Secular stagnation refers to the economic theory that growth will be persistently low for some time to come, due to an imbalance between savings and investment. If capital is saved rather than invested productive capacity lies idle, while the drag on consumption reduces demand in the economy. As a result GDP growth is reduced. As we have previously discussed, there is no historical evidence that GDP growth has a direct impact on stock market growth – in contradiction of the theorised linkage via earnings. However, in a world of secular stagnation in which there is a glut of savings, corporate earnings will be muted as demand for companies’ wares remains sluggish, which should negatively impact stock market growth. High rates of savings would also push equity valuations higher than they would otherwise be and thereby reduce future returns. Investors can respond to this situation in a number of ways. One is to try to find active strategies, which either seek to harness certain factors likely to boost returns or to generate high stockspecific alpha. In the first case this could mean looking to harness the small cap premium or to the emerging markets which should see greater earnings growth over the long run. It could also mean looking to the tech sector, where earnings are dependent more on secular changes within the economy than the growth rate of the economy. In the second case this would mean looking for highly active stock pickers who run concentrated portfolios and aim to pick the winning companies which can steal market share from competitors. We believe the investment trust universe is the perfect place to find such strategies, as the structure allows managers to focus on managing their strategy and not inflows and outflows, while being able to take exposure to relatively illiquid assets and harvest the premium for doing so. Another way of responding is to look for alternative assets which offer comparable or superior returns to the equity market as a whole. In our view, when we look at likely equity returns over the next ten years, some alternatives look compelling. In the below we sketch a rough idea of likely equity returns over the next decade and then introduce some trusts we think have the potential to generate similar returns from more predictable cash flows and potentially less volatile NAVs.
Companies: USF HICL NESF TRIG UKW NBLS
2020 has so far proven to be the latest episode in a long period of technology outperformance, as we observed in this article. Over the past decade, technology-related companies have tended to perform like consumer staples or defensives on the downside, and like high-growth discretionary stocks on the upside: an ideal combination from the investor’s point of view. As a result the indices (and fund managers’ portfolios) are increasingly correlated to ‘big tech’. How do investors who want a diversified portfolio deal with this, and how can they introduce more diversification into their portfolios, without reducing the potential for growth? The first step, of course, is to use specialist funds to diversify one’s holdings of individual technology stocks. Allianz Technology Trust (ATT) and Polar Capital Technology Trust (PCT), for instance, are both run by tech specialist managers. But ATT differs from PCT in that the portfolio is significantly more concentrated and, at times, has greater exposure to mid-caps. This combination of features means that ATT can be more volatile and deviate from the benchmark to a greater extent, from time to time. Nonetheless over the last five years, these two aspects of ATT have paid off for its shareholders – having outperformed PCT by a total of 15% in NAV terms. While both trusts have delivered strong returns relative to their Dow Jones World Technology benchmark, both of their fortunes are also inextricably linked to big tech. If the biggest technology companies catch a cold, then the wider technology sector will likely catch it in the short term. At the same time, as we conclude in this article, there are good reasons why the quality characteristics which technology stocks display give them the potential to outperform for years to come. But nothing lasts forever and, while we wouldn’t bet against technology performing strongly in absolute terms over the medium term, it might be that sector leadership could pass elsewhere.
Companies: ATT PCT SMT BBH UKW IBT MHN IEM BERI MWY
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
Greencoat UK Wind (UKW) provides a pure investment exposure to UK wind farms, with the twin aims of delivering a high, RPI-linked income return for shareholders whilst maintaining capital value in real terms. These aims have been fully met so far. As we discuss in the Dividend section, the dividend forecast for next year is 7.1p, representing a compound annual growth of 18.3% since listing. NAV progression has also remained ahead of inflation, with growth of 22.1% against RPI over the same period of 17.4%. In share-price terms, shareholders have enjoyed a total return of 115.1% since launch to 31 December 2019. During 2019, the trust’s earnings were below budget thanks to wholesale power prices remaining below average last year and thanks also to lower power generation from the wind-farm portfolio. Even so, UKW’s dividend was well covered at 1.4x. The manager’s long-term expectation is 1.7x. UKW continues to grow, and now has gross assets of £2.44bn invested in 35 wind farms. Despite a competitive market, the manager has deployed around £800m of capital (invested and committed) over 2019, and is now becoming ‘utility scale’. UKW now provides around 1% of UK electricity generated. As we note in the Discount section, the publication of a bearish note on long-term electricity prices by Bloomberg New Energy Finance has caused a healthy reduction in the premiums across the sector, not to mention the recent market falls. UKW trades at a premium to the peer-group average, perhaps because of the higher investment returns so far delivered, the higher discount rate, and also because of its well-covered dividend.
