A long, long time ago, I can still remember how, that election had us all talking about sterling (well, some of us). Instead now we are hard put not to talk about mass dividend cuts, with Link Group estimating dividend cuts of 47% or more in the UK equity market. Way back in those distant epochs of early December 2019, we appeared to be approaching a greater degree of certainty about the shape of the future in the UK: an election was in the offing which promised to help resolve the outlook for our relationship with the EU and the rest of the world, and to clarify what kind of environment businesses would face going forward. At the time, GBP looked undervalued on the basis of the Economist’s ‘Big Mac’ index (a way of looking at the relative valuations of various currencies based upon the relative cost of a McDonald’s Big Mac in different countries). With signs that global investors’ positions in UK assets were starting to move towards normality from their previous large underweights, it seemed prudent to highlight that a rising currency could prove a headwind for dividend streams. With UK payout ratios (the proportion of earnings paid out as dividends) very elevated, and in general terms a roughly inverse relationship between UK corporate earnings and the strength of the currency, dividends funded by overseas earnings logically seemed somewhat vulnerable. Sure enough, following the general election we saw the GBPUSD rate move up to c. 1.35 in fairly rapid fashion (having traded below 1.30 since May 2019). Even so GBPUSD remained short of the ‘fair value’ level of c. 1.42 suggested by the ‘Big Mac’ index at the time, but there were certainly positive signals in sentiment surveys that suggested sterling was setting up for a more durable rally.
Companies: TIGT ASEI JCH CTY DIG SCF BRIG ASL
March is traditionally considered ‘ISA season’, when UK investors focus on their annual ISA allowance and are encouraged to ‘use it or lose it’. As we highlighted in our article last year, investment trusts within ISAs are an excellent way to benefit from the power of compounding over the long term, without worrying about the tax consequences of whether you are receiving capital gains or dividend income. Our analysis last year showed that the top ten compounding trusts – since Personal Equity Plans or PEPs (the precursor to ISAs) were first introduced – come from a very wide range of asset classes. We determined that the distinguishing factors between them were manager skill and the unique ability, afforded by the structure, for investment trust managers to truly invest with a longer-term horizon than the open-ended competition.
Companies: UKW JCH JGGI ASEI CTY
Aberdeen Standard Equity Income Trust (ASEI) aims to provide shareholders with an above-average income and real (inflation-adjusted) growth in capital and income, through investment in a diversified portfolio of predominantly UK equities. ASEI is managed by Thomas Moore, who also manages/co-manages the open-ended Standard Life UK Equity Unconstrained Fund and the ASI Income Focus Fund. ASEI holds companies where the manager believes the market has not correctly understood (and valued) the changing operational dynamics of the underlying business. The manager adopts an all-cap approach, holding a substantial proportion of assets in small- and mid-cap companies; ASEI’s closed-ended structure allows Thomas to hold greater exposure to less liquid smaller companies, compared with his OEIC product. Portfolio construction is unconstrained by benchmark weightings, and driven by bottom-up stock analysis. ASEI has now raised its dividend every year for the past 19 years (each year since launch). The present yield of c. 5.1% (as of 14/02/2020) represents a sizeable premium to the wider market and a yield premium to the trust’s own history under Thomas’s tenure, and is now at around its highest level since 2009. The board has announced it intends to increase the dividend by at least 4.4% over 2020 to a minimum of 21.4 pence per share. ASEI currently has net gearing of c. 13% in place; this is a function of the stock-specific opportunities Thomas and the team have presently identified. Long-term returns have exceeded the benchmark, but performance more recently has been challenging; however, this is not surprising given the wider market environment. This has likely contributed to the discount widening to c. 7.8% (as of 27/02/2020), which we discuss in more detail in the Discount section.
