ClearBridge Mid Cap Strategy Q1 2023 Portfolio Manager Commentary

Phiwath Jittamas

By Brian Angerame & Matthew Lilling

Financial institution Disaster Curtails Mid Cap Efficiency

Market Overview and Outlook

Fairness markets generated optimistic returns within the first quarter, because the notion of a softer financial touchdown bolstered investor sentiment earlier than a March banking disaster dampened efficiency. The S&P 500 Index (SP500) elevated 7.50% over the three-month interval, whereas the benchmark Russell Midcap Index superior 4.06%. Indicators of financial resiliency and hopes of an finish to Fed charge hikes helped progress shares outperform worth shares for the interval, with the Russell Midcap Development Index returning 9.14% versus 1.32% for the Russell Midcap Worth Index.

Shares rallied early within the quarter, as the mix of slowing inflation indicators and a resilient financial system spurred optimism over an finish to the Fed’s charge hikes and stabilizing long-term rate of interest expectations. Nonetheless, in March, markets turned fixated on the banking system because the collapse of Silicon Valley Financial institution (SVB), the sixteenth largest U.S. financial institution, and Signature Financial institution (OTC:SBNY) a few days later, sparked a disaster of confidence throughout small and midsized regional banks. Though contagion considerations had largely eased by the tip of the quarter, the disaster intensified investor fears of a extreme recession.

Macro elements proceed to play an outsized position in market efficiency. Because of this, good firms with robust steadiness sheets and financial resiliency have discovered their share costs subjected to fickle investor sentiment slightly than elementary valuations. This tumultuous atmosphere and divergence between elementary valuation and market worth resulted within the ClearBridge Mid Cap Technique underperforming its benchmark for the quarter.

From a sector standpoint, communication providers (+15.42%) was the highest performer within the benchmark in the course of the quarter. The IT (+14.46%), client discretionary (+8.21%), industrials (+7.72%) and supplies (+4.10%) sectors additionally managed to outperform the Russell Midcap Index. In the meantime the vitality (-7.89%), financials (-6.33%) and utilities (-1.71%) sectors all posted detrimental returns, adopted by the actual property (+0.54%), client staples (+3.32%) and well being care (+3.44%) sectors.

“The collapse of SVB had a ripple impact throughout the system, making a panic that weighed on even essentially the most fundamentally-sound banks.”

Inventory choice within the financials sector was the main detractor in the course of the interval. Getting into the quarter, we intentionally selected to be underweight the sector and had been invested in high-quality banks with sticky buyer bases and minimal credit score danger which might enable them to persevere even when the U.S. had been to enter a recession. For instance, First Republic Financial institution (FRC), centered on offering best-in-class service to high-net-worth clientele, had a robust mortgage portfolio with a historical past of minimal credit score write-offs. Likewise, we had equally excessive conviction in Western Alliance Bancorp (WAL) because of the range of its depositors. Nonetheless, the collapse of SVB had a considerable and speedy ripple impact throughout the complete banking system, making a panic that weighed on even essentially the most fundamentally-sound banks. Depositors, aided by the flexibility to shift deposits instantaneously and in a single day, transferred cash from mid-sized banks to massive ones and created a vicious cycle of dwindling liquidity.

Within the face of such an unquantifiable danger and diminished earnings prospects from larger capital necessities, we moved swiftly to exit these two positions within the early levels of the contagion. We additionally reviewed different holdings we felt may very well be adversely impacted by the next chance of recession and diminished credit score availability, and offered our holding in Starwood Property Belief (STWD), the most important business mortgage REIT within the U.S. Whereas we stay underweight to regional banks, the turmoil additionally created compelling entry costs into high-quality super-regionals prone to be long-term beneficiaries of this residue reshuffling. This motivated us so as to add new positions in PNC Monetary Companies (PNC) and U.S. Bancorp (USB), each of which have robust manufacturers, various geographical and funding footprints and smaller expense progress than their regional friends.

Inventory choice within the industrials sector was a big contributor to the Technique’s returns, as lots of the firms that struggled within the fourth quarter rebounded on stable earnings. ATS, which gives automation providers for producers world wide, noticed its share worth rise because of its elevated orders of kit to fabricate electrical automobile (EV) batteries. We acknowledged the alternatives that the EV battery market represented for the corporate once we made our preliminary funding and really feel that it’s going to proceed to be a long-term driver of returns. One other prime performing holding, APi Group (APG), provides security options for industrial providers similar to fireplace safety, air con and infrastructure upkeep. The inventory rebounded from a decline within the fourth quarter as buyers gained larger visibility into its contract revenues and the corporate issued greater than anticipated steerage for 2023. We imagine that APi’s inside initiatives proceed to drive elementary enhancements, holding it on monitor to fulfill forecasts.