Companies: Greencoat UK Wind
Inflation has been relatively tame for the past two decades, yet history suggests it would be unwise to reject the possibility of a damaging period of higher inflation out of hand. Central banks’ post-crisis quantitative easing policies have not led to the high inflation expected by some, but periods of high inflation in the past have been due to very different causes. When looking at the historical record, we see clear signs that the threat of inflation cannot be written off, and so taking out an insurance policy might be wise. Below we consider the potential sources of an inflationary shock to the global economy, and some assets and trusts that offer protection.
Companies: UKW RICA BREI BRWM
Bonds have traditionally been a core part of private client portfolios. Harry Markowitz is generally credited with developing and popularising the modern approach to investment diversification, as part of his doctoral thesis in 1952. Markowitz’s 60/40 equity/bond portfolio quickly became a staple of retail investor portfolios, and for many years equity and bond portfolios built around this basic concept have been highly successful for investors. The attractions were clear: aside from the solid income that bonds offer investors as a portfolio component portfolio, they also provided something of a hedge to equity exposure.
Companies: UKW TRIG HICL SOND
Whilst not everyone is yet declaring a “climate emergency”, most people now recognise that the global economy is not on a particularly sustainable trajectory. Recent news from Nestle – that they aim to be “net-zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 - shows that what might have seemed a “fringe” idea a few years ago, is now mainstream. According to a 2018 YouGov survey, 62% of people believe Government are doing too little to prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change. 71% believe fossil fuel companies should help pay for damage caused by extreme weather events, and (perhaps of most immediate relevance to our readership) 62% of people are interested in a pension fund or financial institution that considers the environmental impact of the companies it invests in (Source: YouGov 2018). At the same time, consumers are increasingly aware of their buying power, and the influence it can have on companies’ corporate behaviour and supply chains. Allied to this, investors also recognise the effect their investing behaviour can have on companies they invest in. Increasingly, they look to the managers of the funds they invest in to engage with company management and see this as a mechanism by which positive change in investee companies can be brought to bear. Many established funds and ETFs offer “ethical”, “green” or another shade of socially responsible investment. However, these labels don’t in our view really reflect the full range of what is potentially on offer. We understand the broad concept as “ESG Investing” – environmental, social, governance. As a theme or concept it is clearly rising in popularity - Google searches for ‘ESG investing’ have risen rapidly over the past decade, with a compound annual growth rate of 73%, almost double that of ‘passive investing’ (42%). Many fund managers (or their marketing departments) have been jumping on the bandwagon, and ESG now features in many presentations where perhaps as recent ago as last year, there had never been any mention! Despite its apparent popularity, many investors do not have a fixed idea of what they really mean when they say they want funds with better ESG credentials. For example, some investors may mean that they want a very narrow focus in the types of companies they invest in – for example supporting renewable energy, and thereby generate strong returns but also help finance the shift to a less carbon intensive economy. Others may want to invest in companies which are leading the way in reducing (or actively addressing) the harmful effects of their business operations’ externalities, meaning that they are comfortable investing in companies and industries that pollute – but only if they are “getting their act together”, trying to reduce negative externalities, or are “best in class” in trying to minimise their negative effects. Others may want their fund managers to actively engage with company managements, and try to influence the strategic direction the company is taken on. Lastly, investors may only want to own companies with what they see as a correct gender-balance, or have policies which prevent child labour within their supply chains. There are many different ways of interpreting what ESG really means. The job of investors looking at ESG must be to find a fund or investment trust which is aligned with their own specific values, irrespective of the marketing document or industry sector it belongs to. We believe an increasing number of “mainstream” funds will be suitable for ESG investors, depending on what their requirements are. How, then, do investors find them?
