City of London’s (CTY) objective is to provide long-term growth in income and capital. CTY has the longest track record of providing annual dividend increases in the investment trust sector, which now has 54 consecutive years of growth since 1966. The COVID-19 crisis and market sell-off has left CTY underperforming the market over the short term. However stock selection remained positive in the financial year to 30/06/2020 – as it has been for eight out of the past ten financial years. Being geared in a falling market was the main culprit. Job Curtis, CTY’s manager for nearly 30 years, has reacted swiftly to events by repositioning the portfolio to reflect today’s new reality. He is a fundamental stock picker first and foremost, looking for defensive companies which can deliver demonstrably sustainable cash flow to support both dividends and capital expenditure. As we discuss in Portfolio, he has increasingly been looking abroad to find companies that suit his criteria. Job has also significantly reduced exposure to sectors such as travel & leisure and energy, in our view making the portfolio a more defensive. There are clearly no quick fixes to COVID-19, and its impact will likely be felt for years to come in company earnings and dividends. CTY has drawn on revenue reserves to bolster the dividend for the last financial year. Despite the very difficult environment, the board has reaffirmed its commitment to growing the dividend for the current financial year ending 30/06/2021. Yet, as discussed in Discount, CTY is now buying shares back on a discount of 2%, having typically traded on a premium for the past five years.
Companies: City Of London Investment Trust
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.
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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Although 2020 will probably go down in history as one of the most challenging years experienced during our lifetime, it will also likely be chronicled as one of the best years for the recognition and appreciation of science. As we entered 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was in its infancy. However, it rapidly evolved through the exponential rise in infections and mortality globally. Much has been achieved during the past 12 months in the fight against COVID-19, but, as we enter 2021, there are considerable concerns about the emergence of a mutant version of the virus and the second wave that we are now facing.
Companies: AVO ARBB ARIX BBGI CLIG DNL FLTA ICGT OCI PCA PIN PHP RECI STX SCE TRX SHED VTA YEW
What’s new: Ahead of the publication of the Group’s interims results for the six months to 31 December 2020, CLIG has released a detailed trading update which reveals:
Group consolidated FuM of US$11.0 billion (£8.0 billion), which is twice the FuM of US$5.5 billion (£4.4 billion) at the Group’s year end on 30 June 2020;
The merger with Karpus Management Inc ("KMI") added c US$3.6 billion from 1 October 2020;
Investment performance across CLIG’s investment strategies was “strong”, following “significant discount narrowing” and “good NAV performance”;
Rebalancing of client portfolios resulted in US$ 290 million of net outflows.
Companies: City of London Investment Group PLC
Secure Trust Bank’s (STB) pre-close update confirms the upbeat trends evident in its Q3 update in November. The strong lending rebound continued into Q4, loan repayment holidays are at low levels, and the balance sheet has remained robust and liquid. STB reiterated that its FY20 PBT would be well ahead of £9.7m (we forecast £13.0m). However, the new COVID-19 restrictions introduced in December 2020 have affected consumer loan demand into 2021, as well as the Motor Finance business. Management expects to be better placed to disclose its outlook for FY21 when STB’s FY20 results are released on 25 March. Our forecasts (FY21 PBT £31.6m, ROE 9.1%) and fair value (1,756p per share) remain unchanged.
Companies: Secure Trust Bank Plc
Finals (9mths to Sep-20) are in line with expectations. Recurring fee income from 3rd party AuM (incl. PRSR) ensured solid profitability. The balance sheet is well resourced with £26m to develop seed assets. With a positive outlook following the launch of the £1bn JV with EQT, we see accelerating returns over the medium term. PRSR is also on track to materially complete the initial 5,200 portfolio this year. Sigma trades below our 200p+/share intrinsic valuation – which attributes no value to AuM growth, which is a strategic priority.
Companies: Sigma Capital Group plc
Allied Minds has announced that Joe Pignato has decided to step down as CEO and from the board with immediate effect. However, he will continue to support the company as CFO for an interim period as the board continues its search for a permanent CFO. As part of a streamlining process, Allied Minds will now become a board-led company with no immediate intention to appoint a new CEO. The chairman and NEDs (experienced VCs and private company investors) will represent Allied Minds on portfolio company boards (including Federated Wireless, BridgeComm and Spin Memory) with an intention to accelerate realisations where possible.
Companies: Allied Minds PLC
Sirius Real Estate has been a stand-out performer within the UK listed commercial real estate sector over the last three years, delivering a total shareholder return of 107%. The shares also offer a valuable portfolio diversifier for investors, with a geographic focus on Germany, and a focus on pro
Companies: Sirius Real Estate Limited
Pacific Horizon (PHI) generated a very impressive uplift in its NAV over the course of 2020. This reflects its focus on growth, and technology and biotech stocks in particular. These performed well as we attempted to adjust to life under the pandemic, thereby accelerating a number of structural trends. PHI provided an NAV total return of 86.1%, which eclipsed the return on the MSCI AC Asia Pacific ex Japan of 21.2%, the broader MSCI AC World of 12.7% and the average of its Asia Pacific sector peer group of 25.3%. PHI is the top-performing trust in this sector by a significant margin. Despite this stellar growth, PHI’s manager is not resting on his laurels. Emerging Asia still remains a high-growth and underresearched region, and he continues to focus on those themes he expects to do well over the next five years. For example, EV continues to be a significant theme and the manager has been increasing exposure to the commodities needed to deliver a greener future, but which the world is structurally short of, following long-term underinvestment.
