Legg Mason, which struck it rich with its Value Trust, is trying to duplicate its success with two new funds -- the Legg Mason Total Return Trust and the Legg Mason Special Investment Trust.
Value Trust, with $430 million, has produced a total return of 199.1 percent in 3 1/2 years. That's about twice as good as the tally for the Standard & Poor's 500.
The Baltimore-based brokerage firm says that $10,000 invested in Value Trust on April 16, 1982, when the fund began, would have grown by the end of 1985 to $29,910, which is 35.5 percent a year compounded.
At one point last year, Value Trust was the best performer on the list of 521 equity funds monitored by Lipper Analytical Services.
The man most responsible for picking the stocks that have gone into Value Trust is Ernest C. Kiehne, director of investment policy, who has gained wide respect in the industry for his savvy approach to investing.
Viewed as a group, the three Legg Mason funds will cover a broad investment territory, said John F. Curley Jr., president of the funds. "Total Return is more conservative, Value Trust is in the middle and Special Investment Trust is more aggressive," he said.
Total Return Trust, he said, is geared to investors who are thinking of retirement in five to 10 years. As such, it has two goals: growth in the value of the stock it holds and income. On the other hand, Special Investment Trust is for investors who want a bit more risk, "a little bit more spice," Curley said.
The new Total Return Trust has been in business about a month and already has $25 million invested. The Special Investment Trust, after only a few days of activity, has garnered $2 million. All of the investments come through Legg Mason brokers.
The speed with which most new funds are able to attract money seems rather remarkable. In less than a year, four new funds in the Baltimore-Washington-Richmond region have raised almost $87 million. When you add the $27 million raised by the two new Legg Mason funds, the total is $114 million.
The Southeastern Growth Fund, run by Wheat, First Securities in Richmond, opened last April and now has $41 million. The five-month-old Growth Fund of Washington, sponsored by Johnston, Lemon & Co., has $35.1 million in its accounts.
The Washington Area Growth Fund, sponsored by the Calvert Fund, was comparatively slow to start but is up to $8.1 million after seven months. The new, five-portfolio Rushmore Fund, started by Money Management Associates of Bethesda, is at $2.5 million.
Where is the money coming from? Individual Retirement Accounts and other pension-related purchases are bringing in a large share of the money. Some investors are taking their maturing certificates of deposit and, rather than renew at 8 percent or so, are betting they can do better in a mutual fund. Other cash comes from investors who would prefer to leave stock selection and portfolio management to the professionals.
In the last 10 years, nationwide, the number of funds that invest in stocks grew from 314 to 579, and now have a current value of $105.4 billion. Much of the growth has taken place during the last four years, when 239 new funds were started and $51.8 million was added to the pool.
One of the most popular ideas is to establish a "family of funds." Fidelity Investments of Boston, for example, lists 44 funds covering almost every imaginable type of investment. They even allow an investor to pick his favorite "theme" in stocks, such as health care or leisure companies.
One of the older "themes" is the "value" investing approach followed by Legg Mason's Value Trust. Value investing means finding a solid, well-run company whose stock is depressed temporarily. It may be because profits are down or sales have fallen off -- or any one of the many reasons a company can fall out of favor with investors.
The idea is that when a company's business eventually turns up -- along with its profits -- share prices will climb -- and so will the investments made by Value Trust. The idea is better known as "buy low, sell high."
That's the theory of Value Trust, and so far it seems to have worked.
But it may have worked too well.
After 3 1/2 years, Value Trust now has $430 million and what could be called an "embarrassment of riches." With so much money, it has gotten harder and harder for Legg Mason to buy the low-price, limited-float stocks of small companies, where future growth often is to be found.
As a result, Value Trust found itself pushed into the stocks of larger companies, where it is harder to find bargains, said William H. Miller, director of investment management for the Legg Mason funds. The larger companies tend to be watched much more closely by analysts in the securities industry, more is known about their stocks and they are priced, to use a market phrase, "more efficiently."
For a time, said Miller, the company thought about capping the Value Trust but decided, instead, to open the new funds. He said he expected the Special Investment Trust to be capped when it reaches $200 million to preserve its ability to deal with the stocks of smaller companies.
In a sense, the Special Investment Trust will be a replica of what Value Trust was in its early days. Miller and his colleagues will again look for out-of-favor companies. But there's a new wrinkle. They also will look for companies that may be involved in reorganizations or restructuring.
"We will not buy stock in a company just because it is being taken over," Miller said. But while they won't leap into speculative situations, they will look at what a company is worth and buy on fundamentals, he said.
Even doing just that can lead a fund to takeover situations. Miller noted that 10 percent of the companies in Value Trust's portfolio eventually were taken over.
Special Investment Trust won't be allowed to put more than 20 percent of its assets into reorganization companies. But Miller said it is "highly unlikely" it would get to that level.
In managing the portfolio of the Total Return Trust, Miller will be pursuing the twin goals of growth and income. About 60 percent of the trust's assets will be invested in "value" stocks and 40 percent in high-yielding securities. Miller will try to make the money grow by investing in common stocks and convertible stocks of companies that look like future winners.
For flexibility, Total Return Trust has given itself the authority to invest in foreign securities and to engage in options transactions -- though these two devices may not be used much.
The offering price for Legg Mason's two new funds was $10 a share. There is no "load," or front-end charge, and no back-end, or withdrawal fee. Both funds do, however, have management fees and 1 percent "distribution" (Rule 12b-1) fees, which pay the brokers' commissions. The Total Return Trust will pay an annual management fee of 0.75 percent on the fund's net assets while the Special Investment Trust will pay a basic 1 percent management fee.
The prospectus for each fund acknowledges that the management fee is somewhat higher than fees paid by other funds, but Curley said he believes they are warranted. The Special Investment Trust, especially, he said, requires an unusual amount of research to help locate undervalued companies.
The minimum investment in each fund is $1,000 with $500 for subsequent investments. The funds can be used for IRA, Keogh or other retirement plans.
The success of Value Trust has become part of the success of Legg Mason itself. Legg Mason shares rose 138.6 percent in 1985, going from $8.75 to $20.88. The firm went public in July 1983 and has been growing rapidly, helped by the fees paid by Value Trust. Legg Mason shares languished for a time but have strengthened in recent months.
Legg Mason's January investment letter recommends the following "Investor's Dozen:"
Affiliated Bankshares (Colorado); Amfac Inc; DeBeers Consolidated Mines ADR; Firestone Tire & Rubber; Halliburton Co.; Liberty Federal (Georgia) 8.25 percent 2005; McDonnell Douglas; Mercantile Bancorp; Meridian Bancorp $2.50 A Pfd.; Omnicare Inc.; Orion Capital $2.12 cm. Cv. Exch. Pfd.; Philadelphia Saving Fund Society.