With the end of the millennium rapidly approaching, it was inevitable that someone would compile a list of the greatest investors of the 20th century.
Someone has. The Carson Group, a New York consulting firm, compiled a top-10 list from a survey of more than 300 investment professionals.
Not surprisingly, Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett tops the list, followed by longtime Fidelity fund manager Peter Lynch in second place and John Templeton of the Templeton Group in third.
Benjamin Graham and David Dodd, considered the founders of "value investing," and hedge-fund guru George Soros round out the top five.
Not until seventh place does the name of Vanguard Group founder John Bogle appear. Bogle is known as the father of index-fund investing, a low-cost, low-risk strategy that has come to dominate the American investment landscape.
Since these types of lists are created to stir debate, Bogle's ranking raises the question of who was the most influential investor of the past century--not merely the money manager with the best track record.
For some, at least, the nod goes to Bogle.
There's little argument that Buffett is the most famous investor of the past 100 years, and certainly the wealthiest. But, to some, his legacy has been more symbolic than tangible. Buffett showed that an individual investor, by using discipline and patience, can outperform the broader market. He is considered an inspiration to millions of other investors who seek to do the same.
Bogle, on the other hand, said individual investors should join the markets, as it were, rather than try to beat them. His low-cost index funds, which were introduced in the mid-1970s and seek to mirror the results of the broader market, have allowed millions of investors to participate in the greatest economic boom in American history.
Consider that investors can purchase shares in a Vanguard index fund for as little as $1,000. Moreover, many of the index funds that have emerged in the wake of Bogle's creation are even less expensive.
Meanwhile, a single Class B share of Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway firm recently cost $1,900. But keep in mind, those lower-cost shares have only been available since 1996. Before that, Berkshire Hathaway shares were available only to the wealthy. Indeed, a single Berkshire Hathaway Class A share recently cost nearly $59,000.
"Bogle was the guiding spirit behind making index-fund investing broadly available to American investors. And that democratization of capital has been one of the most important phenomena of the 20th century," said William Goetzmann, director of the International Center for Finance at Yale University.
Many economists believe the long-running bull market and the sustained strength of the U.S. economy are the direct results of the seemingly endless flow of money from average-income investors into mutual funds, whose assets are then reinvested in the stock market.
The cycle has allowed thousands of start-up companies in formerly unknown sectors such as the Internet to expand and create jobs due to the ease with which new firms can gain access to money through the public equity markets.
APPRECIATING INVESTORS; The greatest investors of the 20th century, as ranked by the Carson Group:
1. Warren Buffett
2. Peter Lynch
3. John Templeton
4. Benjamin Graham and David Dodd
5. George Soros
6. John Neff
7. John Bogle
8. Michael Price
Franklin Mutual Funds
9. Julian Robertson
10. Mark Mobius
CAPTION: Michael Price
CAPTION: George Soros
CAPTION: Peter Lynch
CAPTION: Julian Robertson Jr.