New First Eagle manager to replace Eveillard draws blank stares

A couple of weeks ago, super-star mutual fund manager Jean-Marie Eveillard of First Eagle funds mentioned that he’d hired a successor but couldn’t name the name yet. Well, now the name is out and it’s drawing blank stares from the fund analyst community.

Taking over for Eveillard next year (though joining the firm in September) will be 39-year-old Matt McLennan, a London-based global-value portfolio manager for Goldman Sachs private wealth management clients. As one Morningstar analyst put it on the firm’s “Fund Blazing” section: Who?

First Eagle announced McLennan without a public track record and apparently its been ages since he steered the record of a mutual fund. The press release indicates only that at one point in his career he was the portfolio manager of unnamed “small-cap and mid-cap value funds.”

Before McLennan takes over at the $23 billion First Eagle Global Fund (Symbol: SGENX), investors will want to know a lot more. He’ll also be co-managing the First Eagle Overseas Fund (SGOVX) with long-time Eveillard collaborator Abhay Deshpande. Eveillard stays on both funds only until March 2009, when he declines into “trusted advisor not in the office but reachable by phone” mode.

The two newbies certainly have big shoes to fill. Over the past 10 years, First Eagle Global returned an average of 13.5% a year, beating the MSCI World Index by over 9 percentage points a year and outperforming 97% of similar funds, according to Morningstar. Just as impressive, the fund gained over 10% a year in both 2001 and 2002 as global markets plunged in the wake of the Internet bubble bursting. Since Eveillard started in 1979, the fund has gained an average of over 15% a year versus the MSCI World Index gain of 11% annually.

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