Companies: IEM UKW MNP
Greencoat UK Wind (UKW) provides a pure investment exposure to UK wind farms, with the aim of delivering a high, RPI linked, income return for shareholders whilst maintaining capital value in real terms. We have recently launched an Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) analysis section as part of our standard fund profiles. From an ESG perspective, UKW clearly ticks the “environment” box in that investing in UKW provides the long-term capital which enables an increase in renewable energy provision in the UK, and the shift to a lower carbon economy. The managers estimate UKW prevents over 1m tonnes of CO2 per annum from being emitted with thermal generation being the alternative. We calculate that this is equivalent to 0.8kg per share. Setting this into context, a flight from London to Milan emits 181kg of CO2 (Source: Atmosfair). A £10k investment in UKW is equivalent to 5.6 tonnes of CO2 “prevented” per year. In other respects, Greencoat as manager is clearly a keen proponent of ESG, and aware of its responsibilities therein. Greencoat were signatories to the UN-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) in 2016 and provides a lot of detail of how it incorporates ESG issues in its decision-making process and asset management. Wind is a resource that the UK has plenty of. In 2018 it was a significant contributor to the UK’s electricity supply – meeting 17% of the country’s total demand (renewables as a whole contributed 30%). As such, it is likely to remain one of the central planks of the UK’s strategy to achieve a lower carbon economy. Greencoat UK Wind (UKW) currently owns a portfolio of 35 wind farms around the UK, which together generate enough electricity to power 940,000 homes and is the largest renewable infrastructure fund listed on the LSE with net assets of £1.9bn. UKW remains amongst the best performing of the renewable infrastructure funds since it launched in 2013. Since launch, the company has delivered strong total returns comprising the 6p dividend, which has risen with RPI, and capital growth of 23.9%. In share price terms, shareholders have enjoyed a total return of 96.8% in just over six years. Despite the considerably lower volatility that the company exhibits, on a NAV total return basis UKW has outperformed the FTSE All Share Index total return since launch by over 30 percentage points. UKW’s main objective is to pay a high dividend to shareholders that is linked to inflation (RPI) and to preserve capital after taking inflation into account. The trust has a target for 2019 of 6.94p per share, representing a 2.66% increase over the prior year, and in line with RPI for December 2018. This year so far, UKW has paid two dividends totalling 3.47p which is in line with the target. Since launch (and based on the dividend target for 2019) the dividend has risen by 2.95% p.a., which compares to the retail prices index of 2.6% p.a. over the same period. At the current share price, the prospective yield is 5.0%. Around 50% of the company’s cashflows are directly index-linked, with the remainder being exposed to electricity prices. As such, electricity prices, which are assumed to have a correlation to inflation, affect UKW’s ability to grow the NAV by RPI in the long term. Given the high dividend cover of 1.7x on average, the company expects to be able to continue to grow the dividend by RPI on an annual basis over the long term. UKW has been growing strongly, and during 2019 so far has invested in excess of £600m funded from equity issuance and re-investing surplus cashflows supplemented by debt facilities. Net assets are now £1.9bn. Shareholders benefit from this growth in the form of a declining OCF, which has been coming down rapidly and through operational economies of scale within the business. As at the end of 2018, the OCF was 1.13%, a reduction from the 1.24% level at the end of 2017, and 1.46% at the time of initially listing. The published forecast OCF from the managers for 2019 was 1.08% at the beginning of the year. Many of the listed 'alternative income' funds continue to trade at significant premiums – and UKW is no exception on a current premium to NAV of 13%.
