Bill Nygren’s market commentary for the second quarter ended June 30, 2015.
Q&A with Bill Nygren
Q: Most stocks that have shown consistent earnings and revenue growth have generated impressive returns both recently and longer term. Most are now selling at their highest P/E ratios of the past decade. Don’t they look pretty expensive? Are you worried about the P/E ratio given modest growth expectations? What’s your suggestion to individual investors who own these stocks, or who are considering buying them?
Bill Nygren: Yes, most stocks have shown unsustainably high returns over the past six years. If you own stocks today expecting them to again triple in the next six years, I strongly believe you’ll be disappointed. Though interesting, whether or not stocks continue to match the recent gains isn’t really what an investor’s decision should hinge on.
An investor today can sit on the sidelines, with capital in cash earning nothing, or can lend that money to the U.S. government for 10 years and earn 2% annually. Lending to risky credits increases the yield by less than it has historically, as does lending for longer time periods. I think stocks compare quite favorably to those options. The S&P 500 yields more than a 10-year bond, and is likely to grow both earnings and dividends. Current P/Es, though higher than the recent past, are only slightly higher than their mid-teens long-term average. Compared to bonds, stocks have a higher current yield, and unlike bonds are likely to be worth more in a decade than they are today. Additionally, unlike bonds, stocks give some protection against inflation.
I believe price is the most underappreciated determinant of the riskiness of an investment. At today’s yields, I believe bonds are a risky investment. Yes, you know what the price will be at maturity, but you don’t know how much of a price decline you might suffer prior to maturity, and though you know the nominal return, you don’t know the real return (adjusted for inflation). I think investors who own bonds to reduce the risk level of their portfolios are also likely to be disappointed.
Stocks, to me, look fairly priced. P/Es are slightly above average, but other investment opportunities appear much less attractive than they have historically. Fairly priced doesn’t mean sell, it means you should expect returns consistent with historical returns, or something like 4 or 5 percentage points more than bonds. I think this argues for investors to return to their asset allocation targets. If you were smart enough to recognize 2008 as the opportunity of a generation, and tilted your portfolio more toward equities than your allocation targets suggested, then it might be wise to return to your target by trimming equity holdings today. Unfortunately, most investors face the opposite problem – they sold in 2008 when their targets suggested they should be buying. So now, despite a tripling for stocks, they still are below their targeted equity level. To that person, I would give the same advice – return to your target allocation. I believe that for most investors, returning to long-run targets still means buying, not selling.
Q: Please comment on your view of AIG going forward and on your estimates in growth in BV/Share for the next 5-10 years.
Bill Nygren: At the end of March, AIG’s stated book value was $80 per share. Most analysts tend to discount stated book and instead focus on book value ex- AOCI and DTA, which is just $61. Oversimplifying, that means excluding unrealized gains in its bond portfolio and excluding the value of its deferred tax asset (because of historical losses, AIG won’t be a cash taxpayer for years). Even using the $61 number, AIG stock at $58, to us looks inexpensive because we believe that an insurance company with a valuable brand name ought to be worth somewhat more than book value.
Looking out seven years, let’s assume that AIG averages after-tax earnings of $6 per year, or a total of $42 of income. That level of income would be enough to exhaust its tax loss carryforwards, so the $11 DTA would turn to cash. Additionally, over seven years most of the unrealized bond gain would also be realized. There will no longer be a reason to report three separate book value numbers. The $80 GAAP book would grow to $122, and the other book value numbers would also grow to roughly that same number (for this example I’m ignoring the small dividend AIG currently pays). On that basis alone, AIG stock would be positioned to more than double over seven years just by returning to book value.
What that analysis ignores, however, is what management will do with the excess capital the company earns. One of the reasons we own AIG is that management has demonstrated a willingness to grow by shrinking – that is to grow per-share value by reducing the shares outstanding rather that attempting to grow the size and value of the total company. Because AIG sells for less than book value, each share it repurchases increases the book value of the remaining shares. Because of that, our expectation is that seven years from now AIG will have fewer shares outstanding than it has today, and book value per-share will be higher than the numbers in the prior paragraph.
Q: What are your thoughts on NOV as a business, its competitive advantages and its earning power in the future?
Bill Nygren: National Oilwell Varco is a leading oil service company with dominant share in deep water drilling. I wouldn’t waste much ink trying to argue this is a fantastic business, but because of strong market share, over a cycle NOV has earned a decent return on capital. Right now the oil industry has pulled back on drilling, especially deep water drilling. But NOV has a very strong balance sheet and the stock sells for less than book value. We expect the price of oil to be higher five years from now and with a higher commodity price, also expect higher drilling activity. When that activity returns, NOV is highly likely to capture its share, and again earn a high return on invested capital. Importantly, the strong balance sheet gives it the ability to not only survive the current environment, but to opportunistically take advantage of companies that don’t enjoy an equally strong financial position. As we wait for a drilling recovery, NOV should remain decently profitable from its aftermarket business, so even in a tough environment we expect book value per-share to continue growing.
Q: FNF Group announced their intention to do an IPO of BKF. What advantage or disadvantage is this for shareholders? Do you believe the competitive structure of the title insurance industry has changed since 2008? How plausible is it that title insurers enjoy less competition and a sustained improvement in ROCs once mortgage originations improve?
Bill Nygren: When companies own largely unrelated businesses, we generally believe the market will place a higher value on two pure plays than they will on one company that owns both. We also believe it is generally easier to hire and retain top quality management if they can be CEOs rather than divisional Presidents. So, we almost always view spinoff announcements as favorable.
In the case of FNF, investors