. Mr. Yacktman, along with son Stephen, who co-manages the fund, has also restored the fund’s assets to a competitive level at $530 million. The growth is driven by the Yacktmans’ efforts to protect the fund’s investments and exit from a few consumer names to focus on the media sector.
The elder Mr. Yacktman, who was pegged as a top stock picker in the 1980s for his management of Select American Fund, credits his recent success to staying true to course. He said he hasn’t altered his investment strategy much during the past 20 years.
“It hasn’t changed dramatically; it’s just that we have been able to refine it more,” he said. “I think our batting average has improved and that comes from our number crunching and refining the process.”
But things weren’t always so rosy. The fund in 2000 had assets of $69 million, and it produced single-digit returns. Experts called Mr. Yacktman’s value-management style outdated during the peak of the bull market and tech-stock boom.
Also, Mr. Yacktman took criticism from financial advisers over the past two years for holding too much cash, reaching about 25% at one point in early 2007.
The five-star fund buys profitable stocks that have struck out with the market. The firm recently reduced its long-standing consumer focus and grabbed shares of Viacom, Liberty Media and News Corp., owner of The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Yacktman said he is now “Dumpster diving,” putting cash to work and scavenging for fallen stocks that could have high rates of return. He recently swooped in on Pfizer as well as a couple of battered retail names, Abercrombie & Fitch and William-Sonoma.
The Texas-based fund holds 31 stocks, including Coca-Cola, Microsoft and eBay. It requires a minimum investment of $2,500 and doesn’t have a front load. Year to date, the fund is up 21%; the S&P 500 is down 0.2%. Over a three-year span, the fund has risen 1.4%, versus the S&P’s 8.5% decline.