By: Brian Flanagan, CFA, Portfolio Manager, Thrivent Mid Cap Stock Fund July 23, 2019
Investors are constantly torn between risk and reward. Investment opportunities that have the potential to pump up portfolio returns often also carry a greater potential for loss.
Mid-cap stocks are an area where the risk/return equation may be a bit more favorable for investors. That’s why mid-caps are sometimes referred to in the investment industry as the “sweet spot.”
With market capitalizations typically ranging between $5 billion and $20 billion, mid-caps tend to be established companies with seasoned management teams. In many cases, that makes them more stable than most small cap companies.
Mid-cap stocks also often have longer runways for solid growth than most of their large-cap peers. In other words, mid-cap stocks may offer the perfect mix of lower risk than small-cap stocks and higher potential returns than large-cap stocks.
Laying the foundation for growth
Succeeding in the mid-cap market is often about finding emerging companies that can grow into large organizations. Take the online crafts marketplace, Etsy. Etsy is able to compete with the likes of Amazon because it offers something Amazon doesn’t – custom-made, unique products. While the online market penetration for custom-made products is still relatively small, the addressable market is large, giving Etsy plenty of runway for growth.
Etsy is capitalizing on its growth potential by increasing conversion rates – that is, turning customer visits to the site into actual sales. Etsy’s new management team is doing this by improving search, expanding marketing and building trust with its customer base.
For example, the company is tapping into customer search histories and using artificial intelligence to improve the relevance of the products shown to the customer.
Etsy’s management team is also working with sellers to get more accurate timelines for shipping and providing tools to incorporate shipping into the price of the product. Etsy is a growth company that has earned a premium valuation because it is laying a firm foundation for future growth.
Getting real value from "value"
You can often find compelling growth opportunities in the mid-cap space that are also trading at attractive values. A great example is Ally Financial – GM’s former captive auto finance company that was spun off into a separate firm. Ally created an online bank which pays higher deposit rates than banks with branches. That strategy has helped attract more deposit customers, especially young people who prefer to bank online. Despite paying higher rates, Ally is still able to maintain an attractive net interest margin because its costs are lower.
Ally’s auto loan business is also improving as many banks are shrinking their auto loan portfolios. This industry dynamic is allowing Ally to increase pricing on auto loans and improve the mix of loans in its portfolio.
The firm is also increasing the proportion of used-versus new car loans, helping to improve the overall yield of its loan portfolio. In addition, Ally is diversifying its asset mix by expanding into new products, such as home mortgages, commercial loans, and wealth management products, which it can cross-sell to customers as it continues to grow its deposit base.
Ally Financial has all the characteristics of a growth company but is still a value stock because it is early in its transformation. We do not think it will be long before investors recognize its long-term potential.
Finding the sweets in the sweet spot
The mid-cap universe offers an interesting balance between growth and value and risk and reward across many industries.
At Thrivent, the key for success has been to invest in companies that can grow their topline and generate strong or improving returns on invested capital. To identify these stocks, we combine bottom-up analysis with more than a dozen quantitative screens based on valuation, capital deployment, earnings quality, and market dynamics.
It is an approach that has led to solid performance for Thrivent’s mid-cap management team and numerous Lipper Fund Awards from Refinitiv for the Thrivent Mid Cap Stock Fund Class S.
The strategy also requires patience. If you’re going to invest in the mid-cap market, you’ll need a long-term investment horizon at least three to five years. It’s not uncommon for a quality mid-cap stock to move sideways for a period of time, and then quickly provide an attractive return. Our success shows that if you can stick to your process, you may be able to find significant opportunities in the mid-cap sweet spot.
The views expressed are as of 7/23/2019, may change as market or other conditions change, and may differ from views expressed by other Thrivent Asset Management associates. Actual investment decisions made by Thrivent Asset Management will not necessarily reflect the views expressed. This information should not be considered investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or product. Investment decisions should always be made based on an investor's specific financial needs, objectives, goals, time horizon, and risk tolerance. This article refers to specific securities which Thrivent Mutual Funds may own. A complete listing of the holdings for each of the Thrivent Mutual Funds is available on ThriventFunds.com.
The Fund primarily invests in securities of mid-sized companies, which often have greater price volatility, lower trading volume, and less liquidity than larger, more established companies. The value of the Fund is influenced by factors impacting the overall market, certain asset classes, certain investment styles, and specific issuers. Quantitative investing uses models and factors that rely on historical data and may be incomplete. The Fund may incur losses due to investments that do not perform as anticipated by the investment adviser. These and other risks are described in the Fund's prospectus.