The managers of BlackRock Greater Europe (BRGE) aim to offer investors a portfolio of high-quality companies across developed and emerging Europe. The manager, Stefan Gries, aims to identify the strongest ideas in developed Europe generated by BlackRock’s European research team of 18 analysts. As we discuss under the Portfolio section, this involves searching for high-quality companies with unique franchises and sustainable cash flows. Stefan is supported by co-manager Sam Vecht, who focusses on ideas in developing Europe. Typically, this area will make up between 5% and 10% of the total NAV, and it currently sits towards the top end of this range (10%). The two managers decide together when ideas in developing Europe are good enough to get into the portfolio, but developing Europe holdings tend to be shorter-term, more opportunistic plays. Since Stefan took over the portfolio in June 2017 he has made a point of concentrating the portfolio, which now has just 42 holdings, with the top ten making up over 50% of total NAV. Under his tenure, the performance has been exceptional, with NAV total returns of 37.4%, in comparison to 8.5% from the benchmark FTSE World Europe ex UK. Equally the returns are impressive when compared to the IA and AIC sector returns, as we discuss in the Performance section. In fact, the trust is the strongest performing in the sector since Stefan’s appointment, with an annualised alpha of c. 8.4%. The trust consistently trades at one of the narrowest discounts in the sector, currently trading at a discount of 3.9%, narrower than the sector average (c. 10.4%), illustrating the popular demand for the trust.
Companies: Blackrock Greater Euro Inv Tst
BlackRock Greater Europe Investment Trust (BRGE) is co-managed by Stefan Gries (developed markets) and Sam Vecht (emerging markets). Gries explains that one of their jobs as active investors is to identify parts of the market that will be problematic and therefore will not create value on a multi-year basis. This informs their focus on high-quality growth businesses that can be held for the long term and on avoiding ‘value traps’. Gries believes that ultimately, the coronavirus-led market sell-off will provide a real opportunity for investors to return to Europe, a market that already had a low allocation from global investors. It will benefit from any improvement in the global economy as c 60% of its revenues are generated outside of the region, ‘which makes me quite excited’, he adds.
BlackRock Greater Europe (BRGE) offers investors an opportunity to access some of the highest quality companies across developed and emerging Europe. The past five years have seen the trust perform exceptionally strongly. In particular, it has come into its own in 2019, outperforming both benchmark and peers by close to 10%. Much of this outperformance can be put down to the new partnership, formed in 2017, between managers Stefan Gries and Sam Vecht. Together they have changed the shape of the trust, building a more concentrated portfolio which has helped the trust to generate higher levels of alpha. Despite the punchier approach, the trust has not sacrificed volatility for gains, and continues to offer one of the lowest standard deviations in the sector. Currently the trust trades at a discount of 3.5%, the narrowest in the sector.
BlackRock Greater Europe Investment Trust (BRGE) is co-managed by Stefan Gries (since June 2017) and Sam Vecht (since launch in 2004). Gries believes that investors do not have to be positive on the prospects for Europe to consider this trust, as it seeks to invest in companies with potential to create shareholder wealth over the medium to long term. He says that investor sentiment towards the region is very negative, which may provide an incremental opportunity when opinions change. Gries remains optimistic about the prospects for BRGE’s portfolio of high-quality companies, based on his assessment that there will be no major economic slowdown or recession in the coming year.
BlackRock Greater Europe Investment Trust (BRGE) has been co-managed by Stefan Gries since June 2017. Since then, there has been a marked improvement in the trust’s investment performance. Gries is constructive on the prospects for the trust, suggesting it provides access to winning franchises in niche, attractively valued companies that ‘just happen to be based in Europe’. In aggregate, BRGE’s portfolio companies have a meaningfully higher return on capital and greater forecast earnings growth compared with the reference index (FTSE World Europe ex-UK), which the trust has outperformed over one, three, five and 10 years. It also offers exposure to the potentially higher-returning emerging markets in Europe.