Over the past two decades, onshore wind power has prospered and now exceeds 12 GW in the UK. The termination of subsidies for new plants from 2017 onwards has cut investment. Instead, offshore wind power is the new ‘goto’ investment sector, as there has been a sea-change in costs. The key event was the 2017 auction for the development of the Hornsea Project Two and the Moray East fields, when 15-year contract for differences (CfDs) were awarded, at just £57.50p per MWh; this compares with the 2018 £100 per MWh target that had been set previously by the Government. In recent years, solar power has come of age. Total UK solar capacity now exceeds 12 GW. Inevitably, most solar farms are based in the Midlands or in the South, where irradiation levels exceed the UK average. A typical solar farm portfolio might include 50 sites with 8 MW of capacity per site. Despite the removal of subsidies for new solar plants, the prospects remain bright for new build, since costs have fallen appreciably in recent years. The levelised cost (LCOE) of solar power should fall below £70 per MWh. The UK’s first subsidy-free solar farm has been commissioned at Clay Hill in Milton Keynes. For many investors, REIFs offer an attractive means of securing exposure to the benefits of rising UK investment in these sectors, much of which is backed by long-term contracts delivering generally solid and secure returns. Our sector research focuses on 11 quoted REIFs, which mirror those selected by members of the Association of Investment Companies (AIC). The recently floated Aquila European Renewables fund is included, despite its declared policy not to invest in UK generation. Since May 2014, REIF returns have been solid, with total returns approaching 10% per year. As a group, their combined market capitalisation is ca.£7bn; the most valuable quoted funds are Greencoat UK Wind (£2.1bn) and The Renewables Infrastructure Group (£1.8bn). The sector premia over net asset valuations (NAVs) for most REIFs now lie in the 9%-19% range. The premium for Greencoat UK Wind, following its £375m gross fundraise, is ca.14%; The Renewables Infrastructure Group premium is similar. Targeted real dividend increases underpin the attractions, in particular, of wind and solar investments; major earnings shortfalls are low-risk, with little likelihood of a dividend cut. Prospective dividend yields for most REIFs currently lie in the range of 5.0%-6.0%. In terms of risk, future movements of interest rates could have a material impact on NAVs and, consequently, upon share price ratings. The precise effect will depend on the degree to which the discount rates moves relative to the riskfree rate. Regulatory amendments, subsidy changes and possible tax adjustments are also key risk factors with one company commenting that movements in long term power price forecasts are the most significant risk.
Companies: TRIG UKW NESF FSFL AERS GSF GRP SEIT USF
Greencoat UK Wind – Results of fundraising | Oakley Capital – Investment in Inspired
Companies: Greencoat UK Wind (UKW:LON)Oakley Capital Investments (OCI:LON)
Impact Healthcare REIT – Results of fundraising | Hipgnosis Songs – Acquisition | Greencoat UK Wind – Fundraising prospectus and timetable | Triple Point Social Housing – Response to BEST regulatory announcement
Companies: IHR SOND UKW SOHO
Research Tree provides access to ongoing research coverage, media content and regulatory news on Greencoat UK Wind.
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Litigation Capital Management (LCM) is an alternative asset manager specialising in disputes financing, with its main operations in Australia and the UK. The company provides funding for litigation in exchange for a share of any settlement and has built a strong track record of supporting winning c
Companies: Litigation Capital Management Ltd
Mondelez International has announced that it has appointed MediaMonks to manage global technology infrastructure, global websites and content production for North America, Latin America and AMEA. We believe this account win by S4 Capital further vindicates the unitary structure and integrated offer of the group as Mondelez initially worked with MightyHive before broadening the scope of this relationship to encompass MediaMonks. S4 Capital describes the account as a Whopper, indicating that it will generate revenues of over $20m when the account is fully transitioned. We will update our forecasts for the account win at the next financial newsflow from the group. We currently forecast LFL Gross Profit growth of +26% for FY21 and believe the Mondelez win will further accelerate this. We raise our target price to 500p (was 475p) and retain our Buy recommendation.
Companies: S4 Capital plc
Liontrust has delivered in line interims, however AuM growth since the HY point drives higher earnings estimates. In H1, net inflows remained strong despite the backdrop and, alongside performance, contributed to 28% AuM growth. Post-period, performance momentum has boosted AuM by a further 5% to £28.1bn, plus the completion of Architas. Together, this results in a step up in the run rate. We update our forecasts for higher than expected AuM driving a +5% upgrade to FY21e EPS and +10-13% in outer years. We do not forecast scaling in Architas or Global which could prompt further upgrades, reducing the 15x FY22e PER.
Companies: Liontrust Asset Management PLC
Today's news & views, plus announcements from LLOY, POG, FRAS, PETS, SPR, WHI, FKE, RLE
Companies: Lloyds Banking Group plc (LLOY:LON)Real Estate Investors plc (RLE:LON)
An in-line trading update for the year to 31 December 2020 states EBITDA will be at least £3.6m and £2.0 at the PBT level. However, conservative budgeting affects 2021E and 2022E with the company rebasing expectations following year-end re-forecasting exercise, taking into account the prolonged challenging macroeconomic environment. The acquisitive opportunity remains in place.
