A Shift To Small-Cap Value by Chris Clark and Francis Gannon, The Royce Funds

Royce’s Co-CIOs, President Chris Clark and Managing Director Francis Gannon discuss The Royce Funds’ recent performance turnaround and how we are fully committed to ensuring that Royce remains preeminent in the small-cap space.

Royce’s Co-CIOs, President Chris Clark and Managing Director Francis Gannon respond to questions from clients about many Royce Funds’ recent performance turnaround.

Francis Gannon: In a number of recent client meetings, we were asked about the turnaround in many of our Funds’ returns.

Wanting to understand the factors leading to these strong results, our clients were also curious about whether we expect this shift to be long lasting. It’s clear why they asked.

As you can see from the bar graph, most of our domestic small-cap funds, specifically those that use the Russell 2000 Index as a benchmark, outperformed the small-cap index during 1Q16, some very significantly.

Small-Cap Value

Small-Cap Value

Chris Clark: Certain market movements keyed the reversal as did moves that we made internally.

The market only recently began to reward profitability and recognize how low valuations had become outside the narrow areas that worked in 2015. Our strategies lean to varying degrees towards value, quality, and/or cyclical companies.

Until this year, these factors were distinctly out of favor. Investors preferred fast-growing, higher leverage, non-earning, and/or non-cyclical companies, most notably in biotech.

For many reasons, we believe that all of these trends have reversed, and that the countermove, which we expect to be long lasting, will be favorable to the way that many of our managers invest.

However, this change did not suddenly occur during the last three months; it started when the Russell 2000 reached a peak last summer.

You can see that in the market cycle table, where once again most of our domestic small-cap funds outperformed the Russell 2000 handily from the small-cap peak on 6/23/15 through 3/31/16. This table also shows how anomalous the last cycle was for many Royce Funds. History shows that, though we typically outperform over full market cycles, we did not in the last cycle.

Francis: This shift is also about the steps we took to streamline our offerings—we rationalized our portfolio line-up, going from 28 open-end funds to 18 over the last two years.

I think that’s why the most recent cycle looks more like some of the previous market cycle periods in which we generally outperformed. This is one of our goals—to give investors strong absolute and relative results over full market cycles.

Small-Cap Value

Chris: So while the shift in small-cap stretches back more than nine months, our internal effort began two years ago when we started working to create more meaningful differentiation among our portfolios and to provide our portfolio managers with even more quantitative resources.

Our Fund Framework offers one way to see the fruit of these efforts, though the recent market cycle and first-quarter returns might offer an equally significant demonstration.

Francis: I think everyone feels like a lot of the hard work we’ve been doing has begun paying off.

The last few years when most of our approaches were out of favor were very challenging. Of course, we also made our share of mistakes. But we’ve made important changes.

We added more dedicated analysts and quantitative resources while striving to improve and refine the advantages we already had in place—the best and deepest small-cap research platform in the industry and unmatched access to company managements.

Chris: These moves allow our portfolio managers to execute on a distinct investment discipline within one of our value, core, and/or growth approaches, aligning them with the strategy that works best with their experience. This exclusive focus frees them up to do what they do best.

Francis: We couldn’t be happier about the progress we’ve made—but we fully understand that this is only the beginning of the process.

We are fully committed to ensuring that Royce remains preeminent in the small-cap space.

Our position as independent thinkers with unparalleled knowledge and experience in the small-cap space is something that we take very seriously. We expect a great deal of ourselves and know that our shareholders and clients do as well.

Chris: Absolutely, and we think it’s important they know that we saw the recent decline as a strong signal to buy.

The evidence for long-term small-cap strength following bear markets is considerable.

We can’t predict future results, but we did see the shift as a major market inflection point in which profitability and low leverage will matter more and more to investors for the next few years, if not longer.

Average Annual Total Returns as of 3/31/16 (%)

  Average Annual Total Returns (%) Annual Operating
Expenses (%)
Dividend Value 5.13 -1.72 6.17 6.71 8.28 05/03/04 1.29 1.29
Heritage 4.90 -2.96 3.58 5.30 12.29 12/27/95 1.17 1.17
Low-Priced Stock -0.64 -11.26 -3.90 1.89 9.78 12/15/93 1.17 1.17
Opportunity 2.08 -12.74 4.73 4.67 11.39 11/19/96 1.15 1.15
Pennsylvania Mutual 6.22 -6.99 4.92 4.87 12.99
N/A 0.92 0.92
Premier 4.41 -8.34 3.64 5.79 11.11 12/31/91 1.10 1.10
Small-Cap Leaders 5.25 -8.12 2.59 4.94 8.96 06/30/03 1.22 1.22
Small-Cap Value 9.38 -6.10 2.93 5.06 9.81 06/14/01 1.18 1.18
Smaller-Companies Growth -4.31 -10.16 4.83 3.86 10.79 06/14/01 1.34 1.25
Total Return 5.17 -4.09 6.80 5.44 10.43 12/15/93 1.19 1.19
Russell 2000 -1.52 -9.76 7.20 5.26 N/A 12/29/78