Napoleon insisted he would rather have his generals be lucky than good. Increasingly, especially when investing in the US stock market, many investors opt for a passive fund, presumably viewing markets through the same prism that managers are really only ever lucky, as opposed to good. Yet many still choose active funds for a variety of reasons: a preferred investment style (or factor bias), or an alignment between the investor and the manager on the macroeconomic outlook are chief among them. For these investors, forming a view on when different styles are likely to perform, and on which macroeconomic environment we are likely to see is crucial. In this article we look at how different factor indices in North America have performed in different economic and market scenarios. We then examine which US-focussed trusts have offered the closest correlation to these factor indices in the recent past. Understanding the impact that broader economic trends have had on the performance of factors – and, by extension, on trusts that seem to operate in close alignment with those factors – can help us to understand and contextualise historic performance. It may also give us some insights on how to position for any anticipated future environment, although there can be no guarantee that historic patterns will repeat.
Companies: GVP BRNA PCT JAM
“Is life always this hard, or just when you’re a kid?” “Always like this” (Leon: The Professional) In the post-financial crisis world, value investors have found themselves facing a period of structural underperformance relative to growth investors which has been unusual relative to history. In fact, this is the longest period of underperformance since at least the 1920s. This raises the question; what, if anything, could cause this to change?
Companies: GVP ASL BEE MIGO TMPL
With exposure across the market cap spectrum, and a disciplined proprietary value investment philosophy, the Gabelli Value Plus+ trust offers a differentiated investment solution and portfolio to a typical US equity vehicle. Using the proprietary Private Market Value with a Catalyst™ investment process that focuses on both the intrinsic value and strategic premium that a company offers a potential purchaser, the managers seek to identify companies which are trading on a substantial discount to the price which an informed buyer would pay for an entire business in a negotiated transaction. In addition to this, they seek to identify a catalyst(s) to realising this value, looking at a variety of factors or potential drivers of a rerating. These can be company specific or relate to the industry at large.
Companies: Gabelli Value Plus + Trust
2018 saw the first negative calendar year for the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones since 2008 and, despite a subsequent rally, sentiment remains divided between those who believe the US market has more room to run, and those who think the longest bull market in history will soon come screeching to a halt. Instinctively, it feels like a correction must be due and, indeed, a recent survey of Kepler Trust Intelligence readers showed the majority feel that there are choppy waters ahead. Among those who felt that the outlook was negative, the concern raised most often was the impact of any escalation in the ‘trade-war’ talk between China and the United States, while the national ‘black dog’ that is Britain’s constant companion – Brexit – continues to weigh on investor spirits closer to home. However, there are many other indicators which suggest the bull market could continue, making this a difficult time for investors wondering which way to jump. Against this confusing backdrop we look at three different scenarios for the US over the next year, and identify a number of trusts which are positioned well for each.
Companies: USA ATT GVP JUSC BRNA IBT JAM TPOU
Two years after the shock election of Donald Trump and with the US mid-term elections approaching on 6 November, we thought it a good time to strip out all the noise and bluster and assess what the Trump administration has really meant for US markets and the trusts that invest in them. We can identify two key policy moves Trump has achieved as President: tax reforms and trade tariffs. Each has significant ramifications for certain sectors and trusts, some good and some bad. The long-term effects are still in the balance, with the midterms a crucial fork in the road. Since Trump was inaugurated as president, the landscape of the US market has arguably transformed, with greater optimism around the near-term prospects for equities and greater pessimism around international relations. We take a look at how trusts have positioned themselves vis-à-vis these trends. “I promised the American people a big, beautiful tax cut for Christmas. With final passage of this legislation, that is exactly what they are getting.” Arguably the most significant piece of Trumpian legislation for the economy and the stock market was his wide-ranging tax reform introduced at the end of December 2017. This included cutting n the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% and a dramatic change to the current model of taxation, in particular the taxation of US corporations’ foreign subsidiaries.
Companies: IBT USA BRNA ATT JAM JUS GVP GVP
The Gabelli Value Plus+ Trust is a differentiated US equity portfolio with a high active share and a wide-ranging all-cap approach focused on identifying undervalued companies, including those with a strategic value to trade buyers. The trust was launched in 2015 during a difficult period for a value approach, but over the long run the strategy has performed well, returning 16% a year compared to the 12% of the US market. The aim is to produce real returns of 10% a year, and the focus is on bottom up analysis with no attention being paid to the indices – the trust’s portfolio has an active share of 94% to the S&P500, with a bias to small and mid-size companies where the managers believe they can add more value and which are more often the subject of takeover bids. The trust also invests a portion of its funds (currently around 10%) into companies that are the subject of takeover offers, which gives it low-risk returns not dependent on market movements. The trust focuses on total return rather than generating an income, so distributions are not guaranteed. Thanks to the value style being out of favour the discount has widened this year, although the trust traded on a premium the last time value rallied, following the election of Trump in late 2016.
