FUND WATCH


A Simple Strategy for Fidelity Value Strategies

Manuel Schiffres

Matt Friedman's sound and disciplined stock-picking approach has produced solid results for this fund.



Matt Friedman keeps it simple.

Friedman, who has been running Fidelity Value Strategies since July 2006, works with a list of about 2,000 stocks. For every stock, there is a price (shown in green) at which Friedman is a buyer and a price (shown in red) at which he is a seller. If a stock in Friedman's universe approaches the green target, he starts to accumulate shares. If a stock he holds approaches the red target, he starts to sell.

"My view is that over time, everything reverts to the mean," Friedman says. "Over time if investors make too much money in a sector, people will put in too much capital and eventually returns revert to the mean."

So far, his strategy has produced solid results. Over the past year through August 29, Value Strategies (symbol FSLSX) returned 20%. That beat the S&P 500 by 5.5 percentage points and the Russell 2000 Midcap Value Index by 8 percentage points.

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Despite his relatively brief tenure on Value Strategies, Friedman is no stockpicking novice. Like most other managers of diversified Fidelity stock funds, he climbed through the ranks as an analyst and manager of Fidelity sector funds.

Since joining Fidelity in 1999, he has managed Select Multimedia, Select Chemicals, Select Natural Gas and Select Cyclical Industries. Before joining Fidelity, Friedman analyzed financial-services companies for Lehman Brothers. Friedman also has been running Fidelity Value fund (FDVLX) while its longtime manager, Rich Fentin, has been on sabbatical.

Friedman considers stocks with market values of $2 billion to $20 billion to be his "sweet spot." But he's willing to invest in stocks with market caps outside that range if he finds a compelling value. For instance, last year, he owned shares of megacap Google (GOOG), although he no longer owns them because the stock hit his price target. Wal-Mart (WMT), another behemoth, "is not in my sweet spot, but if the stock ever got to 13 times earnings, I'd be a buyer."

Speaking of Wal-Mart, it was indirectly involved in creating the opportunity that led to one of Friedman's better picks, Winn-Dixie Stores (WINN). With the stock in the teens, he started investing in the grocery chain last year after it emerged from bankruptcy reorganization. "This was a troubled company," Friedman says. "It had too much debt and something like 1,500 stores, and competition from Wal-Mart essentially put it into bankruptcy."

Winn-Dixie emerged from bankruptcy last year with roughly 500 stores and no debt and, he says, is using its cash flow to remodel the remaining stores. Says Friedman: "When I purchased the stock, I thought, 'If the company could generate just half the profit margin of Safeway, the stock could double.'" (The stock did roughly double after Winn-Dixie emerged from bankruptcy. However, it fell 18% on August 28 after the company disclosed that it expected to suffer a loss in the fiscal year that ends next June. Fidelity declined to comment on any recent moves Friedman may have made with his Winn-Dixie shares.)

Although its performance over most of the past year has been sluggish, Friedman remains bullish on office-products retailer Staples (SPLS). "Most people consider Staples to be a growth stock, but it trades at just 13 times earnings and it just grew earnings by 13% in the last quarter," he says. "It's a category leader, has high profit margins, strong free cash flow and a strong balance sheet."

Friedman doesn't make big-picture calls but allows that some themes are evident in the makeup of Value Strategies. He holds electric utilities with significant nuclear-energy production: Entergy (ETR) and Exelon (EXC), for example -- because the "world is going more green" and a system of carbon credits is likely coming to U.S. utilities.

Friedman is also bullish on natural gas because of growing demand for it as a source of fuel for power plants and for extraction of oil from tar sands and because of the declining number of rigs searching for gas, which means that supply is unlikely to shoot up. Among natural gas plays he owns are EOG Resources (EOG), EXCO Resources (XCO) and Ultra Petroleum (UPL).

The various versions of Value Strategies contain about $3 billion in assets combined. Friedman holds about 300 stocks and he expects annual turnover about 100%, meaning that, on average, he will replace every stock once a year. As a matter of policy, Friedman keeps his cash position to a minimum. The fund's expense ratio is a below-average 0.91%.

Friedman is enthusiastic about his work. "I love stocks" and "I love this fund," he says. Despite being the father of a nearly five-month-old baby -- his wife is a high-yield bond fund manager at Pioneer, which, like Fidelity, is based in Boston -- Friedman keeps long hours. He normally gets in to work at 7 a.m., leaves at 6 p.m. and puts in three more hours at home after baby Eli goes to sleep.

Friedman notes, too, that he has "a bunch" of his own money in Value Strategies. Since this is his first shot at a diversified fund, you may not want to bet the ranch on Value Strategies. But given Friedman's enthusiasm, his access to Fidelity's talented analysts and what appears to be a sound and disciplined approach to picking stocks, Value Strategies is worth considering for the part of your money dedicated to midsize value stocks.



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