The biotechnology sector is proving to be relatively resilient in this COVID-19 related market sell-off. International Biotechnology Trust (IBT) adopts a conservative approach to investing in what can be a quite volatile, if rewarding, sector. It has fared better than competing funds in this environment.
Companies: International Biotechnology Trust
The biotechnology sector is proving to be relatively resilient in this COVID-19 related market sell-off. International Biotechnology Trust (IBT) adopts a conservative approach to investing in what can be a quite volatile, if rewarding, sector and has fared better than its peers in this environment.
International Biotechnology Trust (IBT) has delivered a solid performance of 14.3% in NAV terms this year and grown its dividend by 4.1% in the face of difficult conditions for biotech companies. Volatility in broader equity markets – spooked by fears of a trade war, the Brexit debacle, and tensions in the Middle East – has not helped biotech, which tends to perform poorly in ‘risk off’ environments, but IBT’s unquoted portfolio, a unique feature of the trust, has lent considerable support to NAV returns during a period when the listed portfolio has struggled.
There was palpable shift in sentiment over the third quarter with the cautionary undertone perhaps best reflected by gold’s resurgence. Ongoing trade jockeying between the US and China did not help the mood and neither did the Argentine debt default in August. At the real economy level, manufacturing output has been trending lower across some of the major global economies.
Companies: AEMC BIOG SIGT IBT JEFI MHN MERI MTE PSHD RSE SIR FJV LTI MVI SEQI SONG SLI EGL SUPP VNH CSH VSL BRLA UTL ADAM SOHO GPM TPOU LEAF JRS JLEN SEC IGC MPO LIV INTU THRL
The managers of International Biotechnology Trust (IBT) have focused its portfolio in oncology, diseases of the central nervous system and rare diseases – areas where pricing pressure is less of an issue. This should cushion the trust as we approach election year and (as is usually the case in the US political cycle) threats to intervene in drug pricing create volatility in the biotech sector.
The managers of International Biotechnology Trust (IBT) have focused its portfolio in oncology (cancer), diseases of the central nervous system and rare diseases – areas where pricing pressure on drugs and other therapies is less of an issue. This should cushion IBT as we approach election year in the US and (as is usually the case in the US political cycle) threats to intervene in drug pricing create volatility in the biotech sector.
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
International Biotechnology Trust has seen a strong rebound in performance terms this year after performing relatively well versus peers in 2018, when a strong move toward ‘risk-off’ sentiment among investors saw equities generally in negative figures, with biotech no exception. As at 7 May 2019, the trust is up 10.6% in NAV total return terms since the start of January, beating the NASDAQ Biotechnology Index, the peer group and its main rival – Biotech Growth Trust. Last year, when the MSCI World was down 7.4% and the NASDAQ Biotechnology Index lost 3.2%, the trust lost just 4.4% - outperforming Biotech Growth, which lost 14.3%, by a whacking margin. The four strong management team, led by Carl Harald Janson, aims to generate long term capital growth and deliver a yield of 4% of NAV via a portfolio of US, European and – to a lesser extent – unquoted investments in the biotech sphere. In addition to the diversification benefits afforded by the trust’s scale, with almost 100 underlying holdings including the unquoted element, the trust’s unique focus on avoiding ‘binary’ risk events has helped it to avoid a number of ‘blowups’ which have affected its rivals, notably Biogen’s abandoned Alzheimer’s drug trials which saw it lose more than 30% of its market cap at the end of March this year. The trust’s unquoted portfolio – where the emphasis has shifted from direct investments to investments via a venture fund – is already proving its worth, delivering 1.3x capital invested so far, with the vast majority of its holdings still valued at or close to their original investment value, leaving plenty of room for upside. The trust has seen significant improvements to its share register, too, with far less concentration and a far broader spread of investors – among whom more than half are now private wealth managers or retail investors. Much of this has been driven by the introduction of a dividend policy which sees the trust pay out a yield of 4% of NAV per annum, converting some of the capital growth it generates to do so. Whilst converting capital to income does limit the maximum potential for capital growth, the appeal of this yield means the trust has moved in from a persistent discount and now trades at a premium, and has been issuing new shares since Q4 last year – of which more than half a million have come to market. This should, in time, mean the trust’s ongoing charges ratio is lower as the trust’s fixed costs are spread over a wider shareholder base. This is an interesting time for the trust. The managers believe that with economic growth on a fairly solid footing going forward, and long-term demand for therapeutic drugs driven by an ageing population, there is a secular tailwind behind biotech companies. We have heard from the trust before that a more ‘business friendly’ approach taken by the Food and Drugs Administration would lead to greater opportunities among biotech companies, and that seems to be playing out; last year saw more new drugs approved by the FDA than ever before. Despite this, valuations among biotech companies remain very reasonable – particularly when compared with other sectors in the US. Indeed, while popular wisdom tells us that US equities are expensive after a long rally, the biotech sector is significantly cheaper in p/e terms than other major sectors in the US and far cheaper than the S&P500. Large cap biotech stocks are trading at record low p/e’s.