BlackRock Greater Europe (BRGE) aims to generate capital growth from large, mid and small-cap companies listed in Europe. The managers have flexibility to invest all over the continent (ex UK) – including up to 25% in countries listed in developing Europe. This flexibility clearly differentiates it from its peers. Despite having been managed by the same team since 2008, responsibility for BRGE was handed to Stefan Gries in June 2017, which has seen a marked change in the way portfolio is assembled. Stefan now clearly defines the investment philosophy, has a higher conviction portfolio, and lastly tries to deliver the best ideas of the European team more effectively, having changed the way that ideas get into the portfolio. Stefan has also committed to use gearing more fully in the future, when his optimism warrants it. The portfolio of stocks has been reduced to 42 holdings, and the changes have resulted in strong relative performance - although not yet a meaningful narrowing of the discount. Stefan’s philosophy is clearly rooted in a desire to be an “investor” rather than a “trader”, and aims to own a company for a minimum of three to five years. He aims to find “giants in their niches”, have a good proportion of recurring business, high cash-flow conversion and have good growth optionality. Compared to other funds and trusts, BRGE has a relatively high exposure to Morningstar’s “growth style”, and definite bias to mid and small-cap stocks. Stefan tries to balance risks by holding a proportion of the portfolio in more defensive stocks. Exposure to emerging Europe is decided purely on a bottom-up basis, and currently constitutes around 7% of the portfolio. Since Stefan was given responsibility for the trust in June 2017, the trust has outperformed the benchmark and investment trust peer group by over 6%. Despite having a more concentrated portfolio than average, over the past three years BRGE has achieved its strong returns with amongst the lowest volatility compared to peers (source: Morningstar). Over the longer term, BRGE has outperformed the index in seven out of the ten full calendar years since the team took over management of the trust. Gearing is used tactically by the managers up to a maximum of 15% of NAV. Stefan sees gearing as a natural extension of the number of opportunities that he is finding, and whilst gearing was approaching 10% during early summer Iast year, as valuations started to feel fuller, he started to bring gearing down again. This proved prescient, given the sharp falls stock markets experienced in Q4 2018. Currently, BRGE has negligible gearing employed. The board has been successful at managing the trust’s discount volatility, and the shares have traded within a relatively narrow band. While it didn't choose to enact the May 2019 tender offer, it has been buying shares back in the market, most recently at a discount (we estimate) of around 4.3%. As such, BRGE currently stands on a discount of 3.8% - narrower than the peer group average.
BlackRock Greater Europe Investment Trust (BRGE) has two co-managers: Stefan Gries focuses on developed markets in Europe (the large majority of the portfolio), while Sam Vecht focuses on emerging markets. Gries believes that the investment backdrop remains relatively robust, but stresses the importance of remaining selective. He seeks quality companies that can be held for the long term, where their earnings and cash flow potential is not reflected in their current share prices. Since Gries became co-manager in June 2017, BRGE has outperformed the FTSE World Europe ex-UK index by c 12pp. He continues to find attractive investment opportunities, and comments that the broad-based sell-off in emerging markets means there is potential for a higher emerging Europe allocation in the trust’s portfolio in coming months.
Fresh news from the Quirinal Palace on Saturday – with the Italian president effectively vetoing the government put forward by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the far-right League – has put Italy, and the future cohesion of the Eurozone, in the spotlight once again. Stocks and bonds were already under pressure before the announcement that the coalition’s preferred candidate for finance minister – Paulo Savona – had been rejected by the president, who put forward instead Carlo Cottarelli, a former IMF official, who some argue plays into populists’ hands as another example of the Italian establishment’s thrall to Brussels. The League and the Five Star Movement have previously called for Italy’s withdrawal from the Euro and both support policies which would ride roughshod over eurozone rules on budget deficits. The danger is that, by appearing to pander to Brussels, the president’s action on Saturday may backfire – fomenting even greater populist feeling among a population already deeply resentful of EU ‘meddling’. While this may seem like a return to form for the troubled Union after an uncharacteristically smooth patch, we think a sanguine approach makes sense. Italian politics works on compromise and backtracking, and the coalition documents suggest an exit from the euro is not on the cards. In fact, with the economic environment in Europe generally positive, any volatility in Europe generated by the headlines surrounding Italy could throw up some interesting opportunities. Viewed with a cooler head, little has changed in Europe since the weekend and the environment of low inflation and cheap money looks set to remain dominant. Unprecedentedly loose monetary policy from the ECB remains firmly in place, and the debate continues over whether the eurozone economy will be strong enough to allow policymakers to end the QE programme in September. President of the ECB, Mario Draghi, has recently announced that the interest rates on refinancing and on lending would remain unchanged at 0 per cent and 0.25 per cent respectively for the foreseeable future, providing technical support for European stock markets.
