by Jake Moeller.
Artemis US Select Fund is a dynamic, multi-layered US equities proposition which is presided over by the highly experienced Cormac Weldon. His move to Artemis in 2014 was a coup for the firm and seems to be a good fit for the fund manager and his team, who have bedded down well in the Artemis environment.
Weldon is, rightly, a respected US equities fund manager. His background in accounting—for me, one of the best backgrounds for a fund manager—gives him the skills to navigate financial statements, which are vital for good stock picking. Furthermore, his entire career has been based around the analysis of US equities, so his pedigree for this region is compelling.
Not only does Weldon have strong analytical skills, he is also a fund manager who is approachable, affable, and without hubris. These “soft” skills are perhaps why he engenders such loyalty in his team and can avoid being cast as a “superstar” fund manager.
Figure 1. % Growth of Artemis US Select Fund V Lipper Global Equity US & S&P (from launch to October 31, 2019 in GBP)
There is a genuine desire on Weldon’s part to establish a strong, collegiate environment without diluting his accountability as the ultimate arbiter of portfolio construction. “There is a well understood framework that the analyst lays out their thesis,” stated Weldon. “But where there is conflicting evidence to their view, debate moves back to the price target and I will make the call”.
This team is also a key to the success of this fund. It is compact, with key members having worked with Weldon since his early Threadneedle days, but there is also a supportive blend of hungry young analysts.
It is fair to say you are buying a reasonable amount of key-person risk when you invest in this fund. However, active fund advocates will appreciate this, and it underpins Artemis’s values as a fund house.
This fund has a multi-layered process which Artemis call “Up/ Down” (bottom-up with a top-down overlay in fund-selector speak). This may not suit valuation purists, but I think it is a process which suits US equities and active stock picking.
Given that we appear to be in a late-cycle environment and the markets are dominated by passive flows, this is a process which may come into further favour in the next year or two.
Figure 2. Quartile Positioning of Artemis US Select Fund within Lipper Global Equity US Classification (3 years to October 31, 2019 in GBP, funds registered for sale in UK only)
Valuations constitute a strong foundation in this fund process and sensible target prices for stocks are established and contribute to longer-term views. These then help underpin the sell discipline for the fund.
“It starts with the fundamentals of the business”, stated Weldon. “The key is relating news flow, earnings or competitor data back to our thesis”. He cites Lowes as an example. “It is an important holding for us” he said. “So when Home Depot reported the day before, we made sure we understood the potential impact of this on our position”.
This portfolio is a stock picker’s delight. It has strong active share and robust tracking error metrics, and as is typical with 40-60 stocks, it is full of conviction ideas. It is characterised by meaningful active positions and a preparedness to use the full risk allocation to an individual stock.
Figure 3. Lipper Leaders Scores for Artemis US Select Fund (to October 31, 2019 for UK investors)
Ostensibly style agnostic, the process of this fund can and does lead to substantial sector biases in the portfolio (which is currently underweight to technology and industrials) which investors need to understand.
The portfolio however, is also subject to a rigorous risk monitoring and oversight process with the established Artemis protocols around dealing, daily risk reporting, and investment committee supervision applied to the fund.
The fund has a compelling track record since its inception with Artemis (see Figure 1. above). Weldon also brought with him from Threadneedle a longer strong track record. Within the Lipper Global US Equities classification, the fund sits comfortably in the first quartile (see Figure 2. above). Given the fund’s large cap bias in one of the most efficient global equities markets, this is a feat.
When considering risk-adjusted metrics, the fund also holds up well. The fund has a top Lipper Leader score of 5 for Consistent Return over five years, (see Figure 3. above) and has strong Treynor and Sharpe ratios over the same time period.
The fund also sits on the border of the preferred North-West quadrant from a risk/ return perspective (see Figure 4. below)
Figure 4. Three year risk/ return chart of Artemis US Select within Lipper US Equities classification (funds registered for sale in UK only)
When a stock is not performing strongly Weldon remains objective. “Planet Fitness got pulled back and was being shorted, on the basis of the profitability of an individual gym”, he stated. “Even as the stock underperformed, we rigorously went through the bear case and decided it was invalid, buying some more before it reported” (see Figure 5. below).
There have been periods where the fund has struggled relatively. In 2016, the fund was underweight financials—which performed well—and it missed out on some of the mid-cap momentum which drove returns.
Figure 5. Planet Fitness Share Price Year to Date 2019 (to November 22, 2019)
“As we recognised that Donald Trump may get elected US President, we realised that we would need a different portfolio. We did however manage to pick up our bank exposure later in the year”, Weldon said. The fund has subsequently been able to reassert its performance profile.
Artemis US Select Fund should tick a lot of boxes for investors seeking an active US equities proposition. The fund has a stable and consistent style and a track record which is enviable.
In what is typically one of the hardest equities markets to navigate, you have a small, nimble, but well qualified team, led by a fund manager with a strong pedigree who is prepared to back himself.
Cormac Weldon spoke with Jake Moeller, Head of Lipper UK and Ireland Research at Refinitiv, in London on November 22, 2019.
Cormac Weldon is head of the US team and has managed Artemis’ US Equity, US Select and US Smaller Companies (Oeic and Sicav) funds since launch. He studied accounting and finance at Dublin City University, graduating in 1987 and joining KPMG.
After moving to Provident Mutual where he was a US equity analyst, Cormac spent two years as a fund manager for the British Gas Pension Fund.
He joined Threadneedle in 1997, later becoming head of the North America team and the lead manager of three of its US funds. He moved to Artemis in 2014.
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