The Gabelli Value Plus+ Trust is a differentiated US equity portfolio with a very high active share and a wide-ranging all-cap approach focused on identifying companies wihch the managers believe are undervalued, including an element of exposure to companies which are the target of mergers and acquisitions. Gabelli is a well known name in the United States, managing assets in excess of $40bn and the trust taps into the ‘Private Market Value (PMV) with a Catalyst’ investment strategy, developed by founder Mario Gabelli in the 1970s, which is now taught as part of the value investing course at Columbia Business School. Whilst there is no guarantee that this can be replicated in future the strategy has delivered significant outperformance relative to the wider US market over the long term, delivering ‘up’ years in 35 out of 40 between 1977 and 2016. Launched in February 2015, the Gabelli Value Plus+ Trust (GVP) had kept pace with the notoriously slippery S&P 500 index until the start of 2017 – outperforming it by a small margin – but fell behind last year as the index, and in particular mega-caps toward which the trust is underweight, raced ahead. However GVP’s managers don’t benchmark themselves against an index and, instead, aim for absolute returns typically to the tune of inflation plus 10%. The strategy which the trust mirrors tends to generate its relative outperformance in falling markets and has since inception – typically – lagged behind during quarters where the market has risen strongly, whilst outperforming the market when it has been in negative territory. Whilst it may underperform should mega caps rally again - having relatively low exposure to the largest US stocks - the managers believe the trust stands to benefit from increased M&A activity in the US, as companies onshore their money in the wake of President Trump’s tax changes, and from a positive outlook for domestically focused US stocks – which are a core focus for the trust.
In a report early last year, we analysed the argument surrounding whether value investing (a style that has significantly underperformed relative to growth investing) was about to make a sustained comeback. Simply put, value investing involves buying shares in companies that the managers believe are ‘cheap’ relative to the wider market and their own histories. Many value managers, however, will only buy ‘cheap’ stocks where they have pinpointed a potential catalyst they believe will lead to share prices increasing (by analysing metrics such as cashflow, leverage, balance sheets and external factors) in order to avoid ‘value traps’ - stocks that are still in a period of decline or worse, are heading for total collapse. Growth investing, again put simply, means buying companies that are displaying above average earnings growth. Most growth managers will follow a GARP (growth at a reasonable price) approach, which means they don’t mind paying higher than average valuations for a stock if they believe future earnings growth is undervalued by the wider market. In recent times especially, value investing has become synonymous with more cyclical stocks such as mining, energy and banks, while growth investing has meant a focus on more defensive companies (with futures which aren’t dependent on economic growth) such as utilities, telecoms, tobacco and other consumer goods stocks. Those who predicting that value stocks were on the verge of a new era of outperformance were proved wrong (or too early), as they generally underperformed growth over the course of 2017. However, in our report last year (and with the proviso that the past is no guide to future returns), we found that had been a correlation between the relative performance of value versus growth stocks and the trajectory of UK government bond (or gilt) yields, with value generally underperforming when yields fell (or when bond prices rose) and outperforming when yields rose (or when bond prices fell). Government bonds have delivered almost unprecedented risk-adjusted returns over the past three decades due to factors such as credit boom prior to the global financial crisis and ultra-low interest rates over the past 10 years. However, many believed bond yields would rise last year (as they did in 2016) as inflation picked up in the UK following Brexit-induced weakness in sterling, coupled with Donald Trump’s commitment to economic stimulus. However, despite these two strong forces at work, 10-year gilt yields fell from their peak of 1.54% in late January 2017 to 1.26% by the end of the year (representing a fall of c.20%). We don’t claim to be experts in global fixed income markets, but the commonly-held view among those who do, is that bond yields will rise over the coming years (though as we mentioned last year, many have incorrectly called the collapse of the bond market for a number of years now…). While this might not be repeated, and again like last year, our analysis shows that value stocks have historically outperformed growth when bond yields have risen. However, as we highlight in this report, it is surprising how little exposure the ‘average’ UK investor has to “value” as a style, with the large majority of inflows into equity funds heading towards funds with a clear “growth” or “quality” bias. As such, if this long-anticipated revival in value investing does indeed occur – most investors look likely to miss out, or worse, be hit by capital losses.
Companies: AGT WTR ASL TMPL GVP
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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
Equals' FY19A results confirm another year of strong, double-digit revenue and adj EBITDA growth. The move to a B2B focused offering continues to progress and looks well timed in view of Covid-19's impact on overseas travel. While the pandemic impacted Q2/20E trading early on, we note June KPI's indicate a positive rebound. Given the continued uncertainty as to Covid's full impact upon FY20E trading, we refrain from reissuing forecasts and thus leave our recommendation under review.
Companies: Equals Group
Accelerating activity in to FY21
Companies: Manolete Partners
Blackbird plc* (BIRD.L, 19.25p/£64.7m) | Mirada plc* (MIRA.L, 92.5p/£8.2m) | Tern plc* (TERN.L, 10.75p/£29.0m) | Checkit plc (CKT.L, 39.5p/£24.5m)
Companies: BIRD MIRA MIRA TERN CKT
The covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on the share price of property companies, with 31% wiped off the value of their total market capitalisation during the first quarter of 2020.
