In recent years smaller investment trusts have been under pressure. The demand for smaller vehicles has been reduced by two factors: the consolidation in the wealth management industry and the increasing prevalence of centralized buy lists used by DFMs and advisers. If a large amount of money is being managed to a model, then allocations can be impossible to deal into a small trust. Anecdotally, the lower limit of viable size for professionals has been rising. £200m is a more realistic cut off point than £100m, and even that is not enough for some. The lower charges and greater liquidity of larger vehicles also makes them more attractive in the current environment. The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed forces which seem to be increasing this pressure. Lower demand for assets has been caused by concerns about market direction and worsening personal circumstances, reducing the ability or willingness to invest. This trend is visible in flat investment trust industry assets over the first half of 2020. In addition we see this trajectory in the widening of the average discount in the universe from c. 1.9% at the end of January to c. 8.6% by the end of June – even if certain assets seen as invulnerable to the crisis have bucked this trend. Wide discounts can bring the long-term viability of a vehicle into play. Whereas the lack of investment demand creates greater competition for capital, which could further starve the smallest trusts of attention. However there are many investors who do not have the same liquidity restrictions as large, consolidated wealth management businesses operating model portfolios or buy lists. These include wealth managers with greater discretion over which funds they can use for individual clients, and individual retail investors managing their own money. For them the 50% of investment trusts which have less than £200m in market cap offer a variety of opportunities, which their peers can’t or won’t access. While some smaller trusts follow similar strategies to larger trusts, others are clearly differentiated and offer a way to diversify asset exposure of sources of alpha. Moreover the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to an alternative source of return: wind ups or mergers which close persistent discounts. There has been a spate of recent corporate actions which show that some boards are willing to take extreme action, including the merger of Perpetual Income & Growth and Murray Income. While these two trusts both have over £500m in net assets, we think the boards of some smaller trusts could be considering this approach. The board of the £24m JPMorgan Brazil has recommended that shareholders vote against continuation at its 17 September annual general meeting.
Companies: BRLA AIE BEE HOT AJOT MIGO CCJI
BlackRock Latin American (BRLA) invests in Latin America for capital growth, using the full extent of BlackRock’s resources as the world’s largest money manager to generate alpha from stock selection and proprietary macroeconomic analysis. Since 2018, BRLA has also paid a quarterly dividend set at 1.25% of NAV, equivalent to 5% at a constant NAV. The board can pay this out of capital where necessary, which means the managers can continue to focus on the best growth prospects without having to sacrifice growth for yield. Managers Ed Kuczma and Sam Vecht took over in January 2019. Their aim has been to make the portfolio more active, with individual stock picks more important to performance. As we discuss in the Performance section, this has generally been successful, although the region has been rocked by two major crises during the managers’ tenure. The MSCI EM Latin America benchmark is dominated by Brazil (c. 61%) and Mexico (c. 24%), and BRLA’s portfolio is similarly weighted. The region’s markets were among the worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic with a c. 45% peak-to-trough fall. The index is now trading on extremely low P/E levels and BRLA is on a 10.3% discount (see the Discount section). The only two other closed-ended funds investing in Latin America are very small (with net assets well below £50m). As a result, their charges are double BRLA’s. With open-ended funds also rare, BRLA is one of the few options for exposure to the region, and benefits from the advantages of closed-ended funds such as the ability to gear and not having to sell into falling markets.
Companies: Blackrock Latin American Inv Tst
We have knitted together the impact on the investment companies from what is now widely considered to be the most severe pandemic in a century. The collapse in asset prices over the latter part of March, brought the curtain down on an up-market that lasted more than ten years. In amongst this, there were pockets, such as the technology sector, that held up well. For many industries, the worst is still to come, as we brace ourselves for the sharpest contraction to global growth since the US great depression.
