Will Bolton Quit China In 2013?

Published in Investing on 17 April 2012

The investing legend announces his decision.

Chatting to super-investor Anthony Bolton back in February, I couldn't resist asking the question that has been on the mind of most people who have invested in Mr Bolton's comeback fund Fidelity China Special Situations (LSE: FCSS).

Namely, when will Mr Bolton's tenure at the fund end? Initially promising to stay on until 2013, he -- and his investors -- have been dealt a series of body blows that at one point pushed the share price underwater by 30%.

All of which, in short, have led to a performance that is a far cry from Mr Bolton's reputation at Fidelity's flagship Fidelity Special Situations Fund, where he delivered a 20% annual return over a 25-year period, compared to 7.7% for the FTSE All‑Share Index.

He's decided

At the time that I asked the question, Mr Bolton very properly pointed out that he couldn't answer it. His intentions would be revealed in due course, in the form of an announcement to the Stock Exchange, through the usual channels.

What he did say, though, was that by the time of the AGM next July, he'll have made an announcement about any extension of his term as fund manager.

And as I said then, my guess was that he'd stay on -- going out on a high is so much more enjoyable than going out on a low. Mr Bolton, who has weathered periods of underperformance before -- even at the Fidelity Special Situations Fund -- didn't strike me as a quitter.

Well, we needn't wait any longer. Yesterday, Fidelity revealed Mr Bolton's plans.

The man from Fidelity, he say 'yes'

The announcement was terse -- just one sentence.

"The Board of Fidelity China Special Situations is pleased to confirm that Anthony Bolton has decided to extend his minimum tenure as Portfolio Manager from April 2013 until April 2014."

The Daily Telegraph -- which currently has a journalist out in China on a field trip, visiting Mr Bolton and reviewing some of the fund's investments -- was able to add a bit more detail.

"I've been disappointed, and performance has been a factor in my decision,” Mr Bolton told the paper. "It has been the worst conditions I have ever managed money in. Hong Kong had a terrible year and suffered more than most markets."

What's more, added the Telegraph, it seemed that Mr Bolton has continued to learn lessons from his failures. He has, apparently, introduced stricter processes for due diligence, employing third parties to screen for fraudulent activity and other red flags.

Longer still?

At the time of the launch of Fidelity China Special Situations, Hargreaves Lansdown (LSE: HL) promoted the fund heavily. No fewer than 20% of the fund's shares, it transpires, are in the hands of Hargreaves Lansdown investors.

Coincidentally, Hargreaves' amiable head of research, long-time Bolton-watcher Mark Dampier, is also out in China with Mr Bolton, and seems encouraged by what he's seen.

"Anthony Bolton is still very focused on the China fund, and his extension shows a dedication to turn the fund around," he says.

But will a one year extension prove long enough? Or will he need longer?

I have my view -- that he will need longer -- but what do you think? Answers in the box below, please.

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> Malcolm owns shares in Fidelity China Special Situations, and has a holding in the Fidelity Special Situations Fund. The Motley Fool owns shares in Hargreaves Lansdown.

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LosDLot 19 Apr 2012 , 8:50pm

Well now. Mr Bolton. China. Mmh Isn't it? Timing simply, methinks.
I've a feeling this will turn round. Now then anyone in Black Rock Gold & General. While the world and its wife have been punting this monster I've been watching it and my funds drop through the trap door.
Any idea whats 'appening there? Anyone ?

VinoDiony 21 Apr 2012 , 5:44pm

John Bogle told us: “beware of stars” – Mr Bolton no doubt was a star fund manager in his heydays.

FCSS is a prime example of how little “influence” a fund manager really has on performance if returns have hit the doldrums.

For those who have dipped their toes, there is only one option now. Sit tight and wait for favourable winds when they come. For those who haven’t, stay out!

Just like Schumacher’s return to F1, this was never a good idea from the beginning....!

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