Clearbridge Small Cap Strategy Q1 2022 Commentary

Jean J. Sanders

A businessman holding a coin with a tree that grows and a tree that grows on a pile of money. The idea of maximizing the profit from the business investment.

arthon meekodong/iStock through Getty Illustrations or photos

Sector Overview and Outlook

Modest cap stocks had a rough journey for the duration of the first quarter, as raises in market place volatility and trader uncertainty from big macro catalysts weighed on performance. On the other hand, the Strategy’s concentrate on superior-high quality firms and adaptable energetic administration assisted it to outperform the Russell 2000 Index, which fell 7.53% when compared to the Strategy’s drop of 3.66%. We ongoing to see the rotation in investor preference for value travel the difference between the Russell 2000 Benefit index, which returned -2.40% but outperformed the Russell 2000 Expansion index, which returned – 12.63%. The Russell 2000 Worth Index has now outperformed the Russell 2000 Advancement Index by around 1,750 basis factors more than the very last 12 months but is still making up floor when compared to the head- start growth has experienced in excess of the last 12 many years.

From 2000 to 2010, smaller cap stocks saw a substantially additional reasonable once-a-year appreciation that favored growth over price. That was an strange interval, with marketplaces subjected to occasions of the dot-com bubble and the Wonderful Financial Crisis (GFC). Even so, the final 12 years have also been unconventional, with marketplaces experiencing hugely stimulative monetary policy and very stimulative fiscal coverage, first as a response to the GFC and, much more just lately, COVID-19. Prior to 2008, the 10-12 months Treasury amount effectively under no circumstances broke 4% and the federal-resources level seldom dipped under 3%. In contrast, considering the fact that 2008 the 10-year level has averaged 2.3% and federal-money fee .5%.

We view this unusually low cost of funds as one particular, if not the, most important purpose equity marketplaces have expert this incredible run. The relative unattractiveness of returns on income and preset profits securities spurred traders to seek out out larger returns in development shares, enterprise funds, non-public equity, etc. Investing models based all over long-time period improvements in fundamentals and returning funds to shareholders by means of dividends took a back seat to the quest for progress for the reason that of small reinvestment possibilities exterior of equities. This look for for bigger returns also devolved into investor speculation in non-effective belongings, this sort of as cryptocurrencies or non-fungible tokens, hoping anyone would pay out a larger cost for these assets in the long run. In retrospect, we obtain it unsurprising that 12 years of entry to cheap and abundant funds would lead to a lot of unproductive investments.

This time period appears to be coming to an conclusion. The sharp increase of inflation in excess of the previous 12 months has catalyzed the Fed to react and initiate a charge mountaineering cycle that is ratcheting up the expense of cash. The end result is that the charge of keeping assets that generate no yield — these types of as commodities, pseudo-currencies and very bold but lower-excellent expansion shares — is soaring. We imagine that this dynamic, mirrored in trader fears that 10-12 months premiums might once more increase to 3% or 4%, has only just begun. If this is in truth the case, it will probable turn into significantly less well-known for public providers to chase development opportunity at the expenditure of profitability.

Whilst providers with immature organization versions and no profits exist all through the marketplace, there are selected sectors where by they congregate much more quickly, these kinds of as health treatment. As accessibility to low cost funds recedes, on the other hand, lots of of these specialty drug and biotech companies will probable come across it complicated to dismiss extensive intervals of unprofitability. Whilst we have experienced constrained publicity in the sector, our focus on acquiring substantial-high-quality companies at appealing valuations has yielded positive effects. For illustration, Lantheus Holdings (LNTH) is a world leader in clinical diagnostic imaging whose main business enterprise experienced through the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to a spectacular decrease in healthcare facility visits. As hospitals return to a amount of normalcy, Lantheus’s main business enterprise has rebounded. Additionally, in late 2021 the firm gained approval for its new radio-pharmacological drug, Pylarify, for the therapy of prostate most cancers, and preliminary revenue have been effectively forward of expectations. We consider it has a strong potential in oncology diagnosis and therapy. As a outcome, Lantheus was our strongest unique performer for the to start with quarter.