Companies: Pacific Horizon Investment Trust
Further media reports that Dr Martens, the British Boot brand is planning an IPO on the LSE. It is currently owned by PE group, Permira who is expected to sell down its stake at the IPO. March 2020 YE the group had revenues of £672m and EBITDA of £184m. Deal size TBC. Upon Admission to AIM, Nightcap will acquire The London Cocktail Club Limited (the "London Cocktail Club"), which is an award winning independent operator of ten individually themed cocktail bars in nine London locations and one location in Bristol. Offer TBC Due mid Jan. HSS Hire Group, HSS.L transfer from Main to Aim. Mkt Cap c. £70m. Recently raised £52.6m. Leading supplier of tool and equipment for hire in the United Kingdom and Ireland and has provided equipment hire services in the United Kingdom for more than 60 years, primarily focusing on the B2B market. Due 14 Jan. VH Global Sustainable Energy Opportunities plc, a closed-ended investment Company focused on making sustainable energy infrastructure investments, today announces intends to launch an initial public offering of shares on the Official List (Premium) of the Main Market of the London Stock Exchange. Due by Early Feb.
Companies: IUG CBP KAT APP RST DIS NICL BOKU CNIC HE1
Vietnam Enterprise Investments (VEIL) is the largest and longest-established Vietnamese equities closed-end fund. The last quarter of 2019 and most of 2020 marked a period of portfolio repositioning for the fund. The team sold 14 holdings, and bought two, making the portfolio more focused (28 stocks at end 2020 versus 41 at end Q319) but better balanced by market cap as well as domestic and international business exposure. Over H220 the performance has picked up, with NAV total return of 28% versus 24% for the VN Index, after marginally lagging the benchmark over the past three years. The trust is well positioned for longer-term investors looking for an exposure to the fast-growing Vietnamese economy via a relatively large and liquid listed equities vehicle.
Companies: Vietnam Enterprise Investments
Volta Finance (VTA) posted a 5.7% decrease in NAV in 2020, recovering from the initial 32.4% drop in March. This was mainly supported by CLO equity tranches posting solid monthly returns in November and December 2020 at +11.0% and 9.7%, respectively. Volta had anticipated a downturn for some time and repositioned its portfolio into CLO equity over the last two years. During the early-2020 market turmoil, Volta’s manager focused on securing liquidity by fully deleveraging the portfolio and implementing cost-cutting initiatives. In December, Volta introduced a dividend policy to pay 8% of its NAV (in line with historical yields), which currently implies a prospective 9.2% yield on the share price.
Companies: Volta Finance
Acorn Income Fund was launched in February 1999, and has a split capital structure with both Ordinary shares which receive a high level of income, during last year dividends of 23p were paid representing an increase of 10.6% on 2019 and offer a flat yield of 7.3%. It also has Zero Dividend Preference shares (ZDPs) which mature next February and offer a GRY of 5.9%. To mirror the two classes in the capital structure, the portfolio also has two distinct pools of assets; with 70%-80% being invested in UK Small Companies being managed by Unicorn Asset Management and the balance of 20%-30% invested in an income portfolio, predominately Corporate Bonds which is managed by Premier Miton Investors. This two pronged approach has enabled the trust to generate a strong total return for Ordinary shareholders of 213% over the past decade with annualised total return of 12.1%. The recent strong annualised dividend growth of 10.8% over the past five years and the current discount of 14.9% on the Ordinary shares offers an attractive entry point.
Companies: Acorn Income Fund
Martin Currie Global Portfolio Trust’s (MNP’s) manager Zehrid Osmani reports that his ongoing focus on long-term structural, sustainable business models was beneficial for the fund’s performance during the coronavirus-led market sell-off in Q120, with portfolio companies undertaking measures to protect their brand equity. He is encouraged by a general increase in investor awareness of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, an area of research that Martin Currie has focused on for several years, as he believes that ESG improvements can lead to higher total returns for shareholders. MNP’s performance has improved since the appointment of Osmani in October 2018, and its NAV is now ahead of its benchmark over the last one, three, five and 10 years.
Companies: Martin Currie Global Portfolio Trust
Redde Northgate has come through the COVID crisis in very good shape so far. We expect minimal impact on the former Northgate business from “lockdown 2.0”, a strong recovery in profits and a re-rating as normality returns and Redde reverts to mean. We could see further useful earnings upside from acquisitions such as Nationwide and revenue synergies not yet included. The Group is transforming itself into a mobility business which is higher returning, more diversified and has sustainable compounding growth prospects.
Companies: Redde Northgate PLC
AuM grew by +43% (+16% organic) to £29.4bn in Q3. Investment performance was strong (+£2.5bn) as COVID vaccine news propelled markets. Net inflows were maintained qoq (£792m). Sustainable was the stand out performer (+24%). AuM has broken through £30bn post-period end. Better than expected AuM drives +3% FY21e EPS and +5% in outer years. Continued distribution efforts in Sustainable, Global Equity and Multi-Asset funds stands to catalyse earnings. Alongside flow momentum, 12x FY22e PER is not reflecting this upside.
Companies: Liontrust Asset Management PLC
Pacific Horizon (PHI) generated a very impressive uplift in its NAV over the course of 2020. This reflects its focus on growth, and technology and biotechnology stocks in particular. These performed well as we attempted to adjust to life under the pandemic, thereby accelerating a number of structural trends. PHI provided an NAV total return of 86.1%, which eclipsed the return on the MSCI AC Asia Pacific ex Japan index of 21.2%, the broader MSCI AC World of 12.7% and the average of its Asia Pacific sector peer group (see page 23) of 25.3%. PHI is the topperforming trust in this sector by a significant margin. Despite this stellar growth, PHI’s manager is not resting on his laurels. Emerging Asia still remains a high-growth and underresearched region, and he continues to focus on those themes he expects to do well over the next five years. For example, companies exposed to the growth in electric vehicles (EV) continue to be a significant theme. The manager has been increasing exposure to the commodities needed to deliver a greener future, but which the world is structurally short of, following long-term underinvestment.