Why now is the right time for value

Reece Birtles | Chief Investment Officer, Martin Currie Australia

Man Wearing Black and White Stripe Shirt Looking at White Printer Papers on the Wall

“ Asset allocators need to be positioned in Value stocks ahead of the inflection point to capitalise on future narrowing spreads”

The past two years has seen poor performance for value style indices and typical value managers globally, and stronger performance for Momentum, Growth and Quality factors. There have been recent comments in the market that Value is broken or that this could be the death of Value. Or, given how expensive the market has become, is now actually the time to overweight the style? Below I discuss what value spreads really tell us about what lies ahead for the Value style, and value managers like Martin Currie Australia.

Globally, the value style (based on the MSCI World Value Index) has underperformed the broader market (MSCI World Index) in the last few years. But on a rolling 10-year basis, the level and persistence of this underperformance looks quite extraordinary in contrast to the long-term. Similarly, if you think about this in the inverse, the persistent outperformance of the Growth style (based on MSCI World Growth Index) is also peculiar, as it is historically known to underperform Value over the long-term. This is backed up by research studies by Fama and French, Kahneman and Tversky.

A key reason why Value typically outperforms Growth in the long run is Value’s superior EPS growth relative to Growth stocks. Investors have a bias towards trend extrapolation and over optimism of future EPS, but the reality is that paying more for
an unmet expectation doesn’t add value, and Value’s fundamentals prevail in the end. The continued trend of superior EPS, despite poor value style performance in the last few years, gives us confidence that the value style works when the market focusses on underlying fundamentals.

The relative valuation of the style indices, i.e. a value spread, can give us another way to look at the behaviour of Value and Growth stocks over time and how recent behaviour is out of kilter. I’ve measured a value spread for the MSCI World using a naive average of the log of the spread between the two indices, for P/E, P/E NTM, dividend yield and P/B valuation measures.

Historically, data suggests that widening value spreads usually go hand in hand with poor Value style performance. Wide value spreads have then historically preceded strong future alpha for Value-biased managers.

Unusually, despite Value underperforming Growth throughout 2013-2017, the value spreads did not immediately widen due to falling relative EPS growth for Value, making the Value superiority appear to be “broken”. The persistently narrow spread situation through to 2017 made it hard to “pound the table” for asset allocators to be overweight Value and be ready for the rebound that should occur when spreads begin to narrow again. The situation dramatically changed in 2018, with spreads exploding out to greater than GFC and Tech bubble levels across all metrics. The relative EPS issue to Growth is now no longer an issue, so we do not believe it is justified to call the death of Value.

Our 20+ years of in-house discounted cashflow valuations of Australian companies provides us with great insight in understanding the Australian market. Therefore, for analysing the Australian market, we have used Martin Currie valuations data instead of MSCI index data. We use our proprietary valuation of the 80th percentile stock (representing cheap stocks) versus the 20th percentile (representing expensive stocks).
Consistent with my long-held thesis that factor performance of the Australian market is strongly dominated by global macro and factor performance, I have found that the Australia value spread is also highly correlated with the World value spread, with notable and understandable exceptions around the Asian crisis, Tech bubble and naughties China boom. This relationship between MSCI World value spread and that for Australia has only strengthened over time, especially since the GFC. This is explainable by the low growth/Quantitative Easing world, and financial market weaponisation (or development) of, for example, commodity futures trading (CTAs) that allows trading of common factors on a global basis.

I have looked at what has been really driving changes in value spreads, and my analysis shows that the level and change in economic growth (e.g. based on our in-house business cycle indicator or PMI), bond yields (e.g. the US 10yr) and the yield curve, have all generally moved in concert with value spreads. This tells us that value style performance should turn around when economic growth stabilises, bond yields are no longer falling, and central banks cut rates to stimulate the economy. In other words, when the world doesn’t remain in a constant state of deterioration.

