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|Born||Thomas Harland Forester
December 15, 1958
|Occupation||money manager, trader|
|Known for||Only profitable stock mutual fund manager in 2008|
|Title||founder, Chairman, and CEO|
Thomas H. Forester (born December 15, 1958) is an American mutual fund manager. He was the only long-focused United States stock mutual fund manager to make a profit in 2008. He had previously been the highest return mutual fund manager of the 6000 tracked by Morningstar and one of only two managers to turn a profit for the third quarter of 2002. He had also previously been number one in his asset class year to date through November 1, 2004, although controversially.
Forester is a value investor who makes financial decisions based on financial statistics such as price/earnings ratio. His fund focuses on large cap stocks. He has been a contrarian investor for many years. Like many value investors, he is a more of a portfolio investor than a short-term trader.
Forester grew up in Illinois, where he helped his father manage an investment portfolio through the turbulent 1970s. He started his career as a money manager in 1992 assisting in the management of a US$50 million fund for Sir John Templeton. He later worked for Wells Fargo & Co. in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Scudder Investments in New York City. In 1998, he experienced a losing investment in sub-prime lenders. Forester moved to Libertyville, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago, in 1998 when he purchased a home in the town. In 1999, he started his own large cap value fund with $100,000 of his own money. Although he was in cash during the dot-com bubble, which proved to be profitable for a while, he trailed the S&P 500 by 28% in 2003. He also trailed the market from 2005–2007.
His wife, Kaye, with whom he is raising two children, had been encouraging him to close his business prior to 2008. In October 2007, they agreed that he would close the business if he was not beating the S&P 500 by 10% by March. Although he only led the market by 9.5% his wife agreed to allow him to keep the business going. After his fund took first place for year-to-date returns in the summer, he put 30% in cash. Although, he is not repeating his success in 2009, his fund is receiving large cash contributions.
Forester has been involved in civic duties in Libertyville and national political efforts. As of 2004, he was a trustee of the Cook Memorial Library District. In 2004, he attempted to run on a Republican slate of delegates for United States President George W. Bush. However, due to an insufficient number of signatures on the slate's petition, they were removed from the ballot. He was unsuccessful in his election to the Cook Memorial Library District Board in during the 2005 municipal elections.
Forester Value Fund
In 2004, the fund was subject of controversy when Morningstar attempted to reclassify it into the conservative-allocation fund category. Mutual fund managers, including Forester, believed that the fund belonged in another classification such as a large-cap value fund, which is how Lipper had it classified. Value Line Inc. classified it as an income fund at the time. The move bumped Alpha Hedged Strategies Fund out of first place for its classification year to date as of November 1, 2004. The controversy not only led to complaints directly to Morningstar, but also to the Securities Exchange Commission.
In 2008, there were 8200 diversified United States stock mutual funds, and they averaged a negative 39% rate of return. 1,700 of these funds have been in existence for over three years and have assets of at least $50 million. Forester's Forester Value Fund (FVALX), which is Morningstar five-star-rated, gained .4% in 2008 although one year it lagged the Standard & Poor's 500 (S&P 500) by 30%. The fund, which had been up 7% through June 30 by avoiding the housing crisis and the credit crisis, was down 4.3% on the year through December 15 and 0.82% on the year entering the last day of trading. In 2008, the second best of the 1,700 funds was Mario Gabelli's Gabelli ABC Fund, which lost only 2.6%. Morningstar tracks a total of 9,918 mutual funds that averaged a 39.1% loss in 2008. Much of Forester's success was attributable to large cash positions. However, he also benefited from several timely trades in the banking sector, health care. His fund held positions in countercyclical stocks that perform well in recessions. He had also held large cash positions during the dot-com bubble. In the third quarter of 2002, his fund was one of two out of 6000 that turned a profit. One of the most important financial ratios for Forest was the ratio of home prices to incomes, which helped him foresee trouble in the housing market.
He has had very inconsistent returns managing his fund. During the last seven years, his fund has been in the top 20% of its peer group three times and in the bottom 10% four times. Over the past three years, the fund has nearly broken even. Forester's fund has a 1.35 expense ratio. Through 2008, the fund had a five-year total return of 25%. His fund's three-year and five-year averages are 9% and 7.5% ahead of the market. He is a low P/E investor who buys with full market cycle investing in mind.
Forester in the media
Suddenly, during and after his 2008 market success, Forester, who runs his fund from Libertyville, became a celebrity. He made his first television appearance in December and newspapers from as far away as Chile's El Mercurio have requested interviews with him. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal Forester conceded that because his fund is smaller than many of his peers, he is able to get in and out of portfolio positions faster than others and that his returns would have been much lower if he had been managing a larger portfolio. However, he said his success at beating the market was more attributable to his financial market assessments than his fund's size. Because of the publicity his fund has been receiving in the down market its assets under management grew fivefold during 2008.
Due to Forester's investing style of buying low P/E stocks with good earnings prospects, he is compared to Warren Buffett. Forester loosely quotes Buffett at times such as in Barron's Magazine when he said: "It's When The Tide Goes out that you find out who's swimming without a bathing suit. I have mine on." Although he is now likened to Buffett, Forester maintains Templeton as his role model. He invests by the philosophy credo that "I buy undervalued stocks, and if there are none, I go to cash."
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