Given the challenging environment of 2022, what are your thoughts about investing in non-US companies in 2023 and beyond?
2022 was certainly an interesting year, to say the least — heightened geopolitical risk tied to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the consequent disruptions, and rising inflation across the globe. Yet, such events cause displacements which can be energizing for investors like us — price-conscious investors.
We like discounts, and 2022 was a year of double discounts if you will – from the stocks and from the currency. Equity valuations broadly for non-US stocks remain unusually lower than for US stocks. Then, if you look at key currency pairs versus the dollar, they’ve been trading at unusual lows as well. Nobody knows with any certainty how long this can last, but for long-term oriented investors like us, the potential for a double discount has made non-US investing particularly attractive.
It’s rather like deciding to take that holiday in London because the pound is cheap — effectively the same concept. Especially for investors who might be a little skeptical of geopolitical factors — whether it's conflicts in Europe or rising tensions in China — it makes even more sense to invest via a thoughtful, active strategy, rather than have a passive allocation to international benchmarks. In an environment like this, if you are worried about geopolitical breakdown, why would you invest passively, gaining exposure to mediocre businesses? Looking ahead, to us the environment seems one where it is better to be selective, better to think carefully about risk and better to be an active investor.
In a world of more attractive valuations, particularly in non-US equities, is anything giving you pause?
As much as non-US stocks broadly have looked cheap, we are mindful of risks. Inflation has been top of mind for everyone for the past year or so. Corresponding to inflation are interest rates and their direction. Consumers and institutions had been almost lulled by a long period of low rates. That's changing, and with that change likely comes some pain. So, we are mindful of leverage, especially in companies where leverage is a little opaque.
For example, think about global investment banks. Some of the European investment banks have been in favor in value portfolios. For us, we have been more skeptical about what might be lurking behind the balance sheet. With so many companies and industries looking attractively valued, we are asking ourselves why take undue risk?
So where in what parts of the world are you finding interesting opportunities looking forward?
There’s that saying about being where the puck is going to be, not where it is now. To do that, you must first and foremost be nimble. That is one of the unique advantages of our team. We have the ability to go anywhere across geographies and across market caps. But to really understand where the puck is going, it helps that we have a very long time horizon for our investments.
That different mindset means we have the luxury of thinking years ahead, rather than just the next few months. It means we are freed from scrambling to find what looks attractive for now, and instead are thoughtfully seeking to understand what could be attractive over time.
One of the areas where I personally have been spending a lot of time is Latin America in general — Mexico and Brazil, but also Chile, Colombia and Peru. Latin America tends to be an interesting source of ideas for us because, despite perception of a weak macro environment and other varied challenges, there are a lot of really solid businesses that are overlooked. These are often businesses with long histories — many consumer companies in countries where consumers broadly have been through hyperinflation and a shifting political landscape but are resilient.
So, when we look at what is happening in this region, over the last two to four years, there’s been a shift to more leftism. For example, in Brazil with Lula (da Silva) taking over, headline risks are high. When that happens, we tend to see opportunities because at the first hint of headlines, people tend to assume the country will become the next Venezuela. But we’ve been through this before, and taking our longer-term view, we can better see through the nearer term panic.
We saw this happen in Mexico when AMLO (Andrés Manuel López Obrador) came to office in 2018. The perception was that the country was tacking hard to the left and the results would be devastating to private businesses and their public equities. In that situation, we found some well entrenched businesses selling at good prices. Eventually, pragmatism took over and the reality in Mexico ended up being more business friendly. So here is just one example of how thinking more than a few years out, being thoughtful and building our knowledge base can prepare us for when businesses we want to own for the long term are selling at attractive prices.
As of 31 December 2022, Diamond Hill owned equity shares of Amazon.com Inc and Alphabet Inc.
The views expressed are those of Diamond Hill as of February 2023 and are subject to change without notice. These opinions are not intended to be a forecast of future events, a guarantee of future results or investment advice. Investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.