As trade tensions flared and economic data continued to point to slowing growth, investors honed in on mitigating perceived risks. As a result, domestic-focused companies and those insulated from the effects of tariffs fared better than businesses with international exposure. Similarly, names with a demonstrated history of producing growth were favored over those that typically reach a positive inflection point after a slowdown.
While shares of growth companies benefited against the backdrop, so too did some richly valued defensive plays as the market searched for yield and low volatility in an unsettled market.
The skittish tone was also reflected in a spike in volatility during the period, as shown. The performance swings of the broad indices provided opportunities for active managers to exploit pricing inefficiencies that resulted from emotional responses driven by a short-term outlook.
Source: Bloomberg L.P., 3/29/2019 to 6/28/2019
Chicago Board Options Exchange Market Volatility Index (CBOE VIX)
Economic predictions are based on estimates and are subject to change.
Past performance does not guarantee future results.
Stock selection was strong in several areas, but the portfolio lagged its Russell Midcap® Value benchmark for the quarter. Health Care stood out on an absolute and relative basis, along with the strategy’s Consumer Staples. Real Estate holdings also fared well. The portfolio’s Financial names were up on absolute terms but lagged the average for the benchmark.
Health care equipment holdings helped boost results in the broader sector and the group contained a top contributor, Dentsply Sirona Inc. (XRAY), a manufacturer of health care technology and supplies with an emphasis on dental products.
We initiated a position in Dentsply in the first quarter of this year. We became interested after the company’s sales growth softened and margins eroded due to a lack of management focus. A new CEO was brought in at the time, and we believed fresh management could instill a renewed sense of urgency to the business. Since then, the company has undertaken cost-cutting initiatives and established plans to divest lower-margin units. Management expects these changes will result in up to $225 million in annual savings by 2021.
As the company continues to make progress on reducing costs and streamlining its business units, we expect margins to increase and the stock to trade more in line with medical device peers.
While the Real Estate group has become expensive over the last several years, we have been selective in seeking opportunities that offer unique advantages or where prices appear to underestimate the long-term potential of businesses. For example, American Homes 4 Rent (AMH) a real estate investment trust (REIT) that focuses on renting single family homes, offers exposure to a supply-constrained portion of the real estate market.
We purchased AMH last year when the market was concerned about the impact of rising interest rates on the sector. At the time, we were drawn to the company’s strong balance sheet and capable management team. Throughout 2018, AMH’s portfolio proved resilient against rising rates as tenants continued to rent rather than buy, given higher costs for home purchases. The dynamic led to lower turnover in its properties and greater pricing power for rents. As a result, cash flow growth, which was stagnant in the first half of 2018, accelerated to more than 12% in the first quarter of this year.
Improved results for AMH caught investor’s attention, and shares have risen since our initial purchase. During the quarter, we harvested gains in the name and have reduced our exposure as valuations have escalated.
Upon further analysis.
Heightened trade tensions with China weighed on Information Technology stocks and the portfolio’s holding lagged those in the benchmark. Much of the weakness came from software holdings, including Teradata Corporation (TDC), a database management company and the market leader for complex data analytics.
Teradata is in the process of transitioning from a legacy model focused on hardware and perpetual license sales to a more flexible approach that emphasizes software and subscription services. This move should result in more predictable revenue streams. While management has made impressive strides in evolving its business model, investors were spooked this quarter when the company reported that its legacy business was shrinking faster than analysts had initially anticipated.
We took the resulting weakness in shares as a buying opportunity. Although the runoff of Teradata’s legacy business may temporarily impact sales, we were impressed by management’s guidance of 11%-12% growth in recurring annual revenues. We anticipate that as the company continues to make progress in transitioning its go-to-market strategy, free cash flow generation could more than double to a range of $4-$5 per share in fiscal year 2021, translating to a free cash flow/enterprise value yield of 11%-14%.
Volatility during the first half of the year has created opportunities for investors willing to look beyond daily headlines or the latest earnings releases. During this period, we’ve sought to maintain a balanced approach rooted in valuations while also taking a clear view of the risk/reward profile of each business.
For example, we remain overweight to the Health Care sector, but our exposure to pharmaceutical benefit providers has dropped as we believe valuations don’t adequately compensate investors for risks posed by the headwinds the group faces in the form of restrictive legislation and pricing pressure.
Despite the challenges facing benefit providers, we continue to find opportunities within the health care space. For example, we recently added Humana Inc. (HUM), a leading managed care benefit provider that specializes in Medicare Advantage HMO plans.
Shares have been under pressure this year as many of the candidates running for the 2020 presidential nomination have voiced support for a single-payer health system that would displace private sector benefit providers. We believe a move to a so-called “Medicare for all” system is unlikely, regardless of who wins the White House in the coming election, and instead we are focused on Humana’s sales growth and solid profit margins.
The company is expected to continue to produce high single-digit compounded annual growth as the marketplace continues to shift to Medicare Advantage coverage. Despite having what we view as superior earnings growth prospects compared to the S&P 500, shares of Humana trade at just 13.5x forward earnings per share vs. nearly 17x for the broader index.
Beyond health care, we continue to scour both economically sensitive and defensive areas for opportunities but are following our fundamental analysis to where it leads. While each investment decision is made on a stock-by-stock basis, the cumulative effect of our efforts is a portfolio that is less economically sensitive than in the recent past.