Ho-Hum Results for T. Rowe Price Small-Cap Value

Fund Watch

Ho-Hum Results for T. Rowe Price Small-Cap Value

The Kiplinger 25 fund has generated significant gains in 2013 but has lagged its rivals.

When a mutual fund earns 25% in one year, it’s usually reason to celebrate—unless the fund’s benchmarks have done even better. Such is the situation in which T. Rowe Price Small-Cap Value (PRSVX) finds itself. Although shareholders are entitled to celebrate, the fund lacks bragging rights because it has lagged its rivals by an average of 3.9 percentage points and the small-company Russell 2000 index by five points.

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The main reason for the slightly disappointing results: Longtime manager Preston Athey tilts toward unloved, undervalued stocks, and lately those stocks have gotten less lovin’ than shares of higher-priced, fast-growing companies. Growth stocks in the Russell 2000 powered ahead 34% over the past year, more than seven percentage points more than value stocks in the index.

It’s also fair to ask whether the fund’s $9 billion asset base is hampering performance. That’s huge for a fund that focuses on companies with market values as tiny as $150 million. But David Wagner, Small-Cap Value’s associate manager, says “size is not a problem.” Much of the fund’s assets sit in retirement accounts. “This is a stable pool of money,” he says.


Wagner will take over management of Small-Cap Value next June, when Athey, who has managed the fund for 22 years, retires. The transition has already begun. Wagner, who has worked his way up the ranks since joining Price in 2000, will spend the coming months shadowing Athey. “We’re traveling a lot together and meeting with companies,” Wagner says. Until June, however, Athey has the final say on all buys and sells. Among Athey’s moves earlier this year was his decision to invest in beaten-down energy stocks, such as Northern Oil & Gas.

Wagner is hardly a newbie at Price. He first worked with Athey as a summer intern in 1999, when he was in business school, and over the years he’s worked with all of Price’s small-company managers and 40 or so small-company analysts. Plus, Wagner has a solid record of his own. As manager of a fund for European investors that invested in stocks of small and midsize U.S. companies, Wagner chalked up a five-year annualized return through August of 12.1%, beating the fund’s benchmark by an average of three percentage points per year. Still, we’ll be watching Small-Cap Value closely as the changeover nears.