Contact Us
Font Size: A A A

NewsNewspaper

Q1 Chairman's Letter to Shareholders: Bernanke’s Backyard Barbecue

Confirm
Cancel
OK

Dear Fellow Shareholders:

If you watch financial news programs on a regular basis, you’ll often see some short-term charts alongside a Wall Street talking head who’s frantically answering questions about how to invest based on the latest economic and market events. Can you imagine Warren Buffett appearing in this way, with periodic interruptions as he barks orders through a headset to buy and sell individual companies? Not likely.

The difference here is that the Wall Street talking head is a trader, while Warren Buffett is an investor. Buffett focuses on long-term company fundamentals, which is what we try to do at Wasatch Advisors. So when I’ve recently been asked about my views regarding the all-time highs in the stock market, I have a mixed reaction. Clearly, the surge in stock prices is very impressive. But an equally valid point is that the U.S. market is only now reaching the heights it achieved more than five years ago. From my perspective, rather than focusing on the headlines about record levels in the market, I prefer to spend my time trying to find the World’s Best Growth Companies®— and buy them at what I believe to be reasonable valuations.

I don’t place much emphasis on new highs in stocks. After all, Peter Lynch used to say that he invested based on his expectation that stock prices would rise every day — which implies new highs on a daily basis. But I do believe it’s important to have views on both the fundamental and sentiment factors that drive the economy and the markets. These factors have direct and indirect influences on the companies in which we invest, and on the prices at which we can buy or sell them.

Some of the most-important factors I see today are the actions of the Federal Reserve (Fed). Under Chairman Ben Bernanke, the Fed has engaged in unprecedented levels of “quantitative easing” by buying government securities to support bond prices and reduce interest rates. In fact, the Fed has committed to these low rates at least through 2015. For those of us who’ve spent any time around a backyard barbecue, Chairman Bernanke’s approach is analogous to pouring massive amounts of lighter fluid on the grill and hoping the charcoal briquettes eventually catch fire.

Economy

To continue the barbecue analogy, the use of lighter fluid certainly produces an impressive blaze in the short term. But the real key is to create a sustainable fire in the economic briquettes. The question remains: Is the lighter fluid simply burning off, or is the economy starting to fire on its own? We probably won’t know the answer to this question until Chairman Bernanke runs out of fluid or has a change of heart regarding the efficiency of his actions.

My views concerning economic conditions are shaped by the data. And based on the data, conditions remain mixed with a bias toward a muddling economy with slow growth. On the negative side, the Congressional Budget Office recently forecast that real gross domestic product (GDP) in the U.S. will grow at only 1.4% for 2013, down from the 1.9% estimate for 2012. On the positive side, retail sales have been decent, jobless claims have declined and the unemployment rate edged down slightly in February to 7.7% from 7.9% in January.

Among the problems we face in our economy today are too much debt (including future Medicare and Social Security obligations), a sizable and seemingly unending budget deficit, and artificially low interest rates. As I discussed in last quarter’s commentary, the Fed’s extreme measures to support asset prices and investor sentiment have allowed the balance-sheet recession to linger on. This means that bad debts remain on the books of our government, our banks and our corporations. Until these bad debts are resolved — paid off or written down — through a painful but necessary cleansing process, we will not have a healthy lending environment. In addition, somewhat higher interest rates are needed so that savers, the would-be providers of capital, are incentivized with reasonable returns on their investments. Currently these savers, both individual and corporate, are largely encouraged to be hoarders of capital because the potential returns seem low relative to the risks.

My advice to Chairman Bernanke would be to put a cap on his bottle of lighter fluid because loose monetary policy can be inflationary over the longer term and is not a good tool for promoting capital investment, growing the economy and creating jobs. Instead, I believe Bernanke should more forcefully encourage the president and Congress to pursue sensible fiscal policies that address infrastructure, education and the bad debts currently being ignored in our financial system.