Nevertheless, this transition to a higher value of money has not been universally beneficial. Our biggest detractor in the quarter was Century Communities (CCS), a household builder whose inventory price tag was subjected to inflation from labor and uncooked components as effectively as fears in excess of regardless of whether the solid latest desire for homes will persist as home finance loan prices rise. While inflation is unquestionably a issue, the point that property costs are at historic highs affords homebuilders the latitude to move these boosts by means of to homebuyers. We also feel demand from those looking to get a residence and attain a home finance loan will carry on to persist regardless of soaring premiums, in particular as inflation results in increasing rents. We feel the housing cycle is far from about and have sturdy conviction in Century Communities.

Portfolio Positioning

We continue to be energetic in refining our portfolio positioning as we navigate via these intervals of heightened uncertainty and volatility. Our cost of setting up a portfolio of large-top quality businesses at interesting valuations to reach the strongest hazard- return profile is a never ever-ending procedure, and we keep on being vigilant in looking for fantastic value. To that stop, we manufactured a number of adjustments during the quarter to improved mirror exactly where we see the greatest alternatives.

We initiated a new posture in Sunnova (NOVA), in the energy sector. Sunnova is a residential solar and strength storage business that permits adoption by means of a community of installers with selections for financing, company and broader house energy administration. Growing curiosity premiums and solar strength source constraints weighed on the stock’s efficiency in the fourth quarter of 2021 but established a persuasive valuation opportunity to invest in this small business when the industry was embedding minimal development expectations. We believe that Sunnova will provide worth accretive expansion for a significantly longer time, with its downside minimal by the very long-phrase, preset-price, high- high-quality contracts it has with prospects.

We also initiated a new posture in WSFS Economic (WSFS), in the financials sector. A price savings and financial loan company, WSFS Fiscal supplies a variety of banking solutions together with financial savings accounts, financial loans and buyer credit rating goods. The firm has built a number of acquisitions in modern years that have introduced it into bigger growth marketplaces these kinds of as Washington DC and provided good price cost savings. We consider it is effectively-positioned to sustain very good loan advancement, even with curiosity rate headwinds.

We exited our place in Change, in the info technology (IT) sector, right after it achieved our valuation objective. The stock has re-rated significantly in the past two decades, as the company introduced it is considering converting to a REIT. Though we feel it remains a best-tier knowledge center operator, we imagine its latest valuation demonstrates that profile.


We feel we are at the precipice of substantial shifts in long- expression marketplace tendencies. The approach of ending a ten years of inexpensive and accessible funds has started, producing headwinds that pose a challenging appreciation interval for the industry as a full. In the deal with of this sort of uncertainty, our foundation of utilizing fundamental assessment to spend in higher-high quality businesses need to depart us well-positioned to persevere by means of these problems.

We have sturdy conviction in our portfolio companies and positioning, and we believe that rising fees and the shifting traits we at present see in the market will perform to our advantage to uncover even greater prospects.

Portfolio Highlights

The ClearBridge Modest Cap Method outperformed its Russell 2000 Index benchmark during the initially quarter. On an complete foundation, the Strategy had losses throughout 6 of the 11 sectors in which it was invested for the duration of the quarter. The main detractors ended up the shopper discretionary, IT and financials sectors, whilst the main contributors had been the electricity and health care sectors.

On a relative foundation, all round inventory assortment and sector allocation contributed to functionality. Precisely, inventory selection in the health and fitness treatment, industrials, financials and actual estate sectors and underweight allocations to the wellness treatment and IT sectors contributed to returns. Conversely, inventory range in and an overweight allocation to the buyer discretionary sector detracted.

On an unique inventory basis, the biggest contributors to complete returns in the quarter had been Lantheus, HealthEquity (HQY), CNX Means (CNX), Helmerich & Payne (HP) and Confident Guaranty (Back). The major detractors from absolute returns were Century Communities, 2U (TWOU), Goodyear Tire & Rubber (GT), Solo Brand names (DTC) and Smart International (SGH).

In addition to the transactions mentioned higher than, we initiated a placement in HF Sinclair (DINO) in the electricity sector, Itron (ITRI) in the IT sector, Group 1 Automotive (GPI) in the shopper discretionary sector and NovoCure (NVCR) and Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical (Exceptional) in the health and fitness treatment sector. We also exited positions in CSG Systems (CSGS) in the IT sector, 2U and Frontdoor (FTDR) in the client discretionary sector, Global Seaways (INSW) in the vitality sector, Covetrus (CVET) in the wellness treatment sector and Genuine (HNST) in the consumer staples sector.

Editor’s Be aware: The summary bullets for this write-up were preferred by Trying to get Alpha editors.

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