Within the markets, the differentiation among styles has also been very narrow. So this has been a very unique period that should prove fruitful for active managers, based on what I have found in the past. It's only after the fact that we will find out which stocks deservedly needed to go down and ultimately won't recover and which stocks went down undeservedly and are most likely to recover -- and where you are going to see significant outperformance.
The same is true in big bull markets.
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The tide lifts all boats in the early stages. It's only after the fact that the market begins to get more discriminating and to figure out which companies have staying power and which ones don't. Valuations of small stocks are at a slight premium to large-caps. They are at a level where they have been through much of history, with a couple of exceptions -- when they sold at major discounts in the late s, and in late and the beginning of , when large stocks were clearly in favor. The last time there was a huge premium for small-caps was in the early s, on the back end of the expansion from to , when there was a significant amount of initial-public-offering activity, especially in the technology area.
From through around , small-caps outperformed large-caps consistently. Was that an aberration?
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No, clearly not, because it was correcting an extreme that had been created. When those stocks rolled over and people figured out that they were holding the bag on overvalued merchandise, investors went toward where value was the greatest, including small-caps. It took years to unwind that disparity. It's also one of the reasons why there were such huge anomalies between large-caps and small-caps, growth and value, and tech and nontech, among other anomalies. There was basically a zero-interest-rate policy by the Bank of Japan, so there was a huge carry trade.
So hedge funds had these huge anomalies that went away over the next three to four years. I am seeing valuations I haven't seen in decades, across the capitalization spectrum. You have the capacity right now, as a value manager, to find good, solid low-valued stocks of good companies without having to pay a premium for them for the first time, really, since the early s. We are in the process of creating a bottom, most likely in the next 12 to 18 months. As for buying opportunities, they are not confined to small-caps. So the market is clearly discounting a fairly severe recession.
One thing that is still true is an old axiom: The stock market discounts. It topped out over a year ago, and it's been declining since. It's pretty much discounting much of the very ugly economic headline news that we are probably going to be facing over the next year or two. First of all -- and I include myself in this -- people tend to be impatient.
Good investing, especially from an individual standpoint, is where you have the luxury of not having to participate in the market at all times.
You can pick and choose the most appropriate times when the odds and probabilities of success are highly in your favor. I try to keep that in mind as a professional investor as well. It's only through time and patience that you actually tend to build wealth through the power of compounding of returns. But doing that requires perseverance and saving, which involves sacrifice. One of the things I was most influenced by is the writings of Charles Ellis, who said you win by not losing and your primary objective in investment management is to control risk.
A successful investment requires a great deal of courage.
And it requires steady nerves to invest in those areas where the greater opportunities are, even though that's not where the consensus is, and it's very lonely. The best opportunities to buy stocks occur when it's been very hard to pick up the phone -- and yet all your disciplines would suggest that is exactly the right thing to do. It reminds me of a quote I have been keeping in front of me lately. As Warren Buffett said: "Be fearful when people are greedy, and greedy when people are fearful.
You take a more diversified -- and less concentrated -- approach to running a portfolio than some other funds do. Why do you lean in that direction? You can be out in the middle of the ocean and not know what's ahead, so you need to be prepared for stormy seas. It just provides better ballast to a portfolio in case there are surprises.
As much as you think you've got it all right at various points in time, you always want to protect yourself. So far, knock on wood. Actually, we still are concerned with some of the fundamentals, particularly at some of the smaller regional banks, because they have not had to report some of the problems that a lot of their larger brethren have.
We are just getting to the part of the recession that ought to more forcefully impact their performance. Their fortunes are tied to their local economies, and their portfolios tend to be more heavily exposed to construction lending -- not just residential, but commercial, which is under pressure. And they are exposed to consumer lending, which is going to be under pressure as unemployment levels rise. As you are well aware, one of the biggest concerns about investing in small-caps is liquidity; many of these stocks don't trade well.
How do you deal with that? Having said that, it's important for a small-stock investor -- and this is one factor that separates the better small-stock managers from the others -- to deal with a lack of liquidity, because by definition almost any small stock you buy is illiquid, to some degree.here
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You have to learn to make that part of your investment process and equation. Being value-oriented really works in our favor, compared to being more growth-oriented, because we tend to want to buy things when few others do. If you have been successful in identifying the right company to own in the first place, and if the fundamentals play out largely as you hoped, and as the stock gets discovered, liquidity only improves with time. So when something becomes more dearly valued, very often you are generally able to sell it much more easily than when you first bought it.
The first one is Curtiss-Wright [CW]. It's been around since the early part of the 20th century. They are a diversified industrial manufacturer, and their principal products are in-motion and fluid-flow control. They make actuation systems that go into commercial and military aircraft.
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