Companies: ASL SDV ASIT BGEU BRLA CCPE DPA IEM JMF JZCP JUKG EPIC PSHD CSH RIII CCPG BLP TMPL BPCR SEQI AIF SMT CIFU KKVX FAIR ICON RSE CRS GWI USF DIGS
BlackRock Latin American Investment Trust (BRLA) has been managed by Sam Vecht and Ed Kuczma since late December 2018. They have created a more concentrated portfolio comprising their highest-conviction ideas in the region. The managers are employing gearing in a more tactical way, which they report has proved successful in both up and down markets, and they have been more active in adding to and trimming positions when deemed appropriate. As a result of the changes made, BRLA now has higher stock-specific risk, but lower country and sector risk. The managers say the success of the strategy was evidenced in the trust’s strong relative performance in Q419. They are constructive on the prospects for Latin America in 2020 based on an expectation of higher economic growth, low interest rates and the potential for a weaker US dollar.
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 Latin America (BRLA) aims to profit from the growth potential in Latin American equities, chiefly those of Brazil and Mexico. The trust is managed by Ed Kuczma and Sam Vecht, who lean on the deep resources of the broader BlackRock emerging markets team. Currently BRLA is heavily weighted towards Brazil. The managers are highly bullish on the country thanks to its favourable political scene, the potential for further interest rate cuts and booming personal consumption. Although Ed and Sam aim to maximise capital growth, the trust pays out 1.25% of NAV each quarter as a dividend, which would be 5% on a constant NAV basis. The dividend is paid from capital if income is not sufficient. The trust’s process has been revamped under the new managers, who took over in January 2019. While the key elements of the strategy remain the same, there has been greater integration with the wider emerging markets team, aided by Sam’s presence. Sam heads the EMEA, Frontiers and Latin America desk and runs portfolios with a broader focus, while Ed is a Latin America specialist. The managers report that they have integrated macroeconomic and political analysis deeper into the portfolio construction process, while they have also made the portfolio more concentrated and more active, or more different from its benchmark, increasing its potential for outperformance. BRLA is overweight Brazil and Mexico, and gearing is also high relative to its possible range, indicating the managers’ optimism for their markets and expectations of good returns to come. Their more active stance has not yet been rewarded with returns, however, as we discuss in the performance section. BRLA currently trades on a 12.7% discount at the current share price, close to its five-year average of 13%. The discount narrowed in the first half of the year, following the announcement that Ed and Sam were taking over as managers, but has widened back out to near where it started 2019.
There was palpable shift in sentiment over the third quarter with the cautionary undertone perhaps best reflected by gold’s resurgence. Ongoing trade jockeying between the US and China did not help the mood and neither did the Argentine debt default in August. At the real economy level, manufacturing output has been trending lower across some of the major global economies.
Companies: AEMC BIOG SIGT IBT JEFI MHN MERI MTE PSHD RSE SIR FJV LTI MVI SEQI SOND SLI EGL SUPP VNH CSH VSL BRLA UTL ADAM SOHO GPM TPOU LEAF JRS JLEN SEC IGC MPO LIV INTU THRL
BlackRock Latin American Investment Trust (BRLA) is managed by Ed Kuczma and Sam Vecht. The managers are constructive on the outlook for Latin American equities, believing the favourable interest rate environment is supportive for consumption growth. They seek high-quality businesses that are able to grow earnings and cash flows over the economic cycle. The managers have reduced the trust’s cyclical exposure, focusing more on companies with internal growth drivers and attractive dividend yields. Following the adoption of a new, higher dividend policy in FY18, BRLA currently offers a c 6% dividend yield.
