Brexit Selloff Brings Out Contrarian Instincts Among Some Investors

Jun 24 2016 | 2:51pm ET

By David Randall (Reuters) - Britain's unexpected decision to leave the European Union spurred a global stock market selloff that has inspired some opportunistic U.S. investors to move in the opposite direction.

Operating on the belief that the initial rout might be an overreaction, even in some European stocks, several fund managers said on Friday they were buying up shares of big blue chips, domestic companies that are insulated from a lot of European activity and even European companies that might have been oversold.

"We are looking to put cash to work in some of our favorite companies which are cheaper today," said Kevin Dreyer, the co-chief investment officer at Gamco Investors Inc, noting holdings such as razor blade and sunscreen-maker Edgewell Personal Care that were down more than 3 percent in morning trading.

The benchmark S&P 500 was also down about 3 percent in midday trading.

Still, some investors gravitated toward U.S. companies that are relatively insulated from Europe and can withstand what many expect are coming referendums in France and Scotland over their EU membership, as well as a summer that is expected to remain volatile at least until the U.S. presidential election in November.

U.S. stocks and bonds are a "great" buying opportunity on Brexit, said Gregory Peters, a senior investment officer at Prudential Fixed Income with more than $621 billion of assets.

"Uncertainty will be a multi-year event, which will clearly benefit the U.S. from rates to risk assets (except for financials), as the U.S. will benefit from capital flows," he said.

Several fund managers said they were drawn to U.S. companies that had little exposure to Europe.

John Boland of Maple Capital Management, an investment manager based in Vermont, said his firm has been considering some stocks that look too beaten-down because of Brexit-induced turmoil. For example, he bought shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill when it was below $400 a share early Friday.

“They’re a U.S.-focused company, so it was illogical for them to be down. That’s what we’re looking for, companies that have no ties or minimal ties to the EU market,” Boland said.

Salesforce.com "looks to be the most mispriced based on the Brexit vote" among technology stocks because Europe accounts for only 17 percent of its revenue, FBN Securities said. And Gary Bradshaw, a portfolio manager at Hodges Capital Management, said he had put in buy orders Friday for companies such as Home Depot that are more domestically oriented.

Those who did take a chance on European shares during a selloff that sent the Euro Stoxx 50 index of blue-chips down about 7 percent said they focused on housing and infrastructure companies that could come out of any 'Brexit'-induced recession in a better position.

"There's a significant demand for new housing in Britain, any new government will support it, and interest rates will remain close to zero. The housing companies with strong balance sheets will only get bigger, stronger and better after this," said Sammy Simnegar, portfolio manager of the Fidelity International Capital Appreciation fund.

British homebuilder stocks were particularly hard hit Friday, with Taylor Wimpey dropping 29 percent and Berkeley Group Holdings losing 21 percent.

Michael Underhill, a portfolio manager at RidgeWorth Investments, said that he was buying shares of Groupe Eurotunnel, which fell 14.5 percent, and Italian airport operator Atlantia SpA, which declined 9 percent, because he expects the market is over exaggerating the impact that the so-called 'Brexit' will have on European travel.

"You will see some more passport controls and higher security, but at the end of the day the business of logistics and travel will keep grinding higher," he said.


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