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5 Value Stocks With Oakmark’s Bill Nygren

A look at some of Nygren’s favorite stocks, including Alphabet, ConocoPhillips, and First Citizens BancShares.

Securities In This Article
First Citizens BancShares Inc Class A
First Citizens BancShares Inc Class B
Alphabet Inc Class A
Oakmark Investor

When it comes to picking value stocks, few can match the long-term track record of Oakmark fund manager Bill Nygren.

With more than four decades in the industry, Nygren is no stranger to the ups and downs of the markets and his funds’ performance. But since stepping into the role of a manager on the now $18.1 billion Oakmark OAKMX fund in early 2000, the fund has the second-best track record among large-value funds. Nygren’s other charge, the $5.1 billion Oakmark Select OAKLX strategy, has had a more volatile run but still has outperformed most large-value funds over his tenure on it.

“Value investors often take rough roads, but veteran investor Bill Nygren and his colleagues can navigate them successfully,” writes Morningstar associate director Tony Thomas.

We asked Nygren to talk through his investment thesis for five stocks: two that have done well in the past year, one that has struggled, and two more of his choosing.

5 Stocks from Oakmark's Bill Nygren

Table with key Morningstar statistics on 5 stocks from Bill Nygren's Oakmark funds

Chicago-based Harris Associates, the firm that manages Oakmark Funds, is a value-investing shop at its core. “Whether you’re talking international or domestic stocks or bonds, every security that we own, there’s a value rationale for owning it,” Nygren says.

Nygren breaks down the process on the stock side into three prongs. The first is that the stock needs to be trading at a less than two thirds of what they assess the company’s “business value” to be. That business value is their estimate of the highest prices that an outsider would pay for the company and still expect to earn a reasonable return on investment.

The second requirement is that the companies have a combination of expected per-share growth and dividend yield that at least matches the S&P 500. With the S&P 500 expected to return 5% or 6% a year, and a dividend yield of roughly 2%, they look for a company to at least generate a return of 7% to 8%.

Oakmark Fund Key Stats

Highlights of key Morningstar statistics for Oakmark Fund

Lastly, there is a qualitative assessment of company management. “The third thing we look for is management that acts like owners we can trust, unlike professional managers whose primary objective is often to grow their kingdom,” Nygren says. “We want managers that are trying to maximize long-term per-share value of the company.”

One other aspect of the process is to look beyond traditional generally accepted accounting principles—known as GAAP—when valuing stocks.

For example, when Netflix NFLX—a holding in Oakmark since 2017—adds customers, the cost of bringing in those subscribers is reflected on the company’s income statement, but GAAP accounting doesn’t give credit for the revenue brought in down the road.

But at Harris, the firm adjusts valuations in order to factor in the benefits of spending on research and development or customer acquisition—what Nygren calls “venture capital spending.” That means that some stocks that appear expensive on a traditional price/earnings ratio measure will find their way into the Oakmark portfolios.

5 Stocks From Oakmark's Bill Nygren

Two stocks that have been winners for Oakmark:

Alphabet GOOG, GOOGL

Google’s parent company Alphabet is the largest holding in both Oakmark and Oakmark Select, and for Harris Associates more broadly. It’s a stock that Oakmark Fund first bought in 2011 when the shares were trading in the neighborhood of $25. Alphabet stock now changes hands around $124 per share.

“Our thesis for owning Alphabet has been the same since we originally purchased it: GAAP accounting does not give them credit for the venture capital spending that they’re doing in areas like Waymo, for autonomous cars, or in artificial intelligence, where we think investors have come around to the point of view this year that Alphabet may not be behind at all,” says Nygren.

In addition, Alphabet has also consistently had a large amount of cash on the balance sheet that is generating substantial interest income, Nygren says.

Based on traditional accounting measures, Alphabet is trading at a price/earnings ratio of 23, well above the market. But when Harris factors in the investments in the nonsearch businesses of Google, along with the cash holdings and other elements, it arrives at a price/earnings ratio of roughly 14 times. “In our opinion, to not own Alphabet today, you would need to believe that it can’t grow as rapidly as the S&P 500.”

One other twist in its approach to Alphabet is to own the voting GOOGL share class of stock, rather than the GOOG shares, which come without voting rights. The nonvoting shares are economically identical, entitled to the same dividends, same cash flows,” Nygren notes. However, “the voting shares trade 1% cheaper.”

First Citizens BancShares FCNCA, FCNCB

“If you asked 100 people who Jamie Dimon is, you’d get 100 answers. But if you asked the same question about who Frank Holding is, you’d get 95 blank stares,” Nygren says.

The answer is that Frank B. Holding Jr. is chief executive of what is now the 15th largest bank in the country, First Citizens BancShares. Its shares, Nygren says, have been the best performing bank stock since 2008. This year, First Citizens BancShares stock has surged more than 67%.

Founded 125 years ago and run by three generations of Holdings since 1935, First Citizens has for the most part flown under the radar. “It’s probably the largest unknown company in the banking industry,” Nygren says.