Companies: Aberdeen Standard Eqty Inc. Tst
It used to be said that in central London you were never more than six feet from a rat. Nowadays, the saying has been updated: you are never more than six feet from a Pret-aManger. Before Pret came McDonald’s, serving the same burgers in the same buns from London to Tokyo. Such was the ubiquitous nature of the fast food giant that in 1986 The Economist launched the ‘Big Mac Index’. Presently, this famous index of relative currency strength suggests sterling is seriously undervalued  . Sterling has certainly been weak since the 2016 Brexit referendum, and remains c.12% below its level on the day before the Brexit vote. Yet it has climbed c.8% from its lowest point in August (as of 26 November) as a no-deal Brexit appears to be off the table. We believe a more sustained rebound in the currency could be on the horizon – at least, assuming the Conservatives win the general election. This could be good news for those owning UK assets but, for UK companies with overseas earnings, it might make meeting and growing dividends more challenging. For UK large-caps in particular, a further rise in sterling could lead to dividend growth being weak, given the large proportion of those companies’ earnings are derived from overseas. Open-ended equity income funds will have no protection against this, but it is exactly the sort of environment where the closed-ended structure can shine. By being able to build up revenue reserves, investment trusts have the ability to build up a safety net against this sort of eventuality, as we discuss below.
Companies: SCF JCH BRIG CLIG ASEI
In recent years active management has been under almost constant attack from the rise of passive funds. Yet threats often give rise to opportunities: we believe that complacency is always the real enemy, and so competition from passive funds can be seen as a positive development in the industry. Active managers have been forced to up their game, and as we discuss below, our research shows that the UK closedended universe has become significantly more active in response to the challenge of cheap passive products. Here we discuss this shifting landscape, its implications for investors and the varying measures for ‘activeness’ available to investors.
Companies: EWI SMT HOT ASEI
Aberdeen Standard Equity Income aims to offer investors an above-average income, while also providing real growth in capital and income for investors. This is achieved through investing in a diversified portfolio of predominantly quoted UK equities. The long-standing manager, Thomas Moore, utilities a bottom-up approach to identifying opportunities, and is entirely index agnostic in his approach. The end result is a portfolio very different to peers and the benchmark. A stand out characteristic of this is the bias towards the FTSE 250, offering exposure to considerably more growth companies than peers and a typical equity income trust. This is illustrated in the fact that over 60% of the portfolio is invested outside the FTSE 100, showing Thomas’s ability to find companies in unloved areas and take advantage of areas that other managers may be overlooking. For Thomas, the valuation of a company and its cash flows are the most important metrics and he hopes to invest in companies that have high dividend growth potential and a high yield, but with potential for a re-rating in the future. Over the past five years the performance has been volatile, and the trust has struggled to keep up with the benchmark. However this is principally due to the out of favour, value-driven approach of the manager. In particular Q4 of 2018 hindered performance, however the trust has since recovered some of the losses in 2019 and the trust has outperformed the benchmark FTSE All Share year-to-date. The trust has an exceptional record for dividend increases, growing the dividend for 18 consecutive years. Last year saw an increase of over 12%, despite there being considerably fewer special dividends than the year before. The trust is currently trading on a discount of 6%, wider than the sector weighted average discount of 3.5% and the trust’s one-year average discount of 1.9%. Should we see the uncertainty surrounding the UK dissipate, the discount would likely return back close to par.
Aberdeen Standard Equity Income Trust (ASEI, formerly Standard Life Equity Income Trust [SLET]) has been managed by Thomas Moore since November 2011. He is bullish on the long-term outlook for the trust as the yield on the portfolio is the highest since the end of the global financial crisis in 2009, suggesting UK share prices are discounting a recession or another global crisis. The manager says that ASEI’s holdings – chosen from across the market cap spectrum – can be classified in one of three ‘buckets’: global yield (c 40% of the portfolio), domestic opportunities (c 30%) and uncorrelated value (c 30%), and he is finding good opportunities in all three. The trust’s revenue was higher than projected in FY18, leading to an annual dividend increase of 12.3%, which was much higher than the 7.5% compound annual growth rate over the last five years.
Aberdeen Standard Equity Income Trust (ASEI) aims to generate a generous level of dividend as well as long-term growth in capital and income. The board has announced that the FY18 dividend will be at least 18.7p, which is +9.4% year-on-year, considerably higher growth than the rate of UK inflation. This increase will mean that SLET’s dividend has grown for 18 consecutive years. Manager Thomas Moore is continuing to find attractively valued companies with positive fundamentals. He is confident that investment performance will improve with a change in investor focus away from high-growth, highly valued stocks, and he will be able to build on the trust’s positive longer-term record. He says the current growth style bias in the UK stock market means that reasonably priced companies delivering strong results are not being rewarded with higher valuations.
