Seven Canyons Strategic Income Quarterly Commentary
Our returns this year looked pretty good prior to last quarter’s market mayhem. My third quarter commentary noted that over the past twelve months “WASIX returned 10.25%, which is above our high single digit return goal.” The 12.95% decline we experienced in the fourth quarter took our annual returns from positive to a negative 6.80%. This weakness was in spite of the strong fundamentals of the companies we own. Median earnings of our companies grew 16% which supported a strong median dividend growth of 9%. Had our stock prices kept pace with our dividend growth, we would have recorded an on-target year. Perhaps 2018 was a year of finally paying the piper. In prior years, stock price gains outpaced the dividend growth of our companies. But in 2018 stock prices “caught up” with our dividends. Over the long run I believe that good fundamentals produce solid dividend growth. Since growing dividends should lead to strong stock price growth, I continue to focus on companies which have both the ability and the willingness to pay a growing stream of dividends.
This past year our S&P 500 stock benchmark lost 4.38% while our Barclays bond benchmark was essentially flat at .01%. The prices of many of our holdings declined, though there were some bright spots, especially Herbalife (HLF) which rose 74%. Investors grew confident that Herbalife’s (HLF) settlement with the Federal Trade Commission would not hurt their business model. At the other end of the spectrum, BE Semiconductor (BESI) had a rough go in 2018, shrinking almost by half due to order cuts.
During any year our portfolio will have some winners and some losers. For annual results, I use a 1% hurdle to assess if a stock has a significant enough impact to be worth commenting on. No single stock added a full 1%, but Herbalife (HLF) came close, adding .91%. BE Semiconductor (BESI) cost the portfolio a regrettable 1.1%, our only holding to cross the 1% hurdle. When a stock hits our returns by more than 1%, it usually means that I have made a mistake. In this case, I failed to anticipate that the semiconductor cycle would have such a significant impact on BESI. Instead of growing, BESI’s sales and earnings shrank, taking the stock price down. The price drops of our other holdings were mainly caused by the decline in the market rather than a specific problem at the company. For example, Fedex (FDX) was another large loser falling 35% despite sales growth of 9% and 27% earnings growth–hardly the type of results associated with a declining stock price.
Shifting to a discussion of our quarterly results, it’s hard to put a positive spin on a quarter during which we lost 12.95% of our investment. We did do slightly better than the 13.52% loss of the S&P 500. However we fell far short of the 1.64% gain of our Barclay’s bond benchmark. The turbulence of the market during the quarter led to losses for almost all of our portfolio holdings.
Quarterly results are “noisier”, so I use .50% as the hurdle for calling out particular names. Suncor, hurt by the decline in oil prices during the quarter, was our largest loser for the quarter, accounting for an .88% drop in our results. Of the remaining stocks, Canadian National Railway was the only one which declined more than the market. Federal Express, Cognizant, Home Depot, and Mastercard all fell less than the market, but their heavy weight in the portfolio led them to each impact results by more than .50%. The good news is that all of these companies reported solid results during the quarter. Even hard hit Suncor reported a strong quarter, with sales up 36% and earnings up 85%. While I hate to lose money, I believe that our losses represent only a price reset rather than indicating fundamental problems with our holdings.
Only a handful of our stocks recorded gains for the quarter. Herbalife and BE Semiconductor (despite being down for the year) were the only two of our older holdings which managed gains for the quarter. Three of the winners are newcomers to the portfolio. Philippines-based Metro Retail Stores, and Indonesia-based Matahari Department Stores both benefited from the formalization of retail in these emerging markets. The third winner was Jetpak, an expedited delivery service based in Sweden.
While the volatility of the past quarter is unsettling, I believe that economic fundamentals remain healthy. In our view, the market decline of 2018 likely represents an appropriate adjustment to market exuberance. So long as the economy remains in good shape, I expect the market to be more responsive to earnings and dividend growth going forward. All investors must be optimists. In this case, we are patient optimists.
Dividends are not guaranteed and companies that pay dividends can cease paying dividends without notice.
All investing involves risk. Investments in securities of foreign companies involve additional risks, including less liquidity, currency-rate fluctuations, political and economic instability and differences in financial reporting standards and securities market regulation. Investing in small and micro-cap funds will be more volatile and loss of principal could be greater than investing in large cap or more diversified funds.
Past Performance does not indicate future results.
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Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index is a broad base index, maintained by Bloomberg L.P and is often used to represent investment grade bonds being traded in United States.
S&P 500 is the abbreviation for the Standard & Poor’s 500, an American stock market index based on the market capitalizations of 500 large companies having common stock listed on the NYSE or NASDAQ
*The Fund was organized as a successor to the Wasatch Strategic Income Fund (the “Predecessor Fund”), a series of Wasatch Funds Trust. The Predecessor Fund was reorganized with and into the Fund on September 10, 2018.