Why active management matters for US equities

Wider valuation and performance dispersion, elevated market concentration and potentially higher-for-longer interest rates underscore the importance of an active approach to engage opportunities and manage risks in the US stock market.

Important Information
1.  The Fund invests primarily in a concentrated portfolio of US companies.
2. The Fund is therefore exposed to risks related to equity, concentration, currency, derivative, hedging, class currency and currency hedged share classes. For currency hedged share classes, the currency hedging process may not give a precise hedge and there is no guarantee that the hedging will be totally successful.
3. The Fund may at its discretion pay dividends out of capital. The Fund may also at its discretion pay dividends out of gross income while charging all or part of the Fund’s fees and expenses to the capital of the Fund, resulting in an increase in distributable amount for the payment of dividends and therefore, effectively paying dividends out of realised, unrealised capital gains or capital. Investors should note that, share classes of the Fund which pay dividends may distribute not only investment income, but also realised and unrealised capital gains or capital. Payment of dividends out of capital amounts to a return or withdrawal of part of an investor’s original investment or from any capital gains attributable to that original investment. Any dividend payments, irrespective of whether such payment is made up or effectively made up out of income, realised and unrealised capital gains or capital, may result in an immediate reduction of the net asset value per share. Also, a positive distribution yield does not imply a positive return on the total investment.
4. Investors may be subject to substantial losses.
5. Investors should not solely rely on this document to make any investment decision.

Looking beyond valuations

A common refrain about investing in US stocks is valuations. As illustrated in the chart below, the valuation of the S&P 500 index appears relatively extended versus its own history and other regional markets. 

As of 31.03.2024, the S&P 500 index is trading at around 21x forward price-to-earnings (P/E), meaningfully above its past 15-year average1. This compares unfavourably to other regional equity markets such as Europe, Asia Pacific ex-Japan, Japan, and Emerging Markets where P/E valuations are closer to their respective past 15-year averages.

Yet this belies the fact that there is wide dispersion in valuations within the S&P 500 index itself. As the chart below illustrates, there is a wide divergence between the valuations of the top 10 largest constituents of the index and its remaining members1

Indeed, the higher valuation of the overall index can be explained by rising market concentration of the 10 largest stocks by market capitalisation. Accounting for over 33% of the overall index2, the ebb and flow of these 10 stock names could affect headline numbers, potentially masking interesting opportunities under the hood. 

The collective influence of the 10 largest stocks is not insignificant. Case-in-point, while the S&P 500 index climbed 24% in 2023, it was a narrow-breadth rally with the top 10 stocks accounting for about 86% of the annual price return3.

Looking under the hood to differentiate opportunities

Yet in the first quarter of this year, we’ve observed a dispersion in the performance of the 10 largest US stocks, with some names scaling new heights while others seemingly struggle to break through4. Coupled with the wide dispersion of intra-sector valuations, an active approach could be useful to seek out mispriced opportunities.

Moreover, a changing macroeconomic environment marked by higher-for-longer interest rates, higher cost of capital and elevated geopolitical risks could present challenges for various sectors and companies – some more so than others – and invariably create potential winners and losers. This underscores the importance of a robust investment process to help manage risks and differentiate opportunities from the bottom-up. 

Harnessing a time-tested approach to investing in US equities

To that end, the JPMorgan Funds – America Equity Fund (“the Fund”) leverages a systematic, disciplined and rigorous fundamental research process to seek out high conviction ideas from the ground-up, across both growth and value investment universes5

  • On the growth side of the portfolio, the Fund seeks out durable franchises with large and/or growing addressable markets, sustainable competitive advantages and robust management teams.
  • On the value side, the Fund seeks out durable businesses with solid cash flows and attractive valuations.  

Through a focused portfolio of around 20 to 40 stocks that blends high conviction value and growth ideas5, the Fund has been able to achieve competitive returns over time.

Take the A (dist) – USD share class as an example. As of 31.03.2024, the Fund has outperformed the S&P 500 benchmark across the 1-, 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-year time horizons as well as since inception6, with returns driven by active management. (Click here to check the latest performance of the Fund.)

Active management for active markets

Index concentration, valuation and performance dispersion, and fast changing macro-economic conditions describe a market environment that requires an active approach, in our view. It underscores the importance of staying active to manage risks and seek out quality opportunities. An active approach supported by a robust bottom-up fundamental research process, can be useful to uncover lesser known, higher quality names that could present enduring opportunities for consistent returns.