David Prosser: What happens when investment stars lose their shine?

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The Independent Online

Outlook For cycling fans like me, the saddest sporting sight of the summer so far has not been the hopeless capitulation of England's football team, but the way in which Lance Armstrong was humiliated in the first alpine stage of the Tour de France on Sunday. The once invincible Lance, now in the second year of a comeback from retirement, watched in obvious anguish as his rivals, plus a string of lesser talents, pedalled away from him with ease.

Let us hope that the great Anthony Bolton is not heading for a similar experience with his own comeback. For almost three decades, Mr Bolton ran investment funds for Fidelity with unparalleled success. Year in and year out, his Special Situations fund trounced the competition before Mr Bolton eventually decided to step back from frontline management a few years ago. Now he has returned, courtesy of a move to Hong Kong at the start of the year, from where he will manage a fund investing in Chinese equities on behalf of Fidelity.

Does Mr Bolton still have the Midas touch? We shall see. The strategy that Mr Bolton set out yesterday seems cogent and considered, and there is no arguing with his track record. Still, sceptics point out that Mr Bolton does not speak Mandarin, which is going to make the sort of extensive and thorough research that he has been associated with over the years a little more tricky. So too may his decision to base himself in Hong Kong rather than the mainland. Nor does he have any experience of dealing with the exceptional volatility that Chinese equities sometimes throw off.

That these worries do not seem to have deterred investors from piling into Mr Bolton's fund even before he has picked his first stock – Fidelity raised the best part of £500m for the venture – tells you something about the pulling power of the big names in investment. We are currently seeing something similar at Gartmore, although in reverse, where the travails of one its star managers, Guillaume Rambourg, have destroyed significant value. The announcement of his departure precipitated a 5 per cent sell-off in Gartmore shares yesterday.

In answer to its critics, Fidelity points out that Mr Bolton will work with a team at his new fund, which will include plenty of people who do speak fluent Mandarin. Likewise, Gartmore insists that the departure of Mr Rambourg will not affect its funds, because it retains plenty of other equally talented people.

Still, the cult of the star trader – Warren Buffett is the uber example – is something that investment professionals have got used to and have sometimes even encouraged. But while there do seem to be a few star individuals who are capable of consistently rising above the crowd, this sort of dependency can prove dangerous.

Gartmore has already found out what happens when you lose a star. Fidelity investors may be about to discover what happens when the star loses it.

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