Bill Nygren’s Oakmark Fund: First Quarter 2015 by Oakmark Funds

The Oakmark Fund declined 1% in the first quarter of 2015, and it lagged behind the 1% gain for the S&P 500.  Falling oil prices and the strengthening U.S. dollar captured investor attention and brought heightened volatility to company earnings and stock prices during the first quarter.  With interest rates near multi-year lows, however, we feel that equities remain the most attractive asset class.  We remain confident in the Oakmark Fund’s long-term prospects, and our confidence is supported by the fact that a substantial portion of the recent underperformance has been driven by weakness in the financials sector, which is among the highest potential return sectors of the Fund.

Oakmark Fund: Performance contributors and detractors

The sectors that contributed the most to performance were consumer discretionary and healthcare, driven largely by Amazon and UnitedHealth Group, respectively.  Amazon was up 20% after reporting stronger than expected revenue growth in the fourth quarter, and the company continues to invest heavily to support high-return future growth.  UnitedHealth Group was up 17% due to strong fourth quarter results and continued momentum as concerns about healthcare reform wane.  Our weakest sectors were financials and energy, and Bank of America and Chesapeake Energy were the worst performing securities.  Despite the near-term weakness, we feel the financials and energy sectors remain undervalued, and the Oakmark Fund added to several positions in these sectors during the quarter.

We also initiated new positions in Caterpillar Inc. and Precision Castparts Corp., as discussed below.  We eliminated the position in Walmart because its share price appreciated toward our estimate of intrinsic value.  We also eliminated most of our position in Home Depot, which has performed well for several years and also reached our estimate of intrinsic value.  We would like to commend Home Depot’s former CEO Frank Blake and the entire Home Depot management team for their strong focus on maximizing returns and growing per-share value.  Consistent with the message delivered in Bill Nygren’s fourth quarter commentary, which discussed the Fund’s desire to minimize tax consequences of our sales, we have maintained a small position in Home Depot shares that we have owned for less than one year.  The Fund also captured a loss on some Haliburton shares when initiating a position in Baker Hughes, which Haliburton announced it plans to acquire.

Oakmark Fund: Caterpillar Inc. (CAT – $81)

Caterpillar is the world’s largest provider of construction equipment, diesel engines and industrial gas turbines.  Caterpillar’s products earn high marks, as do the quality and scope of its dealer network, but the company has considerable exposure to the highly cyclical and currently depressed oil and gas and mining segments.  With substantial pressure from weak energy spending and the negative impact of the strong U.S. dollar, Caterpillar’s 2015 earnings will likely be down considerably from 2014 and toward the bottom end of their cyclical range.  We prefer to value cyclical businesses on their earnings potential throughout the cycle, and we think that Caterpillar’s mid-cycle earnings will be considerably higher than current levels.  With the Caterpillar share price falling to multi-year lows, the business is now attractively valued at just 10x our forecast of mid-cycle earnings.  When we combine this attractive valuation with a 3.4% dividend yield and a strong balance sheet, we find Caterpillar to be a compelling investment.

Oakmark Fund: Precision Castparts Corp. (PCP – $212)

Precision Castparts Corp. (PCP) is a manufacturer of complex metal components and products, including castings, forgings, fasteners and aerostructures for aerospace, power generation and general industrial applications.  Precision Castparts enjoys what we believe is an outstanding corporate culture and is led by a long-tenured CEO who is known for aggressively pursuing operating efficiencies.  For many years, the company’s stock traded at a significant premium to other aerospace and industrial peers, but recent weakness has brought the share price to attractive levels relative to these industry groups and the S&P 500.  We believe the current valuation of less than 15x earnings is overly punitive, considering PCP’s organic growth prospects and the company’s ability to add value through acquisitions.  PCP is providing more components on key new airplanes, which should allow the company to outgrow its end markets.  In addition, management projects $4 billion-$6 billion of acquisition opportunities over the next couple of years with return characteristics similar to its existing business.  Finally, the company’s unique technical and process capabilities, coupled with its efficiently run operations, should allow it to continue to generate above-average margins.  We are pleased to have the opportunity to add shares of what we consider a best-in-class company at a price that implies it is only average.

William C. Nygren, CFA

Portfolio Manager

[email protected]

Kevin G. Grant, CFA

Portfolio Manager

[email protected]

Bill Nygren's Oakmark Fund Down 1% In 1Q15