Standard Life Equity Income Trust (SLET) has been managed by Thomas Moore since 2011. He aims to generate above-average income and real capital and income growth from a portfolio of UK equities, which is invested across the market cap spectrum. Following an index-agnostic approach, the manager has restructured SLET’s income stream over the past few years and shareholders are now enjoying a higher distribution, with less revenue going into reserves. The board has recently announced a higher than previously forecast final dividend for FY17 and says the annual dividend in FY18 will be at least 5% higher than the FY17 distribution. SLET’s current dividend yield is 3.5%.
Standard Life Equity Income Trust (SLET) aims to generate above-average income and real capital and income growth from a relatively concentrated portfolio of c 50-70 UK equities. Since 2011, SLET has been managed by Thomas Moore, who says that the trust’s strong revenue growth is leading to higher dividend growth. The board has indicated that the FY17 annual dividend will be at least 9.1% higher than in FY16. Following a tough period of relative performance surrounding the Brexit vote, as companies with domestic businesses underperformed those with overseas operations, the manager is now more positive on the outlook. SLET’s performance is improving versus both the FTSE All-Share benchmark and its peer group. Moore is placing greater emphasis on higher-growth smaller companies that are reasonably valued and have faster-than-average dividend growth.
Standard Life Equity Income Trust (SLET) aims to generate above-average income and real growth in capital and income from a portfolio of UK equities across the capitalisation spectrum. At end-December 2016, more than 55% of the portfolio was invested outside of the FTSE 100 index. While the last year has seen a tough period of relative investment performance as a result of outperformance of large-cap companies with overseas earnings, which were not held, SLET continues to have a good long-term track record; it has outperformed the benchmark FTSE All-Share index over both five and 10 years. With the exception of one year of static dividends, SLET’s annual dividend has increased every year since launch.
Standard Life Equity Income Trust (SLET) is a multi-cap UK portfolio made up of manager Thomas Moore’s 50-70 best ideas for achieving a high and growing income with the potential for capital appreciation. The manager seeks attractively valued stocks with strong earnings and dividend growth potential that may not have been fully appreciated by the market. He currently sees better fundamentals in stocks outside the blue-chip FTSE 100 Index, and the trust has a large weighting (60%+) to smaller and mid-cap stocks as a result. Recent performance has been affected by poor sentiment towards UK domestic stocks in the run-up to the EU referendum; there is potential for this to reverse if, as widely expected, Britain votes to remain in the EU, although a Brexit vote could have the opposite effect.
Standard Life Equity Income Trust (SLET) follows an unconstrained approach to seeking above-average income with real capital and income growth potential. Manager Thomas Moore selects a portfolio of 50-70 UK stocks where dividend growth is backed by earnings growth, strong balance sheets and sensible valuations. Since taking on the fund in late 2011, Moore has changed SLET’s focus from a predominantly large-cap fund to a portfolio tilted to mid-sized and smaller companies, with exposure to AIM stocks as a further differentiating factor from most UK equity income peers. The trust has maintained or grown its dividend every year since launch and ranks second of 21 funds for risk-adjusted NAV total return performance over one and three years. SLET may use gearing of up to 15% and is currently c 11% geared.
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Trading in the royalty partner portfolio over Q1/21 shows a material rebound from May, which has been sustained to date, as the portfolio as a whole returns to more normalised trading. Consequently, Duke's cash receipts, while down 20% YoY currently, are set to step up in H2/21 as forbearance measures largely expire and deferred royalties realised. This bodes well for a rebound in earnings and a return to cash paid dividends. A share price down over 55% since Feb 20, standing at p/book of 0.56x H1/20A's NAV p/s thus appears overdone. We await further clarity on the portfolio before reissuing forecasts, thus leave our recommendation U/R.