Markets

While I believe economic conditions lean toward slow growth, the stock market certainly caught fire during the first quarter of 2013. Including reinvested dividends, the S&P 500 Index was up 10.61% in the first quarter after being down 0.38% in the fourth quarter of 2012. Conversely, the bond market as represented by the Barclays Capital U.S. Aggregate Bond Index was down 0.12% for the first quarter of 2013. I continue to warn bond and bond-fund investors of the significant risks to principal when we eventually experience a sustained rise in rates.

Despite my concerns about the economy and the Fed’s policies, I remain somewhat bullish on stocks for a few main reasons. First, academic research suggests that slower GDP growth does not necessarily translate into poor stock returns. Second, I’m finding companies that are beating their competition in a tough economic environment by providing better, faster and often less expensive products and services. Many of these companies are selling at reasonable price/earnings multiples with strong growth rates and sometimes-attractive dividend yields. Third, stocks are potentially good hedges against the eventual rise in inflation because an inflationary environment allows companies to increase prices, which can lead to higher earnings and stock valuations.

Another important point is that a slow-growth economic environment is a good backdrop for strong stock-pickers who can sort out the best companies. At Wasatch Advisors, we’ve historically found many of what we believe to be the best companies in the small- and micro-cap areas because these areas are often less well-researched and the companies are usually faster growers. More recently, I’ve also found good opportunities among mid- and large-cap stocks. In particular, I think many big-cap technology companies are amazingly inexpensive.

The two Wasatch mutual funds I currently manage — the World Innovators Fund (co-managed with Josh Stewart) and the Strategic Income Fund — have significant allocations to mid- and large-cap stocks for the reasons described above. Some of the holdings in these funds have been selling at price/earnings multiples in the high single digits or low double digits. What I find so attractive are the combinations of these types of valuations with growth rates that exceed the price/earnings multiples and substantial dividend yields. In addition, the fact that the companies are larger gives investors the potential for less risk. In my career, I’ve generally had good success with stocks bought at such reasonable valuations.

A final point I’d like to make regarding the markets is that I believe diversification is now more important than ever. This is why I’ve diversified my small-cap U.S. stock investments with some larger-cap and international names. Similarly, I think holding a portion of a portfolio in cash is a wise form of diversification because it gives investors the ability to put money to work at attractive valuations when stocks suffer periodic corrections.

Wasatch

I’m pleased to announce that four of our Wasatch mutual funds received a total of six 2013 Lipper Awards on March 14, 2013. These awards recognize mutual funds that, relative to peers, have delivered consistently strong risk-adjusted performance whereby smaller downside losses are given even more importance than larger upside gains.

The Wasatch Emerging Markets Small Cap Fund (WAEMX) was recognized as #1 over both the three-year and five-year periods ended December 31, 2012 among 308 and 219 emerging markets funds, respectively. This recognition was earned for the second year in a row. The Emerging Markets Small Cap Fund was previously recognized in 2012 for its three-year performance ended December 31, 2011 among 296 emerging markets funds. The Wasatch World Innovators Fund (WAGTX) was honored as #1 over both the three-year and five-year periods ended December 31, 2012 among 144 and 72 global multi-cap growth funds, respectively. The Wasatch International Growth Fund (WAIGX) received the Lipper Award for #1 performance for the three-year period ended December 31, 2012 among 111 international small/mid-cap growth funds. Finally, the Wasatch-Hoisington U.S. Treasury Fund (WHOSX) earned the Lipper Award for the #1 ranking over the five-year period ended December 31, 2012 among 20 general U.S. Treasury funds.

All of us at Wasatch Advisors are very proud of these awards, in part because they cover a wide range of our fund strategies.

With sincere thanks for your continued investment and for your trust,

 

Sam Stewart

P.S. As always, please be sure to read the prospectus before investing in any fund.