BlackRock Latin America (BRLA) invests in the stock markets of the developing countries that make up the Latin America region, aiming to generate high long-term total returns through a mixture of economic analysis and stock-picking. The board have been highly active over the past year in an attempt to revivify the trust and create a more attractive product. Last year it committed to paying out 1.25% of NAV each quarter as a dividend, which would amount to a yield of 5% at a constant NAV, and 5.5% on the current share price. The dividend will be paid out of capital if necessary, so the managers will not have to change their total return focus. So far only three dividends have been paid under the new policy, which is the reason data providers currently show a current yield of 5.2%. Following the resignation of the previous manager Will Landers, Ed Kuczma and Sam Vecht took responsibility for the trust on 24 December 2018. They have used a rally in the region to take profits in some positions and recycle into more attractively valued stocks. Ed and Sam plan “evolution, not revolution”, with the same house style of using macro-economic analysis to focus their attention on those countries whose economic fundamentals are improving but a renewed emphasis on stock-picking, with individual stocks expected to be more important to returns. In the managers’ view, the region is looking extremely attractive as a long-term play, with currencies and valuations both depressed, yet economic fundamentals improving. The pro-market government of Brazil’s Jair Bolsanaro also gives reason for optimism about the course of markets. Since the change of management, the discount has come in from above 17% to closer to 9%. This may be due to both the good performance in the region and the reputation of the new managers. Sam has been involved the success of BlackRock Frontiers over the past decade, and the trust has frequently traded on a premium. The downside to the discount is limited by a tender offer due to be implemented in 2021 should the trust not outperform the index or if the discount remains wider than 12% on average.
BlackRock Latin American Investment Trust (BRLA) has two experienced new co-managers, Ed Kuczma and Sam Vecht, who are part of BlackRock’s well-resourced global emerging markets equities team and were appointed to manage BRLA in December 2018, following the resignation of former lead manager Will Landers. Kuczma had worked closely with Landers for a number of years and says the transition should be smooth. The managers are constructive on the outlook for Latin American equities in 2019, following a series of headwinds in 2018, citing improving economies, attractive valuations and a more benign political environment. BRLA’s board adopted a new, higher dividend policy in FY18. The trust yields 4.0% based on three interim payments during the last financial year; the total distribution should rise in FY19 based on four quarterly dividend payments.
BlackRock Latin American Investment Trust (BRLA) is managed by Will Landers, who says that investor attitudes towards Latin American equities have changed. 2017 was a period of confidence in the region’s prospects, but now there is more scepticism about the growth outlook. However, the manager remains optimistic about potential returns from Latin American equities. In the key Brazilian economy, he cites higher domestic demand and a favourable interest rate environment, with the benchmark interest rate having more than halved to a record low level. BRLA has recently announced new dividend and discount management policies, which may lead to a narrowing in its discount over time. Dividends will now be paid four times a year, equivalent to 1.25% of the dollar-based, quarter-end NAV. As a result, the trust now offers an attractive prospective yield.
After a difficult time in 2015, emerging markets have enjoyed some welcome respite over the past few years. Throughout 2016, the MSCI Emerging Markets Index delivered NAV returns of 32.6%, and 2017 saw similarly strong returns of 25.4%. Many of the factors that originally attracted investors to emerging markets seem to be coming back into play, including improving earnings growth, higher economic growth and robust consumer trends. As an additional tailwind, the weak dollar has helped the commodity exporting countries like Russia, Brazil and Chile continue to grow while at the same time encouraging investors to chase higher yielding EM countries.
Companies: Templeton Emerging Markets Inv Trust Blackrock Latin American Inv Tst
BlackRock Latin American Investment Trust (BRLA) is managed by Will Landers, who has 26 years of experience at BlackRock. He is optimistic on the outlook for Latin American equities in 2018, due to relatively attractive company valuations and improving economies in the region, especially in Brazil, where he describes the recovery as “slow and sure”. He says that in 2017, emerging market equity performance was led by Asian companies and there is potential for Latin American companies to catch up if investors have confidence in the improving economic outlook. After a recent improvement in investment performance, BRLA’s NAV total return is now outperforming the benchmark over one, three and five years.
BlackRock Latin American Investment Trust (BRLA) is a well-established fund offering exposure to Latin America via a diversified equity portfolio. Manager William Landers aims to generate an attractive total return from a portfolio of 50-75 holdings invested across the capitalisation spectrum. He notes that despite negative political headlines in Brazil (the largest economy in the region), there is economic progress helped by falling interest rates and an inflation rate that is lower than the Central Bank of Brazil’s target. Landers is positive on Brazil’s political agenda and believes that the recent passing of the labour reform bill suggests that there is a broad appetite for reform, less conditional on President Temer than may have been thought. The manager is positive on the outlook for Latin American equities, while acknowledging that there will be “bumps along the way”. BRLA’s current dividend yield is 2.7%.
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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.