Strategic positioning in mid-2018 helped International Biotechnology Trust (IBT) beat its benchmark over the past six months and close its discount to NAV. This continued its outperformance of the US Nasdaq Biotechnology Index (NBI) over three and five years. Active management of the portfolio and an increased focus on larger mid-caps played out well in terms of IBT’s performance versus its peers.
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
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
Carl Harald Janson marks five years at the reins of the £250m International Biotechnology Trust (IBT) this month, passing this milestone with considerable aplomb; having delivered annualised returns of 19.5% since his appointment in September 2013. Carl Harald works alongside Ailsa Craig and Kate Bingham – who runs the unquoted portfolio – and the management team has recently been bolstered by the promotion of Marek Poszepczynski, who has worked with SV Health since 2013 as an analyst focusing on potential M&A targets. The trust, which invests mainly in US-listed biotech stocks, but also – uniquely among its peers – in a venture fund of unquoted companies, aims to generate long-term capital growth while paying 4% of NAV each year as a dividend drawn entirely from capital. The dividend was introduced after shareholders voted for it in 2016, and the trust paid a dividend of 23p in its first financial year under the new regime. This year the trust’s dividend – paid in January and August – amounts to 27p, a 17.4% uplift on the previous figure. The introduction of a dividend, and the chunky payouts the trust has made, have sparked considerable interest among investors and IBT has seen its discount narrow sharply, moving in from 15% to trade around par. The trust’s ownership structure has improved markedly as a result, with the largest shareholder now in control of less than ten percent, where once a single owner had control of almost 30% of shares in issue. The last twelve months have, by this trust’s recent standards, been relatively muted in terms of performance (NAV TR +8%), but Carl Harald argues that the market itself has taken a breath after strong gains and he remains positive on the outlook for the sector, where he believes a number of factors support the case for further gains for some time to come. Scott Gottlieb, the head of the Food & Drugs Administration appointed by Donald Trump, is considered pro-innovation, and drug approvals under his supervision are high. Pressure on pricing remains, but this is focused largely on generic drug makers, leaving those who focus on innovative new drugs in areas with great medical need – the type of company IBT prefers – largely free to price their products in an efficient manner. IBT has a diversified portfolio, equally split between large, medium and small-cap companies, which the managers believe puts it in good stead at a time when many of the biggest firms look increasingly stodgy – more like their siblings in the pharma space – with lots of money but weak proprietary development pipelines. This leaves them hungry to snap up more innovative smaller firms.
