TIAA-CREF: What This $8.6 Billion Trust Has Been Selling

By Markets Fool.com


Source: TIAA-CREF

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Every quarter, many money managers have to disclose what they've bought and sold via "13F" filings. Their latest moves can shine a bright light on smart stock picks.

Today let's look at the TIAA-CREF Trust Co. This trust is run by TIAA-CREF, which offers financial services to those in the fields of education, medicine, culture, and research. Almost 100 years old, it has a solid reputation: 71% of its funds earn four or five stars in Morningstarratings. The TIAA-CREF Trust Co. manages much of TIAA-CREF's client money, and its reportable stock portfolio totaled $8.6 billion in value as of March 31.

Interesting developments
So what does TIAA-CREF Trust's latest quarterly 13F filing tell us? Here are a few interesting details: It pared back its position in Hewlett-Packard Company by 53% and sold out entirely of Kellogg Company , Alcoa , and Transocean LTD .

Hewlett-Packard Company's revenue has been shrinking for the past few years now, and in its latest quarter, even its printing division, which contributes the most to revenue, posted a 5% year-over-year loss. Like other computer companies, HP is struggling in an increasingly mobile world.

How is HP responding? For one, its printing and PC business will split from the technical-services business by the end of the year. Bulls favor this move, as the service business enjoys wider profit margins than the hardware business. Right now, though, HP is sputtering and losing ground to cloud-based services (while choosing not to be a public cloud company), and it has laid off tens of thousands of its workers. Whether the leaner organization can become consistently profitable remains to be seen.

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Whitman is also aiming to unlockvalue by sellingoff a majority stake in its China operations for $2.3 billion, anticipating that leaving more control in the hands of local companies will spur more growth. Other growth initiatives include 3D printing, though some are not encouraged by the company's anemic R&D spending. And HP is still the market leader in global servers with a 28% share, and industry standard servers posted 17% year-over-year sales growth in the quarter. With ample cash and profits, HP has the potential to turn its business around. Yet many are choosing to wait and see, and TIAA-CREF seems to be among them.

Kellogg is introducing new products as it tries to boost sales. Source: Flickr user Mike Mozart.

Kellogg Company also sports some worrisome numbers, with recent years featuring shrinking revenue, free cash flow, gross margins, and net margins. The company has been fighting weak sales while also facing currency-translation headwinds. In its last quarter, earnings sank 44% over year-earlier levels, and revenue dropped 5%. That was actually better than some analysts had expected, though. Revenue growth has been in the double digits in Latin America and Asia, while merely in the low single digits in Europe.

Kellogg is trying to adapt to changing consumer preferences. In 2014, 19 of 25 Kellogg cereals posted shrinking sales. Oatmeal, eggs, and frozen waffles, meanwhile, have been gaining ground. So Kellogg is responding with innovation. Management notes, "We have renovated our Special K bars to include more visible ingredients, and we are launching Special K Chewy Nut bars which include simple ingredients preferred by consumers." Kellogg has a four-year cost-cutting and efficiency-increasing program under way, and it's also working to build its brand and improve in-store execution -- but cost-cutting doesn't boost your top line. It's great that Kellogg has a strategy, but TIAA-CREF and many other investors may worry that cereal will continue losing ground, which would be seriously detrimental to Kellogg.

Aluminum giant Alcoa has been struggling with weak demand and overcapacity in recent years and was ejected from the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 2013. It's responding to its challenges by diversifyingaway from the commodity business, adding value-added offerings such as customized high-end materials. Its acquisition of titanium specialist RTI International Metals can help it serve the aerospace industry better as it moves toward using more titanium instead of aluminum. And automakers are using more aluminum in order to increase fuel efficiency, so Alcoa is now selling high-strength, military-grade aluminum to Ford Motor Company.

Transocean LTD, along with its peers, has been suffering in the face of falling oil prices, diminished interest in oil drilling, decreases in day rates for its rigs, and canceled long-term contracts, among other things. However, bulls see these challenges as temporary and anticipate a strong market position for Transocean in the future, in part because of a growing world population with an ever-growing need for oil. A bit of recent good news for the company and investors is that Transocean has settled with victims of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill for $211 million and that Transocean, BP, and Halliburton have agreed to drop outstanding claims against each other. That's not a huge sum for a company raking in about $9 billion annually, and it puts a lot of uncertainty behind the company, helping investors view its future more clearly. Still, its current challenges may persist until the price of oil starts rising significantly, day rates rise, and drilling activity picks up.

We should never blindly copy any investor's moves, no matter how talented the investor. But it can be useful to keep an eye on what smart folks are doing, and 13F forms can be great places to find intriguing candidates for our portfolios.

The article TIAA-CREF: What This $8.6 Billion Trust Has Been Selling originally appeared on Fool.com.

Longtime Fool specialistSelena Maranjian, whom you can follow on Twitter,owns shares of Ford. The Motley Fool recommends Ford and Halliburton. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford and Halliburton. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.