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
City of London’s (CTY) objective is to provide long-term growth in income and capital. Bearing in mind the fact that this trust has the longest track record of providing annual dividend increases in the investment trust sector – 53 consecutive years – it is also true that a rising level of dividend income is a very important part of what CTY aims to provide for shareholders. In the context of this very long track record having been developed by the company, it is reassuring for investors that the last 28 years worth of dividend increases have been delivered by the same manager: Job Curtis. Job has sole responsibility for CTY, although as we discuss in the Management section, he leans on his team members in Janus Henderson’s global equity income team to help him form ideas about relative valuations and changing industry dynamics. Within the mandate, the manager has a certain degree of flexibility to invest outside equities (opportunistically in fixed interest or convertibles), and outside the LSE. As at the end of June 2019, Job had 10% invested overseas, in companies which all offer either better income opportunities or non-replicable exposures to that found in the UK. Overseas holdings (and income received in foreign currencies) have clearly had a beneficial impact over the last few years, but with the end to the Brexit process potentially looming, Job is gently positioning CTY towards more domestically-focused areas. He has built up exposure to what he views as resilient domestic themes such as UK housebuilders, and travel and leisure businesses, which should generally benefit from a rise in sterling, and which add portfolio stability. Fundamentally, Job aims to invest in companies that have strong balance sheets, which, in share price terms, offer a margin of safety, and have demonstrably sustainable cash generation to support both dividends and capital expenditure for the future growth of the company. He likes to spread investments across a wide variety of companies. The board has encouraged him to concentrate the portfolio very slightly, which over the last financial year saw the number of stocks come down from 117 to 97. Valuations are an important determinant in the investment process. Job has been paring back exposure to what he views as very highly rated ‘quality growth’ stocks, and reinvesting in high quality cyclicals and value stocks. This subtle shift shows up in our correlation analysis, and CTY has recently become more highly correlated with ‘value’, whilst correlation to ‘growth’ has declined. In our view, this is an interesting by-product of the investment process of CTY and a cautious UK equity income mandate. As a pragmatic and experienced manager, Job instinctively sells into ‘hot’ areas of the market, recycling into less well-appreciated areas. NAV total returns over both the long- and the short-term have been ahead of the FTSE All Share index – which this year replaces the AIC UK Equity Income peer group as the benchmark. Job’s style means he is not aiming to ‘shoot the lights out’ in any one year by having particularly large weightings to any one sector. As such, he expects to outperform gradually over the medium to long term, and fully accepts that over short periods, he may underperform. We observe that the dividend focus and investment strategy generally lends itself to the trust outperforming during periods of market difficulty; since June 2008, the trust has outperformed the FTSE and the Morningstar Equity Income sector more often during periods where the FTSE All Share has fallen over the previous 12 months. Conversely, it has tended to lag in rising markets. At the current price, the shares yield 4.5%, a decent premium to the AIC UK Equity Income sector weighted average of 3.9%. One of the key selling points of CTY is its dividend track record, which has seen the board pay an increased dividend for the past 53 consecutive years – the longest track record in the investment trust sector. The board has been able to add to revenue reserves for the past seven years, such that revenue reserves (as at 30 June 2019) are were 0.83x the current dividend level of 18.6p per share. A premium rating has for quite some time been the norm for the trust. The board’s aim is that the share price should “reflect closely its underlying asset value” but also to reduce discount volatility. The company continues to issue shares, which over time has enabled the board to negotiate lower fees with Janus Henderson. The OCF was 0.39% in the last financial year, and the board predicts it will fall further once recently negotiated lower management fees have had a full year’s impact.
