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Week In Review

Best-Performing Managers Played it Safe in 2008

Mutual fund managers Tom Forester and David Ellison stood out from the crowd last year with the two best-performing funds, even though they both lost money in 2008.

The Forester Value Fund, the best-performing U.S. domestic equity fund in 2008, was down 0.82% for the year, thanks to investments in stocks that typically do well during recessions, including Kraft Foods, Johnson & Johnson and H.J. Heinz. The average decline for the year in the value fund category was 38%, according to Morningstar.

Ellison's FBR Small Cap Financial Fund was second among financial sector funds, losing just 10% of its value, compared to an average decline of 45% in its category.

Ellison's fund is invested primarily in low-risk small banks and in cash. He said he plans to keep it there until the economy starts to show broader signs of recovery.

"I'll probably be in some of the same stocks for the first six months or so of 2009," Forester told the Associated Press. "And then as I see things getting better, I'm going to shift out of the real defensive things, and get more constructive on the more cyclical stocks that can grow quite well as we come out of this period. I think unaffordable mortgages are still going to chew on the economy for a while."

Three Big Mutual Funds Bleed 60% in 2008

Legg Mason heavyweight manager Bill Miller, who once beat the Standard & Poor's 500 Index 15 years in a row, has gone from best fund manager to worst, with his Legg Mason Opportunity Trust fund down a staggering 65% for the year.

According to Morningstar, the second-worst performer was the Winslow Green Growth Fund, down 61%, followed by the Legg Mason Growth Trust Fund, down 60%.

"[Miller] continued to try to position the fund for a recovery," Morningstar Analyst Greg Carlson told The Wall Street Journal, adding that Miller kept holding on to Amazon (down 45%), Expedia (down 74%) and Yahoo (down 48%) as well as Freddie Mac and American International Group.

Winslow manager Jack Robinson said the fund's losses were due to its concentrated portfolio and focus on green energy companies. "We also made a couple of mistakes," Robinson said. "We stayed with some companies that had sound fundamentals but which had debt. We're going to be sticking with our investment philosophy for the long term."

Cox's Legacy Seen As Sorely Tarnished

Talk about leaving with an impression. The likely legacy of Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox, when he steps down this year after taking on the position in 2005, is likely to be that of ineffectiveness during the worst economic period since the Great Depression, The Wall Street Journal reports.

More than ever, it is likely the SEC will be merged with the Commodities Futures Trading Commission. In 2008, all of the major investment banks ceased to exist due to their outsized exposure to subprime mortgage-linked securities, precipitating the current economic crisis. And Bernard Madoff was found to have scammed $50 billion from investors over a period of decades despite repeated warnings to the SEC.

"Cox had the greatest perception of inactivity in the face of this crisis," said Professor Jay Brown. "People wanted the SEC to be this outspoken proponent of investor protection, reinvigorate its mission and let people know that the SEC was on top of this. [Instead,] it has been one inadequacy after another; it looks like the SEC was asleep at the switch."

Cox assured investors only days before Bear Stearns collapsed that it had adequate capital levels, and was reportedly absent for emergency conference calls the weekend before Bear went bankrupt.

Lynn Turner, formerly chief accountant at the SEC, said Cox is "the worst" chairman ever due to his failure to protect investors.

Standard Chartered Settles Timing Suit in Hong Kong

Standard Chartered Bank's Hong Kong division has agreed to reimburse $320,000 to 1,000 investors who were allegedly disadvantaged by the firm's permitting Stone Castle, a Millennium Partners subsidiary, to market time 24 mutual funds managed by ACM Funds and Scudder Global Opportunities Funds.

Standard Chartered reached the settlement with the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission without admitting to guilt. The Commission said Standard Chartered gave Stone Castle same-day pricing.

"The SFC considers that the timing advantage given to Stone Castle was open to abuse and was potentially prejudicial to Standard Chartered Bank's other clients because it might enable Stone Castle to trade ahead of those clients at better prices," the Commission said.

T. Rowe Price Launches Strategic Income Fund

T. Rowe Price has launched the Strategic Income Fund, a new offering that will invest in 12 asset classes to achieve high income and some asset growth, with 80% or more of its assets invested in income-producing securities.