Vanguard replaces Explorer fund managers, aiming to improve performance

Vanguard Group, the $4 trillion Malvern-based investment giant, says it has hired ClearBridge Investments LLC, New York, to replace two much smaller firms -- Kalmar Investment Advisers of Wilmington and Granahan Investment Management, Waltham, Mass. -- investing about $1.8 billion of its $12 billion Vanguard Explorer stock fund.

Vanguard Explorer's record "fails to distinguish itself" from the benchmark Russell 2500 Growth Index, Morningstar writes. According to Morningstar, $10,000 invested in Explorer (VEXPX) in March 2007 would be worth around $20,600 today, vs. $21,000 for the S&P 500 fund (after paying fees.) Explorer also trailed in the recent five- and three-year periods, though it beat key indices over the last 12 months.

ClearBridge, founded in 1962, targets stocks that are potential "category leaders" that invest for "long-term, sustainable growth," Vanguard said in its statement. According to SEC data complied by Nasdaq, ClearBridge at Dec. 31 invested $97 billion in nearly 1,200 companies, especially tech, health-care and consumer stocks, led by UnitedHealth Group, Comcast Corp. (Philadelphia), Biogen, Anadarko Petroleum, Microsoft, TE Connectivity (Berwyn) and J&J.
"After years of sitting on its hands, it appears Vanguard is finally getting 'active' with its management of the fund," writes Jeff DeMaso of the Independent Adviser for Vanguard Investors newsletter, adding that few Vanguard directors own Explorer shares. 

"Explorer has long been weighed down by multiple sub-advisers," DeMaso added, noting that Explorer "has been outperforming" its target since December, when Vanguard fired another Explorer manager, Tri-State Bank's Chartwell Partners, of Berwyn.  

Explorer advisers will now include Wellington Management (around $4 billion), Vanguard Quantitative Energy Group (more than $2 billion), and ClearBridge, Arrowpoint Asset Management, and Stephens Investment group, which split the rest (plus a small cash position). Vanguard says it does not expect Explorer expense ratios to change.

Though it is well-known for indexing funds to the S&P 500 and other benchmarks, Vanguard traces its origins to its actively managed Wellington stock-and-bond fund, started in 1929.

Around one-third of the firm's current investments are in actively managed funds, which generally charge higher fees than index funds. Morningstar says Explorer's fees are low compared with others in its class. Vanguard says that "over the past 10 years, 95 percent of Vanguard’s actively managed funds outperformed their peer group averages," citing data from Lipper. 

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Top management and more than 70 staff at home-automation developer Zonoff's Malvern offices have joined "video doorbell" maker Ring, where they are now the new "Ring Solutions" division, says Jamie Siminoff, Ring's "chief inventor and founder."

Zonoff boss Mike Harris is now Ring's "president," Siminoff said. "He is someone whom I have known for a long time and have a huge respect for. We are really lucky to now be able to work with Mike Harris, [ex-Zonoff chief tech officer] Mike Balog, and some other really talented Pennsylvanians."

While Ring is based in Santa Monica, Calif., Siminoff says he is "looking actively" for a new location for the former Zonoff team, near their homes in the Chester County suburbs.

The staff switch followed quickly after an earlier plan to sell the venture capital-backed home-automation platform developer to Honeywell for around $40 million "fell through," reports Stacey Higginbotham of Austin-based staceyoniot.com.

Zonoff raised $32 million (led by Grotech, Valhalla) and counted Staples as a client back in 2013-14. And its future seemed attractive.

But Higginbotham, citing unidenamed sources close to the company, wrote that "Zonoff had been struggling with one of its largest strategic investors, alarm giant ADT, after it went private in 2016. ADT’s buyer, Apollo Global Management, was more focused on the security side of the business rather than the smart home," and likely Zonoff acquirers were also ADT competitors, making it tougher for Zonoff to close a favorable deal.

So Harris began looking for a corporate parent for his team. Siminoff flew to Philadelphia and offered Zonoff workers their jobs on March 2, shortly after Zonoff laid them off.

Ring is a larger firm: DFJ Growth, Goldman Sachs, Qualcomm, Sir Richard Branson, and others committed $109 million to Ring in January. Ring employs more than 1,000 and plans more deals.   

Apollo, whose investors include the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania state pension funds, is run by partners including Sixers lead owner Josh Harris

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