Free press for a fund launch

14Jun06

Call us hopelessly naive, but is any one else surprised that the Wall Street Journal gave over a chunk of its op-ed page over to a blatant advertisement for the launch of a new family of investment products? We are sure this happens frequently, but it left a bad taste in our mouths.

Jeremy Siegel uses "The 'Noisy Market' Hypothesis" on A14 of the Wall Street Journal as the intellectual justification for the launch of WisdomTree Asset Management's new dividend weighted exchange traded funds. Siegel serves as the senior investment strategy advisor to the firm.

WisdomTree has garnered a fair amount of attention for the prominent investors who have backed the firm. Now apparently that is paying off in the form of free advertising in the nation's pre-eminent financial publication. It is no coincidence that WisdomTree is launching their funds Friday on the NYSE.

The day prior the firm had a press briefing that was quite successful if measured by the press received.

Richard Beals in the Financial Times notes the launch of these funds in competition with the exisitng RAFI funds.

Simon Constable at TheStreet.com highlights WisdomTree's intention to focus their marketing efforts on the indexing community.

Liz Moyer at Forbes.com notes the powerful names that are backing WisdomTree, including noted hedge fund investor Michael Steinhardt.

We are sure with time the commentary will increase, but there have been a couple of items worth noting on the subject.

Mark Thoma at Economist's View weighs in on the side of fundamental indexation.

Russell Bailyn at the ETF Investor thinks dividend-focused funds will play well with the soon to be retiring Baby Boomer crowd.

Fundamental indices are not without some controversy. The first fundamental indexed product, the PowerShares RAFI 1000 Index fund (PRF) was the intial target of the detractors.  You can follow some of the back and forth over at Seeking Alpha.

For those technically inclined you can read "Why Market-Valuation-Indifferent Indexing Works" by Jack Treynor in the September/October 2005 edition of the Financial Analysts Journal.

A more user-friendly piece by Jason C. Hsu and Carmen Capallo, "New Frontiers in Index Investing" is in the January/February 2006 edition of the Journal of Indexes.

In closing a couple of points. The proliferation of me-too exchange traded funds is a freuquent topic on this blog. The WisdomTree funds are a different take on ETFs, but they risk slicing the world into slices that are too small to garner enough assets. In that respect only time will tell whether the funds are able to achieve a critical mass.

Second, if Prof. Siegel and WisdomTree are so confident in their back-tested ability to identify undervalued stocks relative to the conventional capitalization-weighted indices why stop there? In a world of hedge funds charging 2% management fees and 20% incentive fees it seems that this knowledge could be better used to create more aggressive products with a greater financial pay-off to the fund sponsor. While those products may eventually be in the works, for now the greater investment community can be the beneficiary of their "wisdom."

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