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Fund Spy

A Preview of Coming Attractions

Jeremy Grantham, Will Danoff, and Michael Hasenstab are among the participants at this year's Morningstar Investment Conference.

The 2012 Morningstar Investment Conference kicks off here in Chicago on Wednesday, June 20. With the event just three short weeks away, now's a good time to preview coming attractions. Below I've focused on a group of sessions and keynoters that seem like safe bets for this year's highlight reel, but the lineup is strong overall. I'm biased--I was on the team that helped put this year's program together--but the participants we've invited and the topics they'll address are wide ranging, timely, and relevant for investors of all stripes.

The 2012 conference's speakers and panelists span asset classes, strategies, investment vehicles, and geographic boundaries, fueling a diverse set of panel topics. Among them: the state of the euro, investing across the capital structure, and the prospects for equities, bonds, and cash in light of the past few years' tumult, current valuations, anemic bond yields, and 10 years of real-return water-treading for equity investors.

Morningstar's moderators will host sessions on a range of the topics. My colleague Harry Milling will guide a discussion about the impact of trading costs. Andy Gogerty will provide a primer on ETF managed portfolios and tactical asset allocation. Jeff Westergaard, Morningstar's director of municipal analytics, will lead a panel discussion about municipal-bond credit-quality trends and the asset class' riskiest issuers. I'll host a trio of fund managers for a deep dive into the market's tech sector. 

In other sessions Christine Benz, Morningstar's director of personal finance, will zero in on the challenges today's retirees face. Nadia Papagiannis, our director of alternative fund research, will focus on managed futures, and Tom Idzorek, the newly named president of Morningstar's global investment management division, will weigh in on diversification in a non-normal world.

If you're not able to join us for this year's conference, you can still play along at home. Morningstar.com will provide plenty of coverage. And with the financial media in heavy attendance, stories filed while the conference is underway as well as post-game wrap-up reports should be easy to find. For now, here's a pregame rundown of the conference sessions that I'm especially looking forward to. 

Meet the New Boss and the Quarter-Century Club
During the Meet the New Boss discussion, we'll hear from a trio of money managers who have recently taken the reins at prominent mutual funds, including Ian Lapey ( Third Avenue Value (TAVFX)), Matthew McLennan ( First Eagle Global (SGENX)), and Guy Pope ( Columbia Value & Restructuring (UMBIX)). At the other end of the spectrum are the veterans who will anchor our Quarter-Century Club conversation: Will Danoff (Fidelity), Brian Rogers (T. Rowe Price), and Susan Byrne (Westwood Holdings). 

Much has changed about the fund industry during the course of these luminaries' storied careers. Comparing their perspectives with those of managers who have taken over for luminaries should prove interesting.

Meet Your Maker
GMO's Jeremy Grantham has a reputation as a scary permabear, but that's misguided. He's a serious student of market history and, consequently, a staunch mean-reversionist when it comes to equity valuations--an orientation that has served GMO investors remarkably well over the course of many years. He's also a probing investment theorist--Grantham has done impressive, deep-dive research on the fabled presidential cycle effect--and a thoughtful curmudgeon about the asset management business. (Google Grantham's name and "career risk" to get a glimpse.)

Grantham has been with us before. His perspective can sometimes rattle even the most risk-tolerant of investors. If history is any guide, though, he'll almost certainly deliver his keynote talk to a packed house.

Meet George Gatch
Another of this year's keynote speakers, JP Morgan's George Gatch, isn't a household name. As CEO of the firm's funds business, though, Gatch has presided over considerable growth during a challenging period for asset managers and for large banks that own them. During each of the last three calendar years, flows into JP Morgan's funds have grown at a double-digit clip. At the close of 2008, the firm's total assets stood at $50 billion. By the end of 2011, they had climbed to nearly $140 billion.

With tremendous growth comes a lot of responsibility, and the asset management and banking industries haven't always covered themselves in glory on that front, launching trendy vehicles at the wrong time and funds that seem designed more for the fund companies' benefit than their shareholders'. Large banks attempting to maintain asset management organizations have frequently stumbled because of mismatched incentives, organizational complexity, or the troubles on one side of the house affecting the health of the other. How to succeed in terms of both asset growth and investor results ranks high among the questions I'm hoping Gatch will address either in his talk or during the always lively Q&A that will follow it.

Michael Hasenstab
Flows into bond funds have generally been torrential in recent years, and another of our keynoters, Franklin Templeton's Michael Hasenstab, has been deluged. At the end of 2009, assets at his  Templeton Global Bond (TPINX) stood at roughly $25 billion; today, the fund hovers near $61 billion. The fund has struggled of late, but it's been a strong outperformer over the course of Hasenstab's entire tenure. Its Morningstar Analyst Rating of Gold underscores that the fund's prospects remain bright.

Hasenstab was the Morningstar Fixed-Income Fund Manager of the Year for 2010. Given investors' seemingly insatiable appetite for yield amid record-low interest rates, Hasenstab's talk will be an especially timely set opener. He's slated to speak on the conference's first day, just after Morningstar CEO Joe Mansueto wraps up his opening remarks. 

Shannon Zimmerman does not own (actual or beneficial) shares in any of the securities mentioned above. Find out about Morningstar’s editorial policies.