It can be tough to remain disciplined when the markets move
against you, but the father-son duo of Bryan and Robert Auer has
stuck with a tried-and-true approach through both up and down
markets. The co-managers of
(AUERX) demand significant sales and earnings growth as well as low
price-to-earnings (PE) multiples and drop holdings that fail to
meet these expectations. Although this strategy doesn't protect the
fund from broader sell-offs, periods of weakness offer an
opportunity to reload for the next year. We recently spoke with
Robert Auer about his outlook for the markets and the value of
What's your outlook for equities and the
We expect a huge exodus out of fixed-income investments once the
Federal Reserve raises rates. That could be a year away, but
William Gross at PIMCO has been vocal about the bubble forming in
the bond market. His concerns make us extremely bullish on
The equity market hasn't given investors much of a return in 10
years; huge pent-up demand for stocks should produce a reversion to
the mean. Our conservative forecast calls for the Dow Jones
Industrial Average to hit 20,000 by 2020--an annual growth rate of
TheUS economy continues to recover, albeit at a painfully slow
pace. That being said, a double-dip recession is highly unlikely:
Only three double dips have occurred after the last 28 recoveries-a
one in 10 chance. All three came on the heels of a mild recession,
and the latest swoon is one of the biggest contractions theUS
economy has endured.
Small- and mid-capitalization names are a big part of
your portfolio, though many investors are avoiding this group. Is
this a normal weighting for the fund?
That's typically where we find growth and undiscovered
companies; it's tough to find large-cap companies that meet our
But we do find large-cap names that resume growth and offer a
) is a prime example. The stock has a PE of 10 but suddenly started
growing earnings 30 percent a year. It's been a long time since
Intel enjoyed such robust growth, but fear of a double-dip
recession has made investors skeptical. These days shares of Intel
trade somewhere in the neighborhood of $19, whereas 10 years ago
they went for $80 despite inferior profitability and growth.
Oil stocks typically trade at a lower multiple, but not long ago
investors had to pay 15 or 16 times earnings for shares of
) when it was growing at a rate of 10 percent. We've been able to
pick up names that typically fail to meet our value
)--right when their businesses are coming out of a trough.
This growth focus increases the fund's economic
sensitivity. Do these trough periods set up
Downturns enable us to position for the future. These
positioning years are painful to go through, but conditions will
recover gradually. Right now technical trading rules the day; the
focus is on the S&P 500 and its 50- and 200- day average. You
can make money trading in this manner, but that's not our
Eventually fundamentals win out. At some point the market won't
be near its averages, which will limit technical trading. When the
market would have to fall or jump 15 percent for traders to make
money, the focus shifts to valuation. That's when our hard work
Where are you finding opportunities today?
Semiconductors are our favorite group right now. In addition to
Intel Corp, we also own a number of smaller names, including
). The company just posted a record second quarter, and management
raised its full-year forecast, but the stock is down 25 percent on
the year and is within 30 cents of its 52-week low.
Amkor Technology layers semiconductors on top of each other--a
key to producing the increasingly small-but powerful chips in
smartphones and other electronics. "Packaging" chips is a real art,
and the firm's customer list is a who's who of the industry. I'm
not suggesting that the stock deserves a PE ratio of 20, but it
should get more respect.
We also own shares of
(NSDQ: SOLR), a solar-power name with market cap of $1.2
billion that trades at about $8.00 per share. Up roughly 40 percent
this year, the stock is at $8 today but traded at $16 per share in
2008. The New Hampshire-based firm developed an improved method of
etching solar cells to improve their efficiency.
In 2009 the company earned 60 cents per share; consensus
estimates call for earnings per share (EPS) of 93 cents this year.
Wall Street analysts also forecast EPS of 23 cents in the third
quarter, driven by quarterly sales of $201 million--much higher
than the $104 million in sales the company posted a year ago.
We love situations like this where analysts continue to
underestimate a company's earnings.
How is GT Solar International able to double its quarterly sales
from a year ago? The company's products address energy concerns and
offer superior efficiency.
(NSDQ: CEPH), a recent addition to our portfolio, also has exciting
metrics. The stock has a PE of 11.8, but the ratio falls to 8.2
when you consider the consensus estimate for 2010 earnings.
The biotech and pharmaceuticals company primarily produces pain
medications. Like aspirin, most of these products trick the nervous
system into telling the body that there isn't any pain. And most of
their drugs aren't habit-forming. The market hates the stock, but
the company posted a great second quarter, its fourth consecutive
upside surprise. The consensus estimate called for EPS of $1.77 in
the second quarter, but profits came in at $2.05 per share.
Pharmaceutical stocks usually don't usually deviate that much
from analysts' estimates. We're a little concerned about the next
quarter because the analysts are calling for EPS of $1.78 versus
$1.62 in the same period last year--less than 25 percent growth.
But looking back, earnings have beaten analyst expectations by
around 15 percent in three of the last four quarters, so we should
hit our target.
A lot of your focus is on companies with new or
innovative products. Is that the secret to your long-term
In general, we target three growth catalysts. Sometimes a new
product will generate the earnings growth we seek. Other times the
business enters a sweet spot. Hurco (HURC), a company that produces
computerized lathes, is a name that's given us three doubles over
the years. If you pull up a monthly price chart for the past 20
years, you'll see a stretch of seven or eight years where the stock
traded at $4 to $6. Then in 2003 the shares went nuts.
The company didn't change its business; suddenly every
manufacturer wanted computerized lathes.
Six years later, the stock reverted to its lower range. Luckily,
we had cashed out long before the shares crashed; as soon as a
stock fails to grow earnings 25 percent, we're out the door. That's
enabled us to do well over the years; our hurdle is so high, we
usually get out before things head too far south.
A new CEO or management team can also be an earnings
Has it been tough to maintain your strict buy and sell
discipline over the years?
Nothing works all the time, but discipline has been the key to
our success. If you have an investment strategy that makes sense
and has worked for a long time, stick with it. Take the Dogs of the
Dow Strategy where you buy the 10 stock with the highest yield on
Jan. 1 and then rebalance every year.
Over the long term this strategy produces decent returns, but
this approach does go through two- to three-year cycles where it
underperforms the broader market. But by sticking to that simple
strategy, you'll outperform over a long period of time. The problem
is that right after a bad year, people abandon their
What's your best piece of advice for individual
Allocation is the key to success. Equities should account for at
least half of any investors' portfolio. You might want to have part
of that in utilities or dividend-paying stocks, but there's going
to be a lot of pain in fixed-income markets.
This is the year to reposition because things unravel quickly
after bubbles burst. And at these levels you're not going to miss
out on much upside in the bond market. At the same time, investors
who are overweight bonds could miss out on huge opportunities in
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