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Mutual Funds

Midwest Is Best

A high school finance whiz finds that the top fund managers don't work in Boston and the Big Apple.

Chad Sandler, 17, is a senior at North Shore Hebrew Academy High School in Great Neck, N.Y. He won $1,000 as a semifinalist in the Intel Science Talent Search. His project, The Highways and Byways of Fund Management, was one of 1,558 entries.

While others studied pollution and polymers, you searched for the ideal mutual fund manager. How come? I got into investing when my dad, who's a doctor, started investing. When I was a freshman, my team won seventh place in the Stock Market Game. With this project, initially I wanted to do something with funds and location. Then I started to factor in other demographics of managers -- age, years of experience, educational background, highest degree held, work experience and whether the fund is run by a team.

What did you find? Funds based in the central and mountain time zones outperform those on coastal time. Funds in states with between five and ten million people outperform funds in bigger states. Management teams do better than single managers. I expected managers from top-tier universities to outdo those from lesser universities. But after six years on the job, their educational background was immaterial.

How do you account for the results? I concluded that a herding phenomenon occurs, especially on the East Coast. A lot of funds are influenced by the financial press. They compete with each other and use the same methods and strategies. Funds farther west are more isolated, so they have more freedom to pursue investment approaches and different styles.

What did you do with the $1,000? I put it in Heartland Value fund, in Milwaukee. It's managed by a team, and it's on central time.