At the latter stages of a bull market, enthusiasm can sometimes get the better of all of us. Investors always find ways to justify prices for companies at any stage in the cycle. To contrarians, the fact that the price of something has gone up tenfold doesn’t necessarily make it more attractive. However, momentum (as it is now called) is popularly touted as a sustainable investment strategy for the long term. Have the proponents of the ‘ever the greater fool’ theory had a re-brand? Within the world of investment trusts, ‘excessive optimism’ is more easily measured in terms of premiums to net asset value (NAV). This is particularly the case where the majority of a trust’s assets are themselves quoted. Of the 90 trusts (or investment companies) which currently stand on premiums, 55% have illiquid and/or unlisted assets representing greater than 50% of their portfolios. With these trusts, overenthusiasm is perhaps a little less easy to gauge – it is entirely possible that either valuations have moved on since the last official valuation, or that the board is being conservative in its valuations. Either way, each is likely to have its own story and a premium is not necessarily an indicator of excessive optimism. We list below the trusts which have greater than 50% of their assets in listed or publicly traded investments, yet trade at significant premiums. One of the common themes observable is that of strong relative performance over recent times. However, whether you are a contrarian or not (or a follower of momentum as a strategy), we believe that paying anything over a very modest premium is setting yourself up for a fall. Premiums are very rarely sustainable and tend to evaporate at inflection points, exacerbating a poor period of performance from a manager in absolute or relative terms. Indeed, the table below shows how quickly a premium can be eroded, with a corresponding effect on shareholder returns, irrespective of manager performance.
Companies: MAJE SUPP IBT SLPE ICGT IIT SEC JEO SYNC III
Under the leadership of its manager, Carl Harald Janson, International Biotechnology Trust (IBT) is building a track record of outperformance of both its benchmark, the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index and the average of its peer group (see page 13 of this note for the figures).
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AFH interim results have shown resilience in a tough period. Revenues grew by 5% yoy and Adj. EPS is up 8% yoy. We reduce our FY20 EPS forecast by 8% to reflect the wider market falls and slower new business due to the lockdown. This reduction in earnings is significantly less than peers, highlighting the defensive nature of the business and the prudent temporary cost measures being introduced in FY20. The improved FCF of the business should lead to a re-rating, particularly as AFH now trades on 9.3x CY20 P/E, a significant discount to peers. Our reduced target price of 524p implies 81% upside. Re-iterate BUY.
Companies: AFH Financial Group
Much has been written about the effects of the virus on the world and on the stock market. Here is one analyst’s take on some of the likely impacts on the way we should look at companies. This article was originally produced as a blog, “10 Changes Post Virus”, which was published a few weeks ago.
Companies: AGY ARBB ARIX DNL GDR NSF PCA PIN PHNX PHP RE/ RECI STX SCE SIXH TRX SHED VTA
Burford has announced its results for 2019. As previously indicated, these were lower than in the previous year. Revenue fell 17% from $430m in 2018 to $357m. Profit after tax, on Burford’s basis, declined 31% from $329m to $226m. As announced earlier, there will be no final dividend so only the interim dividend of ¢4.17 was paid for FY19. Unusually, Burford has also released a trading update for early 2020 alongside its main figures. Court results and arbitral awards have been obtained that would generate some healthy profits. Most notable is $200m in income ($300m in cash receipts) regarding which further legal review is unlikely.
Companies: Burford Capital
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
Ramsdens has reported a strong set of trading results in the last twelve months to March 2020. COVID lockdown has led to store closures, which will lead to weaker trading over the following months. However, Ramsdens has a very solid balance sheet, is diversified and is well positioned to re-open stores and continue its growth. We use an 8x multiple on last 12 months to March 2020 earnings as a reflection of a normalised earnings base which reduces our target price to 162p from 180p. At this target price Ramsdens would trade on a CY20 P/B of 1.5x. This target price offers 15% upside and we re-iterate BUY.
TCS has confirmed it will pay the previously announced interim dividend of 3.25p. A number of mitigating actions to preserve cash ensures that this is affordable. We estimate the £1.7m payment is less than 10% of cash and available facilities, which should be little changed from the April update. Rent collection levels of 75%, or 86% including deferrals, is resilient under the circumstances. There are also optimistic signs from Europe that people will be shopping in material numbers from 15 June. TCS will have all locations safely open from that date. We lower our NAV forecasts c.2%, mostly for the dividend payment, but also for a tougher outlook for CitiPark. Official guidance understandably remains withdrawn. The shares currently price in a c. 30% decline in underlying property values, which we think is excessive. On this basis, we see upside to the share price, setting it at 235p, still a c. 25% discount to NAV while short-term visibility is low. BUY
Companies: Town Centre Securities
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
Aside from its FY 19 earnings presentation, British Land has adopted a more cautious anticipation about Offices in the City of London. We share this pessimism and have been surprised by the recent share’s bump. The latter is the opportunity to turn negative, again, and update our divestment case.