Our investments within the client staples sector additionally generated optimistic relative returns for the interval and included the highest particular person performer, COTY. The worldwide magnificence and perfume firm continues to strongly ship on each its short-term targets in addition to its strategic mission to enhance its model profile. Coty has a number of robust progress drivers, together with its robust market share inside a reopening Chinese language market and additional penetration of its mass market cosmetics enterprise. The corporate’s continued success ought to enable it to scale back debt, which ought to act as a share worth catalyst.

Portfolio Positioning

We have now remained very lively over the past six months, utilizing the elevated ranges of volatility so as to add high-quality progress and worth shares at compelling valuations. We preserve an intensive watchlist of firms that might be wonderful additions to the portfolio below the precise circumstances and transfer decisively once they come below vital strain. Because of this, we added eight new positions and exited seven present holdings in the course of the quarter.

We initiated a brand new place in Paylocity (PCTY), within the IT sector, which gives cloud-based human capital administration and payroll software program options. Whereas the Fed’s charge will increase have began to weigh on the financial system, we imagine Paylocity ought to profit from charge will increase by incomes greater returns on shopper’s payroll deposits. Moreover, Paylocity maintains a compelling long-term progress runway because it attracts new prospects and good points market share towards massive, mature trade incumbents.

We additionally added CoStar (CSGP), within the industrials sector, which gives info, analytics and on-line market providers to the business actual property market below manufacturers together with its flagship Because the supplier of a sturdy, actual property tech platform, CoStar is poised to capitalize on a downturn in business actual property by being the first leasing and itemizing supply for actual property brokers searching for larger visibility. Moreover, the corporate is leveraging its experience and economies of scale to construct an identical database and itemizing supply for the residential housing market,, which may show to be a considerable, long-term progress driver. The corporate is well-positioned as a counter-cyclical different to the remainder of the business actual property trade.

We exited our place in ON Semiconductor, within the IT sector, which designs, manufactures and markets semiconductor parts. The corporate has been a robust performer within the portfolio, and now we have been steadily trimming the place to seize good points and handle the place dimension throughout its inventory run-up. Nonetheless, we imagine that the expectations across the firm’s silicon carbide enterprise can be difficult to exceed, sophisticated additional by the necessity to delicately steadiness rising capability with out oversaturating demand, Finally, we determined to shut the place in favor of different alternatives.


The primary quarter proved a tumultuous one, as macro elements and fears of a banking disaster proved to be the first drivers of market efficiency. Fairly than attempt to chase short-term shifts, now we have excessive conviction that combining lively administration with an funding course of centered on high-quality firms will generate enticing returns over a full market cycle. As such, we are going to proceed to see these gyrations as alternatives to enhance our portfolio and give attention to investing in firms with robust steadiness sheets, enticing money flows and earnings visibility.

Portfolio Highlights

The ClearBridge Mid Cap Technique underperformed its Russell Midcap Index in the course of the first quarter. On an absolute foundation, the Technique had good points throughout six of the 11 sectors wherein it was invested in the course of the quarter. The main contributors had been the industrials and IT sectors, whereas the financials sector was the primary detractor.

On a relative foundation, total inventory choice detracted from efficiency whereas sector allocation results positively contributed. Particularly, inventory choice within the financials, IT, client discretionary, well being care, communication providers, actual property and supplies sectors weighed on relative returns. Conversely, inventory choice within the industrials and client staples sectors, an obese to the IT sector and underweight allocation to the financials sector contributed to returns.

On a person inventory foundation, the most important contributors to absolute returns within the quarter had been Coty, ATS, APi, Aptiv (APTV) and Regal Rexnord (RRX). The most important detractors from absolute returns had been First Republic Financial institution, Western Alliance Bancorp, Alexandria Actual Property Equities (ARE), Pioneer Pure Sources (PXD) and Hartford Monetary Companies (HIG).

Along with the transactions listed above, we additionally initiated new positions in Atkore (ATKR) and Clear Harbors (CLH) within the industrials sector and Teleflex (TFX) and IDEXX Laboratories (IDXX) within the well being care sector. We exited positions in Zurn Elkay Water Options (ZWS) within the industrials sector, Petco Well being & Wellness (WOOF) within the client discretionary sector and Definitive Healthcare (DH) within the well being care sector.

Brian Angerame, Portfolio Supervisor

Matthew Lilling, CFA, Portfolio Supervisor

Previous efficiency is not any assure of future outcomes. Copyright © 2023 ClearBridge Investments. All opinions and knowledge included on this commentary are as of the publication date and are topic to alter. The opinions and views expressed herein are of the writer and should differ from different portfolio managers or the agency as a complete, and are usually not supposed to be a forecast of future occasions, a assure of future outcomes or funding recommendation. This info shouldn’t be used as the only foundation to make any funding resolution. The statistics have been obtained from sources believed to be dependable, however the accuracy and completeness of this info can’t be assured. Neither ClearBridge Investments, LLC nor its info suppliers are liable for any damages or losses arising from any use of this info.

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