Financials Dominate Ariel Investments’ Top Holdings

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Now in its thirtieth year of existence, Ariel Investments is a dinosaur relative to some of the fly-by-night funds that have come and gone in the twenty-first century, many of which succumbed to the flight of assets and loss of value during the 2008 market turmoil. Started by Princeton-alum John W. Rogers in 1983, the fund has grown to manage over $4.6bn in assets as of its last 13F filing in September of 2012. Diving into the SEC document let us take a glimpse at his five largest holdings and gave us some insight as to Rogers’ main areas of investment focus.

First American Financial Corp

First American Financial Corp. (NYSE:FAF) tops the list of fund holdings, with approximately 4% of assets employed in the stock. FAF has been one of Roger’s top holdings since early last year, and it has been quite the winner for him. In the last year alone, the stock price has increased 76%, helped along by multiple earnings beats and upgrades by the likes of Barclays. The financial services provider has an alarmingly low PEG of 0.24, but we’re worried that the rise from trailing P/E to forward P/E could be evidenced by a smaller projected stock price in the future. We concur with analysts on the Street that this is a hold and an investor jumping in now may have missed the boat.

Next up is the financial advisory and asset management company Lazard Ltd. (NYSE:LAZ). With clearly defined global streams of business, Lazard has avoided some of the convoluted chaos that claimed some of the world’s largest banks and asset managers. However, the volatility versus the market still exists with the stock’s high beta of 2, and a very high price-to-book ratio of 5.46 throws up some red flags. Despite a respectable gain in 2012, analysts are pulling in the reigns, and we expect the price one year out to be a dollar less than where it’s trading now ($33 versus a close of $34.01 on January 18th) (check out what other insiders think of LAZ here.)

Rogers currently has over $180mm employed in the international media and marketing company Gannett Co Inc (NYSE:GCI), most notably known for publishing the newspaper “USA Today”. Large newspaper players (including competitors News Corp and the New York Times) have been struck with hard times during the rise of the web, but financial metrics look positively upon GCI. While margins may not be as glamorous as before digital circulation, GCI trades at a respectable forward price-to-earnings of 9 and has both positive quarterly earnings and revenue growth over the same period a year prior. In this specific case, Rogers may be chasing the impressive dividend yield of 4%, the highest of his top five holdings.

Read on to see the rest of Ariel’s top stocks.

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