Concentration Risk

The largest 5 stocks in the S&P 500 Index accounted for 22% of its value at the end of last month vs. under 12% five years earlier.  In this one-pager, we look at how rising relative valuations were the predominant driver of this shift.

2021 3Q Letter to Investors: Valuation & Quality Update

We review recent performance of Distillate’s U.S. Fundamental Stability & Value (FSV), International FSV and Small Cap Quality & Value strategies.  Amid a backdrop of strong price gains and pockets of extremely rich valuations, we believe valuation is becoming an increasingly important risk to equity returns going forward, and we highlight the attractive free cash flow based valuation characteristics of our strategies as compared to their broad market benchmarks.

2021 2Q Letter to Investors: Valuation & Quality Update

In the wake of strong equity price gains across geographies and market caps, and amid pockets of very rich valuations, we review performance, portfolio changes, and how Distillate’s strategies compare to various benchmarks on measures of valuation and quality.

Asset Class Valuations in a Historical Context

Amid apprehensions about current valuations and their impact on prospective returns, we look at cash yields for various asset classes over time and relative to one another.  In this framework, equities look somewhat expensive compared to historical ranges, but still appear relatively attractive in the context of other asset classes that are near historical extremes.  The paper also examines the logic behind relative cash yields, the drivers of equity free cash flow growth over time, and potential reasons for the recent divergence in relative valuations.

2021 1Q Letter to Investors: What the Growth vs. Value Debate is Missing

In the U.S., 1Q21 brought a reversal in market leadership from the concentrated gains in “growth” stocks seen in 2020 to those commonly labeled “value.”  After outperforming in an environment where traditional value lagged substantially, we were pleased to also generate excess returns in this recent period where growth stocks suffered.  The U.S. FSV strategy continues to exhibit a relative performance pattern largely uncorrelated with traditional investment factors.

2020 Year-end Letter to Investors

Distillate’s U.S. and international strategies outperformed their respective benchmarks in 2020.  In the U.S., substantial outperformance among the largest stocks presented a significant headwind and the resulting rich valuations are making the overall market look somewhat expensive.  Fortunately, much of the risk from valuation appears concentrated in certain segments and our work suggests a meaningful portion of the markets, both in the U.S. and abroad, remain attractive.

2020 Q3 Letter to Investors: Why We Owned... and Sold Apple

In addition to strategy updates for our U.S. (US FSV) and International (INTL FSV) Fundamental Stability & Value strategies, we look at the evolution Apple Inc. (AAPL) from one of the least expensive stocks in the market at various times over the last decade to one with a premium valuation today.

2020 Q2 Letter to Investors & Introduction of the International Fundamental Stability & Value Strategy

We introduce our International Fundamental Stability and Value strategy (Intl. FSV) and discuss performance and portfolio changes in the U.S. FSV portfolio related to the attractive opportunity set we are seeing within an increasingly bifurcated market.

A Lopsided Crisis

The economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis are extremely uneven.  Estimates of free cash flow for stocks in hard-hit industries are down 90%.  The free cash flow estimates for the remainder of the market have held nearly steady, down just 5% over the same period.  The concentrated fundamental weakness, however, is at odds with much broader stock price weakness that has been masked by enormous strength at the top of the market.  We see significant opportunity in this mismatch.

2020 Q1 Letter to Investors: The Corona-Crisis and Prospects for Recovery

In addition to providing updates on strategy performance and portfolio changes, we look at the current economic crisis brought on by the outbreak of COVID-19 as well as the possible innovation-driven path to recovery.  We see our investment process particularly well suited for this environment, with its focus on inexpensive stocks of financially healthy companies that can endure this challenging near-term environment.

March 2020: Interim Update to Investors

While market prices, in theory, should reflect the discounted value of a very long stream of future cash flows,  they are prone to panic and often overreact to near-term disruptions.  The current environment, brought on by worries of the spreading COVID-19 disease, seems like exactly such an instance.  While we do not attempt to predict stock market performance, this letter provides an update on recent performance, portfolio characteristics and equity valuations.