Companies: Duke Royalty
H1 20 operating profit declined by 12% to £1,225m and the COVID-19 claims impact was £165m. Cash remittances from business units to the group was only £150m. The insurer said that it will focus on the UK, Ireland and Canada, which means an exit from other European and Asian markets. The Board has declared a second interim dividend in respect of the 2019 financial year of 6p/share and will inform shareholders about the 2019 final dividend in Q4 20.
Companies: Aviva Plc
We believe now is an interesting time to invest in Northgate, with a new executive board and a capable management team in place who have already delivered progress on an ongoing turnaround as we await a full strategic review. The group now has a clear and well communicated capital allocation strategy in place and improved earnings quality, in our view. We believe that the growth opportunity in the UK, the value of the Spanish business and the progress made to date with the turnaround are not being reflected in the share price, which is currently 15.9% below book value (414p per share in FY19A rising to 468p in FY22E). We use a variety of valuation methods including P/B, SOTP, DDM and DCF modelling and arrive at an average implied share price of 450p, 29.0% above the current share price.
Companies: Redde Northgate Plc
Opportunities which have presented themselves in the wake of the COVID pandemic have been too good to ignore. Two assets have been acquired for £17m with 5%+ NIY; one having material reversionary potential. An attractive forward funding opportunity has been born out of COVID uncertainty with ULR stepping in to fund the £20m development of two assets pre-let to Amazon and DHL. March’s equity placing has now been fully deployed, and a new £151m loan facility provides additional £40-50m headroom. The structural trend towards e-commerce has been catalysed by COVID. ULR offers exposure to this resilient, attractive segment with a 5%+ yield and potential capital gains from rent reversion.
Companies: Urban Logistics REIT Plc
For this Monthly, we are delighted that Rooney Nimmo and 24Haymarket have allowed us to reproduce a recent report they jointly published, entitled An analysis of UK exits (2015-2019), which provides a granular analysis by sector of the activity in our dynamic private companies world. We hope you find the insights of interest.
Companies: AVO AGY ARBB ARIX CLIG ICGT NSF PCA PIN PXC PHP RECI SCE TRX SHED VTA
Vacancy strongly increased in Q2 20. LTV surpassed the 50% mark on 30 June 2020 due to strong value destruction in H1 20. Hammerson announced a £550m cash capital increase coupled with a disposal of £270m. Its ex-post pro forma net debt should be £2.2bn, i.e. LTV of 42% on a proportionate basis. Too high?
Companies: Hammerson Plc
L&G reported an operating profit from continuing divisions (excluding Mature Savings and General Insurance businesses) of £1,128m, -2.2% yoy. The COVID-19-related cost was £129m. LGR posted a growing operating profit to £721m. Net profit amounted to £290m vs. £874m a year before, being affected by the reduced discount rate used to calculate LGI reserves. The Solvency II ratio stood at 173%. The Board recommended an interim dividend of 4.93p/share, stable relative to H1 19.
Companies: Legal & General Group Plc
S&U motor finance sales are recovering even as credit criteria have been tightened. There is still uncertainty about the impact of the wind down of employment support schemes and how collections will recover following repayment holidays, but S&U expresses cautious optimism on the latter point. The current year results will be significantly affected by lower sales and higher arrears but management indicates the group is still profitable, is maintaining its high customer service levels and has liquidity headroom to respond once it is sensible to target stronger growth.
Companies: S&U Plc
Duke delivered significant YoY growth in H1/20A results, as earlier efforts to broaden the royalty portfolio came through this year. This strong growth will continue with recent debt & equity raises forward funding investments to income levels of £15m by FY21E. Met with an enhanced, but now stabilised cost base, operational leverage should drive continued strong adj EBIT growth (to £13m, at a c85% margin) and further DPS rises.
What’s new: Purplebricks Group results for the year to 30 April 2020, show the Australian and US units as discontinued; but include the Canadian unit sold for C$60.5m (i.e. £35m) in July. Investors will focus on the UK unit which revealed:
11% fall in UK revenue to £80.5m (FY19: £90.1m), as the number of instructions fell 23% (impacted by early Covid uncertainty and lockdown), but the average revenue per instruction “ARPI” rose 12% to £1,394;
UK gross profit margin improved to 64.1% (FY19: 63.0%);
UK marketing costs to revenue improved to 25.6% (FY19: 29.6%);
Spend on Digital capacity pushed UK operating costs 32% to £26.2m (FY19: £19.9m), as new management team pursued initiatives which are being “delivered at pace with significant opportunity for further innovation.”
