Putnam Voyager mutual fund takes its last journey

The $3.2 billion fund, launched in 1969, will be merged into smaller large-cap growth fund

May 12, 2016 @ 1:16 pm

By John Waggoner

A fund from the go-go era will soon be gone-gone.

The $3.2 billion Putnam Voyager (PVOYX) fund will be merged into the $610 million Putnam Growth Opportunities (POGAX) in July, the company says. Both funds are currently managed by Robert Brookby, who will continue to run Growth Opportunities.

The fund was launched in April 1969 during the tail end of the 1960s bull market amid the public's fascination with growth stocks. Fund managers like Gerald Tsai of Fidelity and, later, the Manhattan fund, were superstars. Dubbed the “Go-Go Years” by author John Brooks, the 1960s celebrity manager era ended with a bone-crushing bear market. One fund manager, Fred Mates, later wound up managing a singles bar.

Nevertheless, Voyager sailed on, and thrived in the 1980s and early 1990s under the helm of Matthew Weatherbie, who drove the fund to a 14.85% average annual gain during his tenure, vs. 13.73% for the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index with dividends reinvested, according to Morningstar. At its peak in 2000, the fund weighed in at $46 billion.

The fund has lagged the past five years, gaining 4.83% through April, vs. 11.02% for the S&P 500. Morningstar analyst Alex Lucas labeled its risk-adjusted performance under previous manager Nick Thakore “dismal.” David Snowball, editor of The Mutual Fund Observer, summed up the fund's performance this way in his monthly commentary: “In the past six years, he mixed one brilliant year with two dismal ones and three pretty bad ones.”

In contrast, Growth Opportunities has gained an average 9.7% during the same period under Mr. Brookby's management. (He has run Growth Opportunities since January 2009.)

The merger with Growth Opportunities will take place in July, and Voyager's record will disappear with it. The combined fund will have about $3.9 billion in assets.

Putnam Voyager isn't the only big growth fund that's taking that long voyage home. The $2.8 billion Franklin Flex Cap Growth (FKCGX) will be merged Franklin Growth Opportunities Fund (FGRAX) in August. And CGM Advisor Targeted Equity Fund, which started in 1968 as New England Growth fund, shut its doors in February. The fund, run by Kenneth Heebner for most of its life, shrank from $1.02 billion to $363 million in assets.

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