The S&P 500 Index returned +1.35% during the first quarter of 2016, though it was anything but a steady trajectory. On February 11th, the S&P 500 Index was down by more than 10% for the year before recovering over the quarter’s final seven weeks. This date also represented a turning point in the value/growth cycle. From the beginning of the year through February 11th, S&P 500 Index stocks with the lowest price-to-book ratios (lowest quintile) underperformed the index -16.1% vs. -10.3%. From February 11th through the end of the quarter, however, this lowest valued quintile outperformed the index +16.2% vs. +13.0%. While it is too early to proclaim a new value cycle is upon us, it is noteworthy that such cycles have lasted between 5 and 8 years historically once they have taken hold—this would be a welcomed tailwind for our approach.
In most market environments, some sectors/industries are coveted while others are shunned depending on the market’s disposition at the time. This behavior often results in a market that exhibits a bifurcation in stock valuations. Currently, this dichotomy is quite pronounced. Investors are fearful that the economic woes in China and other emerging economies will spill over into the US and other developed markets. This fear has caused investors to pay 20x earnings or more for the perceived safety of non-cyclicals like consumer staples or real estate and sell cyclicals like energy or industrials at a fraction of the valuation. We believe when “safe” stocks trade at excessive valuations they become risky, not safe, which is the market’s current paradox. Taking the long-term view, we see compelling risk-adjusted valuation opportunities in select market segments that have been shunned. Our bottom-up search for value in today’s market yields a portfolio that trades for 8.3x normal earnings and 1.2x book value, which represents a considerable discount to the Russell 1000 Value Index (13.2x and 1.7x, respectively) and an even larger discount to the S&P 500 Index (15.9x and 2.6x, respectively). Continue Reading »