UK adjusted EBITDA fell 53% to £4.8m (FY19: £10.2m).
Companies: Purplebricks Group Plc
Frontier IP has announced it has invested £50k in a £500k convertible loan financing of PulsiV. Frontier IP has a 18.9% equity holding in PulsiV, which was last valued at £0.9m on the balance sheet. Whilst the commercial terms of the loan are unknown, it is not expected to have any material difference to the balance sheet at this stage. This direct investment by the Group is in line with a wider strategy to use proceeds of the recent fundraising to support portfolio companies financially to accelerate portfolio growth. PulsiV is taking significant steps to commercialising its technology and a solar microinverter prototype developed in collaboration with Bosch is expected to move into field trials of the “Engineered by Bosch” product in the nearfuture. Funding will enable PulsiV to step up development of its technology for use in a wider range of industrial applications, at least one of which is nearer to market. The potential of the micro-inverter market is vast, estimates of the global solar inverter market ranges from $2.4bn to $7.3bn per year.* Proceeds are expected to fund the development of its technology into a wider range of industrial applications. We note that PulsiV continue to be in discussions with potential investors to raise further funding in the form of equity, an event outlined in our January initiation as a near-term catalyst for Frontier IP’s valuation of its equity holding. Frontier IP expect this equity fund raise to be at a substantial valuation premium to the current book value of PulsiV (last reported at £0.9m on Frontier IP’s balance sheet). There is no indication given as the size of any potential uplift, but any increase in the Company’s book value will be reflected in the Group’s results to 30 June 2020 financial year. If achieved it would demonstrate that positive momentum from an excellent FY’20 period has continued into the new financial year.
Companies: Frontier IP Group Plc
With 90% of contracted rental income paid directly or indirectly by the UK or Irish governments and the balance primarily coming from co-located pharmacies, rent collection remained robust through H120, contributing to a strong H120 financial performance. Primary Health Properties (PHP) is well on track to meet its fully covered 5.9p (+5.4%) FY20e DPS target, which will mark the 24th year of uninterrupted growth.
Companies: Primary Health Properties Plc
29 July interims showed a 7.1% EPRA EPS increase, rising NAV and a continued rise in DPS. Illustrating the growth, rents rose 20.4%, and adjusted EPRA earnings rose 29.0%. On 9 July, PHP launched a £120m proposed placing, at a point in the REIT’s development that is underpinned by a strong and broad pipeline. The placing was expanded to £140m as a result of investor appetite. The short-term pipeline stands at £128m, and there is also growth from active management of existing assets. We consider this REIT has significant per share value growth potential, through capital deployment, rent rises and financing cost efficiencies.
Tinexta’s Q220 results were much better than consensus expectations, as all business units produced improved organic growth trends versus Q120, in the face of the COVID-19 lockdown, and cost control helped improve profitability. The group is well positioned to benefit from structural growth drivers, including the digitisation of economies. We increase our EBITDA forecasts for FY20 by 7.6%, taking us 6.6% above management’s reiterated and recent guidance for FY20.
Companies: Tinexta SpA
The Biotech Growth Trust (BIOG) is managed by Geoff Hsu, who is able to draw on the considerable resources of specialist healthcare investor OrbiMed Capital. While biotech stocks have rallied strongly following the coronavirus-led stock market sell-off earlier in 2020, the manager believes they could have further to go. He is confident that a successful COVID-19 vaccine will be developed and positive fundamentals are supportive for the biotech sector’s future performance. Repositioning of BIOG’s portfolio during FY20 has been accretive to the trust’s returns in recent quarters; it has now outperformed its benchmark NASDAQ Biotechnology index over the past one, three, five and 10 years, and investors have also enjoyed very solid absolute total returns of more than 20% pa over the past decade.
Companies: The Biotech Growth Trust