Heartland Opportunistic Value Equity Strategy 4Q19 Portfolio Manager Commentary

Executive Summary

  • Stocks with positive price momentum were bid up while many attractively valued companies with improving prospects were overlooked, and the Strategy lagged its benchmark, the Russell 3000® Value Index, returning 5.94%† versus 7.48%. 
  • Mixed economic data and extreme corporate debt levels have reduced the margin for error in today’s markets. 
  • The prudent course, in our view, is to get past the ruling emotion of the day and stay focused on company-specific factors.  

Fourth Quarter Market Discussion

The rate cut by the Federal Reserve in late October was a shot in the arm for investors concerned about recent lackluster industrial economic data. The move was viewed as a needed backstop to prevent a temporary lull from turning into a prolonged downturn.

As investors grew more confident that current weakness might be short-lived, they bid the major indices to a string of new highs in late November and December. While the mood on Wall Street was bullish, a closer look at market drivers suggests the optimism was guarded.

For example, a relatively small number of names were responsible for much of the performance gains and investors, as the chart below illustrates, gravitated toward the perceived safety of larger names, resulting in the 10 largest names in the S&P 500 having a combined market cap of more than 3x the entire Russell 2000® index. Similarly, stocks with positive price momentum were bid up while many attractively valued companies with improving prospects lagged.

Flocking to Large

Source: Furey Research Partners, LLC,  Standard & Poor’s, and Russell®, 12/1/1985 to 12/31/2019
This chart shows the aggregate market cap for the ten largest companies in the S&P 500 Index divided by the total market cap of the Russell 2000® Index.
Past performance does not guarantee future results.

Attribution Analysis

Security selection was strong on an absolute basis in Financials and Health Care but could not overcome weakness in Information Technology (IT) and Communication Services, and the portfolio lagged its benchmark, the Russell 3000® Value Index. Allocation decisions boosted performance.
 Beyond the banks. Financials in the broad market were up as investor economic optimism grew, which caused the yield curve to steepen and bank stocks to rise. The portfolio’s holdings in the sector outperformed on a relative basis with much of the strength driven by a position, Charles Schwab Corporation (SCHW), in the capital markets space.
We took a stake in Schwab, the largest publicly held brokerage business in the country, after it came under significant pressure in late 2018 and early 2019 as customers began shifting their cash balances into higher-yielding products. This trend put pressure on the company’s asset growth and revenue. In early October, the pressure accelerated when Schwab announced it would cut online stock trading commission to zero, creating a clear short-term headwind to revenue and profits.

However, shares rallied on news that Schwab was acquiring competitor TD Ameritrade Holding Corporation (AMTD) in an all-stock deal. The transaction is expected to boost earnings by 15% to 20% over three years, as Schwab should be able to reduce Ameritrade’s cost structure by 60% to 65%.

Going forward, we except earnings growth to resume, driven by continued market share gains in Schwab’s brokerage and advisor-services businesses as well as accretion from the Ameritrade transaction.
Heartland Advisors Value Investing Consumer Staples Sector IconHealthy objectivity. The portfolio’s Health Care names were among the top performers on an absolute basis and the group contained a key contributor, Triple-S Management Corporation (GTS).

Triple-S is a managed care company in Puerto Rico that operates under the Blue Cross name. The company also has a property and casualty insurance unit that is not core to its overall business strategy. During the summer, a negative research report was released that suggested the company lacked adequate reserves to meet a potential surge in property and casualty claims stemming from 2017’s Hurricane Maria.

When the report was published, we once again revisited our investment thesis, delving into the potential impact a significant increase in new claims filed would have on earnings and balance sheet strength. Additionally, we dug into the assumptions used in the bear case to determine whether the scenario suggested by the authors was likely to play out. At the conclusion of our review, we remained confident that Triple-S offered an attractive risk-reward profile.

In the months following the report, the flood of claims predicted by the authors has yet to materialize, and shares have recovered. Longer term, we view Triple-S as a compelling opportunity due to its potential to increase market share, recently approved rate increases and continued progress on cost cutting.

Heartland Advisors Value Investing Financials Sector IconNo deal. Following a string of strong gains during the past several quarters, the Real Estate sector lagged the broader market to close out the year, and the portfolio’s holdings in the space contained a key detractor. CyrusOne Inc. (CONE), one of five publicly traded datacenter real estate investment trusts (REITs) in the U.S., sold off after management announced that the business was not pursuing a sale to a competitor or private equity, as had previously been rumored.

We originally took a position in CyrusOne in early 2019 after shares had fallen out of favor with investors who were concerned about recent softness in margins and cash flow. The weakness stemmed from company efforts to expand in Europe. At the time, we believed management had set the stage for strong growth relative to peers once the overseas initiatives began to produce results.