Value Failed Because It Was Expensive

So-called “value” indexes have severely underperformed the broader stock market for more than a decade.  While this is an often-told story, it typically comes without any compelling explanation of why these indexes of purportedly inexpensive stocks continue to disappoint.  In this 2 page note, we examine definitional issues with common value indexes and conclude that “value” underperformed because it didn’t in fact represent a better value than the market overall.  It was, in a word, expensive!

2019 Year-end Letter to Investors: The Market Rally in a Long-Term Context

We provide an update of our U.S. Fundamental Stability & Value strategy’s performance, portfolio changes, and fundamental attributes.  We also discuss the equity market’s recent performance in a longer-term historical context, noting that the time period chosen for evaluation can lead to starkly different conclusions.

Regional Equity Performance & Valuation

The U.S stock market has significantly outpaced major international indexes over the past decade. In this short paper, we look at the drivers behind this by splitting price gains into fundamental and valuation components. We find that despite frequent commentary to the contrary, a majority of the appreciation in U.S. stocks can be explained by increased free cash flow and not higher valuation multiples. We also note a convergence in regional free cash flow yields over time such that the relative attractiveness between regions at present rests more on other factors, like stability & growth, where the U.S. continues to compare favorably.

2019 Q3 Letter to Investors: Long-Term Equity Valuations & Looking Past “Factor” Noise

We provide an update of strategy performance and portfolio positioning.  We also look at equity market valuations in a historical context, relative to both underlying fundamentals and the valuations of other asset classes.  Finally, we touch on “factor” investing and discuss valuation risks we see among popular Low Volatility strategies, as well as definitional problems with traditional labels like Quality and Value.

Value Investing in a Capital-Light World

The composition of the economy and stock market has shifted from physical assets to intellectual ones. This change has significant implications for traditional valuation metrics, requiring a new approach.

2019 Q2 Letter to Investors: The Lurking Risk of Elevated Debt Levels

We provide an update of strategy performance and the market environment, discuss the dangers of elevated debt levels, and describe the unintended risks investors might be taking as they seek safety in certain stocks with with low price volatility but increasing levels of debt.

2019 Q1 Letter to Investors: Mismeasuring “Value” and the Risks in Low Beta Stocks

We provide an update of strategy performance so far in 2019, portfolio changes and positioning, as well as our thoughts on the mismeasurement of “Value” as it is commonly discussed and what we believe to be underappreciated risks embedded in low beta stocks.

Buffett Abandons Book Value

We relate Warren Buffett’s recent comments on book value to our own investment process and make the case that investors buying a “value” index might, unintentionally, simply be taking on exposure to asset-intensive sectors rather than truly under-priced securities.

2018 Year-End Letter to Investors

Our annual review of performance, recent changes to our portfolio, and comments on the outlook for equities in the years ahead.

Long-Term Investing: The Costs of Myopic Thinking

Adhering to long investment time horizons is easily said but more difficult to do. Emotions and behavioral biases work to erode the otherwise attractive returns offered by equity markets when evaluated over multi-year periods. Properly framing comparisons between equities and other assets—like bonds—can help investors avoid the risk of falling short of return objectives.

FAANG Valuations: A Mismatch of Old Metrics and New Companies

The group of stocks known as the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Alphabet) have garnered significant attention from investors and market pundits—often painted as a homogeneous, overvalued set of stocks.  However, we see the FAANGs providing a good example of the shortcomings of traditional valuation metrics.  Using our distilled cash yield methodology, a more nuanced view of FAANG valuation emerges.

Risk: Fundamentals Over Price Volatility

Investors should consider investment risk as defined by an investment’s fundamental stability, level of indebtedness, and valuation, rather than simply its short-term price volatility.

Behavioral Biases: Exploiting Systematic Mispricings

Deeply rooted behavioral biases can offer exploitable opportunities for a thoughtfully designed, systematic investment approach.

Distillate Reading List

Distillate Capital is built on a few core ideas gleaned from our decades of value investing experience and from the wealth of information and ideas emanating from the rigorous studies of accounting, behavioral finance, and risk management.