That changed somewhat in March of this year, when First Citizens stepped in to acquire Silicon Valley Bank after it collapsed and was taken over by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. “They have one of the oddest core competencies I’ve ever seen for a bank,” Nygren says. “They are the leader at purchasing failed banks from the FDIC,” with more than a dozen such acquisitions in the past 15 years, he says.

The bank’s stock is cheap in their estimation, changing hands around $1,250 per share. Even with this year’s rally, “at its current price, it is trading below an about $1,400 tangible book value, and it’s expected to earn about $160 per share this year,” Nygren says.

Similar to the story with Alphabet, Oakmark owns the bank’s class B shares, which come with super-voting rights but trade at roughly a 10% discount to regular Class A shares. The class B shares are very illiquid, which Nygren says likely accounts for the discount.

A stock that hasn’t worked:

Lithia Motors LAD

Founded in 1946, Lithia is the largest U.S. auto dealer, with roughly 300 stores in 28 states plus Canada. In the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, when used-car prices skyrocketed, Lithia’s stock surged to a high of $418 in March 2021 from under $70 a year earlier. But as car prices have come back to earth and worries about a recession have grown, the stock has stumbled. It’s now trading at roughly $232.

“We got interested last year after the stock fell under $300,” Nygren says. “It was trading in the high $200 with trailing earnings of over $40 a share and anticipated future earnings in the mid $30s.”

Lithia’s core business model has been that of a consolidator of dealerships. “When the owner nearing retirement doesn’t have a successor there, (Lithia) will … bring it into their own system, increase the sales. They’ve got their policies they use to maximize service revenue, maximize used-car sales, also maximize new-car sales. So after they purchase, they increase the sales, they also increase the margins.” Nygren says. “And in the past 11 years, earnings are growing thirteenfold and sales have grown tenfold”—much faster than the auto industry in general.

However, Lithia shares have struggled. For “almost anything auto-related, it’s been a tough year,” Nygren says. That’s largely due to fears of a recession, along with softening used-car prices and lingering supply-chain issues that have hampered the availability of semiconductor chips for new cars.

Meanwhile, Nygren says some observers are raising concerns about the long-term viability of dealerships because electric vehicles require less regular servicing—a major source of revenue—than internal combustion engine cars.

But Nygren says that even with greater adoption of electric vehicles, “it’s going to be a very long time until the internal combustion engine cars are off the road and not requiring servicing. So I think those are the risks that get people who are more concept-oriented to steer away from, and this leaves the stock to those handful of us that are still long term, fundamental value investors.”

Two more stocks from Nygren:

Capital One Financial COF

While it’s been a tough 2023 for many banks, Capital One stock has kept pace with the overall market, in part thanks to a pop higher in mid-May on news that Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway had taken a stake in the company.

Trading at roughly $105 a share, tangible book value on the company is $99 per share, and it’s trading at roughly 7.5% expected earnings, Nygren says.

“Capital One is very different from the banks that investors have been worried about,” Nygren says. Unlike some struggling regional banks, Capital One is not sitting with big losses on their government-bond portfolios, he says. At the same time, the mark to market on its loans—which is primarily composed of credit card receivables and auto loans—is showing a profit, Nygren says.

While there may be concerns about the impact of any recession on Capital One’s client base—which tends to be borrowers with lower credit scores and not the wealthier customers sought by the big retail banks—Nygren thinks those concerns are overblown. He points to a continued strong jobs labor market where lower-paid workers are in high demand. “I think it’s entirely possible that the bottom half of Capital One’s customer base comes through this next recession relatively unscathed,” he says.

ConocoPhillips COP

For Nygren, much of the thesis behind owning ConocoPhillips stock is the company’s focus on returning capital to shareholders.

“One of many things we like about this management team is they are comfortable making long-term forecasts,” he says. “At their analyst day, they said if oil averages $70 a barrel over the next decade, which is actually a little bit below where it is right now and certainly no adjustment for inflation, they will pay out 50% of their operating cash flow to shareholders either through stock repurchases or dividends.”

“They expect that they would pay out $130 a share and that they would end the decade a business that is 50% larger than it is today,” he says.

Nygren compares that potential return with that of 10-year Treasury bonds yielding 4% a year, where investors would collect a little under 40% of their original investment over the life of the original investment plus a return of the original investment. However, bond investors are exposed to inflation risk, he notes.

“That contrasts with ConocoPhillips where you get about 125% back at the end of that 10-year period and your investment would be worth 50% more than it is today,” he says. “I think that’s a pretty stunning comparison, and ConocoPhillips gives you good inflation protection.”

Correction: (June 1, 2023): A previous version of this article incorrectly said that Oakmark owns the nonvoting share class of Alphabet, GOOG. The fund owns the GOOGL share class, which comes with shareholder voting rights.

The author or authors do not own shares in any securities mentioned in this article. Find out about Morningstar’s editorial policies.

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