Investors have gotten restless with activist fund manager Ralph Whitworth as his firm's losses on Home Depot and Sprint Nextel dragged down returns for the past year.
Investors have gotten restless with activist fund manager Ralph Whitworth as his firm’s losses on Home Depot and Sprint Nextel dragged down returns for the past year.
Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan pulled all its cash from Relational Investors, and the firm that oversees endowments for the two main Texas public university systems made a partial redemption, according to a recent regulatory filing.
The Ontario fund, which originally invested $400 million, is the biggest defection since Whitworth and partner David Batchelder founded the San Diego-based firm in 1996.
Relational Investors, which manages more than $7 billion for clients including the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, holds investments for three to five years and lobbies companies to make changes it says will boost their stock price.
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Though the firm has outperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index during the past decade, its up-and-down returns can strain investors’ patience.
“What happens is our portfolio is a private-equity portfolio that gets marked to market every day,” Whitworth said. “There is often some ugliness in these projects” until they are completed, he said.
Most investors are staying put, and the firm has received additional commitments of $1.7 billion in the past six months, Whitworth said.
The firm’s returns dropped 28.5 percent in the 12 months ended July 18, compared with the 16.8 percent decline of the U.S. benchmark S&P 500 Index. During that period, Home Depot, the world’s largest home-improvement retailer, plunged 40 percent and Sprint, the third-biggest U.S. wireless carrier, fell 61 percent, including dividends.
Whitworth, a former money manager for T. Boone Pickens, and Batchelder, who also advised the billionaire oilman, invest in companies trading at what they consider a discount to underlying value. Relational Investors, like other value investors, paid the price this year for buying beaten-up retail and financial-services stocks and missing the surge in commodity-related companies.
“Almost every manager in the world, whether they are in the activist camp or a normal value investor, completely misread the fact that the relative real price for commodities and food was going to go up,” said Brian Gibson, who cofounded Panoply Capital Asset Management in Toronto.