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Sprott manager retires

Tardif, 40, steps down to 'enjoy life' and spend time with family

FUNDS REPORTER

Star hedge fund manager Jean-François Tardif is leaving Sprott Asset Management Inc. in early July to retire at the ripe old age of 40.

"Why not? Jim Rogers retired at 37," quipped Mr. Tardif, referring to the U.S. investment guru who co-founded the fabled Quantum hedge fund with George Soros.

Mr. Tardif runs about $420-million in assets as lead manager of Sprott Opportunities Hedge Fund LP, Sprott Opportunities RSP Fund, Sprott Opportunities Capital Fund and the Sprott Opportunities Offshore Fund.

Sprott Opportunities Hedge, which is closed to new investors, has posted an enviable average annual return of 21 per cent for the five years ended April 30.

"I worked hard for many years," said Mr. Tardif, who has two children, aged 5 and 15. "Right now, I just don't want to work as hard.... I like golf and sports - I used to play hockey and racquet sports."

Running Sprott Opportunities, which had 230 stocks at one time, has meant working long hours and vacations with a BlackBerry, he recalled yesterday in an interview.

"I tried my best to keep track of them [stocks], and it's not easy," he added. "I had a lot of shorts, and I didn't want to have a big weighting in any one because you can lose a lot. ... Some investors will be disappointed, but we have a great team who will continue to run the fund."

Charles Oliver and Jamie Horvat, who were wooed away last year from AGF Management Ltd. and now run Sprott Gold and Precious Metals among other offerings, will take over Mr. Tardif's hedge funds. The pair also recently took over Sprott Global Equity after another manager, Sylvain Ratelle, left in March.

Independent fund analyst Peter Loach described Mr. Tardif as "undoubtedly one of the most talented stock pickers in this country. It's a big blow."

Mr. Tardif joined Sprott Asset Management in 2001 after working as a small-cap manager with ING Investment Management in St-Hyacinthe, Que. Sprott Asset is a subsidiary of Toronto-based Sprott Inc.

He also owns 3.4 million shares, or 2.3 per cent of Sprott, which went public a year ago at $10 a share. He expects to hold on to his stake, saying: "I still expect good things for the firm."

Mr. Tardif met Sprott's chief executive officer, Eric Sprott, when he used to run Sprott Securities Inc., a small brokerage that is now known as Cormark Securities Inc.

"I liked Sprott Securities because I used their research, and got to meet Eric on a regular basis," he said. "I liked his way of thinking and doing things."

But Mr. Tardif said he's not leaving due to any disagreement with the bearish views of Mr. Sprott, who runs his hedge funds with that kind of outlook. "I do share very similar views with Eric," he said.

"I do think that the world economies are going to be very weak for years to come, and therefore stock markets will have a very difficult time. I expect stocks markets to go up and down so we will have rallies - we've just had a huge one - and then the markets will sell off again."

While he is bearish on the economies of the United States, Europe and Japan, he is "relatively bullish" on Canada because it is commodity rich. "We have everything that China needs, so as China becomes a bigger superpower over the long term, it will be buying stuff from here," he added.

While industry sources say Mr. Tardif does not have a non-compete clause in his employment contract, he said: "I am not comfortable saying anything about that," he said.

The manager, who won Globe Investor's My One and Only stock-picking contest in 2007 and 2008 and is in the contest again this year, was vague about whether he might return to the investment business.

"I am not sure," he said. "It's not something that I have thought about yet. Right now, all I want to do is enjoy life a little bit more."

See Shirley Won's Fund Watch blog at the new Globeinvestor.com

© 2007 The Globe and Mail. All rights reserved.

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