Quick Take: With the U.S. economy expected to rebound later this year, many value-oriented funds are seeking to capitalize on depressed sectors in which they traditionally invest. Michael Meyer, co-manager of the C&B Mid Cap Value Portfolio (CBMDX), is also anxious for the economy to recover, but hasn’t allowed his fund to be hurt by market weakness.
For the three years ended April 30, C&B Mid Cap Value fund gained an average annualized 15.1%, versus 3.0% for the average mid-cap value fund, while taking on slightly less risk. For the five-year period, the fund has risen 9.5%, versus 1.7% for its peers.
Both Meyer and James Norris have co-managed the $150-million fund since its inception in February 1998. Their firm, Philadelphia-based Cooke & Bieler, manages about $2 billion in assets overall, including three mutual funds.
The Full Interview:
S&P: What kinds of stocks do you look for?
MEYER: We primarily invest in under-valued mid-cap companies with market caps between $500 million and $5 billion that have strong financial characteristics, i.e., high return on equity, strong balance sheets, industry leadership, competitive advantages, and the ability to generate excess free cash flow and to re-invest that cash at attractive rates of return. They also feature low debt levels, a dividend or stock repurchase policy that is beneficial to investors, and strong management.
S&P: How do you go about selecting which stocks to then buy?
MEYER: Based on our valuation criteria, we often buy stocks trading at depressed prices because they are facing some short-term, but solvable, issues. We have intensive interviews with company management, as well as with their customers and suppliers. Cash flow analysis is a prominent part of our stock selection process. We think that all companies have an intrinsic value, which is derived from their ability to generate cash flows over the long-term. We purchase stocks at a price significantly below their intrinsic value — generally at a discount of 40% or more.
S&P: How many holdings are in the portfolio?
MEYER: The fund presently has 38 holdings. We typically hold between 30 to 45 stocks, and keep a fairly concentrated portfolio by design, having examined and understood the underlying business risk.
S&P: What benchmark do you use and how has your relative performance been?
MEYER: Our benchmark is the Russell Mid-Cap Value index. In calendar 2002, the fund pretty much matched the index. In 2001 and 2000, however, the fund significantly outperformed the Index. We attribute that out-performance primarily to good discriminate stock-picking across a broad range of sectors.
S&P: What are your top ten holdings?
MEYER: As of March 31: Zale Corp. (ZLC), 4.3%; Big Lots (BLI), 4.2%; Aon Corp. (AOC), 4.1%; Carlisle Cos. (CSL), 4.1%; Pall Corp. (PLL), 3.8%; Tommy Hilfiger (TOM), 3.8%; Hasbro Inc. (HAS), 3.8%; Steelcase Inc. (SCS), 3.7%; CBRL Group (CBRL), 3.7%; and Snap-on-Inc. (SNA), 3.6%.
S&P: What percentage of assets do these top holdings account for?
MEYER: These ten stocks accounted for 39.9% of assets. As a risk-control measure, we won’t allow any individual stock to occupy more than 5%, at cost, of the portfolio’s assets.
S&P: Tell me about one of your top holdings.
MEYER: Pall Corp., a leader in the filtration industry, generates about $1.5 billion in annual sales, and serves a broad customer base. Cash flow and sales are very stable since filtration products need to be periodically replaced.