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Fidelity and the Magellan Fund

There are always people who see the future more clearly than others—especially when new markets or industries are growing. Bill Gates, for example, was able to picture a time when everyone would have computers at home. So what did he do? He bought the basics of his first Microsoft program for peanuts and turned around to make a deal with IBM, starting Windows and his eventual billions. Today, Billy G doesn’t have to worry about money. (Although what Apple’s up to might keep him up at night).

Mutual funds work the same way, but the big name to remember there is Peter Lynch. Lynch was hired by the Johnson Family (the family that owns Fidelity) and eventually became their rock star mutual fund manager. At one point, he was the guy behind Magellan, the largest fund in the world at the time.

When Lynch retired, he wrote a tell-all book, One Up On Wall Street, about what goes on behind mutual fund closed doors. It's too bad reality TV wasn't a thing back then because Lynch and his cronies would have made good TV: they lived in a time when insider information was not only allowed but was just the way things were done. Back then, CEOs and money guys were in cahoots—and using words like cahoots—passing money from the company to the financial guys so that brokers had an advantage and regular investors were out of luck.

It wasn’t until 2000 that Regulation Full Disclosure became the rule that tried to even the playing field between investors and institutions. That rule made it illegal for companies to say anything outside of special (publicly available) phone calls and quarterly conferences. Everyone had access to the same information, the idea went, so no one had special insider information when investing.

So what happened to the Magellan Fund?

It got so huge it couldn’t move, basically. Its huge weight and size meant that there was no way to sell and buy stocks in the fund without affecting the whole market. When your fund defines the market, it turns out, it’s kind of hard to beat the market. Like many a celebrity that goes supernova, the fund drifted into mediocrity (sans quickie wedding and public meltdown, fortunately).

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