Soon after we initiated a position in CyrusOne, the company began showing progress in boosting earnings per share. However, as merger rumors began to heat up, CyrusOne shares approached our estimates of fair value and we began trimming the strategy’s exposure to the name.

As shares sold off once it became clear there were no efforts to find an acquirer, we began increasing our stake at what we believe are compelling valuations. 

Portfolio Activity

A strong run for equities in recent months has provided opportunities to harvest gains and redeploy assets into new names that offer an attractive risk/reward profile. Through our research, we have sought companies that are poised to succeed against a variety of backdrops or those that are priced at significant discounts to mid-cycle earnings levels.

For example, we initiated a position in Skyworks Solutions, Inc. (SWKS), a manufacturer of semiconductors used in multiple end markets including aerospace and defense, medical, consumer electronics and wireless communication products.

Advancements in technology are expected to lead to greater opportunities for Skyworks in the consumer smart phone market as well as in higher margin commercial applications, which currently account for one-third of total revenue. Sales growth in the industrial, defense and medical lines should help diversify sources of income and improve margins, while advancements in smart phones are expected to drive the use of more Skyworks products in each handset sold.

Despite its improving margin profile and long runway for sales growth, Skyworks trades at a more than 10% discount to the S&P 500 based on forwards earnings.

Outlook and Positioning

Mixed economic data and extreme corporate debt levels have reduced the margin for error in today’s markets. While equities have marched higher through much of 2019, we are beginning to see investors rewarding or punishing businesses based on underlying fundamentals more than we have in the recent past. We believe the gap between winners and losers among equities could widen in the coming months. In our view, the prudent course is to get past the ruling emotion of the day and stay focused on company-specific factors.

Thank you for your continued confidence.


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Portfolio Management Team

Heartland Advisors Value Investing Portfolio Manager Colin McWey

Colin McWey

McWey, CFA, is Vice President and Portfolio Manager of the Select Value and Mid Cap Value Funds and their corresponding separately managed account strategies. He has 17 years of industry experience, 10 at Heartland.

Heartland Advisors Value Investing Portfolio Manager Will Nasgovitz

Will Nasgovitz

Nasgovitz is CEO and Portfolio Manager of the Select Value, Mid Cap Value, and Value Funds and their corresponding separately managed account strategies. He also is President and Director of Heartland Funds. He has 19 years of industry experience, 16 at Heartland.

Heartland Advisors Value Investing Research Analyst Troy McGlone

Troy McGlone

McGlone, CFA, is Vice President and Portfolio Manager of the Select Value Fund and its corresponding separately managed account strategy. He has 11 years of industry experience, 5 at Heartland.

Composite Returns*


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Since Inception (%)10-Year (%)5-Year (%)3-Year (%)1-Year (%)YTD (%)QTD (%)
Opportunistic Value Equity Composite (Net of Advisory Fees)**9.939.817.8510.45-0.2412.36-1.24
Opportunistic Value Equity Composite (Net of Bundled Fees)7.837.675.748.29-2.2110.72-1.73
Russell 3000® Value7.0911.367.769.243.1017.471.23

Source: FactSet Research Systems Inc., Russell Investment Group, and Heartland Advisors, Inc.

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†Composite return is net of advisory fees.

*Performance data is preliminary. Yearly and quarterly returns are not annualized. The Strategy's inception date is 9/30/1999. 

**Provided as supplemental information.

The U.S. dollar is the currency used to express performance.

Past performance does not guarantee future results.

The Opportunistic Value Equity Strategy seeks to capture long-term capital appreciation by investing in companies with market capitalizations greater than $500 million. The Strategy’s flexible pursuit of value positions it as a core holding for investors.

In addition to stocks of large companies, the Opportunistic Value Equity Strategy invests in stocks of small- and mid-cap companies that are generally less liquid than large companies. The performance of these holdings generally will increase the volatility of the strategy’s returns.

Value investments are subject to the risk that their intrinsic value may not be recognized by the broad market.

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As of 12/31/2019, Charles Schwab Corporation, CyrusOne Inc., Skyworks Solutions, Inc., TD Ameritrade Holding Corporation, and Triple-S Management Corporation represented 3.10%, 0.96%, 1.93%, 0.00%, and 1.30% of the Opportunistic Value Equity Composite, respectively.   

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Portfolio holdings are subject to change without notice. Current and future portfolio holdings are subject to risk.

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Small-cap and large-cap investment strategies each have their own unique risks and potential for rewards and may not be suitable for all investors. Small-cap investment strategies emphasize the significant growth potential of small companies, however, small-cap securities, are generally more volatile and less liquid than those of larger companies. Large-cap investment strategies emphasize the stability of large companies, however, large-cap securities are more susceptible to momentum investments and may quickly become overpriced or suffer losses.

Because of ongoing market volatility, performance may be subject to substantial short-term changes.

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