Andrew B. Williams is an international fund manager who rarely pulls out his passport. He stays close to his desk at Glenmede Corp., Philadelphia, where he can fly through computer data instead of getting hung up at clogged airports. I've done some research trips, he said, but I think my time is better spent on the phone and looking at data bases. It's easy to understand why this homebody has few apologies about his investing habits.
Mr. Williams' star portfolio Glenmede International Equity Fund has garnered a 13.63% annualized return for the five years ended Sept. 30. That beat all other bank-managed international stock funds, placing it 11th among all 55 international stock funds for the period, according to Lipper Analytical Services, Summit, N.J. In addition, his one-year return of 9.97% placed him second among bank managed funds for the year, behind Bankers Trust's International Fund. Like the other portfolio managers for Glenmede's proprietary funds, Mr. Williams said he uses a value approach to investing, seeking inexpensive equity markets and then homing in on cheap stocks within them. He credits his success to a combination of scrupulous market analysis, savvy stock picking, and disciplined buying and selling. Mr. Williams' portfolio of stocks comes from countries ranging from Mexico to Singapore. But within each country, no more than a quarter of the available stocks earn his analytical attention. I focus on the cheapest sector of each market, he said. After the first cut, he works to distinguish the potential winners from the stocks that are rightfully downtrodden. Lots of times these companies are cheap for good reason, he explained. I want to find the few that are cheap but shouldn't be. Mr. Williams scrutinizes industry fundamentals and each company's earnings outlook, management quality and balance sheet to separate the good from the bad. From the fund's inception in 1988 until last year, Mr. Williams handled the portfolio management chores alone. But in 1994, the fund brought in Robert Benthem de Grave, a Dutchman, to help out. The pair have tilted the portfolio in favor of European stocks, underweighting holdings in Latin America and the Far East. Asian markets, once the darling of overseas international investors, remain largely overpriced, he said. Japan rates a hold at best. And even after a slump in many Southeast Asia stocks, most still aren't cheap enough to stimulate his buying interest. But Mr. Williams is bullish on a number of European bourses, including the Spanish, Dutch, French, and Italian stock markets. We're expanding some exposure in Europe, where we can get good companies at inexpensive prices, he said. Deutsche Bank, at 2.6% of the fund's $354 million of assets, is the largest single holding. Large-capitalization companies dominate his holdings. Besides being the most liquid a major concern in some of the world's smaller stock markets research and historical data are relatively plentiful for bigger companies, he said. Although generally risk averse, Mr. Williams doesn't flinch when it comes to foreign currency risk. Rather than hedge against currency fluctuations, he factors it in as part of his overall investment strategy. We believe hedging is short term and we invest long term, he said. Besides, he added, Hedging is expensive. Facing his 20th college reunion, Mr. Williams joked that these days he's feeling especially old and wise. He credited studying history at Trinity College, Hartford, Conn., with teaching him critical thinking.