Companies: City Of London Investment Trust
Anyone who takes a strong interest in financial markets sometimes feels the pull of market timing. It is seductive to imagine yourself a canny trader, buying or selling positions just before the market shifts, trading investments daily and beating the herd with superior analysis and instincts. We can add to the existing research suggesting this is a bad idea, and that taking a long-term view of your investments is the way to go. We looked at investment trusts that have outperformed over the past ten years and ran monthly NAV returns. We then calculated how many months were responsible for their outperformance. In other words, how many months did you need to miss to have ended up with market performance or less, negating any benefit of choosing an active fund over a passive fund? The results were surprisingly low, suggesting that switching in and out of investment trusts is fraught with danger and a potential recipe for underperformance, and underlining the case for a long term approach.
Companies: SDV CTY SMT FGT MNP JMG SDP
As the end of the financial year approaches, we enter ‘ISA season’. In the first of several articles on generating income for an ISA investment, we look at the advantages of investing in equity income trusts. We explain why investment trusts can be useful for long-term, income-hungry investors, and the myriad benefits that the closed ended structure offers. We also identify trusts that best exploit the tools that investment trusts have to offer to achieve their income objectives, and illustrate how they may provide investors with a more dependable income stream for many years into the future.
Companies: MAJE PLI ASCI CTY BEE SAIN STS IPU IVI IBT
City of London (CTY) ’s objective is to provide long-term growth in income and capital. The broader objective includes a reference to the “importance of dividend income to shareholders”, which cuts to the heart of CTY’s mission: an unrivalled 52-year record of increasing dividends paid to shareholders in consecutive years. Within the UK mandate, there is a degree of flexibility to invest outside UK equities. Job Curtis has had sole charge of CTY since 1991, and over the ensuing 28 or so years, has demonstrated opportunistic adventures into fixed interest, convertibles and equities listed on other exchanges around the world in order to boost the yield, or add an exposure otherwise lacking in the FTSE All Share. In Job’s view, the UK has much to attract investors: good yields, a dividend paying culture and a wide range of listed companies to choose from. Job aims to invest in those which have strong balance sheets, those that offer a margin of safety in share price terms, and have demonstrably sustainable cash generation to support both dividends and capital expenditure for the future growth of the company. Understanding that he is investing people’s hard-earned savings, Job believes in maintaining a diversified portfolio, with around 100 holdings at any one time. Job emphasises that dividend yield is a key attraction for him when selecting investments, but that he tries to achieve a blend of higher and lower yielding companies through the portfolio. The resulting breadth of income sources is a key part of his approach, and is part of the reason for such a strong dividend record on the trust. Overall, Job believes that dividends form a decent part of overall returns for the vast majority of companies. In his view, selecting those companies that have the discipline of paying consistent and growing dividends, results in a high-quality portfolio which should over time outperform passive equity indices. NAV total returns over both the long and the short term have been ahead of both the FTSE All Share and the IA peer group average, but have been moderately behind those of the AIC UK Equity Income peer group (the trust’s benchmark). Job’s style is one in which he is not aiming to “shoot the lights out”, and as such he expects to outperform gradually over the medium to long term, fully accepting that over short periods he may underperform when sectors such as mining or technology shares outperform. At the current price, the shares yield 4.7%, a decent premium to the AIC UK Equity Income sector weighted average of 4.1%. The trust’s record of paying an increased dividend for the past 52 consecutive years is important in this context. However, perhaps of more interest to investors is the fact that that the same manager has been responsible for delivering a rising income for nearly 28 years. Over the very long term, generating a rising income every year is only really achievable using revenue reserves. Indeed, CTY has had to dip into its reserves seven times over the period in which Job has been running the trust. In most years, the board aims to increase the dividend, but also retain a little of the income earned for the revenue reserves. As at June 2018, revenue reserves (after adjusting for the final dividend payable) amounted to 0.59x the current dividend level of 17.7p per share. In fact, the board has been able to add to revenue reserves (per share and as a proportion of the dividend) for the past six years, even though at the same time it has been increasing the dividend and diluting the revenue reserves through issuance of stock. A premium rating has for quite some time been the norm for the trust. The board’s aim is that the share price should “reflect closely its underlying asset value” but also to reduce discount volatility. Over the eight years to June 2018, the trust has issued 145.7m shares, increasing the share capital by nearly 70%. The trust’s size increasing has also meant that the OCF has reduced over time to 0.41% in the last financial year.
