In this edition of Analyst Insights, Derek Derman frames the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Financial Services sector, highlights how banks and insurance companies are much stronger now than during the financial crisis, and discusses some of his highest conviction investment ideas.
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So far Poplar Forest Research has created 31 blog entries.
I’ve been investing for almost 40 years now, so I’ve lived through many booms and busts, however, I’ve never seen anything quite like the COVID Crash. It took just 20 days for the S&P 500 to fall the 20% required to put us in a bear market. For the first time since 1997, stock market circuit breakers, designed to slow selloffs, were triggered three times in six days. We’ve experienced unprecedented day-to-day volatility: in March, the S&P 500 moved up or down by at least 4% in eight consecutive sessions, eclipsing the old record of six days in 1929. The pace of change is unprecedented.
The global spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is creating panic in financial markets. We appear to be in a period of maximum uncertainty characterized by a rapidly expanding list of questions, but few, if any, answers. Over the coming weeks, it seems likely that patient counts may dramatically increase in the U.S. and create some short-term pressure on economic activity. As patient counts rise, the American media will predictably stoke public fears of an intractable pandemic. Contrary to these fears, we see encouraging reasons to believe that an effective therapy could be approved within the next few months. We also believe the fatality rate in the U.S. could be much lower than in China, where smoking is more prevalent.
At roughly 11x estimated earnings, the companies we own continue to be priced at attractive absolute levels and at historically wide discounts to the market despite offering market-like earnings growth prospects. Whether we compare ourselves to broad market indices (S&P at 18x, Russell Value at 15x) or to other value managers (Peer average 15x), we offer differentiated portfolios of what we believe are incredibly compelling investment opportunities.
In this edition of Analyst Insights, Akash Ghiya explains the pillars of our investment thesis in the Energy sector, reviews the sector’s 10-year history, and discusses the key issues on investors’ minds in 2019.
As Mike Tyson famously observed: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” For the last few years, Value investing has felt like being in the ring with the former champ. Successful long-term investors know they will have to take a few punches along the way because there is simply no way to get every stock pick right. The issue is not about getting punched: it’s about how one responds to the blow.
We believe the market has set up a rare opportunity for value investing. The valuation gap between growth and value stocks is at historically high levels, similar to that last observed during the dot-com bubble of 1999-2000. For investors who've benefited from the strong rally in growth stocks, history suggests it may be prudent to reallocate profits toward value stocks, where valuations are much more reasonable and future returns are potentially more favorable.
The key to investment success this year has been simple: buy the most expensive stocks and avoid the cheapest ones. That’s not what we do at Poplar Forest and our investment results reflect our continued commitment to a value-based investment process. While we’re concentrating on stock prices relative to long-term normalized earnings and free cash flow at the company level, investors currently seem to be focusing on short-term macroeconomic factors. The pre-occupation with recession and risk is understandable, but I believe it has been taken to an unreasonable extreme.
In the midst of the panic last December, and as described in my last letter, we got a visit from a hysterical Chicken Little and his friends. As you know, Chicken Little is chronically bearish – always looking at the glass as cracked and half empty. Henny Penny goes with the flow and tends to get caught up in the emotional tide of markets – selling when her friends are worried and buying when they’re optimistic. Ducky Lucky is able to keep his emotions in check – he sticks to a long-term plan and re-balances his portfolio when allocations drift away from targeted levels. Ducky Lucky best embodies the Warren Buffett maxim to “be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” After such a strong move in the first quarter, the threesome stopped by our office again in late March to get our current take on the market.
Most of us are familiar with the idiom taken from the old folktale of Chicken Little: “the sky is falling.” This central phrase from the folktale has been adapted for modern times to describe an unreasonable fear—and today is used to describe the irrational behavior driving the current “risk off” market environment. In this quarter’s letter, J. Dale Harvey, Poplar Forest Capital’s Chief Investment Officer, discusses how macroeconomic fears are creating distortions between good business fundamentals and valuation multiples. We believe many of the current overriding fears in the market today are unwarranted, thus creating a great buying opportunity.