By David Snowball
Update: This fund has been liquidated.
This fund was previously profiled in September 2012. You can find that profile here.
The fund seeks to provide long-term total return by investing in common and preferred stocks, convertibles and REITs. The manager attempts to invest in high quality, small- to mid-cap firms (those with market caps between $100 million and $5 billion). He thinks of himself as having an “absolute return” mandate, which means an exceptional degree of risk-consciousness. He’ll pursue the same style of investing as in his previous charges, but has more flexibility than before because this fund does not include the “small cap” name.
Aston Asset Management, LP. It’s an interesting setup. Aston oversees 24 funds with $9.3 billion in assets, and is a subsidiary of the Affiliated Managers Group. River Road Asset Management LLC subadvises six Aston funds; i.e., provides the management teams. River Road, founded in 2005, oversees $6.1 billion and was acquired by AMG in 2014. River Road also manages seven separate account strategies, including the Independent Value strategy used here.
Eric Cinnamond. Mr. Cinnamond is a Vice President and Portfolio Manager of River Road’s independent value investment strategy. Mr. Cinnamond has 23 years of investment industry experience. Mr. Cinnamond managed the Intrepid Small Cap (ICMAX) fund from 2005-2010 and Intrepid’s small cap separate accounts from 1998-2010. He co-managed, with Nola Falcone, Evergreen Small Cap Equity Income from 1996-1998.
Management’s Stake in the Fund
Mr. Cinnamond has invested between $500,000 – $1,000,000 in the fund.
Mr. Cinnamond anticipates a soft close at about a billion. The strategy has $450 million in assets, which hot money drove close to a billion during the last market crisis.
December 30, 2010.
$2,000 for regular accounts, $1000 for various sorts of tax-advantaged products (IRAs, Coverdells, UTMAs).
1.42%, after waivers, on $410 million in assets.
If James Brown is the godfather of soul, then Eric Cinnamond might be thought the godfather of small cap, absolute value investing. He’s been at it since 1996 and he suspects that folks who own lots of small cap stocks today are going to want to sell them to him, for a lot less than they paid, sooner rather than later.
This fund’s first incarnation appeared in 1996, as the Evergreen Small Cap Equity Income fund. Mr. Cinnamond had been hired by First Union, Evergreen’s advisor, as an analyst and soon co-manager of their small cap separate account strategy and fund. The fund grew quickly, from $5 million in ’96 to $350 million in ’98. It earned a five-star designation from Morningstar and was twice recognized by Barron’s as a Top 100 mutual fund.
In 1998, Mr. Cinnamond became engaged to a Floridian, moved south and was hired by Intrepid (located in Jacksonville Beach, Florida) to replicate the Evergreen fund. For the next several years, he built and managed a successful separate accounts portfolio for Intrepid, which eventually aspired to a publicly available fund.
The fund’s second incarnation appeared in 2005, with the launch of Intrepid Small Cap (now called Intrepid Endurance, ICMAX). In his five years with the fund, Mr. Cinnamond built a remarkable record which attracted $700 million in assets and earned a five-star rating from Morningstar and a Lipper Leader for total returns and capital preservation. If you had invested $10,000 at inception, your account would have grown to $17,300 by the time he left. Over that same period, the average small cap value fund lost money.
The fund’s third incarnation appeared on the last day of 2010, with the launch of Aston / River Road Independent Value (ARIVX). While ARIVX is run using the same discipline as its predecessors, Mr. Cinnamond intentionally avoided the “small cap” name. While the new fund will maintain its historic small cap value focus, he wanted to avoid the SEC stricture which would have mandated him to keep 80% of assets in small caps.
Over an extended period, Mr. Cinnamond’s small cap composite (that is, the weighted average of the separately managed accounts under his charge over the past 20 years) has returned 10% per year to his investors. That figure understates his stock picking skills, since it includes the low returns he earned on his often-substantial cash holdings.
The key to Mr. Cinnamond’s performance (which, Morningstar observed, “trounced nearly all equity funds”) is achieved, in his words, “by not making mistakes.” He articulates a strong focus on absolute returns; that is, he’d rather position his portfolio to make some money, steadily, in all markets, rather than having it alternately soar and swoon. There seem to be three elements involved in investing without mistakes:
- Buy the right firms.
- At the right price.
- Move decisively when circumstances demand.
All things being equal, his “right” firms are “steady-Eddy companies.” They’re firms with look for companies with strong cash flows and solid operating histories. Many of the firms in his portfolio are 50 or more years old, often market leaders, more mature firms with lower growth and little debt.
His judgment, as of early 2016, is that virtually any new investments in his universe – which requires both high business quality and low stock prices – would be a mistake. He writes:
As a result of extremely expensive small cap valuations, especially in higher quality small cap stocks, the Independent Value Portfolio maintains its very contrarian positioning. Cash is near record levels, while expensive, high quality small cap holdings have been sold. We expect our unique, but disciplined, positioning to cause the Portfolio to continue to look and perform very differently than the market and its peers.
… we do not believe the current market cycle will continue indefinitely. We feel we are positioned well for the end of the current cycle and the inevitable return to more rational and justifiable equity valuations. As disciplined value investors, we have not strayed from our valuation practices and investment discipline. We continue to require an adequate return for risk assumed on each stock we consider for purchase, and will not invest your (and our) capital simply for the sake of being invested.
He’s at 85% cash currently (late April 2016), but that does not mean he’s some sort of ultra-cautious perma-bear. He has moved decisively to pursue bargains when they arise. “I’m willing to be aggressive in undervalued markets,” he says. For example, his fund went from 0% energy and 20% cash in 2008 to 20% energy and no cash at the market trough in March, 2009. Similarly, his small cap composite moved from 40% cash to 5% in the same period. That quick move let the fund follow an excellent 2008 (when defense was the key) with an excellent 2009 (where he was paid for taking risks). The fund’s 40% return in 2009 beat his index by 20 percentage points for a second consecutive year. As the market began frothy in 2010 (“names you just can’t value are leading the market,” he noted), he began to let cash build. While he found a few pockets of value in 2015 (he surprised himself by buying gold miners, something he’d never done), prices rose so quickly that he needed to sell.
The argument against owning is captured in Cinnamond’s cheery declaration, “I like volatility.” Because he’s unwilling to overpay for a stock, or to expose his shareholders to risk in an overextended market, he sidelines more and more cash which means the fund lags in extended rallies. But when stocks begin cratering, he moves quickly in which means he increases his exposure as the market falls. Buying before the final bottom is, in the short term, painful and might be taken, by some, as a sign that the manager has lost his marbles. Again.
Mr. Cinnamond’s view, informed by a quarter century of investing and a careful review of history, is that small cap stocks are in a bubble. More particularly, they might be in a historic bubble that exceeds those in 2000 and 2007. Each of those peaks was followed by 40% declines. The fragility of the small cap space is illustrated by the sudden decline in those stocks in the stock half of 2015. In eight months, from their peak in June 2015 to their bottom in February 2016, small cap indexes dropped 22%. Then, in 10 weeks, they shrugged it off, rose 19% and returned to historically high valuations. Investing in small cap stocks can be rational and rewarding. Reaping those rewards requires a manager who is willing to protect you from the market’s worst excesses and your own all-to-human impulses. You might check here if you’re in search of such a manager.
Aston/River Road Independent Value
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