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Don't Try This at Home: Investor's Portfolio Bulges With 110 Funds

July 18, 1999|RUSS WILES | Russ Wiles is a regular contributor to The Times and co-author of "How Mutual Funds Work," published by Simon & Schuster

Some people collect stamps, or coins, or baseball cards. Then there's David Pullman. He collects mutual funds.

The 37-year-old New Yorker just keeps buying funds.

And more funds, and more funds.

To be exact, 110 funds. His holdings run the gamut of stock market investments--growth, value, small-cap, foreign, index and sector.

"What I don't have is bond funds," Pullman said. "I'm definitely a long-term investor."

Most financial planners would not advise you to emulate Pullman. Because any given fund holds anywhere from a couple of dozen stocks to a couple of thousand, you don't need to own more than a handful of funds to achieve adequate diversification.

"You can have a very nice portfolio with four or five," said Kurt Brouwer of Brouwer & Janachowski, an advisory firm in Tiburon, Calif.

There's a danger that owning too many funds can turn into an administrative headache of tracking statements and scores of transactions.

"If you own more than 15 funds, I'd suggest you need to step back and evaluate the situation," said Kevin McDevitt, an analyst at Morningstar Inc. in Chicago.

So, at first glance, it's easy to conclude that Pullman must be an investment neophyte who just keeps purchasing mutual funds because nobody has told him to stop. Or, perhaps, he's an amateur who continues to buy because he can't distinguish between good and bad funds and won't admit defeat.

But in reality, neither label applies. In fact, he's a shrewd, Wharton-educated investment banker who has built a business around specialized entertainment bonds and other innovative types of "securitized" intellectual property.

His Pullman Group specializes in deals whereby rock stars and songwriters relinquish future royalties in return for an upfront payment, financed through a bond offering. The company has put together deals backed by the work of James Brown, Ashford & Simpson and various Motown songwriters. The crowning achievement was a $55-million bond deal for David Bowie.

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So Pullman is no financial greenhorn. But what explains his infatuation with mutual funds?

For starters, Pullman strongly believes in the fund concept. He likes the idea of having so many professionals working for him. He doesn't want to spend time researching stocks and, in fact, checks his holdings only about once a year.

Then there's the convenience of investing through mutual funds. Pullman is a big fan of dollar-cost averaging--the strategy of trickling hundreds or thousands of dollars into a fund every few weeks or months. Systematic investing isn't so easy to accomplish with individual stocks or bonds.

Pullman socks away more than $1 million cumulatively into his mutual funds each year. He gives each of his more than 100 fund holdings a biweekly cash infusion.

That adds up to a lot of transactions--almost 3,000 annually, Pullman figures. He simplifies the process by keeping most of his holdings in an account at discount brokerage Charles Schwab, where he also benefits from automatic record-keeping and the ability to switch funds quickly at little or no cost. "My accounting is very easy," he said.

Pullman sticks exclusively with no-load funds, so he's not worried about incurring especially high or duplicative costs. Because mutual funds levy expenses as a percentage of investor assets, not the number of accounts, Pullman or any other shareholder would pay roughly the same cumulative fees on 110 funds as on a dozen.

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While the issue of excessive diversification isn't easy to dismiss, Pullman doesn't feel harmed by it. "I have over 100 managers working for me," he said. "If they pick the same stocks, that makes me feel even more comfortable about what I'm doing."

Sheldon Jacobs, who publishes the No-Load Fund Investor newsletter in Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y., partly agrees. "Over-diversification may be unnecessary, but I just can't see how it's harmful," he said.

Pullman spends considerable time perusing financial magazines and newspapers in search of attractive mutual funds. He pays a lot of attention to investment advertising, reasoning that some of the strongest performers like to strut their stuff. He takes special note of funds that Schwab promotes in its brokerage ads, believing that this is a good way to spot proven and rising stars.

Some of his favorites include Third Avenue Value; Janus Worldwide, Balanced and Overseas funds; and Marsico Focus and Marsico Growth & Income. He also likes Invesco's Health Sciences, Leisure and Technology funds, along with Invesco Industrial Income, one of his oldest positions.

In addition, Pullman invests directly with a few fund families, such as Vanguard and Tweedy Browne, that don't make their funds available at minimal cost through Schwab.

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