John Pandtle: Eagle Asset Management (Eagle) has been the manager of the Nordea 1 – North American All Cap Fund since its launch in May 2012. Eagle has offered a U.S. All Cap Equity strategy since October 1999.
e-fundresearch.com: What is the current size of the fund?
John Pandtle: As of 30.09.2013, the size of the Nordea 1 – North American All Cap Fund is USD 1.12 billion.
e-fundresearch.com: Do you also manage other funds or mandates?
John Pandtle: Yes, the same team that manages the Nordea 1 – North American All Cap Fund is also responsible for a U.S. All Cap Equity segregated account strategy (managed in the same manner as the Nordea 1 – North American All Cap Fund). In addition, the team manages a U.S. Large Cap Dividend (capital appreciation + dividend income) strategy and a U.S. Large Cap Value strategy.
e-fundresearch.com: What is the total amount of assets you manage currently?
John Pandtle: As of 30.09.2013, the team manages USD 3.7 billion in total assets.
e-fundresearch.com: How long have you been in the business as a fund manager?
John Pandtle: Eagle Asset Management has been in business since 1976. The investment team that runs the Nordea 1 – North American All Cap Fund has offered a U.S. All Cap Equity strategy since October 1999.
e-fundresearch.com: What are the main steps in your investment process and in which area is your competitive edge to add value to investors?
John Pandtle: The investable universe for the Nordea 1 – North American All Cap Fund consists of companies in the Russell 3000 - Net Return Index with market capitalizations greater than USD 250 million. We do not have a top-down, monolithic-view approach to valuation. Instead, we use proprietary, sector-focused valuation techniques to bring stocks of potential interest to our attention and to reduce the size of the investment universe to a more manageable list of securities through quantitative screens. However, we will not purchase a stock based solely on screening data, nor will we completely eliminate from consideration a stock that otherwise fits into our investment mandate based solely on the results of quantitative screening. We view the screens as a signalling tool, and recognize that potential investment ideas may also come from investment conferences, peer-group analysis, industry contacts, competing management teams as well as from large stock-price changes or dislocations caused by unexpected events. We have also been following our sectors for many years and have built a substantial database of intellectual capital about the various companies that comprise the sectors and industries that we cover, so that when there is a large change in the price or valuation of a stock, we can be prepared to act in a timely manner.
Eagle follows a bottom-up fundamental research process with the VARG (Value and Reasonable Growth) approach, which entails a classic valuation-oriented style with a focus on growth catalysts. VARG means compelling valuations but also reasonable growth. The benefit of using VARG is that the value protects from paying too much for a company, while the reasonable growth hurdle protects from falling into value traps and unlocks future stock value. The aim is to provide clients with above-market investment performance with downside protection over a market cycle.
We believe the investment team’s structure and experience is a key competitive advantage. The deeply experienced portfolio management team has more than 100 years of combined investment experience in a wide variety of market environments and utilizes a close, collaborative team-managed portfolio decision-making approach that leads to a rigorous vetting process for each stock in the portfolio. In addition, our research effort gives us the flexibility to range across the market-capitalization spectrum from large to mid to small to discover good investment ideas wherever they may reside. The use of proprietary, sector-focused valuation techniques – combined with in-depth fundamental research on each company that we own to understand what might bring the values identified up to the surface in a reasonable time horizon – have also contributed to our ability to consistently add value in both up and down markets.
e-fundresearch.com: Major US-indices (S&P 500 and DJIA) have currently hit all-time highs: why is it still a good time for investors to get invested into US equities?
John Pandtle: Many investors believe that a bull market in stocks is characterized by hope, optimism and good economic news. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is only at the end of bull markets that good feelings about the market prevail. Most of the time, the market is climbing the proverbial “wall of worry.” And since this market advance began more than four years ago, investors have been presented with an array of worries that makes many wonder how the market can possibly be going up. But this is how bull markets act. When the case for stocks becomes clear to everyone and there is a rush to get invested “before it’s too late,” it will be getting close to the time to get more defensive. It is our belief that we are a long way away from that time.
