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Wanted: Snakes


The Year of the Snake began on February 10. According to Chinese folklore, this year will be known for steady progress and attention to detail.

Having someone born in the Year of the Snake also will be a good omen because it should mean that your (fund) family will not starve. After a horrendous 2012, there are a couple of fund firms and a regulator who wouldn't mind adding a few snakes to their roster this year.

In his 17th annual commentary of the industry's worst performers of 2012, Chuck Jaffe, a columnist at MarketWatch, bestowed a few lumps of coal to exchange-traded fund shop AdvisorShares, mutual fund shop Matrix 360 Advisor and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

According to Jaffe, AdvisorShares' Global Echo ETF (GIVE) mission of pursuing environmental sustainability is noble but it has failed to gather assets or support. The fund launched last May and is currently only managing about $2.6 million.

While 0.4% of the fund's cost structure goes to support the Global Echo Foundation, a charity created by Philippe Cousteau Jr., grandson of famed French explorer Jacques Cousteau, Jaffe argues that "Cousteau is known less for his efforts as a social entrepreneur than for his famous granddad, the undersea explorer."

"Apparently no one saw a problem creating a fund that would put 'ETF' and 'underwater' into one thought; when investors have a sinking feeling, it's impossible to raise a new issue from the depths of the tiny, amusing fund creatures," surmised Jaffe.

Jaffe also skewered Matrix 360's USX China Fund (HPCCX), for the year's worst performance. "If you want to know why some investors are nervous about China, look at USX China, a tiny fund that personifies 'what's the worst that could happen?'" he wrote. The fund lost more than 65% last year while the average China Region fund gained about 15% through December 2012, according to Morningstar.

The acid-tongued scribe also lobbed a lump of coal at the SEC for its failed attempts at money-market fund reform, 12b-1 fee reform, and the establishment of a fiduciary standard for financial advisers. According to Jaffe, the SEC "accomplished virtually nothing on those key challenges."

Here's hoping there's a snake among you.


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