Fourth Quarter Market Discussion
A soft start to the quarter for the major indexes turned into a sprint to new highs following the presidential election. Investors viewed the outcome as a catalyst for growth and, as shown, economically sensitive sectors benefited the most.
A Post Election Liftoff
Source: FactSet Research Systems, Inc., Heartland Advisors, Inc., and Russell®
Holdings data as of 10/3/2016 to 11/7/2016 and 11/9/2016 to 12/31/2016
Past performance does not guarantee future results.
Increasing confidence that rates were heading higher led to selling pressure for so-called “bond proxies” but boosted beneficiaries of Fed tightening. Economic optimism also took a toll on some defensive areas. Smaller companies led on the upside, continuing a trend begun last quarter.
Security selection was positive in a majority of sectors and helped the Fund outpace its benchmark, the Russell 3000® Value Index. Financial holdings and Consumer Staples were key sources of strength followed by names in Energy. Health Care holdings were flat in absolute terms but strong on a relative basis. Stock selection in Materials hurt results.
Recent performance has closed the valuation gap between BHI and its peers, and we have been trimming the position. Prospects for the company remain attractive, and we expect the merger will produce greater cost savings than are being projected.
Financial fitness. The portfolio’s Financial names performed well. Wells Fargo & Company (WFC) was a key contributor as banks were up on expectations that net interest margins would rise due to higher interest rates. Additionally, the markets anticipate regulations for the industry will become less restrictive under a Trump administration. We have long viewed Wells Fargo as a well-run, broadly diversified operator with a strong brand. We initiated a position in the stock after the company came under scrutiny for some of its sales practices. The news is a serious matter; however, investor reaction created an opportunity to buy a market leading franchise at a significant discount.
The stock has posted double-digit gains since our initial purchase but still trades at 2.0x tangible book value versus a 20-year median of more than 5x. As the financial overhang from the sales issues fades in the quarters to come, the company should once again command a premium to peers.
Hitting the ground running. Kennametal Inc. (KMT), a name we highlighted last quarter as a new addition to the portfolio, has begun to produce results. The company is the third-largest maker of tools used in the metal working industry. Shares were up after it provided better than expected 2017 guidance and presented forecasts of higher than anticipated earnings power for several years. The stock also benefited from improving industrial demand following several quarters of contraction.
We remain confident in the new CEO’s plan to reduce costs and reorganize its sales approach. Kennametal is trading at 12-13x our estimates of earnings power versus a historic average of 14x, which makes for a compelling risk/reward profile.
Technology glitch. The Fund’s Information Technology (IT) holdings were up modestly but contained a key detractor.
Top 10 holding CA, Inc. (CA) was down after reporting solid earnings but softer-than-expected sales in its enterprise solutions business, which were tied to mainframe renewals. Shares also faced pressure as investors turned away from slow-growth, cash-producing IT names in favor of economically sensitive areas.
Given CA’s free cash flow to enterprise value yield of almost 8% and a 3.3% dividend yield, we believe investors are overlooking the company’s growth in software as a service (SAAS) sales that are independent of mainframe renewals. The traction in the SAAS business should lead to top line and earnings growth in the coming quarters.
The rapid rise of economically sensitive sectors has made valuations among cyclical names less compelling. Our response has been to pare exposure in some areas or rotate to less volatile names within a sector. For example, following the strong run among financials, we’ve reduced our commitment to the group modestly. We’ve also harvested gains from smaller banks and are finding opportunities in larger institutions that are less dependent on net interest margins.
Industrials is another area we have actively trimmed due to multiple expansion. The economy appears poised to expand; however, much of the upside, in our view, is already priced into stocks in the group.
Outlook and Positioning
The markets have reached a period of transition. The economic outlook is brighter than it was at the start of 2016, yet strong stock performance has made valuations less compelling. Similarly, defensive areas that were priced at a premium during the first half of the year have come down in price but have yet to reach a compelling level.
In response, we continue to comb through all sectors and industries looking for opportunities where we believe risk is mispriced. Our efforts have resulted in more early cyclical names on our watch list as well as some defensive names with idiosyncratic challenges weighing on valuations.
As investors continue to act on improved expectations, we are focused on striking a balance between maximizing upside potential by buying attractively valued businesses and mitigating downside risk by finding sound companies that are less volatile than their peers.
The beginning of 2017 will mark the final step in a multi-year transition as Portfolio Manager and Heartland veteran David Fondrie retires effective April 30. Dave began discussing his decision with leadership five years ago and we have been working diligently since then to make the move seamless.
Following Dave’s retirement, the Select Value Fund will continue to be managed by Will Nasgovitz and Colin McWey. Will has served as a Portfolio Manager of the Fund since May 2006 and Colin since February 2015.
Thank you for the opportunity to manage your capital.