Companies: HNE JESC BRGE BEE JEO
BlackRock Greater Europe Investment Trust (BRGE) is co-managed by Stefan Gries (appointed on 20 June 2017), who focuses on developed European markets, and Sam Vecht, who focuses on emerging Europe. They aim to generate long-term capital growth from a relatively concentrated portfolio of 35-40 European equities, mostly from developed markets. BRGE’s investment performance has improved following Gries’ appointment, since when the trust has outperformed the FTSE World Europe ex-UK reference index by c 5pp. As well as positive contributions from portfolio companies, both in developed and emerging Europe, BRGE has benefited from not holding some of the larger European companies that have underperformed the broader market.
BlackRock Greater Europe Investment Trust (BRGE) aims to generate capital growth from a relatively concentrated portfolio invested across the greater European region. In June 2017, it was announced that Stefan Gries would replace Vincent Devlin as co-manager. He will continue to adopt BRGE’s flexible bottom-up stock selection approach, drawing on the wider resources of BlackRock’s European and emerging markets equity teams, but is reducing the number of holdings and intends opportunistically to make fuller use of the emerging European allocation. The trust is referenced against the FTSE World Europe ex-UK index and its NAV total return has outperformed over three and 10 years and is broadly in line over five years, while lagging over the last 12 months. Although the primary aim is capital growth, BRGE has a progressive dividend policy. Its current dividend yield is 1.7%, which is in line with its peer group average.
BlackRock Greater Europe Investment Trust (BRGE) invests primarily in developed European equites across the capitalisation spectrum, with the primary aim of achieving long-term capital growth. Up to 25% of the trust may be invested in developing European markets (currently c 5%). The portfolio is concentrated, typically holding between 45 and 65 securities. Vincent Devlin (developed Europe) and Sam Vecht (emerging Europe) have managed BRGE since July 2008 and fund inception respectively. It has outperformed the benchmark FTSE World Europe ex-UK index over one, three, five and 10 years and the dividend has been increased each year since the trust’s inception in 2004; the current dividend yield is 2.0%.
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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
With the sale of the Singaporean operations for £1.6bn, the new CEO, Amanda Blanc, shows her intention to focus rapidly on its preferred markets (the UK, Ireland and Canada). The next candidate for sale is the French unit. This transaction is more complicated than the previous one, with the necessity to obtain the agreement of Afer, its key partner in France. With potential proceeds of £2.9bn, Aviva could reduce its debts significantly and allocate more capital to the UK bulk annuity business.
Companies: Aviva Plc
Oil posted its first back-to-back weekly loss since April's rout with the end of the summer driving season and concern about OPEC's production compliance weighing on prices.
Futures in New York edged up on Friday, but prices fell 6.1% this week coinciding with a retreat in U.S. equities. Traders are also examining data indicating the United Arab Emirates since July has been regularly exceeding its quota under a deal between the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies.
The uncertainty over how much supply OPEC+ is returning to the market adds another wrench in the recovery for oil prices still reeling from the pandemic-driven blow to consumption. While U.S. supplies had grown tighter in past months and producers were expected to restrain production amid a weak financial backdrop, stockpiles rose again last week for the first time since mid-July.