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
Over the last few years, fees and costs have become a lightning rod in the investment world, attracting the scrutiny of regulators, the media and the public alike. Investment trusts, with their independent boards acting partly on the views of shareholders, have been quick to respond. We review the changing fee landscape among investment trusts in 2018 through proprietary analysis, and discuss those which boards have done most to reduce costs for investors.
Companies: PCT SMT HSL CTY JAM IPU MWY LWI
City of London Investment Trust, established in 1891, is one of the oldest and largest investment trusts in the country and has an unbroken track record of increasing dividends every year for more than 50 years. Managed by Job Curtis (pictured) at Janus Henderson Global Investors since the early 1990s, the trust is well resourced and has outperformed the benchmark FTSE All Share in seven of the last ten calendar years. In addition, it has maintained an impressive income profile with the trust consistently yielding around 4% for most of its recent history. Job takes a value approach to the market, backing companies he deems be out of favour but offer good upside. Nevertheless, and though he is a bottom-up stockpicker, he also runs the portfolio in a relatively conservative manner tending toward larger companies and not straying too far from the composition of the index. As such, the portfolio has tended to underperform its AIC UK Equity Income sector in strongly rallying markets (which is understandable, given the ‘average’ trust in the peer group is overweight small and mid-caps relative to the index) but it has tended to protect capital more effectively in falling markets – such as in 2011 when it delivered a positive return despite the impact of the European sovereign debt crisis. The £1.4bn trust was slightly behind the index in 2017 and fell behind considerably in 2016, when smaller companies in particular rebounded strongly after the initial shock of the Brexit referendum. As a result over three years the trust has underperformed its peer group – the AIC UK Equity Income sector, where the average trust has a much higher weighting to mid and small caps – by a small margin and is behind the index too. However the tendancy to underperform rallies whilst outperforming during more difficult periods means the trust has a good long-term track record of outperformance relative to the wider UK market. Over 10 years to the end of February 2018 it has delivered annualised NAV total returns of 7.8% per annum, against a backdrop of 6.6% per annum from the FTSE All Share. Though it has struggled to keep pace with its peer group average over the course of 2017 to the end of July, it is outperformed the index over that time with NAV total returns of 7.4%. The trust’s solid yield has won it a strong following and it has regularly traded on a premium to NAV over recent times, as it does today (7th March 2018) at 2%. The board has the ability to buy back shares to manage the trust’s discount and issue new ones to prevent it reaching too high a premium, and has used this feature extensively, issuing more than five million new shares in 2017. Although there is no formal discount policy in place, the board’s active approach suggests that buybacks would be used if the fund traded at a discount for an extended period of time.
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Since the restrictions were lifted in mid-May, Belvoir has seen a surge in activity due to pent-up demand, resulting in June being a record breaking month for the group’s Newton Fallowell estate agency network in terms of instructions and sales and the financial Services division in terms of written income. Management have stated that with the positive impact of the stamp duty reductions still to take effect they are confident that the Group is well positioned to capitalise on the current market upturn and to take advantage of the opportunities arising from more challenging conditions. We have upgraded our PBT forecasts for FY 2020 to the level we forecast pre-COVID. We have also upgraded our target price from 169p to 233p and highlight that H1 2020 has demonstrated the resilience of the group, management’s ability to navigate difficult market conditions and the power of the franchise-led strategy.
Companies: Belvoir Group Plc
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
As expected, the quarter saw a sharp increase in loan impairments. However, one can wonder if the increase was not capped by the group’s willingness to keep its results afloat. Management’s downbeat guidance in terms of revenue recovery potential and cost reduction does not bode well as regards the group’s future credit loss absorption capacity.
Companies: Lloyds Banking Group
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
The group continued to opportunistically take advantage of its CIB division’s performance to front-load pending credit losses. The third quarter should mark the beginning of a normalisation in the revenue mix and the cost of risk assuming no change in the macro-economic scenario retained by the group.
