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The Tortoise and the Hedge Fund

September 28, 2006 By:
Fred D. Snitzer, JE Feature
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Whoosh -- there it goes: That's the sound of the year flying by again. Summer is over. Soon, it will be Thanksgiving and we'll head right into winter, marching inexorably toward 2007.

At the risk of asking a rather depressing question, doesn't it seem like just yesterday morning it was 2004?

What contributes to this pace of life? Is it the ubiquitous nature of today's information overload, the steady drumbeat of ominous news, the stresses of work and the workplace, the sleep deprivation or the neurotic compulsion to jam as much activity into our days as possible, forgoing rest, contemplation and a leisurely two-week vacation?

Whatever the reason, whoosh it goes!

It's not really true that time flies when you're having fun. Time just flies, whether you're ecstatic or miserable or anywhere in between.

Yet take heed if you sense that this pace of life is infecting your investment outlook.

What are the signs that you're suffering from this condition?

You follow the daily performance of your investments and you compare this performance -- every day -- to the performance of other investments; your ears perk up every time you hear someone say the words "hedge fund" or "private equity"; you've developed a tan from the glare of CNBC on your TV; you're obsessively suspicious that your brother-in-law has access to some top-secret money-manger who lives half the year in Bermuda, is never seen in public, and speaks in code.

In short, you're never satisfied, because you're convinced that someone -- somewhere -- is making more money than you are.

These are the symptoms of this disease. What are some of the consequences?

They are, in no particular order: chasing fads right before they tank; selling out of investments just at the wrong time; picking investments based on past performance; being easily seduced by the promise of easy money by a smooth-talking "professional," ignoring risk, experience, expenses, tenure and integrity.

It may not be a fatal disease, but -- oh my-- it sure is ugly.

To the extent that this contemporary disease infects your investment strategy, seek help immediately. Slow down and try to be satisfied with a strategy that is modest, patient and long-term in its outlook.

Learn to be wary of the promise of hedge funds or other investment strategies you don't really understand -- and that will charge you fees so exorbitant that the performance may never truly cover what you're being charged.

Remember: Slow and steady wins the race. This timeless wisdom of the tortoise and the hare also applies to the world of investing.

Look for funds with managers who have an old-fashioned approach to time, and don't seem infected with the disease of envy and performance-chasing; managers whose experience, wisdom, independence and courage have yielded an investment profile of steady, consistent returns, limited trading, low expenses and limited volatility.

Of course, hedge funds have their place in this world, but access to the good ones at reasonable prices requires Bill Gates-type wealth and nerves of steel.

If you don't have both, then don't even bother!

Fred D. Snitzer is chief operating officer in the investment-management firm of Prudent Management Associates, specializing in high-net-worth and tax-deferred asset management.

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