This spring the Association of Investment Companies (AIC) overhauled its sector classifications, adding 13 new sectors and renaming 15 others. This decision was made in an attempt to more accurately reflect the shape of the industry, and help offer investors greater clarity when comparing peers. Several of the changes came in the alternative asset spaces and these are very welcome. Alternative assets have been an area of increased popularity in recent years, making a rationalisation of the sector definitions valuable. The amount of money invested by investment companies in alternative assets has grown by 92% over the past five years, rising from £39.5 billion in 2014 to £75.9 billion in 2019 (as of 8 May 2019). There have also been significant, and sensible, changes to the way Asia-focused trusts have been classified. In this research we take a look at these new sectors and the broader changes which have taken place, identifying the trusts which now stand out in their new peer groups. We also explain where we think the sector classification system may still be leading investors astray, and consider the case for a slightly different set of divisions.
Companies: ATR PAC JAI AEFS SQNX VSL
Since the start of 2018, investors in Asian equities have had a torrid time, with the region underperforming global stock markets. Perhaps reassuringly for investors, the drivers of this underperformance have not been economic fundamentals but more unpredictable factors, which are external to the economies and markets of the region – namely, the ongoing trade dispute between the US and China, and expectations for the US federal funds rate (the global economy’s risk-free rate). However, this does make it harder to read what the future has in store for the region and the trusts that invest in it. Interestingly, despite the poor returns from markets and the growing negative news flow (concerns about the demand for smartphones have been another factor weighing on markets), managers of trusts investing in this region remain bullishly positioned, with a few exceptions. As we show below, on average investment trust managers have retained their strong bias to economically-sensitive companies and sectors. We consider the possible scenarios that could develop from here, economically and financially, and the ramifications for the different trusts in the sector.
Companies: IAT JAI SST PAC ATR BRFI
JPMorgan Asian aims to produce long-term total returns by using its extensive research capacity in Asia to generate alpha from stock-picking. The managers, Ayaz Ebrahim, Richard Titherington and Robert Lloyd, believe that it is earnings growth and dividends which determine returns in the long run, and so the process is heavy on fundamental research and designed to look through macro-economic issues to the potential in the stocks below. The process has been proven to work in recent years, with the trust outperforming in each calendar year since 2015, with the bulk of the alpha coming from stock selection. In particular, stock picking in China has been key, and JPMorgan have invested heavily in this area to facilitate this, and continue to build out their research capability in the local A-Shares market, which is increasingly being absorbed into the global financial system. Although the managers bear ultimate responsibility for selecting the stocks, the process depends less on one or a few people making right calls consistently, but more on a wide, experienced team implementing a sound strategy consistently. The trust has no gearing at the moment, reflecting the manager’s views on the valuation of the market. In fact, it has not been geared since the start of 2017, making the outperformance in the sharp market rally of 2017 especially noteworthy. This cautious positioning helped the trust outperform in the down market of 2018, although we understand it would take a significant shift down in valuations for gearing to be taken out. The trust pays out 1% of NAV each quarter as a dividend, paying from capital as necessary. The implementation of this policy in 2016 led to the discount narrowing significantly, and the trust now trades on a 7.7% discount, having tended to trade above 10% prior to the policy change. The yield on the current share price is 4.2%. The OCF of 0.75% is the cheapest of the five trusts in the AIC’s new Asia Pacific Income sector, despite the fact the trust is not the biggest – meaning the lower costs are not just a result of economies of scale. The management fee is charged on market cap, not NAV, which gives the manager an incentive to close the discount further.
Companies: JP Morgan Asian Investment Trust
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 JAI BEE SDV BRIG AAIF HFEL SCF SIGT BRFI IVPG CTY HINT JCH NAIT
BlackRock World Mining Trust | Invesco Income Growth Trust | Perpetual Income & Growth IT | BlackRock Energy and Resources Income Trust | Scottish Oriental Smaller Companies | JPMorgan Asian
Companies: BRWM IVI PLI SST BERI JAI
JPMorgan Asian seeks to outperform the MSCI Asia ex Japan benchmark and owns a portfolio made up of the best ideas backed by insights from a large proprietary research team. Country-level valuations are used to guide the PMs to shorter term tilts or where they look for ideas, but the main driver of return is stock selection rather than industry or country bets. Returns have been strong since J.P.Morgan combined its Emerging Markets and Asia Pacific teams and standardised its research process, with the fund outperforming in rising and falling markets. It is currently the best-performing fund in the open or closed-end Asia Pacific ex Japan sectors. The trust has paid out a dividend of 4% of NAV since October 2016, made up of quarterly payments of 1%, the majority of which comes from capital reserves. As a result, the trust offers a higher yield even than some of the income-focused portfolios in the combined open- and closed-ended Asia ex Japan peer group. The trust is trading on a discount of 12%, within the range of 10% to 15% that is typical of the past few years. It is the cheapest closed-ended option in the space in terms of OCF, and amongst the cheapest in the combined open- and closed-ended sector.
Emerging markets remain a highly attractive place to invest for the longer term, despite the difficult period for the region this year. We do not believe that the current travails amount to a broad-based crisis in the region. In fact, many of the recent headlines surrounding emerging markets are irrelevant to long-term investor as they are focused on small and insignificant markets. We believe the index has done poorly mainly thanks to specific issues with individual countries and regions rather thanks to global dynamics besetting the region, with the important exception of the confrontation between Trump and the Chinese on trade. In our view, investors in emerging markets need to hold their nerve rather than trying to wait and time the bottom before reinvesting.