Companies: British Land Company
Today’s FY update reports that the decisive action taken at the outset of the COVID crisis has protected returns. Revenues held up through to the May year end. Aided by cost savings, adj. EBITDA is expected to be 20% ahead. We expect a more modest final dividend to protect the capital surplus. Additional savings have been outlined, which we overlay on a conservative “flat market/fewer new clients” scenario for FY21e – where we hope outperformance is possible. Updating EPS forecasts: FY20e +25%, FY21e -10% and FY22e -7%; also incorporating the Hurley Partners acquisition (+8%). We consider MW a high quality core holding with long term potential.
Companies: Mattioli Woods
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: AGR CSH ESP DIGS IHR LXI PHP RESI SIR SUPR THRL SOHO BBOX SHED WHR
Tetragon Financial Group (TFG, Tetragon) achieved a 13.6% NAV/share total return and a 13.4% ROE in FY19, in line with its long-term target of 10–15%. The main driver of Tetragon’s performance was its asset management business (TFG Asset Management), which comprises managers with a total AUM attributable to Tetragon of US$27.4bn and generated an EBITDA of US$59.5m in FY19 (up 51% y-o-y). The late-2019 investment activity left Tetragon with a relatively low net cash position (4.1% of NAV at end-April). The shares trade at a three-year average discount to NAV of 44% (currently at 62.7%), which is relatively wide compared to peers given the company’s track record of delivering a 16% NAV TR pa over the last 10 years. The recent market sell-off has so far resulted in a 5.1% decrease in NAV (ytd to end-April 2020).
Companies: Tetragon Financial Group
MJ Hudson has confirmed that it expects to achieve profits in line with expectations for FY20E. This is a good result linked to new client wins during the COVID-19 disruption and timely cost management. Whilst much of the group's activities are proving resilient, uncertainty remains and in line with most of the peer group, MJ Hudson is withdrawing guidance for FY21E. We similarly withdraw our FY21E forecasts until visibility improves, moving our rating to Under Review. Meanwhile, the shares are now down 30% since their pre-COVID-19 highs, which is beyond that seen at outsourcing peers (Sanne, JTC). Whilst COVID-19 is presenting challenges for many businesses, we believe that: 1) the structural growth drivers in alternatives that underpin MJ Hudson's growth will continue to remain highly relevant, and 2) its strong balance sheet gives it a relative advantage.
Companies: MJ Hudson Group
Picton Property Income has completed a new £50m revolving credit facility (RCF) to replace two existing facilities that were due to expire in June 2021. Although initially undrawn, the facility maintains operational and financial flexibility, for a longer duration, at a slightly reduced cost. We expect FY20 results to be released later in June, although no date has been confirmed, including an update on the impact of COVID-19. The company entered this period of acute economic and sector uncertainty with a strong and liquid balance sheet and material internal asset management opportunities to support income and capital values.
Companies: Picton Property Income
Today's update confirms Equals delivered another quarter of significant revenue growth YoY, delivered by organic and acquisitive means. Performance across the product range has varied unsurprisingly and we expect these trends to continue over Q2/20E. Given the great uncertainty over the duration and severity of COVID-19's impact on the group, we withdraw FY20-21E forecasts and place our recommendation Under review, awaiting further clarity. Equals is supported by a strong, debt-free, balance sheet and is undertaking measures to further conserve cash.
Companies: Equals Group
Real Estate Credit Investments - Public bonds drive May NAV performance
LXi REIT - Potential 4.6% rent impact in FY21 from Travelodge CVA
Companies: Real Estate Credit Investments