RISKS AND DISCLOSURES

Mutual fund investing involves risks and loss of principal is possible. Investing in small- or micro-cap funds will be more volatile and loss of principal could be greater than investing in large-cap or more diversified funds. Investing in foreign securities, especially in emerging markets, entails special risks, such as unstable currencies, highly volatile securities markets and political and social instability, which are described in more detail in the prospectus.

An investor should consider investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses carefully before investing. To obtain a prospectus, containing this and other information, visit www.WasatchFunds.com or call 800.551.1700. Please read it carefully before investing.

CFA® is a trademark owned by CFA Institute.

Wasatch Advisors is the investment advisor to Wasatch Funds.

The Lipper Fund Awards program honors funds that have excelled in delivering consistently strong risk-adjusted performance relative to peers. Lipper designates award-winning funds in most individual classifications for the three-, five- and 10-year periods. Please visit the Awards for Excellence website (http://excellence.thomsonreuters.com/award/lipper) for more details about the Lipper Fund Awards. Lipper Award designations are not intended to constitute investment advice or predict future results, and Lipper does not guarantee the accuracy of this information. In addition to periods of positive returns, the Wasatch Funds that received Lipper Awards have experienced some periods of negative returns during the award time frames. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

The investment objective of the Wasatch Emerging Markets Small Cap Fund, the Wasatch World Innovators Fund and the Wasatch International Growth Fund is long-term growth of capital. The investment objective of the Wasatch-Hoisington U.S. Treasury Fund is to provide a rate of return that exceeds the rate of inflation over a business cycle by investing in U.S. Treasury securities with an emphasis on both income and capital appreciation. The primary investment objective of the Wasatch Strategic Income Fund is to capture current income; a secondary objective is long-term growth of capital.

Information in this document regarding market or economic trends or the factors influencing historical or future performance reflects the opinions of management as of the date of this document. These statements should not be relied upon for any other purpose. Past performance is no guarantee of future results, and there is no guarantee that the market forecasts discussed will
be realized.

DEFINITIONS

World’s Best Growth Companies (WBGCs) are defined by Wasatch as companies that we believe possess an identifiable, sustainable competitive advantage, are well managed, undervalued and are producing above average earnings growth relative to their industry and country of origin.

Valuation is the process of determining the current worth of an asset or company.

Quantitative easing is a government monetary policy used to increase the money supply by buying government securities or other securities from the market. Quantitative easing increases the money supply by flooding financial institutions with capital in an effort to promote increased lending and liquidity.

Gross domestic product (GDP) is a basic measure of a country’s economic performance and is the market value of all final goods and services made within the borders of a country in a year.

A balance-sheet recession is a recession caused by some form of financial crisis or balance-sheet shock that can leave businesses in the position of having liabilities that exceed their assets.

The S&P 500 Index includes 500 of the United States’ largest stocks from a broad variety of industries. The Index is unmanaged but is a commonly used measure of common stock total return performance.

The Barclays Capital U.S. Aggregate Bond Index covers the U.S. investment grade fixed rate bond market, including government and corporate securities, agency mortgage pass-through securities, and asset-backed securities. To be included in the index the security must meet the following criteria: must have at least one year to final maturity, regardless of call features; must have at least $100 million par amount outstanding; must be rated investment grade or better by Moody’s Investors Service, Standard & Poor’s, or Fitch Investor’s Service; must be fixed rate, although it can carry a coupon that steps up or changes to a predetermined schedule; must be dollar-denominated and must be nonconvertible. All corporate and asset-backed securities must be registered with the SEC; and must be publicly issued.

You cannot invest directly in these or any indices.

A price/earnings multiple, also known as the price-to-earnings or P/E ratio, is the price of a stock divided by its earnings per share.

Dividend yield is a company’s annual dividend payments divided by its market capitalization, or the dividend per share divided by the price per share. For example, a company whose stock sells for $30 per share that pays an annual dividend of $3 per share has a dividend yield of 10%.

© 2013 Wasatch Funds. All rights reserved. Wasatch Funds are distributed by ALPS Distributors, Inc.

WAS003020  Exp: 7/20/2013