David Wallack on Attractive Value Stocks

Value stocks seem to be staging a comeback, but many are still trading at 30%-40% below their highs, and a significant opportunity may still exist. At least that’s the view outlined in a recent Barron’s interview with fund manager David Wallack of T.Rowe Price Mid-Cap Value Fund. “We’re finding more places to put money to work in the last five to six months than in the previous five to six years,” Wallack contended.

Wallack said he overlooks what’s in and out of favor, instead focusing on companies that are trading below his estimate of intrinsic value (the actual value of a company based on an underlying perception of all aspects of the business).

When defining value, Wallack said, “I look at mature companies that have been around for decades, that have stood the test of time, that have a brand, franchise, product or service that is unique and a big share of the market,” a view not unlike that of guru Warren Buffett.

When assessing a company’s potential, he said, “The best thing to do is to go back and see what they have been capable of doing before.” Another tact, he said, is to determine what the business would be worth to a buyer and figuring out how much it could improve the results of that buyer.

Wallack shared his view on Hess (HES), which is trading at around $58, 20% below its 52-week high. He said that Hess has been run based on a tradition of managing through good and bad times. He described the company’s 30% share in an offshore Guyana drilling project as a potential “multibillion barrel discovery that is worth $10 to $15 per Hess share.” Bunge (BG), Wallack said, “has been around for almost 200 years, a feat in and of itself, “describing the company as one of the biggest agricultural processing and trading companies in the world. He said the industry is experiencing “capital exiting” which is a positive backdrop.

When asked for his best ideas in the consumer discretionary space, Wallack pivoted to Tribune Media (TRCO), the biggest operator of television stations in the U.S., citing their private offering, bankruptcy, over-leverage and ultimate re-emergence a few years ago. “Interestingly,” he noted, “the biggest shareholders are still the distressed debt holders that converted their debt into equity in the new company.”

Wallack said that if asked about the thought process behind his current holding in FirstEnergy (FE), one of the country’s biggest electric utilities and one that has been hurt by heavy leverage, he would argue, “Last year the company hired a new CEO and it is his mission to extract as much value as possible from what the company has, and they have a lot.”

Regarding his buy of Tootsie Roll Industry (TR), whose CEO died recently at 95, he said, “The franchise has been around for many, many years and is a household brand. [It] has a debt-free balance sheet, net cash, and still manufactures in the United States. They are the only candy manufacturer that still does.” Pretty sweet, according to Wallack.