While running errands on the weekend, money manager Stan Wong will sometimes get approached by an investor looking for advice on a specific stock or sector.
“I’ll be at Costco, and someone will stop me because they’ve seen me on TV and ask me questions like: ‘Should I buy this stock? Or should I buy bitcoin?’” says Mr. Wong, a portfolio manager at Scotia Wealth Management who regularly appears on the business channel BNN Bloomberg. “It’s difficult because I need to understand their total situation and what they’re trying to achieve.”
His answer is usually “it depends” and a recommendation they talk to an investment professional who can assess their personal circumstances before providing any advice.
“It’s no different than getting medical advice from a doctor or legal guidance from a lawyer or repair service from your car mechanic,” he says.
Mr. Wong is an active investor who oversees about $400-million in assets for clients, including executives, professionals and high-net-worth families. He doesn’t adhere to a particular investment style.
“I prefer to identify the market trends as they emerge throughout the economic cycle,” he says, adding the current bent is toward value stocks. “Financials, energy, materials and health care are my top sectors right now.”
Mr. Wong runs seven different types of portfolios that range from very conservative (20 per cent equity and 80 per cent fixed income) to 100 per cent equities. His all-equity portfolio – which currently includes about 57 per cent U.S. names, 32 per cent Canadian and 11 per cent international – had a total return of about 20 per cent over the past year as of March 31.
The Globe and Mail recently spoke to Mr. Wong about what he has been buying and selling, and the Warren Buffett quote he recites to some family and friends seeking investment advice:
What’s your take on the markets today?
I believe that rising interest rates, inflation concerns and geopolitical pressures will likely keep volatility levels elevated this year. However, I am constructive on the equity markets as the global economy emerges from the pandemic-induced lockdowns and continues to rebuild and reopen. Global supply chain disruptions are expected to ease later this year, which will allow inflationary trends to alleviate. I also think some of the recent chatter about a possible recession in the near term is premature.
What have you been buying?
I’ve been pivoting from growth to value stocks, tilting mostly to cyclical sectors. Nutrien is one example of a stock I’ve been buying since last year. It’s the world’s largest fertilizer producer by capacity and the largest agricultural retailer in the U.S. The company is trading around all-time highs, benefiting from agriculture supply issues resulting from the Russia-Ukraine war. I believe it will also benefit long-term, as global crop yields need to increase to feed a growing global population. The company recently signalled strong guidance and announced a stock buyback of 10 per cent of its shares. It also pays a 1.7 per cent dividend yield.
Energy is another area that I like. Despite the recent move in energy stocks, the sector looks attractive from a valuation perspective relative to other sectors. I don’t think the share prices have kept up with rising earnings forecasts and oil prices. Rising inflation and interest rates also bode well, in general, for the sector. Some of the names we own include Canadian Natural Resources and Suncor, based in Canada, and U.S.-based companies like ConocoPhillips and Chevron.
In health care, I have been adding to my position in Pfizer. Its COVID-19 vaccine and antiviral treatment have been a phenomenal success. I also like it for its drug pipeline, including a very interesting cardiovascular drug for rare heart diseases that looks very promising and should be a catalyst for positive earnings going forward. The company also has a very strong balance sheet and pays a yield of 3 per cent. Pfizer is one of several health care companies we own. The sector is also largely sheltered from geopolitical events and many of the larger ones have healthy dividend yields.
What have you been selling?
I’ve reduced my technology exposure, particularly in names with higher valuation multiples. Netflix, PayPal and Adobe are three positions that I closed out of in recent months. This week, Netflix’s disappointing news of subscriber losses and dramatic share-price drop underscores the wavering sentiment in technology names. Netflix shares are now down 68 per cent from their all-time high. I still own other tech names like Nvidia, Google-parent Alphabet and Microsoft. I wanted to keep a bit of a weighting in tech, but Netflix, PayPal and Adobe had higher valuations than the rest so, by process of elimination, those are three that I cut.
What do you say to family and friends who may expect more detailed investment advice?
The first thing is to try to leave emotion out of the investment process and not to panic during times of market stress. If emotion absolutely needs to be involved, remember to take a page out of Warren Buffett’s book and “be fearful when others are greedy and be greedy when others are fearful.” And that’s why investing is difficult. The market always climbs a wall of worry; there hasn’t been a year that I can remember in my 25 years of doing this that there wasn’t something to worry about.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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