The “Art of Successful Investing” with Zulauf, Black, Herro & Priest (Part I)

Last month, Barron’s published stock picks of eight leading investors who participated in its AOSI conference.  Below are several of the longer-term trends identified by these industry leaders.

Felix Zulauf, president of the hedge fund Zulauf Asset Management, sees a bear market. “We are in a recovery rally in the early stages of a cyclical bear market,” he says. After possible upward bumps for the remainder of 2015, he continues, “I see a bear market around the world, including the U.S. . . . The S&P could decline to 1600.” He explains. “we are in a deflationary cycle,” while attributing much of the reason for pessimism to China. “The Chinese economy is slowing,” he observes, predicting: “I expect China to devalue its currency by 10% to 15% in the next 12 months.” His advice? “Next year, when a global bear hits, you’ll want to be as defensive and cautious as possible. It will be time to hold long-term U.S. treasuries again.”

Scott Black, founder of Delphi Management, highlights both the challenges of the current market and the potential for finding individual companies likely to produce significant returns. He describes the market as a whole as “slightly overpriced,” noting that “earning expectations for next year are much too high.” While he opines that “there aren’t many bargains to be found in equities as a homogeneous risk class,” he also identifies some individual companies (such as FedEx) that he views as particularly good bets.

Ross Margolies, founder and portfolio manager of Stelliam Investment Management LP, illustrates the point that individual companies may offer significant opportunities for returns well above the indexes. He points to structural improvements at Delta Airlines, for example.

William Priest, CEO and co-CIO at Epoch Investment Partners, explains his view that “free cash flow is the lifeblood of any business” because it allows a company “to reinvest in the business, buy back stock, pay down debt, make acquisitions, or pay cash dividends.”  He applies this view to identify some stock picks, such as CVS Health, which he describes as “the poster child for excellent capital allocation.”

David Herro, the Oakmark manager Morningstar dubbed its 2010 manager of the decade, looks at the Chinese stock market disruptions caused by currency devaluation and notes: “when prices move a lot more than value, that spells opportunity.” In other areas, he points to Credit Suisse, noting its new management.