January 13, 2016 / 3:36 PM / 3 years ago

The big fund manager mistake of 2015? Being de-FANGed

BOSTON (Reuters) - Missing out on the hot technology stocks known as the “FANG” group last year came back to bite some well-known mutual funds.

A trader talks on the phone as he walks outside the New York Stock Exchange before the opening bell of the trading session in the Manhattan borough of New York City, January 7, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Funds like the AMG Yacktman Fund and the Gabelli Asset Fund that avoided Facebook Inc, Amazon.com Inc, Netflix Inc and Google - now Alphabet Inc – dramatically underperformed peers that loaded up with the fast-rising tech stocks, according to a review by Thomson Reuters’ Lipper unit.

In fact, despite a volatile year in which active managers faced shifting trends in many sectors, it seems that simply choosing to overweight the FANG group was the path to beating the market. Without them, the S&P 500 Index would have declined 2.7 percent last year; instead it fell 0.7 percent, according to Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research.

For the year, among 228 funds reviewed by Lipper, those that had less than 5 percent exposure to the FANG group fell 1.3 percent on average; funds with more than 10 percent exposure rose 6.4 percent.

Shares in Amazon and Netflix more than doubled last year as both added more content and subscribers to their competing video-on-demand-services. Facebook rose 34 percent as the social media giant continued to increase mobile ad revenue, while Alphabet also increased revenue and showed more cost discipline, boosting its shares 47 percent.

Of the four, all but Amazon have outperformed the S&P 500 so far in 2016 through Tuesday, although it is far too soon to say if the group will repeat its performance for investors in 2016.

Broadly speaking, those managers who liked the FANG stocks last year still do, while those who missed the boat still don’t want to get on board, especially now the shares are that much more expensive.

“Even with the frothy multiples, people don’t appreciate the earnings power of these companies,” said Jonathan Sherman, managing director of the FANG-heavy $14.4 billion JPMorgan Large Cap Growth Fund.

All four companies are disrupting their industries and can justify their high prices, Sherman said. The fund had 17 percent of assets in the four companies and a total return of 7.6 percent last year, beating 72 percent of peers, according to Lipper.

But Jason Subotky, manager of the $8.6 billion AMG Yacktman Fund, which held none of the four stocks, sounded unrepentant, despite trailing 96 percent of peers last year. “We’re not remotely interested in paying prices like these,” he said.

Christopher Marangi, who runs the $2.6 billion Gabelli Asset Fund,, has been fielding calls from clients concerned about missing out on the FANG play. His fund trailed 85 percent of peers with a loss of 5.87 percent last year, and held just a small stake in Google parent Alphabet.

The four companies “generally do not offer enough margin of safety for us to purchase - too much potential value sits in a future which has a great degree of variability,” he said.

He said that eventually “Our hope is that we get the calls from clients thanking us for keeping them out of certain speculative areas.”

Reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston; Additional reporting by Tim McLaughlin; Editing by Linda Stern and Frances Kerry

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