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Long-time Morningstar Wide Moat Focus Index (the “Moat Index” or “Index”) component Compass Minerals (CMP) received its fair share of attention in July after announcing the identification of a lithium brine resource with approximately 2.4 million metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent at its active Ogden, UT solar evaporation site. CMP’s management is exploring strategic options for the lithium, and Morningstar’s base case assumes CMP will partner with another company on the project and pursue direct lithium extraction technology to produce lithium as a byproduct from its brine resources.
This news preceded a boost that lithium producer stocks received in late July, following the news that the U.S. infrastructure bill was advancing in the Senate. The bill features $7.5 billion of funds that would be used to build 500,000 high-powered electric vehicle chargers throughout the country, according to Morningstar. Morningstar had already incorporated this information into their lithium price assumptions and ultimately increased CMP’s fair value estimate from $78 to $88 per share earlier in July. Despite the rally, CMP shares remained notably undervalued at the end of the month, according to Morningstar.
The Moat Index modestly underperformed the S&P 500® Index in July (1.99% vs. 2.38%, respectively). However, the Index remained ahead of the S&P 500 Index by over 4.0% year to date through July (22.16% vs. 17.99%, respectively).
Outside of Compass Minerals’ strong month, several Moat Index constituents also stood out. Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL) was added to the Index in both December 2020 and March 2021 at what were attractive valuations. Since that point Morningstar has increased GOOGL’s fair value estimate to $2,955 and $3,200 in April and July, respectively. Shares remained roughly 15% undervalued at the end of July, according to Morningstar.
Pfizer Inc. (PFE) was another standout in July. The company reported strong second quarter results ahead of Morningstar’s expectations, buoyed by exceptionally strong COVID-19 vaccine sales as well as solid growth from the core portfolio. Additionally, Morningstar increased its fair value estimate to $42 per share from $40 based on the strong traction Pfizer is showing coming out of the pandemic midway through 2021, with currently marketed drugs as well as pipeline advancements.
Blackbaud Inc. (BLKB) slid following a strong June for the company’s share price. As a software company, it contributed to poor stock selection as a whole within the information technology sector in July. Poor stock selection paired with modest sector allocation effect made the tech sector the leading detractor to relative performance versus the S&P 500 Index.
Biogen Inc. (BIIB) was another notable detractor as the company came back to earth following the June surprise FDA approval of its Alzheimer therapy. The headlines focused on the recent approval and controversy that surrounded it, but also notable was the company’s 25% decline in second quarter multiple sclerosis revenue. Despite this decline, Morningstar noted that Biogen's core MS business and expansion into depression, stroke and neurogenerative diseases support a wide moat, and Morningstar maintained its $391 fair value estimate for the company.
Though generally a rare occurrence, from time to time one of the Moat Index’s constituents will see its moat rating drop a notch to narrow. This time Cerner Corp. was downgraded. In late June, Morningstar cited strong switching costs associated with government contracts, but a lack of moat sources in their strategic growth areas such as Software as a Service and data reduced Morningstar’s confidence in the duration of Cerner’s moat. Without a wide moat rating, Cerner can be expected to be removed from the Moat Index in future reviews.
VanEck Morningstar US Wide Moat UCITS ETF (MOAT) seeks to replicate as closely as possible, before fees and expenses the price and yield performance of the Morningstar Wide Moat Focus Index.
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