The manager of one of the top-performing large-cap value funds has been taking risk in companies that others might still be wary about, but where he sees greater appreciation potential.
SAN FRANCISCO — It’s best not to judge fund managers on short-term results, but in this harrowing market climate, anyone who can even approach break-even is probably worth a closer look.
Tom Forester’s eponymous Forester Value Fund lost 2.9 percent this year as of Nov. 6, according to fund-tracker Lipper. By comparison, its average large-cap value rival slumped 38.1 percent.
“It’s been one of those years where you just can’t buy and hold,” Forester said. “You have to be opportunistic.”
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Perhaps Forester’s best opportunity this year came because of what he didn’t own: financial stocks. He sidestepped the big landmines in that troubled sector, while investing heavily in defensive consumer-staples and pharmaceutical stocks to support the portfolio.
Lately though, the fund manager’s view of the U.S. market has been improving. Consequently, he’s taking risks in companies that others might still be wary about, but where he sees greater appreciation potential.
“I’ve been buying the stuff that’s gotten hit the most,” he said. “I’m now transitioning into stocks that are a little more risky but have more upside as a result.”
Moreover, Forester said these companies meet his valuation criteria, which hinges largely on a stock’s price-to-earnings, price-to-book value and dividend yield.
“I’m basically a low P/E buyer,” he said. “Low-valuation stocks generally get the best performance over a full market cycle. After they’re beaten up, they don’t go down as much, and when the market goes up, they tend to go up more.”
Oil refiner Valero Energy is a case in point. Forester watched the shares tumble, a victim of falling oil prices and consumer demand.
But the fund manager saw a stock that he believed was oversold, and he started building a position.
“This got way overdone,” he said. “They buy the oil, refine it and sell the refined product. Someone who makes a stable spread is a much safer pick.”
An automaker’s stock might not seem to offer much of a future nowadays, but Forester considers Daimler an exception.
Shares of the German company have been wrecked along with its counterparts in Detroit and Tokyo, but Forester said he’s confident that upscale Mercedes-Benz drivers won’t abandon their vehicles.
“Mercedes’ clientele isn’t so economically sensitive,” he said.
But why, with the market full of bargains, would Forester embrace a car company?
“I was trying to find something that’s been incredibly beaten up but still has fairly stable revenues and is a strong company,” he said.
A dividend yield approaching 10 percent didn’t hurt either. “Even if this was dead money for a while, the yield pays you to wait,” Forester said.
Software giant Symantec is another of Forester’s favorites. Symantec sells the Norton brand and other computer-security products that corporations will purchase “in good times or in bad,” Forester said. “It’s mission-critical stuff. You’re not going to let down your Internet firewalls and security.”