Companies: AEWU CREI CSH BOOT INL HLCL THRL SUPR RESI RGL DIGS GR1T SOHO PHP BOXE ASLI UTG AGR UAI BLND UANC CAL SHED CWD WHR EPIC WKP GRI YEW HMSO PCA INTU NRR
Record delivered full year results matching expectations with assets under management equivalent (AUME) slightly ahead as positive inflows more than offset the impact of market moves and fee margins were broadly stable. The group also demonstrated its operational resilience and expertise to clients during the onset of COVID-19 and accompanying volatility. Looking ahead, the group has a fresh focus on growth and to support this is investing in a measured way in IT and its staff.
S4 Capital has announced the merger of Lens10, a leading Australian digital strategy & analytics consultancy, with MightyHive, its data & programmatic media practice. Founded in 2010, Lens10 provides a range of data services including digital strategy, digital analytics, optimisation and tag management. It is a certified Google Partner in Google Analytics, Google Cloud & Google Marketing Platform and is an Adobe Analytics partner. It has 25 data specialists in Melbourne and Sydney, and has a blue-chip client list including CottonOn, National Rugby League, Australian Ballet and ME Bank. Data analytics continues to grow in importance as marketers accelerate their digital transformation and S4 Capital indicates it has seen explosive demand for these services. No financial information has been disclosed, though we note the group reiterates its commitment not to compromise its balance sheet, which remains net cash. Separately, the group has announced that Miles Young, previously Chairman & CEO of Ogilvy, is joining the board. He has particular expertise in creative work and talent, new technologies and Asia Pacific developed over 35yrs at Ogilvy
Companies: S4 Capital
FY20 results – increased firepower to acquire
Companies: First Property Group
REACT Group plc (REACT) is exploiting a gap in the market for specialist deep cleaning services for customers in the public and private sectors, with revenues split 50/50 between reactive work and regular maintenance. The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a significant upturn in activity in certain sectors (such as healthcare and transport) but temporarily weaker demand from others (such as hospitality). While its Covid-related work is by no means its biggest revenue generator, the legacy of the pandemic is likely to have a profound impact on future levels of activity as all businesses and organisations become more aware of the importance of maintaining high standards of cleanliness and hygiene. With a new management team and strengthened balance sheet, we believe the outlook is positive, a view that has been supported by the Group’s interim results which have generated maiden profits.
Companies: React Group
Wirecard UK’s suspension by the FCA has been lifted, allowing U Account business through Shelby Holdings and Morses Club to resume as normal, permitting customers full access to cash, which was previously frozen, albeit ring-fenced in a safe Barclays UK account. Morses Club has offered its U Account customers free use of the previously affected U Account accounts in July as compensation for the issue, helping to mitigate any negative impact and ensuring the relationship with customers remains strong.
Companies: Morses Club
Red Dwarf, the very British sci-fi comedy franchise, ran for 11 seasons – most recently in 2017; and The Promised Land is a feature-length TV movie – out this year. Yes, the programme is an acquired taste. Strangely, too, many episodes are impacted by a virus or three (physiological, not main-frame).
Companies: WJG BKG CSP CRST MCS INL BDEV RDW GLE SPR TW/ PSN VTY GLV CRN ABBY BWY
Companies: AGR CSH ESP DIGS IHR LXI PHP RESI SIR SUPR THRL SOHO BBOX SHED WHR
Hipgnosis Songs Fund (SONG LN) has today announced a trading update for the full year ending 31 March 2020. The unaudited NAV has risen 13% YoY to 116.7p, up 14.3% since the last published NAV of 102.2p as at 10 January 2020. This represents a like for like valuation uplift of 11.4%. All equity has been fully deployed and shareholder approval has been sought to increase net debt from 20% to 30%. Revenue is strong with £64.7m generating an EPS of 10.7p (more than 2x the annual 5p dividend target). NAV growth has been driven by revenue statements which were up 2%, and an increase in streaming growth rate assumptions by the independent valuers. The portfolio comprises 54 catalogues, with 13,291 individual songs, now valued at £757m which was acquired at purchase price of £697m on an acquisition multiple of 13.9x – now valued on 15.0x historical earnings.
Companies: Hipgnosis Songs Fund Ld
A robust set of FY20E numbers and the absence of evidence of material bad debts increases, should reassure today and provide evidence 1pm's multi-product, sector diverse, hybrid model can deliver in tougher conditions. Given a NAV p/s of 62p (30p tangible), which now includes enhanced Covid-19 provisions, the material discount to book is clearly unwarranted.
Today's reassuring AGM statement confirms strong trading over Q1/20E and a resilient Q2/20E performance to date, despite the shutdown of the UK housing market over that period. A further +£1.3m of net cash has been produced this year which will partly be used to restart franchisee assisted acquisitions. Given current uncertainty over the economic impact of COVID-19, our recommendation remains Under Review.
Companies: Property Franchise Group