In Morningstar's 11th annual selection of mutual-fund managers of the year, the well-known Mario Gabelli won top honors. The big surprise was a runner-up: John Bogle Jr. and his N/I Numeric Investors funds. Morningstar singled out the obscure fund family, with total assets of just $360 million, because "when it comes to commitment to shareholders, few can match Bogle," son of Vanguard Group's senior chairman.
Morningstar was impressed that N/I caps expense ratios at 1% of assets, below the average 1.4%. It also liked N/I's conviction that small is beautiful, demonstrated last year when it closed its Growth and Micro Cap funds as assets neared $100 million. "Fund companies are effective when they're small because they're agile," says N/I founder Langdon Wheeler.
Instead of doing the usual company and industry research, N/I (800 686-3742) uses computer models to exploit stock-price inefficiencies. From their May, 1996, inception to the end of 1997, N/I's Growth fund returned an annual average of 16.7% and its Micro Cap fund, 30.8%. Two N/I funds remain open: Growth & Value and Larger Cap Value. N/I's high-turnover style may be best for tax-deferred accounts that can avoid short-term capital gains levies.