Companies: XOM HES KOS JSE 88E ADV CAD CHAR ECHO ENOG EME I3E PMG RBD SQZ SOU TLW VGAS WTE PHAR
What’s new: CLIG results have beaten Zeus expectations at revenue, EPS and DPS. On 14 July CLIG provided an update which revealed $338m of net inflows (6% of opening FUM), outperformance of the Emerging Market and Developed strategies (98% of FuM) and 25% rise in FuM in 4Q to $5.5bn and an indication that the final dividend would be not less than last year. In our opinion, key features of CLIG’s full year results include:
4.4% rise in revenue to £33.3m (Zeus forecast: £32.0m);
6.1% fall in adj PBT to £10.7m (Zeus forecast: £10.3m), excluding gains/losses on seed investment 9.4% rise to £11.6m (FY19: £10.6m);
3.2% rise in adj EPS to 35.3p (Zeus forecast 32.5p);
11.1% rise in final DPS to 20.0p (Zeus forecast: 18p) with the total DPS of 30p (Zeus forecast: 28p) is 11.1% above the prior year excluding special DPS.
Net cash of £14.6m (Zeus forecast: £10.0m)
The acquisition of KMI is expected to complete on 1 October 2020.
Companies: City of London Investment Group Plc
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact globally in many areas. While primarily a health issue, it has had wide-ranging implications for stock markets, which have now rallied after the plunge in share prices in mid-March when the full severity of the emerging pandemic became more widely appreciated. Nonetheless, the FTSE 100 Index remains almost 20% off its late February 2020 figure.
Companies: AVO ARBB ARIX CLIG DNL GDR ICGT NSF PCA PIN PXC PHP RECI STX SCE TRX SHED VTA YEW
S4 Capital had an extraordinary week with strong interims and an impressive CMD accompanied by a further merger and topped off with winning its third Whopper. Interims were ahead of our expectations and we were particularly encouraged by LFL Gross Profit growth of +18% in July. The group announced the merger with Dare.Win, an award-winning digital creative agency which extends the geographical presence of MediaMonks to France. BMW and MINI consolidated its Pan-European account into a team led by MediaMonks, which is the third whopper account for S4 Capital, and notable in our view for being won in a pitch, rather than by land & expand, and being an automotive rather than technology client. The group held a three day CMD and our summary would be i) Day One demonstrated the compelling strategic logic and strict financial discipline underpinning the group ii) Day Two illustrated the already formidable partner/client list of S4 Capital, including Adobe, Amazon, Google and CAA and iii) Day Three highlighted the chemistry between the individual agencies brought together to form S4 Capital and the outstanding work that they produce. To reflect BMW and Dare.Win we raise our FY21 EPS forecast by +8% to 10.8p (was 10.0p) and continue to view 15p as a realistic target with further whoppers in prospect and the balance of the recent equity raise to deploy. On a 30x multiple, we raise our target price to 450p (was 375p) and retain our Buy recommendation.
Companies: S4 Capital Plc
Frontier IP has announced it has invested £320k in a £720k convertible loan financing of Nandi Proteins. Nandi Proteins is developing functional proteins for food ingredients aimed at reducing levels of fat, additives and gluten in processed foods addressing important social, health and environmental concerns about processed food. Frontier IP holds a 20.1% equity stake in Nandi Proteins; the last disclosed value of the holding was back in July 2017 at approx. £2.9m. Connected in part to the announcement today, we have used the opportunity to refresh our cash flow forecasts to reflect the net £2.1m proceeds of the July 2020 fundraise, the planned deployment of proceeds into bridge financing and refreshed our Sum-of-the-Parts valuation analysis to reflect the excellent portfolio progress made in FY’20. We anticipate a 50% increase in the unrealised profit on the revaluation of investments in FY’20e to £5.82m (vs. £3.0m prior estimate; £3.85m in FY’19). Applying the peer group multiple of 1.6x on Yr1 Book value of late-stage assets and incorporating the £2.1m proceeds and dilution associated with the July placing, implies an intrinsic value of 82p/share, 27% above the current share.
Companies: Frontier IP Group 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
Following a solid H120, HgCapital Trust (HGT) announced several portfolio transactions representing a considerable uplift to the carrying value at end March 2020 and translating into a c 12.0% ytd NAV total return (TR) to end August. On completion of these deals, HGT’s cash resources will improve significantly to £314m from £123m in early July, while its unfunded commitments will decline to £814m. Consequently, HGT’s commitment coverage ratio will improve markedly to c 39% vs 13% in early July.
