REVISITING QUALITY VALUE STOCKS HURT BY TRUMP
Portfolio manager forecasts earnings growth and rate hikes with reflation trade, writes Jonathan Ratner.
The so-called Trump trade that provided a big lift to value and cyclically oriented equities has lost some steam, as several of the U.S. president’s promises on tax reform, regulation and health care haven’t come through.
Many of the stocks that benefited from Donald Trump’s election win in November — cheaper areas of the market such as consumer discretionary, financials and industrials — have pulled back. Meanwhile, bonds, utilities and other defensive plays have begun to rally again.
“We’re at a point where the market is really starting to worry that we are going to sink back into deflation,” said Jason Mann, chief investment officer at Edgehill Partners.
Mann, who runs the firm’s EHP Advantage Fund, a diversified North American long-short equity fund, thinks it’s too early to call an end to the reflation trade. He continues to anticipate earnings growth and rising interest rates, and is favouring cyclical stocks over defensives as a result.
“We think it’s a pause, not an end,” he said, emphasizing his focus on quality value stocks.
“Last year, it was all about buying stocks that didn’t go broke, as really cheap price-to-book and over-levered companies did the best. This year, we think you want to focus on higher-quality, cheap price-to-free cash flow, reasonable balance sheet, and high return-on-equity companies.”
The portfolio manager is staying away from growth stocks, despite investors’ persistent love for expensive ones such as Tesla Inc. “By all measures, Tesla is extremely overvalued, but it just keeps grinding higher,” Mann said. “But, ultimately, investors tend to rotate back into quality and cheap stocks, and avoid super-expensive growth names, especially as you get late into the cycle, which is where we think we are.”
Mann believes now is a good time to re-visit some of the names that sharply moved up in November, but have since settled back. He also sees an opportunity to re-position away from bondlike stocks such as utilities, telcos and REITs to some degree, since they’ve all recovered somewhat from the November sell-off.
“Frankly, they are still quite overvalued related to the cyclical parts of the market,” he said.
The type of value Mann is targeting can be found in the consumer discretionary, financial, industrial and even technology sectors.
The tech names certainly do not include the likes of Facebook Inc., Amazon.com Inc. or Netflix Inc., but companies such as Apple Inc., Texas Instruments Inc., KLA-Tencor Corp. — older parts of the sector — are cheap, and that’s an example of where Mann prefers to be positioned on the long side.
He also highlighted several Canadian names, one of which is ECN Capital Corp. A spinoff last fall from Element Financial Corp., ECN was intended to be Element’s growth vehicle in the leasing finance business.
“It’s kind of been an orphan stock since the spinout,” Mann said, noting that ECN trades at a roughly 25-per-cent discount to book value, while leasing businesses tend to trade closer to book value.
“It’s a pretty meaningful discount and they have a ton of capacity to do acquisitions,” the manager added, noting that ECN has approximately $3 billion of balance sheet capacity to buy other leasing businesses.
If ECN can’t find cheap businesses to acquire, Mann pointed out it can still lever up by repurchasing stock. “These businesses work better when they have more leverage than what ECN currently has,” the manager said. One of the more cyclical parts of the market that’s shown some recent strength is the Canadian forestry and lumber sector.
Many of the sector’s names are in pretty good shape with Mann pointing to both West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd. and Canfor Corp. But he also highlighted Interfor Corp. given that just 15 per cent of its volumes are subject to tariffs. “The big fear has been that the tariffs the U.S. has put on softwood lumber would really hurt these companies,” he said.
But tariffs tend to raise prices everywhere, since they essentially act as a tax. As a result, Interfor’s U.S. production (twothirds of its lumber capacity is in the U.S.) will be sold at a higher price. “Ultimately, tariffs are not a significant headwind for this company,” Mann said. “If anything, it’s a benefit.”
Another industry investors may feel is vulnerable to protectionist U.S. trade policies is Canadian auto parts. If NAFTA is torn up, there is a risk to companies such as Magna International Inc., Linamar Corp. and Martinrea International Inc. But even with a “Buy America” policy in place, auto manufacturers can’t just make the switch overnight.
“Ultimately, the best product at the right price wins, and Canadian auto parts have integrated themselves well into the manufacturing cycle,” Mann said.
He singled out Martinrea as being attractive given its very cheap valuation and somewhat stretched balance sheet, which means the company has more torque to any improved business.
“It’s kind of been in turnaround mode for a while, but now their margins are starting to improve, and there is a real opportunity to improve cash flow from their current asset base.”
We’re at a point where the market is really starting to worry that we are going to sink back into deflation.
Jason Mann of Edgehill Partners believes now is a good time to revisit some of the names that sharply moved up in November, but have since settled back.