Baron Focused Growth Fund (BFGFX)

Portfolio Management

Ron Baron

Fund Manager since 1996

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Fund Description

Baron Focused Growth Fund invests in a focused portfolio of small and mid-size growth companies.



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Portfolio Commentary

Retail Performance

Review and Outlook (for quarter ended 12/31/2015)

U.S. stock markets continued to exhibit volatility during the three months ended December 31, 2015, as investors reacted to events overseas and at home. After a significant decline in the third quarter, the fourth quarter began with a strong rally in U.S. equities. Markets were boosted by soft economic data suggesting the Federal Reserve would continue to delay a rate hike. Talk of additional stimulus from the European Central Bank and a rate cut by China augmented the global trend of easy monetary policy. An easing of concerns around the negative impact of a slowdown in China and a modest recovery in oil prices also helped drive gains.

As the quarter progressed, signs of an improving U.S. economy and a seemingly more stable global economy inspired the Fed to signal it would start a rate increase cycle. In December, the Fed raised interest rates modestly for the first time since 2006. After an initial rally, the markets sold off some fourth quarter gains over concerns about the implications of Fed tightening in the face of questions around employment trends, commodity prices, overseas growth, and corporate earnings.

Baron Focused Growth Fund increased in the quarter. Information Technology (IT), Industrials, and Telecommunication Services were the top contributing sectors to performance. Health Care and Financials detracted. Performance of the IT sector was driven by gains in four of five holdings, including the second biggest contributor to performance, CoStar Group, Inc. Industrials benefited from a sharp increase in the share price of CaesarStone Sdot-Yam Ltd., recapturing some of its earlier losses after reporting disappointing financial results. Solid gains in the stock price of the Fund's sole Telecommunication Services holding Iridium Communications Inc. helped boost that sector's performance. Health Care lost some ground due to a dip in the stock price of the Fund's sole sector holding, Inovalon Holdings, Inc. Weakness in Financials was driven largely by a stock price drop in FactSet Research Systems Inc.

A significant percentage of the market weakness was attributable to the Energy sector and companies that service the energy industry as a result of the decline in oil prices. We think the constrained economic environment caused by low oil prices will eventually be offset by faster growth in the rest of the economy, as assets previously allocated by consumers and businesses to energy-related costs are redeployed.

Investing for growth is investing in the future, and when the future seems especially uncertain, investors tend to exit growth stocks. This behavior has contributed to the recent contraction in many growth stocks, despite the strong fundamentals and continued growth of these companies. We think the economy is in good shape and has been getting stronger. We believe this creates investment opportunities for growth investors like us.

Top Contributors/Detractors to Performance

Contributors (for quarter ended 12/31/2015)
  • Shares of Vail Resorts, Inc., an operator of ski resorts across the U.S. and Australia, increased in Q4 as the company generated strong results from its first season at Perisher in Australia, as well as robust pass sales for the current ski season in the U.S. In addition, snow storms across Tahoe, Colorado, and Utah resulted in positive sentiment on the stock. The company continued to generate significant cash flow, and it has started to use it to repurchase stock.

  • Shares of CoStar Group, Inc., a real estate information and marketing services company, contributed to Q4 performance. The company’s financial results beat Street expectations, particularly on margin expansion. Bookings growth was strong, with net annualized subscription bookings more than doubling versus the prior year. We believe CoStar is poised to generate accelerating organic revenue growth and significant margin expansion as it leverages the multifamily marketing investments made over the last 18 months.

  • Shares of quartz countertop manufacturer CaesarStone Sdot-Yam Ltd. contributed in Q4, recapturing some of the ground it lost in Q3 that resulted from Q2 financial results that, while impressive, fell short of Street expectations. A negative report by a short seller also pressured the stock in Q3. We remain positive on our investment in CaesarStone, as earnings growth continues to accelerate from successful new product launches and quartz market share gains over other countertop materials such as granite and marble.

Detractors (for quarter ended 12/31/2015)
  • Shares of sporting goods retailer Dick’s Sporting Goods, Inc. fell in Q4 on reports of a weak Q3 and lowered guidance for the key holiday season. While we feel that demand is strong, consumers seek deals and discounts and are migrating incremental purchases to e-commerce where Dick’s locations and merchandise are not as competitively advantaged. Adding to these pressures has been unseasonably warm weather, resulting in excess inventory.

  • Shares of electric vehicle company Tesla Motors, Inc. fell in Q4 due to skepticism about the sustainability of demand and its ability to meet annual goals. The Model X launch was met with customer enthusiasm, but the ramp seemed slower than initially hoped for. Tesla has successfully executed on two top-of-the-line cars in an impressively short time frame. As it moves down market in its price point, we think operation will be a bigger challenge than demand. We look forward to the expected introduction of Model 3 in the spring of 2016.

  • Shares of CarMax, Inc., the country's leading used car retailer, detracted during Q4 after reporting weaker sales and earnings growth owing to a variety of factors we believe are transitory, including inventory mix and heavier than usual new car incentives. We maintain our positive outlook on CarMax’s business. With low single digit share of a vast and fragmented market, a young and growing store base, and pent up industry demand, we believe CarMax is poised to deliver double-digit earnings growth over the next several years.

Quarterly Attribution Analysis (for quarter ended 12/31/2015)

The Quarterly Attribution Analysis for period ending December 31, 2015 is not yet available

Yearly Attribution Analysis (for year ended 12/31/2015)

The Yearly Attribution Analysis for period ending December 31, 2015 is not yet available

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The prospective performance of the companies discussed herein is based on our internal analysis and reflect our opinions only. We cannot promise future returns and our opinions are a reflection of our best judgement at the time of publication. Our views are not intended as recommendations or investment advice to any person and are subject to change at any time based on market and other conditions and Baron has no obligation to update them. Investing in the stock market is always risky. Current and future portfolio holdings in the Fund are subject to risk.

Source: FactSet PA.