BlackRock Frontiers Investment Trust (BRFI) invests in smaller emerging markets and frontier markets, aiming to use a mixture of top-down and bottom-up analysis to find companies which can benefit from their superior GDP-growth rates. The pandemic’s impact on sentiment towards BRFI’s universe has been dramatic, resulting in its portfolio now trading on a record low historical P/E of just seven times (compared to over 13 times for the MSCI Emerging Markets Index). Managers Sam Vecht and Emily Fletcher believe there are now pockets of real value in their universe, even in such a fluid and macro-sensitive environment. They believe higher growth and higher interest rates found in many of their countries should attract foreign capital in coming years, as investors hunt abroad for returns and yield. Additionally, lower levels of external debt have provided some resilience, while cheap currencies should improve trade competitiveness, paving the way for a rebound. BRFI does not target a specific dividend, but thanks to organic earnings growth from the portfolio, the shares are trading on a historical yield of 5.6%. As we discuss in the Dividend section, the companies the managers target are cash-generative and prioritise maintaining their dividends. However, these markets haven’t fully escaped recent dividendcut trends. The board has made a modest cut to the interim for 2020, and a cut to BRFI’s full-year dividend is also possible. BRFI has fallen to a 7% discount. While this is narrower than the 12% average for the AIC Global Emerging Markets sector, it is wider than recent history. Indeed, BRFI has traded on a premium for much of the past three years.
Companies: Blackrock Frontiers Inv Tst
The coronavirus pandemic has caused dividends to be cancelled or cut across the world, but the impact has yet to be fully felt – with more bad news likely to come in the second half of the year. Pressure has come through reduced revenues, due to a slowdown in economic activity and a regulatory interference in dividends being paid by industries which have received taxpayer support. The task for income investors is to identify the regions and sectors which are expected to be less affected; to which the Janus Henderson Dividend Index report has made an important contribution. In this article we summarise the key findings from the detailed report and apply them to the investment trust sectors, highlighting where we think the best opportunities lie.
Companies: BRNA NAIT JETI SOI HFEL BRFI BEE
Companies: BRNA NAIT JETI BGEU SOI HFEL BRFI BEE
It is something of a truism to say that emerging markets are not a homogenous blob, but a range of highly differentiated economies and stock markets. Yet as investors, we often categorise them as one and the same, especially from an asset allocation and risk management perspective.
Companies: FCSS BRFI ANII BEE BRLA
BlackRock Frontiers (BRFI) offers access to the fast-growing, least developed markets in the world to which most investors have little or no exposure. BRFI aims to identify those companies which can benefit from faster GDP growth than developed markets and deliver long-term capital returns. Thanks to the nature of the market and healthy earnings growth in the portfolio companies, the trust is yielding 4.5%, despite the focus on capital growth. We consider the yield and dividend cover further in the Dividend section. Managers Sam Vecht and Emily Fletcher use a mixture of both top-down macroeconomic analysis and bottom-up fundamental stock research to build their portfolio, and they estimate that over the long term around 50% of the alpha they have generated has come from each. The process is highly flexible, with the managers able to short stocks and use cheaper derivative contracts rather than buying the equities themselves (useful in markets which have lower liquidity than the more developed ones). This can lead to considerable gearing on a net and gross basis. In themselves, the markets BRFI invests in tend to display relatively low correlation to developed and emerging market indices. Given the diversification that the managers are able to achieve, the trust has tended to display relatively low volatility in the past, which may be surprising given that less developed markets are regarded as riskier. The trust has tended to trade on a premium in recent years, but is currently trading at par.
Since the start of 2018, investors in Asian equities have had a torrid time, with the region underperforming global stock markets. Perhaps reassuringly for investors, the drivers of this underperformance have not been economic fundamentals but more unpredictable factors, which are external to the economies and markets of the region – namely, the ongoing trade dispute between the US and China, and expectations for the US federal funds rate (the global economy’s risk-free rate). However, this does make it harder to read what the future has in store for the region and the trusts that invest in it. Interestingly, despite the poor returns from markets and the growing negative news flow (concerns about the demand for smartphones have been another factor weighing on markets), managers of trusts investing in this region remain bullishly positioned, with a few exceptions. As we show below, on average investment trust managers have retained their strong bias to economically-sensitive companies and sectors. We consider the possible scenarios that could develop from here, economically and financially, and the ramifications for the different trusts in the sector.
