Where would you put money in today's market?
- New Economy stocks.
Old Economy stocks.
An S&P 500 index fund.
Regis, I'd like to use my
lifeline. I'd like to call Bill Miller, whose $12.1 billion large-cap
Legg Mason Value Trust is the only mutual fund to beat the S&P 500 in each of the last nine years. Let's face it, with the
all down since Jan. 1, who else would you call?
Looks like Miller's final answer is B. Judging from his most recent letters to shareholders of his funds, he's still holding some tech stocks, but he's more excited about cheaper stocks in less-flashy areas like financials and retail.
This week, Miller filed shareholder reports for his large-cap Value fund, as well the mid-cap
Special Investment fund and his new all-cap, go-anywhere
Opportunity fund. In those pages, the former
Manager of the Year explains why he trimmed some of his biggest tech positions and why he has put that money to work in stocks like
Make no mistake, Miller hasn't been immune to the market's slide. Both Value and Special Investment, which he co-manages with Lisa Rapuano, are underwater and lag more than 80% of their peers since Jan. 1, according to
. The back of the pack is an unusual position for Miller, whose Value fund beat a cool 95% of its large-cap value peers in each of the last five calendar years.
Launched at the end of last year, the Opportunity fund's early performance has been more Miller-like than his other two portfolios. Since Jan. 1, the fund, which gives Miller a free hand to take big stakes in stocks of any size or flavor, is up 6.2%, beating 70% of its mid-cap peers and the S&P 500 index.
In the past, he's spiced up his Value portfolio with prescient tech holdings like
. But now that many tech stocks have come crashing back to Earth his general theme is that many of last year's tech darlings are too expensive.
"We think that even after its decline, the technology sector remains richly priced, though some pockets of value are beginning to emerge. Outside of the technology sector the market is not expensive," Miller writes to Opportunity fund shareholders. That opinion shows in the moves he's made in each of his three funds.
A year ago, AOL represented more than 18% of his Value and Special Investment funds. The stock, which Miller bought early and often, is still in both funds' top-five, but with weightings below 10%.
In their report to Special Investment shareholders, Miller and Rapuano say they still like AOL's prospects, but trimmed their position because AOL's proposed merger with
"will likely keep the stock 'in the penalty box' for several quarters." The stock is down 22.3% since the deal's Jan. 10 announcement.
The pair also trimmed the stake in software maker
from more than 10% down to just over 5% at the end of April, according to Morningstar. In Value, Miller reduced his position in
and dumped biotech bellwether
Cash from those sales has been put to work in some less-techy businesses. Miller didn't add any new stocks to Value in the first quarter, but he added to existing positions in Waste Management, which has been crushed by management and accounting problems. The stock is down 67.4% over the past year, but could be due for a
rebound. It has risen 6.9% since Jan. 1.
He also added to a host of financials like
Bank of America
, which have come back to life. These stocks are up 22.9%, 17.3%, and 40.1% since the tech-heavy Nasdaq peaked on March 10.
Several financial sector fund managers and value maven
Wally Weitz recently endorsed many of these stocks.
In Special Investment, Miller and Rapuano added business-services stocks like Ceridian and
, in addition to insurer
, which operates
discount department stores.
Miller's growing taste for ignored stocks might be better reflected in Opportunity, the concentrated fund where he can buy whatever he likes.
In his report to Opportunity shareholders, Miller describes the fund's current portfolio, which only has some 20 holdings, as a "recovery" fund, focusing on "mostly damaged merchandise -- companies that have missed earnings estimates or whose growth has slowed or who are believed to be in some kind of distress."
That approach has worked out fairly well so far. The young fund bought struggling grocer
, and almost doubled its money when
, a Dutch concern, acquired the company. And textile-maker
is going private, buying out shareholders for more than the fund paid for its stake.
Unlike his other two funds where technology is still a big part of the portfolio, this fund has just two tech stocks,
and AOL, that make up some 11% of the portfolio. The fund also holds
, which has a retail sector label. Financials like
, UNUMProvident, and Washington Mutual, get the biggest weighting in this fund with 31.4% of assets.
Even if you don't agree with Miller's move into less flashy stocks and his dimming outlook for tech stocks' chances of keeping up their torrid pace, ignore it at your peril. After all, people who've heeded his moves over the years are much richer than those who've ignored them.