Strategic Growth

Aventine Management Group | BCBusiness

Aventine’s BTH Tactical Growth Fund is an investment prescription for weak Canadian markets

Barry Hirowatari has never been particularly impressed with the Canadian stock market. Heavily concentrated and overly reliant on the performance of a few sectors, commodities and large companies, it is among the more volatile developed world equity markets. This message is one that Hirowatari has been communicating to investors for nearly 25 years as a professional investor and portfolio manager.

Hirowatari prefers to invest in more diversified and liquid U.S. equities, focusing on the “mid-cap” market. These are the mid-sized companies that typically have annual revenues of greater than $1 billion but less than $10 billion. These companies are large enough to be stable, profitable and well-managed, yet small enough that they can still grow earnings at 30, 40 or even 50 per cent per year—something that blue chips like IBM and Wal-Mart just can’t do. This is a surprisingly broad and largely unknown market for the average investor. Almost 800 companies meet Hirowatari’s core investment criterion.

Hirowatari believes that these mid-sized companies reside in the economy’s sweet spot—strong enough to weather downturns but still nimble and able to provide significant earnings torque in an improving environment. He feels that there is a tremendous opportunity for Canadian investors, who are overly invested in their home market, to benefit from diversifying into this area. So much opportunity, in fact, that he left his role as portfolio manager and director with a large bank-owned investment firm to partner with an independent boutique and launch his BTH Tactical Growth Fund to invest specifically in this market. 

Hirowatari’s investment process is primarily trend following, and is based on the premise that in order for a company to have superior share price performance it must have superior earnings performance. Therefore, he spends considerable time searching for companies with accelerating earnings profiles, particularly when quarterly results are released. His favorites are those that he calls the “triple beats”—companies that beat the consensus expectation on both revenues and earnings per share, as well as raise their forward earnings guidance. 

Every bit as important as his purchase process is the process behind how and when he will sell positions. Hirowatari follows a rigorous discipline in this regard. He does not “average down” on losing positions and he does not wait for underperforming companies to turn around. Companies whose relative returns begin to lag are put on strict watch and if underperformance persists for longer than a month they are liquidated. The same process is employed at the overall market level. Hirowatari doesn’t hide the fact that he is willing to go to 100 per cent cash if his models signal that some extreme weakness is forthcoming. The intention is to protect investor capital in ongoing bear market periods, in order to prevent a few weeks of losses from becoming months or years of losses. This is the “tactical” element of his tactical growth approach. 

Hirowatari’s fund has been performing at a full gallop recently, returning +23.3 per cent in 2013 as of June 21, versus +17.5 per cent for the S&P500 index in Canadian dollar terms and -3.5 per cent for the TSX Composite index. For the year-to-date period the BTH Tactical Growth Fund is the number one fund in Globe Investor’s North American Equity category, as well as being in the top 25 investment funds available to Canadian investors, from a universe of some 15,000 funds. Launched in 2011, Hirowatari’s fund recently hit its two-year anniversary and was awarded 4-star status by Globe Fund.

By now it should be clear to many investors that the commodity-fuelled outperformance of Canadian equities over the past decade is in the rear-view mirror. A softening real estate market, weak commodity prices, a falling dollar, rising interest rates and lack of business investment are just a few of the headwinds facing investors. Successfully growing your investment capital in this environment is likely to require a significant shift in strategy from what worked well in the past.  Now is the time for Canadian investors to take an earnest look at diversifying their investment portfolios into strategies that can both deliver growth and preserve their capital in a less certain investment climate. 

To learn more about the BTH Tactical Growth Fund or Aventine Management Group, visit