Companies: IAT JAGI SST PAC ATR BRFI
BlackRock Frontiers Investment Trust (BRFI) invests in the world’s least developed markets in pursuit of capital growth, offering a portfolio exposed to fast-growing economies with stock markets with low correlations to each other and to the other major markets. Porfolio managers Sam Vecht and Emily Fletcher apply a combination of top-down macro-economic analysis and bottom-up fundamental stock analysis to build their portfolio, and they estimate that over the long -term around 50% of the alpha they have generated has come from each. The managers gain access to these markets either through direct equity investment or via contracts for difference (CFDs), which allows them to gear up the trust and provides far greater flexibility, at a lower cost than traditional bank borrowings. Additionally, the mandate allows them to short stocks through CFDs . Over the past year, the portfolio’s average long exposure has been 111%, with short exposure of 6%, giving a gross exposure of 117%, and average net exposure of 105%. BRFI has outperformed the MSCI Frontier Markets Index over the long run. However, relative performance over the past year has been more disappointing, predominately as a result of a larger position relative to the index in Argentina, and the unfortunate timing of the change of benchmark back in April 2018. The trust now invests in the emerging and frontier markets universe, minus the eight largest countries in the emerging markets index, which usually dominate the majority of emerging market portfolios. The MSCI Frontier Markets Index has been jettisoned as being too concentrated and suffering too many changes of composition as countries were regularly promoted in and out of the Index which led to trading activity for reasons other than the attractiveness of stocks. The new index is more diversified and should be more stable in composition in the future. BRFI offers a healthy yield of 4.2%, despite income not being an explicit objective of the managers. This is thanks to the growing earnings on underlying companies, and we would note that the trust has revenue reserves worth 45% of last year’s full dividend. The current yield is also higher than all but one of the emerging markets trusts in the sector and all but one of the global equity income trusts. This trust is one of few options available in the open or closed-ended space that enables investors to access frontier markets, and this, plus the strong long-term performance, may explain why it has tended to trade on a premium in recent years – now at 2.5% (as at end April 2019), compared to the 7.4% discount of for the average emerging markets trust.
Today, we introduce our investment trust ratings. According to the quantitative screens we have selected in an attempt to highlight the best performers in the closed-ended universe, the trusts discussed here have been the best in their classes over the last five years. We have selected trusts using two different sets of criteria, aiming to identify the top performers for capital growth and for achieving a high and growing income. There are many rating systems for open-ended funds, but no quantitative-based system for investment trusts that is available to the average investor. While we cannot identify trusts which will perform well in the future – past outperformance is no guide to future out-performance – we hope these ratings will highlight the outstanding performers in the closed-ended universe and those managers who have best used the advantages of investment trusts to generate alpha. We are trying to reward consistent and long-term outperformance, and so we have decided to look over a five-year period. All data is as of the end of December 2018, sourced from Morningstar and JPMorgan Cazenove. We have looked at NAV total return performance and discount value has not been considered: the aim is to identify those trusts which have performed the best rather than highlight bargains.
Companies: IPU FAS ATR JEO FEV FGT THRG SEC PAC BRSC IAT HNE MIGO TRY JMG DIVI SLS BGS SDP JETI SOI BCI MRC TIGT EDIN JAGI BEE SDV BRIG AAIF HFEL SCF SIGT BRFI IVPG CTY HINT JCH NAIT
We have highlighted, on many occasions, the high level of concentration among UK equity income funds – in particular, the fact that many managers in the AIC UK Equity Income and IA UK Equity Income sectors rely on a small handful of mega-cap FTSE stocks for their dividends. This isn’t necessarily an issue in itself, but the fact many of these companies are fundamentally challenged due to low levels of dividend cover compounds the potential problems going forward. For example, in a piece of research we wrote in November , we showed that 10.6% of all income generation in the closed-ended AIC UK Equity Income sector comes from Royal Dutch Shell and BP – and, at the time of writing, both had dividend cover of less than 1x (suggesting that the companies are taking from last year's profits to pay this year's dividend, which isn’t sustainable). Given it is a very similar story in the open-ended IA UK Equity Income sector (whereby the five most popularly-held stocks, which have a dividend over of less than 1x, account for 20% of the total dividends paid in the peer group), many investors have been looking elsewhere to try and find a more reliable income stream. A popular destination for those investors has been the global equity income peer group, where managers literally have the whole world to choose from for income-producing opportunities. Indeed, many funds and trusts in the space market themselves as the natural home for UK income investors seeking diversification. However, as we will highlight in this report, many closed and open-ended funds in the Global Equity Income sectors also have a significant proportion of their assets and income reliant on UK dividend-paying stocks.
