As with most people, we are sick of discussing Brexit’s endless possible scenarios and how it might impact equity markets. The outlook is forever shifting, the large majority of “information” being pure conjecture. Nevertheless, the political and economic backdrop means that Europe is now one of the most out of favour investment regions. In the open ended IA sector, Q3 and Q4 of last year saw total outflows of -£1.6bn in Europe, relative to the US and Global sectors which saw inflows of £289m and £114m respectively. Only the UK saw greater outflows. The discounts on closed-ended funds also suggest an out-of-favour asset class. As can be seen below, relative to both historical averages and global peers, European investment trusts are good value. In fact, Europe is even more out of favour than the UK, judging by discounts.
Companies: HNE BRGS TRG FEV JESC
BlackRock Greater Europe is a focused European equity portfolio that aims to generate capital growth and is differentiated from its peers in that the manager has the greatest flexibility in the peer group to invest in continental European companies – including up to 25% in countries listed in developing Europe. It also has the most concentrated portfolio in the AIC Europe sector, but (perhaps against what one might expect), amongst the best risk-adjusted return statistics and lowest maximum drawdown – or the most and investor could have lost if they had bought and sold at the worst possible times - in the peer group. It is the only trust with exposure to emerging Europe, adding a greater level of diversification. Over this period, the managers have generated alpha of 2.76% pa compared to the peer group average of 2.1%. A new lead manager, Stefan Gries, was appointed in June replacing Vince Devlin, and co-manager Sam Vecht remains, picking stocks in emerging Europe. Both men have worked closely together since 2008 when the team moved to BlackRock from Scottish Widows. As such, the management change should be viewed as an evolution rather than a revolution. With a focus on “growth” names, Stefan looks for companies that have “high quality” management, good free cashflow and decent options to reinvest this cash for growth. The trust has outperformed the index in six out of nine full calendar years of management, leading to a strong cumulative return over the long-term, up 129% in NAV total return terms over ten years compared to 90% for the benchmark. The trust tends to underperform in periods in which value stocks have performed well such as 2014 and 2015. The board have been successful at managing the trust’s discount volatility, through the offer – not always used – of a semi-annual tender for up to 20% of shares. Most recently 6.8% of shares were tendered, being significantly undersubscribed. The trust has traded on a tighter discount than most of its peers over time and currently stands on a discount of 3.8%.
Companies: Blackrock Greater Europe Investment Trust
Active fund management has come under increased scrutiny over recent times, with a greater availability of passively managed tracker funds and a keen eye on cost have all meant groups have had to justify their fees on a consistent basis. The argument surrounding active versus passive is rather tedious, given the definitive question of ‘which is better’ will never be answered. Given you won’t find a passively managed fund in the UK-listed investment trust space, we obviously predominately focus on active management – but we fully appreciate the benefits of index trackers, exchange-traded funds and other passive offerings for certain investors. Nevertheless, our take on the debate is that while many active funds will underperform, certain managers/strategies have proven, time and time again, that they can add value. As such, while identifying a manager who can consistently outperform is challenging, but our research shows that – with the considerable caveat that the past is no guide to future returns – there are certain sectors/regions that have been more suited to an active approach that others. As we discuss below, and using rolling five-year periods for the past 25 years, we illustrate that trusts in the European sector have been the most consistent in beating equity indices across all of the major AIC and IA sectors. Again, it is worth noting that this is a review of active manager performance, not a prediction of what might happen in the future.
Companies: JEO BRGS JESC
BlackRock Greater Europe Investment Trust (BRGE) invests in continental European equities across the market cap spectrum; it is a concentrated portfolio and up to 25% may be invested in companies listed in developing European markets. The primary aim is long-term capital growth; however BRGE has a progressive dividend strategy – ordinary dividends have increased in every year since fund launch in 2004. Despite modest economic growth and political uncertainties in the region, managers Vincent Devlin and Sam Vecht continue to identify attractive investment opportunities. Following significant fund outflows from European equities, any change in investor sentiment would be supportive for the asset class.
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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