Eq: Small Caps

(New York)

The FINSUM team came across an interesting ETF recently, run by a team that we really liked. We always pay special attention to small caps because we think it is an area where strong research and a well defined strategy can create a lot of value. That is exactly the feeling we get with the LeggMason Small-Cap Quality Value ETF (SQLV). The fund is run by George Necakov, and experienced portfolio manager from Royce & Associates, themselves a specialist in small and microcap portfolio management that has been around since 1972. The fund seeks to create outperformance by tracking the results of an index made up of small cap stocks with relatively low valuations. The fund uses a multi-factor approach to choose companies with high profitability and low relative valuations. SQLV has an expense ratio of 60 bp.

FINSUM: This fund is still small but we like their approach and George seems like a very competent manager. Small cap value is an area where one needs a considered and labor-intensive approach and this ETF appears a great way to get some simple and reliable exposure.

(New York)

Picking small caps is an art, a point that any serious investor in the space knows. Well, one of the best in the business is giving out tips today and advisors would be wise to listen. Samantha Lau, co-CIO of AllianceBernstein’s AB Small Cap Growth Portfolio is giving out her “rules” for small cap investing. Her fund has an admirable record, rising an average of 20% per year for the last decade, better than 95% of her peers. Some of her rules: “If you think something is wrong, exit and revisit”, “CFOs don’t quit to spend more time with family”, they leave because they see better performance elsewhere or something bad is coming. She continued “A good company is not always a good stock”. Her team uses a rigorous methodology that mixes quantitative and qualitative factors.

FINSUM: These are great tips for any investor, but we are particularly fascinated by the comment about great companies not being great stocks. It is an interesting and underappreciated point.

(New York)

Small caps are having a great year so far, but there are increasing worries that the good times might not last. The Russell 2000 is outperforming the S&P 500 by 3% (13% vs 10%) this year, but has tumbled in recent days, a troubling sign. What could be driving the losses is that the big gains in price have not corresponding to improving fundamentals. For instance, small cap performance is very tied to purchasing managers index data (PMI), but the rise in price has not been tied to changes in the PMI. Additionally, small cap companies tend to have the most floating rate debt, which puts them at a higher risk of rising rates. They also tend to have much lower credit quality, meaning they are the most susceptible to shifting rates. More than half the debt issued by small companies is rated as junk.

FINSUM: There is no reason to think the bottom is going to fall out here. However, a sense check seems necessary for small cap investors as there are significant risks.

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