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Aug. 20, 2022, 9:21 a.m. EDT

These stock pickers have beaten their benchmark while giving fund holders needed diversification

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By Philip van Doorn

It is difficult for any active money manager to beat the performance of a broad stock index over long periods. But the management team at Cambiar Investors has done that with their SMID Fund, using a value approach to manage an equal-weighted portfolio of 35 to 40 stocks.

“SMID” stands for small/mid-cap, which means the Cambiar SMID Fund by definition isn’t invested in stocks that dominate the headlines. The typical index-fund investor isn’t as diversified as they might think. For example, the top five stocks held by the $392 billion SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust /zigman2/quotes/209901640/composite SPY -1.03% (Apple Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL -0.66% , Microsoft Corp. /zigman2/quotes/207732364/composite MSFT -0.97% , Amazon.com Inc. /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -0.54% , Tesla Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203558040/composite TSLA -1.11% and Alphabet Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205453964/composite GOOG +0.02% /zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite GOOGL -0.0099% ) make up 23% of its portfolio. Those five companies make up 43% of the $182 billion Invesco QQQ Trust /zigman2/quotes/208575548/composite QQQ -0.79% , which tracks the Nasdaq-100 Index /zigman2/quotes/210598364/realtime NDX -0.76% .

Andrew Baumbusch and Colin Dunn discussed their strategy for the Cambiar SMID Fund /zigman2/quotes/205226557/realtime CAMMX -0.75% , which has about $140 million in assets and is rated four stars, the second-highest, by Morningstar. Cambiar Investors is based in Denver and had $5.4 billion in assets under management as of June 30.

The Cambiar SMID Fund’s benchmark is the Russell 2500 Value Index /zigman2/quotes/210598150/delayed XX:R25IV -0.85% . The Russell U.S. indexes are subsets of the Russell 3000 Index /zigman2/quotes/210598149/delayed RUA -0.94% , which represents about 98% of publicly traded U.S. companies by market capitalization. The Russell 2500 Index /zigman2/quotes/210598146/delayed XX:RUB -0.70% leaves out the largest 500 by market cap. The Russell 2500 Value Index is made up of about 1,840 stocks in the full Russell 2500 that trade relatively low to book value and earnings, while having lower expected growth rates than stocks in the partially overlapping Russell 2500 Growth Index /zigman2/quotes/210598135/delayed XX:R25IG -0.47% .

The fund was established in 2011. Here’s how its investor-class shares have performed against their benchmark, the Russell 2500 Growth Index, the full Russell 2500 Index and Morningstar’s Mid-Cap Blend mutual fund category through Aug. 17:

  Total return – 2022 Average return – 3 years Average return – 5 years Average return – 10 years
Cambiar SMID Fund – Investor shares -5.5% 13.1% 12.2% 12.4%
Russell 2500 Value Index -4.9% 12.8% 9.1% 10.6%
Russell 2500 Growth Index -17.3% 10.0% 11.4% 12.3%
Full Russell 2500 Index -9.8% 12.4% 10.7% 11.7%
Morningstar Mid-Cap Blend category -8.2% 12.2% 10.0% 11.0%
Sources: Morningstar, FactSet

In an interview, Baumbusch, who worked as an analyst at Franklin Templeton and other firms before joining Cambiar 2004, said limiting downside capture, relative to the benchmark index, was “particularly compelling” to the firm’s clients. A 10-year chart of total returns shows that the SMID Fund has generally undergone moderate declines when compared with those of its benchmark:

A comparison of financial performance and value measures provided by Cambiar based on Morningstar’s data illustrates the SMID Fund’s value characteristics compared with those of the Russell 2500 Value Index:

Selecting stocks for value within a quality ‘library’

Baumbusch said that analysts at Cambiar narrow the full universe of U.S. stocks of companies with market capitalization ranging from $500 million to $20 billion to a “library” of companies for potential investment.

“What we are trying to do is identify companies where there is a structural product or market advantage that can be validated by the financial metrics they consistently put up for years,” he said.

Dunn, who worked as an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods before joining Cambiar in 2011, emphasized that he and colleagues, including analysts covering various market sectors, focus on companies with impressive long-term compound annual growth rates for earnings, as well as low levels of debt (illustrated on the last chart, above). He also emphasized the importance of purchasing stocks at attractive prices.

“The Russell 2500 tends to have a drawdown of 10% to 25% in any given year,” Baumbusch said, which provides opportunities to take advantage of lower prices for stocks within the library.

The fund is managed to be equal-weighted, a policy Baumbusch said was “grounded in humility.” The fund isn’t automatically rebalanced, as an index fund might be.

Dunn explained that weighting adjustments are based on the management team’s fair-value estimates. “We harvest some basis points back to a model weight. Then we look at business that have underperformed” in the stock market, he said.

“The top 10 is often a record of what has outperformed most recently … it is not necessarily a conviction weighting,” Baumbusch said.

A changing market

Baumbusch said “the emergence of a cost of capital this year has been a promising development from our perspective.” Higher interest rates, the end of fiscal stimulus and a change of direction by the Federal Reserve mean it is more difficult for companies to raise money. He pointed out that about 40% companies in the Russell 2500 aren’t profitable.

During the bull market through 2021, many stocks of rapidly growing companies soared, even though expected profits were years away. As business and financial conditions tighten, the market “should begin to winnow-out this ‘everybody wins’ paradigm,” Baumbusch said.

“We have thought that a cost of capital is very healthy for pricing assets and for value managers such as us,” he added.

Fund holdings

Keeping in mind that the top holdings of a generally equally-weighted fund don’t necessarily indicate that those stocks are the most favored by the managers, here are the Cambiar SMID Fund’s top five and bottom five holdings (of 39) as of June 30:

Company Ticker Share of portfolio Industry Market cap. ($mil) Total return – 2022 through Aug. 17
Arch Capital Group Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/206499364/composite ACGL 3.4% Multi-Line Insurance $17,541 7%
Lamb Weston Holdings Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205501174/composite LW 3.3% Food: Specialty/Candy $11,816 31%
Mercury Systems Inc. /zigman2/quotes/204481634/composite MRCY 3.3% Aerospace & Defense $2,969 -7%
WEX Inc. /zigman2/quotes/204805169/composite WEX 3.2% Data Processing Services $7,192 16%
Atmos Energy Corp. /zigman2/quotes/204989507/composite ATO 3.0% Gas Distributors $16,460 14%
Gentex Corp. /zigman2/quotes/202142308/composite GNTX 1.5% Auto Parts: OEM $6,767 -16%
GrafTech International Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/208373144/composite EAF 1.5% Electrical Products $1,796 -41%
IPG Photonics Corp. /zigman2/quotes/203325788/composite IPGP 1.5% Semiconductors $5,034 -42%
V.F. Corp. /zigman2/quotes/206706147/composite VFC 1.8% Apparel/Footwear $18,310 -34%
Amedisys Inc. /zigman2/quotes/207929745/composite AMED 1.9% Medical/Nursing Services $3,875 -26%
Sources: Cambiar Investors, FactSet

Click on the tickers for more about each company. You should also  read  Tomi Kilgore’s detailed guide to the wealth of information for free on the MarketWatch quote page.

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