Companies: Hgcapital Trust
Artemis Alpha Trust (ATS LN) has undergone a radical transformation over the past two years following a comprehensive strategic review. In April 2018, the trust held around 90 stocks with approximately 25% of NAV held in unquoted positions. Following the implementation of the review, Kartik Kumar (who has been with Artemis since 2012) was appointed lead manager alongside John Dodd remaining in place with an overseeing role. Kartik has since significantly reduced the number of stocks to a much more concentrated high conviction portfolio of just 36 stocks, and has significantly reduced the unquoted exposure to only 7%. This shift in focus has at the same time improved portfolio liquidity by moving up the market capitalisation scale.
Companies: Artemis Alpha Trust
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
Avation is a lessor of commercial aircraft to a diversified airline client base. In relation to the ongoing administration process of Virgin Australia, Avation has this morning announced that following the successful placing of five of the original thirteen aircraft that were on lease to the airline (two Fokker 100s plus three ATR 72-500s, with the latter having gone to two new customers), the remaining eight aircraft will be returned to Avation, being made up of three ATR 72-500s and five ATR 72-600s. Additionally, subject to approval at a creditors' meeting scheduled for 4 September 2020, the expected return to unsecured creditors is now anticipated at between 9-13% being paid prior to 30 June 2021.
Companies: Avation Plc
Deltic Energy is entering an exciting phase in its development based on its fully funded joint-venture projects with Shell. Preparations are now underway for an exploration well to test the Pensacola Zechstein prospect in the SNS (Southern North Sea). Deltic has indicated that it expects the current contingent well commitment to become firm on schedule by December 1, 2020. Drilling, according to Deltic, should follow in H2 2021. We see scope for positive news flow over the next few months, not least from the evaluation of Shell’s recently obtained processed 3-D seismic over Pensacola. Following Pensacola, the Selene prospect is scheduled to be drilled in mid-2022. The recent 32nd Round UKCS licence awards greatly expands Deltic’s exploration potential in the CNS and particularly the SNS Carboniferous fairway. Here some highly prospective acreage has been obtained.
Companies: Deltic Energy Plc
Belvoir’s H1 results evidence both strategic progress and profits growth. Given the challenges presented by COVID-19, this bodes very well for the group’s long-term growth potential. H1 adj. EPS grew +16%, the acquisition of Lovelle contributed well and in July the group entered into a strategic alliance with The Nottingham Building Society. Cash flow remained strong and the progressive dividend policy has been reinstated, with a 3.4p interim declared plus an additional 2p, as partial compensation for the missed 2019 final. With the resilience of lettings and the current record activity levels in sales and new mortgages the Board is optimistic that full-year results will hit its pre-COVID expectations and we make no changes to our PBT/EPS forecasts. Our target price of 233p (48% upside) assumes a 10% discount to the small/mid cap market. Given the above average performance in H1 and continued evidence that the long-term growth strategy is yielding value we see good upside to this target over time.
Companies: Belvoir Group Plc
S4 Capital has reported interim results that are ahead of our expectations and indicates an acceleration in the pace of recovery in Q3. LFL Gross Profit rose +12.2% in H1, with Q1 +18.8% and Q2 +6.5%. Encouragingly, after the trough of +3% in April, recovery accelerated to +5% in May, +11% in June and July was an impressive +18% ahead. PBT and EPS were both slightly better than our forecasts, while the group delivered a particularly impressive cash performance leaving it with net cash in June even before the £113m July placing. While we maintain our FY20 LFL Gross Profit growth forecast of +14% (Q3 +12%, Q4 +18%), the strong July result makes this look conservative. Further, the group awaits the outcome of two 'whopper' pitches each worth $20m+ with one due 'very shortly' and it can now see the pathway to 20 whoppers. S4 Capital is in a growth sweetspot and has already started to deploy the funds from the July placing to build capability in eCommerce (Orca Pacific) and econometrics/media optimisation (Brightblue). There are a number of moving parts in our forecasts and overall we retain our EPS estimates of 7p for this year, rising to 10p in 2021. We believe landing the whoppers combined with further M&A as the group deploys its recent equity raise & increased debt facility could see EPS of 15p next year.