MetLife MFC’s Vasileios Antoniadis made money in Greek stocks even as the country’s drawn-out bailout talks with creditors roiled markets. None of his peers did.
His MetLife Alico M&S Domestic Equity fund has increased 4.8 percent this year, the only one to gain among 35 focused on Greece, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The rest lost 15 percent on average, with the worst among them giving up as much as 28 percent. The benchmark ASE Index slid 18 percent as months of negotiations and capital controls spurred fears Greece may leave the euro.
In hindsight, his strategy seems simple. In his own words, “very obvious.” He avoided banks and consumer companies, betting they would be the most hurt in a crisis, and bought shares he thought were undervalued based on earnings and the management’s track record. His fund’s biggest positions are in Hellenic Petroleum SA, Hellenic Exchanges SA and Mytilineos Holdings SA, which gained 9 percent on average this year.
“There are plenty of healthy companies to invest in,” said Antoniadis, who has been chief investment officer at MetLife Inc.’s Greek unit since 2008. “I’m referring to profitable companies with growth prospects and decent cash flows, minimal or even no leverage which are traded at a discount of their net worth and with single multiples.”
The 45-year-old fund manager, who helps oversee 19.3 million euros ($21.5 million) at MetLife MFC, has managed money in Greece for almost half his life. He maintains an overweight position in commodity producers and technology stocks relative to the Hellenic Mid & Small Cap Index.
When things turned sour and the stock exchange closed while protesters in Athens clashed with riot police, Antoniadis kept his cool and his key holdings unchanged.
“It’s a continuous process of gaining experience,” Antoniadis said by phone from Athens. “It’s different from the beginning of my career back in 1994. At that time, markets didn’t have this depth, all these participants and technology.”
Antoniadis began his career at NBG Asset Management MFMC, Greece’s first mutual-fund company, which manages assets of the National Bank of Greece SA. He also worked as CIO at Marfin MFC, now known as CPB Asset Management.
Greek banks have tumbled 69 percent and this year, and consumer-discretionary companies have fallen more than 10 percent. Funds with the biggest losses were the most overweight in those industries, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
While lenders bore the brunt of Greece’s turmoil, almost than half the stocks on the ASE have gained this year. Antoniadis calls Hellenic Exchanges a “cash-cow story” whose stock pays a 4.4 percent dividend yield, and a proxy for the banking sector minus the associated risks.
The operator of the Athens bourse held cash and equivalents of 151 million euros at the end of June, or 48 percent of its market value, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The stock has rallied 3.9 percent in 2015.
Another of his holdings, Hellenic Petroleum, has surged 13 percent this year. It swung to profit in the first three months of 2015 after five straight quarters of losses. Antoniadis estimates it’s trading at a 30 percent discount to its net worth and is betting results will keep improving after it upgraded one of its units.
He also favors Mytilineos, up 11 percent this year, for its profitability and low level of debt relative to earnings. His fund’s other holdings include power distributor Public Power Corp., holding company Lamda Development SA and Hellenic Aluminum Industry SA.
While Antoniadis’s picks are paying off this year, the fund lost 32 percent in 2014, more than the 29 percent drop for the ASE. He remains hopeful for Greece’s prospects. The country’s economy expanded in the second quarter, surprising forecasters who had called for a contraction.
Other fund managers are starting to come around. Greek equity funds had the biggest inflows in Europe as a proportion of assets under management in the week ended Aug. 12, according to the latest data from EPFR Global.
“Greece will face hard times in the short term due to austerity measures,” Antoniadis said. “But should reforms be implemented in the right way this time, I remain optimistic in the long run.”