A Fund's Quality Quota


Eileen Rominger, manager of Goldman Sachs Mid-Cap Value fund (GCMAX), stresses attractively priced stocks of quality companies that generate cash over time. The fund's longer-term results have shown the strategy has worked. For the five years ended last month, the portfolio rose an average of 7.8% annualized, vs. a gain of 6.6% for its mid-cap value peers.

More recently, the fund has lagged its peers, but Rominger says that's because lower-quality stocks have rallied. This year through July, the fund gained 9%, vs. 15.8% for its peers. However, the fund has also taken on less risk than its peers, keeping sector weights about in line with those of its benchmark, the Russell Midcap Value Index, where tech has a relatively small weighting.

Based on risk and return characteristics over the last three years, Standard & Poor's awards the portfolio its highest overall rank of 5 Stars. Bill Gerdes of S&P's Fund Advisor recently spoke with Rominger about the fund's strategy. Edited excerpts from their conversation follow:

Q: What sets you apart from other mid-cap value funds?

A: We focus on quality and price, which may be different from some value managers. Cheapness alone is not an adequate investment thesis. We invest in high-quality businesses that are positioned to generate cash over time. We tend to focus on companies run by managements that have maximized returns. In addition, we like companies that don't need to reinvest a lot of capital, so their free cash flow can be used to increase dividends.

Q: What's your overall view of dividends?

A: I encourage people to think about emerging yield. To find companies with emerging yields, we look for outfits with the potential of initiating or increasing their dividends because of free cash flow. One of the risks of chasing companies that pay dividends is that the earnings don't always cover the yields of high-yielding stocks. By focusing on emerging yields, we look at companies with strong balance sheets and free cash flow.

Q: How do valuations figure in your process?

A: As value investors, we have to be careful about valuations because a good company can be a bad investment if we pay too much for it. It's not unusual for a holding to have some controversy. The industry that it's in may be out of favor, for example.

Q: Have any recent controversies led to opportunities?

A: The question of pension-plan funding has created opportunities for investors who are willing to look closely at the numbers. Many companies which don't have pension difficulties are being valued similarly as those with considerable liabilities. For example, Praxair (PX) has a very favorable pension-funding position.

Q: What are the fund's largest sector weightings?

A: We don't massively overweight or underweight sectors. We look for value across all markets, so we don't rule out anything. We have a good presence in financials, which make up 20% to 25% of the portfolio, including banks, nonbanks, and insurance. That weighting is driven by attractive values. We like RenaissanceRe Holdings (RNR) and North Fork Bancorp (NFB).

Q: What's your view of the technology sector?

A: In technology, we're focusing on service-oriented companies. CDW Computer Centers (CDWC) is a service-oriented company that we like. They provide technology to small to mid-sized businesses that are difficult for big vendors to service because these markets are fragmented.

Q: What's your turnover?

A: Last year, it was about 70% to 75%. This year, we've found some interesting opportunities. Activision (ATVI), an entertainment-software company, suffered an earnings shortfall, but their balance sheet is strong, and they're well positioned for the next couple of years.

Lamar Advertising (LAMR), an outdoor-advertising company, has been hurt because outdoor advertising hasn't picked up as strongly as network advertising. But outdoor advertising often lags, so we believe strength in network advertising will spread to outdoor advertising down the road.

Q: Why have the fund's long-term returns been strong, while the more recent returns have somewhat trailed its peers?

A: Our focus on quality worked well in 2001 and 2002. This year, lower quality stocks have had pretty good rallies, but we think it's important to stay with our long-term objectives.


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