Based on the historical relationship between value spreads and macro data, current value spreads imply that there are no further Fed rate cuts, PMI is set to trend below 50, and further falls in bond yields are on the way. But the world doesn’t retain a state of panic/euphoria for an extended period. The bottom of a cycle is notoriously hard to time. The value spread based on the holdings in our Legg Mason Martin Currie Select Opportunities Fund1 versus the S&P/ASX 200 Index, appears to already be pricing recessionary outcomes and no response by policy makers. As such asset allocators need to be positioned in value stocks ahead of the inflection point to capitalise on future narrowing spreads.

Wide value spreads in the Tech bubble were associated with an expensive market, whereas in the GFC, wide spreads were associated with a cheap market. Post the Tech bust, when spreads again started to narrow, value stocks were attractive as they were considered defensive/low beta and provided strong alpha, but post GFC, value stocks became less attractive as their correlation to beta rose. Today’s situation of high value spreads and an expensive market looks more like the Tech bubble than the GFC. Therefore, in the coming cycle, it is more likely today’s cheap stocks prove more defensive than expensive Growth stocks which have been low beta in recent years. The Legg Mason Martin Currie Select Opportunities Fund is positioned away from the overvalued ‘High Growth/High PE/ High Momentum’ part of the market to maximise long-term income and returns.

Now is the time to position for Value, not to chase expensive stocks. We believe that our Legg Mason Martin Currie Select Opportunities Fund is able to capture alpha for clients based on three sources:

  • The long-term Value premium available because of the market’s behavioural bias towards over optimism;
  • Our tactical allocation approach to style and risk based on our deep understanding of value spreads and the Value
  • Superior stock selection over time from our experienced research team’s fundamental and quantitative insights into company Valuation, Quality and Direction.


Past performance is not a guide to future returns. Source: Martin Currie Australia, FactSet, as at 30 June 2019. Legg Mason Asset Management Australia Ltd (ABN 76 004 835 849 AFSL 240827) is part of the Global Legg Mason Inc. group. Any reference to ‘Legg Mason Australia’ or ‘Martin Currie Australia’ is a reference to Legg Mason Asset Management Australia Limited. ‘Martin Currie Australia’ is a division within Legg Mason Asset Management Australia Limited. Legg Mason Australia is the responsible entity of the Legg Mason Martin Currie Select Opportunities Fund (ARSN 122 100 207)(Fund). Martin Currie Australia is the fund manager of the Fund. Before making an investment decision you should read the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) for the Fund carefully and you need to consider, with or without the assistance of a financial advisor, whether such an investment is appropriate in light of your particular investment needs, objectives and financial circumstances. The PDS is available and can be obtained by contacting Legg Mason Australia on 1800 679 541 or at http://www.leggmason.com.au. This product has not been prepared to take into account the investment objectives, financial objectives or particular needs of any particular person. Neither Legg Mason Australia, nor any of its related parties guarantees any performance or the return of capital invested. Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future performance. Investments are subject to risks, including, but not limited to, possible delays in payments and loss of income or capital invested. These opinions are subject to change without notice and do not constitute investment advice or recommendation. The information contained in this paper has been compiled with considerable care to ensure its accuracy. But no representation or warranty, express or implied, is made to its accuracy or completeness. Market and currency movements may cause the capital value of shares, and the income from them, to fall as well as rise and you may get back less than you invested. Martin Currie has procured any research or analysis contained in this presentation for its own use. It is provided to you only incidentally, and any opinions expressed are subject to change without notice. The opinions contained in this document are those of the named manager(s). They may not necessarily represent the views of other Martin Currie managers, strategies or funds. Please note the information within this report has been produced internally using unaudited data and has not been independently verified. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure its accuracy, no guarantee can be given. Some of the information provided in this document has been compiled using data from a representative account. This account has been chosen on the basis it is an existing account managed by Martin Currie, within the strategy referred to in this document. Representative accounts for each strategy have been chosen on the basis that they are the longest running account for the strategy. This data has been provided as an illustration only, the figures should not be relied upon as an indication of future performance. The data provided for this account may be different to other accounts following the same strategy. The information should not be considered as comprehensive and additional information and disclosure should be sought ahead of any planned investment. The distribution of specific products is restricted in certain jurisdictions, investors should be aware of these restrictions before requesting further specific information.