Companies: MYI SAIN HINT BRFI FCSS BEEP
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Litigation Capital Management has announced FY20 results with gross profit up 7% to A$21.7m and PBT of A$9.2m, slightly behind expectations albeit the Group had already flagged that delays to 3 cases during the year would result in resolutions in FY21, thereby impacting FY20 results. That said, excellent strategic progress through the year and good news flow as well as increasing scale suggests more value to come. Reiterate buy
Companies: Litigation Capital Management Ltd.
To achieve YoY revenue growth over H1/20A despite the challenges of Covid-19 and its impact on the travel sector is testament to Equals' resilience and increasing focus on B2B and International payments services. While weaker gross profit and EBITDA margins have impacted profitability in H1/20, we see potential for an earnings recovery in H2/20 given cost reduction measures currently being undertaken. This should lead Equals to cash breakeven in Q4/20 and FCF positive by early FY21.
Companies: Equals Group Plc
FY20A results largely reflect a period prior to the Covid-19 lockdown, yet show Duke entering a more challenging FY21E with momentum. Yesterday's trading update demonstrated another notable rise in quarterly cash receipts for Q2/21, as royalty partner trading continues to improve. As some partners' forbearance measures will expire this month, Q3/21 receipts should continue this upwardly momentum. This opens the door to a return to cash dividends at some future point. Today, Duke also confirms it is now seeking new royalty partners, alongside follow-ons.
Companies: Duke Royalty
Interim results demonstrate YoY growth and a resilient outcome that has exceeded management's expectations from the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. This is testament to the degree of recurring revenue generated across the business. FY21 trading looks to be more challenging, as notably lower new insurance sales post-lockdown will translate into lower premium income. A number of organic opportunities are being worked on to fill the shortfall. Rising UK redundancies and their impact on policyholder retentions creates great uncertainty, hence our forecasts remain withdrawn and recommendation remains Under Review.
Companies: Personal Group Holdings Plc
Sigma Capital (“Sigma”) has partnered with global alternatives manager EQT to deliver and manage a £1bn GDV private-rented sector (“PRS”) housing fund focused on Greater London. EQT will invest £300m equity, complemented by debt (including a Homes England facility), to build 3,000 homes in 5 years. Sigma will generate fee income as development manager, a recurring fee income stream from managing completed assets, as well as participation in returns via a minority co-investment (£16m) and a profit share. We estimate that the fee income alone is worth £45m to Sigma in the first five years: 50% of the current market cap. Crucially, this is a step up in AuM bringing a high quality long-term recurring earnings stream. We will reforecast following interim results (expected tomorrow) to provide full context.
Companies: Sigma Capital Group Plc
In June, faced with the task of replacing its longstanding portfolio manager, Alistair Mundy, Temple Bar Investment Trust’s (TMPL’s) board reiterated its commitment to a value style of investing. The board has now opted to hand the management contract to Nick Purves and Ian Lance of RWC Partners, two managers with considerable experience of managing income portfolios using a value-style approach. Value investing, where managers buy stocks that are valued more cheaply than market averages – based on measures such as price/earnings, price/book and yield – is deeply out of favour. The RWC team says that value stocks have never looked more unloved in the 30- odd years that they have been managing money. In their view, this makes it imperative that TMPL investors keep faith with the strategy and it also means this is an attractive entry point for new investors. One important change, however, is a cut to TMPL’s dividend to a level that the RWC team believes will be more sustainable.
Companies: Temple Bar Investment Trust
In line interim results to 30 June 2020 show the strength of this business amid a difficult environment. This is the first step in what should be an exciting growth trajectory toward a larger, scaled up business with high recurring revenues and ownership of the full supply chain in the personal injury and clinical negligence market for clients requiring long-term, risk-adjusted returns. We reiterate our TP of 50p, noting further upside potential as acquisitions are completed.
Companies: Frenkel Topping Group Plc
HSBC’s future should be clarified as soon as the US and China come back to the negotiation table. This will not happen before the US elections are over. In the meantime, HSBC will continue to be instrumentalised and its share price will remain under pressure.
