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Monday, November 22, 2004

When is a Team a Team?

News summary by MFWire's editors

Just about everything is now on the SEC's radar screen. The latest investigation was triggered by a fund firm saying that its fund was team managed when it may not have been, reports the San Jose Mercury News. The paper reported Monday that FirstHand Funds, a San Jose-based fund firm, is being looked at by the SEC over whether it misrepresented how its funds are managed.

The investigation is the first of its type reported on by the MFWire.com and was reportedly triggered by a wrongful-termination lawsuit brought by former marketing chief Steven Witt. In the suit Witt alleges that Landis made all the portfolio decisions himself, according to the paper, while the firm had told reporters and investors that the funds were team managed. Witt filed the suit in Santa Clara County Superior Court last year.

The paper reported that Kevin Landis, CEO and cofounder of FirstHand, was visited in the downtown San Jose offices of the firm by SEC officials "a few weeks ago." He told the paper that they asked the firm to describe how fund decisions are made and added that the exam was routine and included questions about whether the firm had allowed any investors or managers to engage in market-timing trades. FirstHand has not been tied to any of the market-timing scandals and the SEC has been asking all fund firms about market timing.

"We haven't heard back from (the SEC) yet. But we feel comfortable with the discussions we've had with them," Landis told the paper.

Landis also said that the allegations made in Witt's suit are false and that two of the firm's five mutual funds are "absolutely team managed."

The investigation could shed some light on any shift of attitude at the SEC. In the past, the Commission staff has allowed funds that have a team leader who accepts input from analyst to call itself "team managed." That loose definition could apply to pretty much any fund, even one in which one analyst contributed the bulk of the investment ideas or had final authority on buy and sell decisions.  

Edited by: Sean Hanna, Editor in Chief

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