T. Rowe Price's McPherson sees green light for value stocks

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By April Joyner and Ross Kerber

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Economic uncertainty has held back value stocks, but fund manager Heather McPherson of T. Rowe Price Group Inc (O:) sees plenty of opportunity to scoop up undervalued shares, including in the financial and utilities sectors.

Among her picks are American International Group Inc (N:), Wells Fargo & Co (N:) and CenterPoint Energy Inc (N:), she said on Thursday at the Reuters Global Investment Outlook 2020 Summit in New York.

Shares of AIG, along with other property and casualty insurance companies, are poised to rise as concerns related to climate change and litigation drive up pricing, McPherson said. She cited California wildfires and opioid lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies as among events boosting insurers’ pricing power.

“We’re seeing the best pricing that we’ve seen in 15 years,” she said.

McPherson manages T. Rowe’s $750 million U.S. Large Cap Value Equity Fund and helps run a $22 billion strategy with a similar mandate for institutional investors.

(For other news from the Reuters Global Investment Outlook 2020 Summit, click on https://www.reuters.com/summit/investment20)

At a time when net deposits in the mutual funds industry have shifted strongly to passive index products with low fees, McPherson takes a traditional approach, looking for undervalued companies.

Though some of her holdings have underperformed, she sees the tide turning as the industrial sector of the U.S. economy improves and the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy remains accommodative.

“It feels a little bit different here,” she said. “In the mix of that, though, is a lot of regulatory and political uncertainty, which we’re trying to use as an opportunity to buy good companies.”

For McPherson, one such bet is Wells Fargo, the top holding in her fund as of Sept. 30. She said the San Francisco-based bank is well-positioned to finally move beyond a sales practices scandal.

Shares of Wells Fargo were at $54.20 in afternoon trading on Thursday, below the $65 range they reached in early 2018 but above their close of $43.38 on Aug. 15, before Chief Executive Charlie Scharf took over.

The shares represent “one of the best risk-rewards in this space. We think they are coming out of the penalty box,” McPherson said.

Another position in McPherson’s fund is utility CenterPoint Energy Inc (N:) of Houston. Its shares are lower than they were on Feb. 1 when it completed its merger with Indiana-based Vectren Corp.

The deal should help CenterPoint because it will increase the share of its operations focused on power generation, and reduce the impact of its stake in a pipeline company that has turned off investors, she said.

“We’re trying to find these idiosyncratic ideas that look cheap,” she said.

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