Companies: HSBC Holdings Plc
Today's news & views, plus announcements from VOD, POLY, SMDS, BLND, BYG, WEIR, DC, SNR, SHI, INTU, IHR, CNC, ARE, INCE
Companies: INTU SHI INCE
The impressive full year 2019 results included some eye-catching numbers, including a record PBT of £40.1m (nearly 3x FY18 @ £14.3m), £620m of reserves acquired over 16 legacy deals, and $842m of (estimated) Contracted Premium in the Program business – on track to breach $1bn in FY20 as previously guided and $1.5bn-$2bn in 2022-2023.
Companies: Randall & Quilter Investment Holdings Ltd.
As anticipated, Record has confirmed a material uplift in AUME following the rebound in financial markets from April. We upgrade FY21E forecast EPS by +18%, with higher staff costs offsetting some of the benefit. We expect AUME growth to be more modest from herein. While no performance fees have been recognised over Q1/21 and will be harder to achieve due to Covid-19, any future recognition would have a materially positive impact on earnings. Covid has temporarily paused new client wins, but we expect further additions to come as conditions improve.
Companies: Record Plc
Mercia’s FY20 results reflect continued progress, delivering on management’s three-year strategy. AUM climbed 58% to £0.8bn, while FUM rose 73% to £658m. Following the acquisition of the NVM VCT fund management business, the company is operationally profitable on a monthly basis, with annual revenues exceeding operating costs for the first time in FY20. Net assets rose 12% to £141.5m, with the direct investment portfolio stalled at £87.5m reflecting the impact of COVID-19 fair value adjustments and a £15.7m net investment. The group remains well-placed for a downturn with £30m of unrestricted balance sheet cash and £320m of group cash. Post period end the group exited The Native Antigen Company, with £5.2m in cash (8.4x return, 65% IRR) expected. Despite the group’s progress, Mercia’s shares continue to trade at a material discount to NAV (0.60x), even before considering the embedded value of the third-party fund management business (> 4.5p at 3% of AUM).
Companies: Mercia Asset Management Plc
COVID-19 and a further cut to power price assumptions saw NAV per share fall to 309p in H120 (FY19: 337p). However, PPP performed well, bidding momentum has picked up recently and John Laing Group (JLG) expects ‘modest’ NAV growth in H2. New CEO Ben Loomes highlighted digital connectivity and energy transitions as potential future investment themes, and will set out further details in November. We cut our FY20 NAV per share forecast by 14% to 308p. The share price stands at an 8% discount to FY20e NAV per share.
Companies: John Laing Group Plc
Trident Royalties Plc (AIM: TRR) has, this morning, announced the acquisition of a 1.5% Net Smelter Royalty (NSR) over the resourcestage Lake Rebecca Gold Project located in the highly prospective Eastern Goldfields province in Western Australia. The royalty package is being acquired from a private seller for a total consideration of A$8.0 million (c. US$5.63 million), comprising of A$7.0 million in cash and A$1.0 million in new ordinary shares in Trident. The acquisition is Trident’s fifth overall and its third gold deal. As per strategic guidance the company is moving fast assembling a diversified portfolio with a paying cashflow stream from iron ore and copper production and several strategic gold royalties with the potential for near term revenues. The market is paying attention with TRR shares up 49.8% since its IPO on AIM in June this year. There is clearly more to come with c. US$7.5 million of uncommitted cash as well as the potential for debt funding and the ability to use equity as acquisition consideration. The Lake Rebecca Gold Project operated and wholly owned by Apollo Consolidated (ASX: AOP), is located 150km ENE of Kalgoorlie in the Eastern Goldfields Province of the Yilgarn Craton. The Project, envisaged as a simple open pit operation, is close to existing gold infrastructure namely Saracen Mineral Holdings Limited’s (ASX: SAR) Carosue Dam Operation whose processing plant is in the process of being upgraded to increase throughput to 3.2 Mtpa.
Companies: Trident Royalties Plc
A number of REITs have the ability to thrive in current market conditions and thereafter. Not only do they hold assets that will remain in strong demand, but they have focus and transparency. The leases and underlying rents are structured in a manner to provide long visibility, growth and security. Hardman & Co defined an investment universe of REITs that we considered provided security and “safer harbours”. We introduced this universe with our report published in March 2019: “Secure income” REITs – Safe Harbour Available. Here, we take forward the investment case and story. We point to six REITs, in particular, where we believe the risk/reward is the most attractive.
Companies: AGY ARBB ARIX BUR CMH CLIG DNL HAYD NSF PCA PIN PXC PHP RE/ RECI SCE SHED VTA