For the past several years, we have been saying that the U.S. corporate sector is a bright spot in an otherwise lackluster domestic economic environment. We will now revise that observation: The U.S. corporate sector is a bright spot in an otherwise lackluster global economic environment. Much of Europe struggles with austerity and recession, Japan tries to finally get monetary policy right after 20 years of failing, China attempts the difficult transition from an investment- to a consumer-led economy and other emerging markets experience all manner of growing pains but the U.S. corporate sector is recording all-time highs in earnings, cash flow and cash on balance sheets. Moreover, despite a very good stock market over the past four years, valuations of U.S. stocks remain quite reasonable as earnings have risen nearly as much as stock prices.
e-fundresearch.com: Which benchmark is most relevant and how should investors compare the fund vs. benchmarks or peer groups?
John Pandtle: The benchmark for the fund is the Russell 3000 – Net Return Index because it reflects the broad all-cap universe of U.S. equities that we consider for the portfolio. In the long run, the fund aims to offer a return that is higher than the return of its reference index. We strive to provide superior risk-adjusted returns vs. our benchmark and our competitors.
e-fundresearch.com: Compared to the benchmark (Russell 3000): which sector(s) do you currently overweight (or underweight) the most, and on what expectations are these deviations primarily based on?
John Pandtle: The sector weightings in the Nordea 1 – North American All Cap Fund are an organic outcome of where we are finding the investment ideas that best meet our value and reasonable growth (VARG) approach. In other words, we do not use a top-down approach to tactically allocate between sectors, although our outlook for the economy and the current state of the business cycle are embedded naturally in the “DNA” of our stock-selection process.
The largest current sector overweights in the portfolio are in energy, financials and industrials. We continue to find the important combination of undervalued stocks and good fundamentals/company-specific growth drivers in each of these sectors. Conversely, utilities and consumer staples represent our largest sector underweights. In fact, the portfolio does not currently have any utilities stocks. In these traditionally “defensive” sectors, the chase for investment income has inflated the valuation of many of the stocks based on the prevalence of above-average dividend yields. In addition, we believe the growth outlook for many utilities will remain subdued based on sluggish demand for power.
e-fundresearch.com: As per 31.08.2013 your largest holding is Apple. What are your expectations regarding the mid-term developments (1-year) of this position? How will it serve your portfolio?
John Pandtle: The market acted earlier this year as if Apple were a flawed company. It’s not; it simply is a company that is making what was an inevitable transformation from a high-growth company into a consumer-oriented company. Our belief was that it would continue to generate cash during that time and that it will continue to do so. We believed that even though iPhone unit growth was not destined to be rapid at this point as it has been over the past several years, it appeared more stable to us than the market was giving it credit for. The market began to return its attention to Apple in the late summer. We believe the market will continue to recognize that Apple will continue to be a strong company even if growth-oriented investors became disillusioned with its slowing growth rate.
e-fundresearch.com: Which performance did you achieve for the fund YTD and over the past five calendar years in absolute terms and relative to relevant benchmark or other reference indices?
John Pandtle: Since launch in May 2012, the fund has generated significant outperformance vs. its benchmark index. On a year-to-date basis through 30 September, the fund generated +28.24% of performance; during that same time the benchmark Russell 3000 – Net Return Index gained +20.77%, leaving +7.47% of outperformance. We have not managed the fund long enough (its inception was May 2012) to have established a five-calendar-year record. From inception through 30 September, the fund has gained +42.45%, while the Russell 3000 – Net Return Index gained +32.85% over the same period.
e-fundresearch.com: What motivates you in your job?
John Pandtle: I am fortunate to have a job that is intellectually interesting and never boring. As we like to say, “Every day is a new day” in our job. The opportunity to identify and investigate interesting companies and investment ideas is also a compelling part of my job. Finally, the ultimate motivator in my job is the satisfaction of building an investment portfolio that historically has delivered above-market returns for clients.
e-fundresearch.com: Thank you!