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as of 03/31/23
Stocks mostly increased during the first quarter, with the Russell 2500 Growth Index advancing 6.54%. The first two months were more or less a continuation from the end of 2022, with the market’s primary focus on inflation and the Federal Reserve’s next move. That shifted dramatically with the unexpected collapse of Silicon Valley Bank on March 10. Concerns about contagion and the overall health of the banking sector sent shares of many financial institutions into a steep slide. The Fed acted quickly to quell the panic, assuring depositors with assets above the FDIC insurance threshold that they would be made whole. With the banking sector narrowly averting a crisis, and mid-sized and regional banks facing renewed scrutiny and tighter regulations, market expectations are that the SVB failure may act as an additional headwind to an already slowing economy due to higher interest rates. As a result, some investors are now anticipating that the Fed will, in fact, pull back on its aggressive tightening program.
Baron Focused Growth Fund advanced 14.49% in the quarter. Holdings within Consumer Discretionary, Information Technology (IT), and Financials were the top contributors. Real Estate and Industrials investments detracted. Consumer Discretionary had a strong quarter, with top contributor Tesla, Inc. and second largest contributor Hyatt Hotels Corp. within the sector. IT increased on double-digit gains in the shares of all three sector holdings, led by P&C insurance software company Guidewire Software, Inc. MSCI Inc., a leading provider of investment decision support tools, drove much of the appreciation within the Financials sector. Real Estate had a challenging quarter, with second largest detractor Douglas Emmett, Inc. and third largest detractor Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. both within the sector. Top detractor CoStar Group, Inc. drove weak performance within Industrials.
The near-term outlook remains highly uncertain. Investors are still weighing the possible impacts of SVB’s failure on the economy, including credit availability and corporate earnings. Inflation appears to have peaked, with economists now projecting a yearly rate of around 4.0% by the end of 2023, although this number is still ahead of the Fed’s targeted rate of 2.0%. While the job market remains strong, there are signs it is cooling, and housing prices have trended lower due to higher mortgage rates.
As long-term investors, we look past the short-term noise, which we believe is largely unpredictable, to stay true to our time-tested investment process, assembling and managing a portfolio of what we view as well-managed, competitively advantaged companies with durable growth opportunities at attractive valuations.
as of 03/31/23
as of 03/31/23
When reviewing performance attribution on our portfolio, please be aware that we construct the portfolio from the bottom up, one stock at a time. Each stock is included in the portfolio if it meets our rigorous investment criteria. To help manage risk, we are aware of our sector and security weights, but we do not include a holding to achieve a target sector allocation or to approximate an index. Our exposure to any given sector is purely a result of our stock selection process.
as of 03/31/23
Baron Focused Growth Fund (Institutional Shares) was up 14.49% in the first quarter, outperforming the Russell 2500 Growth Index by 795 basis points due to stock selection and, to a lesser degree, differences in sector weights.
Favorable stock selection in Consumer Discretionary, Financials, Communication Services, and Information Technology (IT) together with underexposure the lagging Energy and Health Care sectors added the most value. Within Consumer Discretionary, electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla, Inc. was almost entirely responsible for the Fund’s outperformance in the period, contributing 600-plus basis points to relative results.Tesla’s shares rebounded after management said it expects to build 1.8 million vehicles in 2023, up 31% from 2022, while maintaining industry-leading margins despite a potential recession, concerns about competition in China, and recent price reductions. In addition, investor confidence in Elon Musk’s commitment to Tesla increased over the past few months, while a broader management presentation during the company’s analyst day provided added visibility into the depth and quality of talent leading Tesla. Higher exposure to this strong performing sector coupled with sharp gains from global hotelier Hyatt Hotels Corp. and branded fresh doughnuts retailer Krispy Kreme, Inc. also aided performance. Hyatt reported growth in revenue-per-available-room above pre-pandemic levels, driven by strength in its leisure business, which is now 50% of its room base. Krispy Kreme’s quarterly revenue and EBITDA came in slightly ahead of consensus expectations, driven in part by increased sales per hub in the U.S. and abroad, as the company continued to optimize its unique hub and spoke model. The stock was also lifted by news that the company would be expanding on a test to sell doughnuts in 160 McDonald's stores following the success of an initial nine store test.