Companies: STM Group PLC
President Trump likes to project himself as a highly successful businessman, but surprisingly little is known about his true financial position. Various articles, including a 2016 in-depth analysis by The Wall Street Journal, have speculated about his income and asset base. All sorts of claims and counter-claims have been made about his wealth – by Trump himself, pitching his fortune at some $9bn, and by journalist Timothy O'Brien, suggesting that it is as “low” as $150m-$250m. It is doubtful whether we shall ever know the truth, but we can use Trump’s UK corporate filings to gain an insight into his businesses in Scotland.
Companies: AVO ARBB ARIX CLIG DNL FLTA ICGT PCA PIN PHP RECI STX SCE TRX SHED VTA YEW
Today’s $2.3m framework agreement with an existing Tier 1 global customer is further validation of Clareti’s competitive advantage, of its ability to land and expand and, logically, is the augury of incremental revenues ahead. Gresham continues to gain market share in the critical Tier 1 space and we expect this to show in a resumption of revenue growth next year. Trading on forward Clareti recurring revenues of c. 4.1x, we see significant upside.
Companies: Gresham House
Today's news & views, plus announcements from Capita, JD Wetherspoon, HarbourVest Global Private Equity, Walker Crips Group, Randall & Quilter*, Michelmersh Brick, LoopUp, Schroders British Opportunities Trust and Baillie Gifford UK Growth Trust.
Companies: Randall & Quilter Investment Holdings Ltd.
Two material updates: fixed fees are being increased, and also the recent treasury refi has underpinned our prior forecast for interest income. Fixed fees are being increased by c.20% which increases recurring income without eroding competitive advantage. It is also introducing formulaic interest to show clients that they will benefit from rising rates. Current year trading is in line. Higher fees drive a 10% earnings upgrade in outer years (FY20e unch). Earnings quality is increasing, but was already strong: an 11x fwd PER underestimates annuitylike recurring income, even more so now interest exposure has been reduced.
Companies: Curtis Banks Group PLC
Record has set itself the goal of generating greater growth and H121 showed some encouraging steps in this direction. The substantial new dynamic hedging mandate in the period was traditional business for the group, but there was also news of a new currency impact fund, which provides diversification, higher fee margins and the potential for significant development. The implementation of new IT systems is underway, and measures to develop and retain staff have been taken.
Companies: Record plc
Palace Capital’s (PCA) H121 performance was robust and ahead of our central expectations. We have slightly increased FY21 earnings forecasts and introduced FY22–23 estimates, with growth driven by Hudson Quarter completion, on track for March 2021. Significant additional reversionary potential and development/refurbishment represent significant value creation potential.
Companies: Palace Capital plc
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated trends in online retailing, to the benefit of the European logistics market, in which Tritax EuroBox (EBOX) is a leading player. Demand for logistics space is growing exponentially, while supply of existing and new stock is depleted. This dynamic is even more acute in prime locations close to heavily populated conurbations and prolonged rental growth is forecast. EBOX has amassed a portfolio of big box facilities located in major logistics hotspots across Europe. Numerous value-add opportunities also exist within the portfolio, including development and asset management projects. One of the key differentiators of EBOX to its peers is its exclusive ties with established logistics developers. Through the relationships, EBOX has access to and first right of refusal over a pipeline of development assets worth €2bn.
Companies: Tritax EuroBox Plc
To achieve YoY revenue growth over H1/20A despite the challenges of Covid-19 and its impact on the travel sector is testament to Equals' resilience and increasing focus on B2B and International payments services. While weaker gross profit and EBITDA margins have impacted profitability in H1/20, we see potential for an earnings recovery in H2/20 given cost reduction measures currently being undertaken. This should lead Equals to cash breakeven in Q4/20 and FCF positive by early FY21.
Companies: Equals Group Plc
1H’21 results cover the depths of the initial market impact of COVID-19. We note the 4.7% fall in EPRA NTA and the effect of the dividend rebasing announced some months prior. There are no negative surprises. The focus on regional offices is a positive. There are other positives that we consider to be important, namely the ongoing contractual performance of the leisure asset tenants and lengthening of leases there, and the continuing encouraging residential sales (and small letting) at the mixed-use development of PCA’s newly created Hudson Quarter, York. Here, we see just one of PCA’s initiatives to unlock value and deliver attractive returns.
Today's news & views, plus announcements from KGF, MRO, UU, BAB, BRW, FUTR, GNS, HICL, LIO, AEXG, FUL, KWS
Companies: AEX GNS HICL