Market Sector Update
- It was a quarter of reversals. Equities performed strongly and reversed a significant portion of the losses realized
during the prior quarter. Equities across all capitalization ranges and all styles had significant gains during first quarter
2019. Growth styles outperformed value styles while mid caps outperformed both small and large. The Russell 1000
Growth Index, the Fund’s benchmark, increased by approximately 16% in the quarter.
- The Federal Reserve (Fed) was a big source of the optimism that developed during the quarter. Post what was
perceived to be policy error during fourth quarter 2018, the Fed moved quickly to ease tightening financial conditions.
Actions taken included stepping back from quantitative tightening (balance sheet reduction) and taking a more dovish
position regarding future interest rate hikes.
- In response to these actions from the Fed, yields across the yield curve (a line that plots the interest rates, at a set
point in time, of bonds having equal credit quality but differing maturity dates) moved lower and the yield curve spread
(10-year minus 2-year Treasuries) flattened slightly. Investors perceived the reduction in rates across the yield curve as
helpful for solving the problem of tight financial conditions.
- On the trade tariffs front, there was building hope during the quarter that China and the U.S. were on a path to
agreement. Companies with high foreign sales exposure, those that experienced a difficult year in 2018, benefited
from this more optimistic sentiment.
- The net positive is that several of the most prominent worries during 2018 were mitigated during first quarter 2019,
sending volatility lower and market multiples higher. Despite near-term earnings risk based on weak global growth,
there were building expectations for an acceleration in earnings growth later in 2019.
- In another reversal of fourth quarter 2018 performance, a period in which all sectors in the index ended in negative
territory, first quarter 2019 closed with all sectors in positive territory, including strength in information technology and
real estate and relative underperformance in financials and energy.
- From a factor perspective, risk and quality outperformed during the quarter. Underperforming factors included value
and pockets of momentum.
- The Fund posted strong absolute double-digit returns, outperforming its benchmark during the period. Performance
benefited from strong stock selection in industrials, consumer discretionary and communication services. An
underweight position in consumer staples, along with an overweight position in information technology, also
contributed to performance. The main offset was driven by stock selection in financials.
- The industrials sector was a notable positive contributor to performance. Strong growth momentum from CoStar
Group propelled the stocks in the sector higher and offset minimal negative impact from cyclical names, such as
Caterpillar. Consumer discretionary benefited from stock selection with strength in V.F. Corp., bouncing from recent
concern related to the sustainability of the company’s Vans shoe segment growth. The Fund also benefited from zero
exposure to Tesla, which underperformed in the quarter. Communications services strength was driven by Electronic
Arts, a video game developer that impressed markets with a surprise game launch during the quarter that was met with
much enthusiasm. The portfolio also benefited from no exposure to The Walt Disney Company, a sizeable benchmark name that underperformed.
- The strong positive relative drivers were offset by performance in financials. Specifically, CME Group was a significant
detractor to performance as the gains realized in 2018 related to an increase in volatility partly reversed as volatility in
the markets ebbed.
- We are cautious in returning to the narrative that the economy/equity markets will exit from the recent period of
volatility and stress back on the same bull market trade as before. We are concerned economic conditions will remain
tight and that a more cautious narrative is warranted and not currently being reflected. The Fed has stepped back from
further tightening but the impact from past interest rate hikes will remain in the system. We believe investors must ask
if the repositioning of the Fed policy is an attempt to further accelerate the economy or a response to increasing, latecycle
risks to global growth.
- We think the concerns around trade tariffs have also been swept away too quickly as investors have just moved to
anticipation of a clear resolution. Several questions still linger and it is an unknown if a deal will bring full closure. We
worry the uncertainty already created regarding global supply chains will be hard to unwind. Excesses appear to be
difficult to find as consumer debt, manufacturing inventories, corporate debt coverage and excess business
investment, just aren’t apparent this cycle. We think the implication could be a growth deceleration with no recession
or a shallow recession looming on the horizon.
- The Fund will remain tilted toward high quality, profitable growth as we believe the controversy regarding the growth
outlook will remain, if not increase. In the current environment of sentiment swings between pro-growth and growth
fears, it is important to stress risk management to avoid mistakes given the high failure rate of large-cap growth
The opinions expressed are those of the Fund’s manager and are not meant as investment advice or to predict or project the future performance of any investment product. The opinions are current through March
31, 2019, are subject to change at any time based on market and other current conditions, and no forecasts can be guaranteed. This commentary is being provided as a general source of information and is not
intended as a recommendation to purchase, sell, or hold any specific security or to engage in any investment strategy. Investment decisions should always be made based on an investor’s specific objectives, financial
needs, risk tolerance and time horizon. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.
Top 10 holdings (%) as of 03/31/2019: Microsoft Corp. 8.4, Alphabet, Inc. 6.9, MasterCard, Inc. 6.1, PayPal, Inc. 5.5, Amazon.com, Inc. 5.4, Zoetis, Inc. 5.0, Adobe, Inc. 4.9, Visa, Inc. 4.6, Intuit, Inc. 4.5 and CoStar Group, 3.9.
The Russell 1000 Growth Index measures the performance of the large-cap growth segment of the U.S. equity universe. It is not possible to invest directly in an index.
Co-portfolio Manager Daniel P. Becker, CFA, left the firm effective April 12, 2018.
Risk factors: The value of the Fund’s shares will change, and you could lose money on your investment. Investing in companies involved primarily in a single asset class (large cap) may be more risky and volatile
than an investment with greater diversification. An investment in the Fund is not a bank deposit and is not insured or guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or any other government agency. Not
all funds or fund classes may be offered at all broker/dealers. These and other risks are more fully described in the Fund’s prospectus.
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