S4 Capital has announced the merger of Orca Pacific with Mighty Hive. Orca Pacific is a full-service Amazon agency and boutique consultancy based out of Seattle, which builds on the existing Amazon relationship of the group. The combination with Mighty Hive creates an end to end eCommerce offering encompassing retail management, advertising and content on the Amazon platform. Orca has a blue chip client list including Reebok, Uni-Ball, Mars, OshKosh BGosh, Godiva, Del Monte and Kenroy Home. We view Orca Pacific as an ideal merger partner with MightyHive, while we also see potential to align with the creative capabilities of MediaMonks. No financial details were disclosed, though we believe the transaction would have been structured consistent with the 50/50 cash/equity structure used by S4 Capital. The group recently raised £116m to fund the cash element of its M&A strategy. S4 Capital will release interims on 9th September followed by a Capital Markets Day. We await the outcome of two pitches for Whopper accounts before updating our forecasts. We retain our Buy rating and 375p price target.
Companies: S4 Capital
European Metals Holdings today announce that a support and financing agreement with EIT InnoEnergy, the principal facilitator and organiser of the European Battery Alliance has been agreed. This agreement is to help progress at the large Cinovec Lithium project in the Czech Republic, a JV for which has just been set up between European Metals Holdings and the large Czech utilities Group CEZ to fully fund the project through Feasibility and to a construction decision.
Goldplat today provides an update on its Q4 2020 and the end of its financial year (FY2020). Despite the best efforts of COVID Goldplat has had an excellent year. Overall business units in Ghana and South Africa have seen an increase in profit levels, and losses have been stemmed from the Kilimapesa mine in Kenya which is now on care-and-maintenance. Cash at the end of June was £3.2m.
Digitalbox is an AIM-quoted digital publishing company, currently owning two distinct digital media assets and with a scalable platform to grow through acquisition. This morning the group has provided a trading update for the six month period to 30 June 2020. H1 2020E revenue is reported to be flat against the prior period on a comparative basis at c.£1.0m, reflecting increased audience volumes being offset by the well-publicised fall off in digital advertising pricing. However, despite this present backdrop, H1 2020E adj. PBT is anticipated ahead of management's expectations due to a strong margin performance in the period; this driven by changes made to improve operational efficiencies. Encouragingly, as at 30 June, the cash balance has increased by £0.6m to £1.2m.
With this morning's announcement, NBB has confirmed that the thorough overhaul of the company in recent years has continued to bear fruit notwithstanding the pandemic. Notably, the news that the company has been EBITDA positive in H1 is a tribute to the proactive actions taken by the management in (1) building new businesses which now make up more than half of the group, and which continue to progress, (2) taking out significant costs, and (3) developing tailored solutions for clients which incorporate all of the separate business strands as required. We view the achievement in a particularly positive light since the market for Executive Search has been challenging as a result of the global Covid situation.
Companies: GDP NBB DBOX
The Bankers Investment Trust (BNKR) has continued to deliver on its twin objectives of long-term capital and income growth, rebounding strongly from the global market declines of Q120 and declaring increased dividends for H120 despite the difficult backdrop for corporate earnings. Coming into 2020, manager Alex Crooke had positioned the trust relatively cautiously with a net cash position of c 3%, which he put to work during the sell-off, boosting the portfolio’s long-term total return potential. At the half year the board reiterated its intention to increase BNKR’s FY20 total dividend by c 3%, using reserves as necessary, which would secure a record-equalling 54th consecutive year of dividend growth for the trust’s shareholders.
Companies: Bankers Investment Trust
Today's update highlights that despite the Covid-19 outbreak and UK/IRE lockdown, which has affected trading, Duke has continued to collect cash royalties from most of its royalty partners. Short-term alternative payment terms have been agreed with those partners hardest hit, to support them to periods where royalties can be fully recouped. Therefore the 61% fall in p/b from 1.3 (at 20 Feb) to 0.5 today, appears overdone.