Positive stock selection in Financials was another material driver of relative returns, with investment decision support tools provider MSCI Inc. leading the way in the sector. MSCI was a top contributor after reporting resilient quarterly earnings results and providing cautiously optimistic guidance for 2023. The company also benefited from improved performance in global equity markets, which directly impacts asset-based fee revenue. Specialty insurer Arch Capital Group Ltd. also contributed to relative gains after reporting strong quarterly results driven by 33% growth in earned premiums, favorable reserve development, below-average catastrophe losses, and higher investment income. Pricing trends in the property and casualty (P&C) insurance market remain favorable, and rising interest rates are driving higher investment yields. These favorable impacts were partially offset by the Fund’s higher exposure to Financials given the banking turmoil associated with the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank weighed heavily on the sector. Within Communication Services, higher exposure to this better performing sector combined with sharp gains from satellite communications company Iridium Communications Inc. and digital music service leader Spotify Technology S.A. bolstered performance. Iridium’s shares increased after the company announced a strategic partnership with Qualcomm aimed at integrating the company’s satellite communication technology into Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chip series, while Spotify’s stock rose in response to above-consensus subscriber additions and the ongoing implementation of cost discipline measures.
Stock-specific strength in IT related to gains from physics-based simulation software provider ANSYS, Inc. and P&C insurance software vendor Guidewire Software, Inc. was partly offset by the Fund’s lack of exposure to strong performing semiconductor & semiconductor equipment stocks. ANSYS reported another robust quarter as the company continues to benefit from strong secular trends, a broad product line, solid execution, and its strategic relationship with its customers. Together, these attributes have helped the company to generate resilient growth across revenue and cash generation that, despite foreign exchange and Russia-related headwinds, came in well above analyst expectations. During the quarter, Guidewire’s largest competitor was acquired by a private equity firm at a meaningful premium to Guidewire’s current valuation. We believe this acquisition will help further enhance Guidewire’s win rates and pricing power while also illustrating the significant multiple expansion opportunity embedded in its current share price.
The above-mentioned gains were somewhat offset by weakness in Industrials and Real Estate. Stock selection in Industrials was a material drag on performance owing largely to the underperformance of CoStar Group, Inc., the leading provider of information and marketing services to the commercial real estate industry. CoStar was the largest detractor after earnings and guidance fell short of Street expectations due to aggressive investment in the company’s residential real estate segment. We estimate CoStar invested around $230 million to build out its residential marketing platform in 2022, and its initial 2023 guidance implies a total investment approaching $500 million. While this is a significant upfront commitment, we believe the residential market represents a transformative opportunity. The company’s proprietary data, broker-oriented approach, and best-in-class management position it to succeed in this endeavor, in our view. Performance in Real Estate was hampered by coastal-focused office REIT Douglas Emmett, Inc. and life sciences REIT Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. Douglas Emmett’s stock declined given challenging business fundamentals, driven by slower leasing activity, elevated vacancies, and diminished pricing power across the company's submarkets. We remain optimistic about the company's long-term business prospects, owing to its irreplaceable portfolio in supply-constrained markets and manageable debt levels, and we view the current valuation as highly discounted. Alexandria’s shares were pressured by concerns that tighter lending conditions for the biotechnology segment could lead to diminished leasing activity across the company’s real estate footprint. Additionally, the amount of new life science office buildings slated to come online over the next couple years remains elevated, which could weigh on rents across Alexandria's markets. We remain positive about Alexandria's prospects given its irreplaceable portfolio of life science clusters that benefit from long-term secular demand tailwinds and meaningful land holdings that support incremental growth. Alexandria's portfolio also has a proven history of resilient performance during challenging economic periods.
Investors should consider the investment objectives, risks, and charges and expenses of the investment carefully before investing. The prospectus and summary prospectuses contain this and other information about the Funds. You may obtain them from the Funds’ distributor, Baron Capital, Inc., by calling 1-800-99BARON or visiting www.BaronFunds.com. Please read them carefully before investing.
The performance data quoted represents past performance. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. The investment return and principal value of an investment will fluctuate; an investor's shares, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original cost. The Fund’s transfer agency expenses may be reduced by expense offsets from an unaffiliated transfer agent, without which performance would have been lower. Current performance may be lower or higher than the performance data quoted.
Risks:All investments are subject to risk and may lose value.
The discussion of market trends is not intended as advice to any person regarding the advisability of investing in any particular security. The views expressed on this page reflect those of the respective writer. Some of our comments are based on management expectations and are considered “forward-looking statements.” Actual future results, however, may prove to be different from our expectations. Our views are a reflection of our best judgment at the time and are subject to change at any time based on market and other conditions and Baron has no obligation to update them
Portfolio holdings are subject to change. Current and future portfolio holdings are subject to risk.
The index performance is not fund performance; one cannot invest directly into an index.