Cyclicals with attractive structural tailwinds
Current valuations suggest that investors expect the last decade’s fundamentals to carry forward to the next decade. We see positive change in the longer-term fundamental profile for industrials that are favorably exposed to the structural tailwind of electrification and/or the next strong multi-year capital-expenditure (capex) cycle.
Electricity demand should experience growth through a variety of structural drivers, including rising data-center use, a higher prevalence of connected devices and further growth in electric vehicles (EVs). As the transportation landscape evolves—with an increasing percentage of EV sales—there is a need for a more expansive charging infrastructure. Also, the higher EV and electricity demand increases the strain on the electric grid.
Businesses that manufacture electrical equipment look well positioned to benefit from utility companies’ long-term investment in transmission and distribution, as they provide solutions for connecting new sources of renewable electricity to the grid while also hardening the grid. The Infrastructure Bill passed by Congress in late 2021 will provide funds to companies that enhance the EV charging network and upgrade power infrastructure to meet the electrification boom. Increased electrical content density in data centers, industrial warehouses and commercial buildings are further secular tailwinds. Upgrading the existing installed equipment base to more energy-efficient models could provide compelling returns on investment and payback periods for manufacturers.
The broader capex cycle also portends well for industrials. Plant, property, and equipment investment has been below the long-term average since the mid-2010s, and the last capex cycle globally goes back over 20 years. With a decade of underinvestment, aging US fixed asset and supply constraints need to be addressed through higher capex investment. Inflationary pressures also drive home the need for more supply and therefore capex investment. Tangible examples include factory automation to manage the wage inflation pressure and increase productivity and supply constraints in natural resources. Furthermore, the reshoring push is driving increased capex needs with new factory builds and related equipment.
Stability during economic uncertainty
Our value strategies pursue sources of free cash-flow stability and seek to obtain these companies at attractive valuations. We find these attributes present among defense contractors. While there have been concerns of lower US defense spending under the Biden administration, the actual budget outlays have not been materially lower. We expect US defense spending to have an upward skew irrespective of the outcome of November’s midterm elections.
Furthermore, with the unfortune war in Ukraine, there appears to be a new urgency in Europe to increase defense spending. NATO countries have reaffirmed their commitment to spend at least 2% of GDP on defense, a level that has not been achieved due to austerity measures and divergent threat perceptions.
The resilience of defense spending even amid an economic slowdown, coupled with a higher medium-term, free-cash-flow growth profile, is a compelling combination in our view. Importantly, there remains enough debate about supply-chain impacts and sustainability of the durable growth outlook, that in our view valuations still provide attractive risk/reward scenarios.
Emerging best-in-class capital allocators
We are also closely watching companies whose portfolio has changed through divestitures and mergers and acquisitions (M&A) to positively transform the profile of the business. These changes include shifting product offerings from commoditized to value-added, aligning to higher organically growing verticals, and improving the returns on capital. While the market may await a longer track record for the underlying sustainable profile of these businesses, which may have been masked by the economic and supply-chain disruption over the last year, we believe that such portfolio transitions may not be fully reflected in valuations. We believe this environment provides compelling risk/reward opportunities.
Furthermore, in addition to capital allocation decisions to shape business portfolios, there is a strong opportunity for shareholder value through M&A which we believe is not reflected in share prices. Strong executors of acquisitions in fragmented global markets provide opportunities to scale and operate smaller brands more efficiently. These opportunities become even more compelling in pressured markets as pricing becomes even more favorable for those best-in-class operators with the balance-sheet capacity to capitalize on these opportunities.
Industrials is a sector where we are seeing positive change in medium-to-longer term fundamentals yet differing outlooks provide for attractive relative valuations. Cyclicals with attractive structural tailwinds, businesses that can offer stability during economic uncertainty, and emerging best-in-class industrial capital allocators are areas where we find the most opportunity. As always, when the markets are volatile, we remain steadfast in our pursuit to identify and invest in attractive relative-value opportunities.
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