Companies: Duke Royalty
Primary Health Properties (LON:PHP) recently announced interim results for the period to June 30, 2020. The company reported net rental income of £64.8mln, up 20.4% versus H1 2019. Net profit was up 29.0% at £36.0mln (European Public Real-estate Association earnings measure). Dividend per share for
Companies: Primary Health Properties
Worldwide Healthcare Trust (WWH) is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Managed by Sven Borho and Trevor Polischuk at OrbiMed, the trust has an enviable absolute and relative performance track record. The managers remain very constructive on the prospects for the global healthcare sector, suggesting that while President Trump has once again focused on the issue of US drug pricing, his ‘bark is worse than his bite’, and his efforts are a negotiating ploy to get the healthcare industry to the table to discuss reforms. They highlight minimal disruptions at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a result of the coronavirus, and expect an uptick in industry mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in H220 and beyond.
Companies: Worldwide Healthcare Trust
The group’s earnings surprise was driven by goodwill impairments. On the negative side, management upgraded, albeit slightly, its full-year loan impairments guidance and warns about revenue and CET1 pressure. It also reckoned that the tensions between the US and China will impact the group.
Companies: HSBC Holdings Plc
The Brunner Investment Trust (BUT) is now managed by Matthew Tillett at Allianz Global Investors (AllianzGI), who worked closely with his predecessor Lucy Macdonald as co-manager on the fund for four years, with a particular focus on income generation. He is able to draw on the well-resourced investment team at AllianzGI, including BUT’s new deputy managers Jeremy Kent and Marcus Morris-Eyton. Tillett says BUT offers a balance between growth and income, having provided investors with consistent capital appreciation over the long term, pays an attractive yield and has a distinguished record of 48 years of consecutive annual dividend increases. He believes we are in an exciting part of the cycle, where there are extremely interesting investment opportunities for those with a disciplined approach.
Companies: Brunner Investment Trust
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
PetroTal (PTAL LN/TAL CN)C; Target price £0.45: 1Q20 results/Bretaña expected to restart in July – 1Q20 financials are in line with expectations and 1Q20 production had been reported previously. At the end of 1Q20, current trade and other payables had been reduced to ~US$45 mm compared to ~US$55 mm at YE19. Most importantly. PetroTal continues to expect the Bretaña field to be re-opened this month. The contingent liability with Petroperu is estimated at US$25 mm at the current oil price and the company has entered into a financial swap for 0.46 mmbbl of oil with an ICE Brent reference price of US $40.58/bbl to cover the upcoming sale by Petroperu at the Bayovar port. This is a recovery story that we continue to like. It offers a combination of value, production and cash flow growth and reserves upside. We anticipate that the imminent reopening of the field with be an important catalyst to the share price.
i3 Energy (I3E LN): Reveals takeover target in Canada | Maha Energy (MAHA-A SS): Production update | Aker BB (AKERBP NO): 2Q20 update in Norway | Energy (RRE LN): Recommended offer by Viaro Energy | Spirit Energy: Dry hole in Norway | Enwell Energy (ENW LN): Ukraine update | JKX Oil & Gas (JKX LN): 2Q20 update in Ukraine and Russia | Pharos Energy (PHAR LN): Operating update in Egypt and Vietnam | Sound Energy (SOU LN)C: Terms of Moroccan licence renegotiated | Tethys Oil (TETY SS): June production in Oman | Victoria Oil & Gas (VOG LN): Gas sales contract with ENEO in Cameroon terminated
EVENTS TO WATCH NEXT WEEK
14/07/2020: Aker BP (AKERBP NO) – 2Q20 results
15/07/2020: Premier Oil (PMO LN) – 1H20 update
13-17/07/2020: GeoPark (GPRK US) – 2Q20 update
Companies: I3E MAHAA JKX PHAR EQNR AKERBP ENI HUR PTAL REP RRE SOU TPL VOG OMV