Companies: JAI DGN SDP EMF BEE
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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.
Premier Miton have reported their H1’20 results, which have shown delivery of key operational milestones during the period and strong performance despite the COVID-19 fears. Since the end of March, markets have recovered and net flows have been positive in April, meaning AUM has reached £9.9bn. We believe this shows the resilience of the business and that the benefits of the merger are coming through. As delivery continues we believe Premier Miton will see a significant re-rating as the shares currently trade on just 9.7x CY20 P/E, a significant discount to peers and historic levels of 12.5x. We reiterate our BUY rating and DCF based target price of 152p, implying 52% upside.
Companies: Premier Miton Group
The Renewables Infrastructure Group - £120m capital raise
Marwyn Value Investors - Proposed share acquisition by manager and crystallisation of carried interest
DP Aircraft I - 5% ownership stake in Norwegian
Companies: Renewables Infrastructure Group Marwyn Value Investors
The Merchants Trust (MRCH) is managed by Simon Gergel at Allianz Global Investors (AllianzGI). Aiming to continue to provide a high and growing level of income, he is adjusting the trust's portfolio in the wake of dividend cuts sparked by the negative economic effects of COVID-19. If there is an income shortfall in this financial year, MRCH is well positioned to maintain its dividend, with revenue reserves of more than 1x the last annual payment. It has not been an easy period for value managers over the last decade as growth stocks have led the charge; however, Gergel has outperformed the UK market over this period in both NAV and share price terms. The board reduced MRCH's gearing in late January 2020, which was opportune timing ahead of the recent significant stock market weakness.
Companies: Merchants Trust
Companies: AVO AGY ARBB ARIX BUR CMH CLIG DNL GDR HAYD PCA PIN PHP RE/ RECI RMDL STX SHED VTA
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
The COVID-19-related crisis further increases the top-line pressure. However, the quarter showed ongoing efficiency gains and, above all, management’s cost of risk guidance stood significantly below our stress test based projections.
Companies: Lloyds Banking Group
In this note, we analyze the indebtedness of 35 international E&Ps publicly listed in the UK, Canada, Norway, Sweden and the USA. For each company, we look at (1) cash position, (2) level and nature of debt (including covenants), (3) debt service and principal repayment framework and (4) Brent price required from April to YE20 to meet all the obligations and keep cash positions intact. We also estimate YE20 cash if Brent were to average US$20/bbl from April to YE20. While the oil demand and oil price collapse are of unprecedented historical proportions and the opportunities to cut costs much more limited than in 2014, most companies (with a few exceptions) entered the crisis in much better position than six years ago, with stronger balance sheets and often already extended debt maturities. In addition, this time around, many E&Ps have already been deleveraging for 1-2 years and are not caught in the middle of large developments that cannot be halted. The previous crisis also showed that debt providers could relax debt covenants for a certain period as long as interest and principal repayment obligations were met. This implies that as long as operations are not interrupted and counterparties keep paying their bills (Kurdistan), the storm can be weathered by most for a few quarters.
With (1) Brent price of about US$50/bbl in 1Q20, (2) reduced capex programmes, (3) material hedging programmes covering a large proportion of FY20 production at higher prices and (4) limited principal repayments in 2020, we find that most companies can meet all their costs and obligations in 2020 at Brent prices below US$40/bbl and often below US$35/bbl) from April until YE20 and keep their cash intact, allowing them to remain solvent at much lower prices for some time. In particular, Maha Energy and SDX Energy are cash neutral at about US$20/bbl. When factoring the divestment of Uganda, Tullow needs only US$9/bbl to maintain its YE20 cash equal to YE19. Canacol Energy, Diversified Gas and Oil, Independent Oil & Gas, Orca Exploration, Serica Energy and Wentworth Resources are gas stories not really exposed to oil prices and Africa Oil has hedged 95% of its FY20 production at over US$65/bbl.
Companies: AKERBP AOI CNE CNE DGOC EGY ENOG ENQ GENL GKP GPRK GTE HUR IOG JSE KOS LUPE MAHAA OKEA ORC.B PEN PHAR PMO PTAL PXT RRE SDX SEPL TETY TGL TLW TXP WRL
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
AFH Financial released an AGM statement suggesting that trading for FY20 remains in line with expectations. In the first four months of FY20 AFH has continued to see inflows at Q4’19 levels. The company also expects to see continued consolidation and a growing need for financial planning. Although the current market uncertainty has hit the industry, we believe that AFH is less affected than others by market movements due to its protection broking revenues and initial advice fees totalling 40% of revenues. We leave our forecasts and TP unchanged. These show AFH trading on 10.8x FY20 P/E falling to 9.7x in FY21, and yielding 2.8% rising to 3.1%. BUY.
Companies: AFH Financial Group
In the past month the group has made significant progress in pivoting its business away from its traditional face-to-face model. Although lending levels remain appropriately subdued, it has achieved an impressive collections performance, with its largest business running at about 90% of pre-lockdown levels. This, combined with the group’s high risk-adjusted margins has enabled it to generate £3m of FCF in the first three weeks of April, taking its net cash position to £38.7m as of 21 April. This strong financial position, combined with the group’s innovative approach to product development puts it in an extremely strong position to serve its clients and win share when the current government restrictions are eventually lifted. Reflecting this positive outlook we reiterate our BUY rating.
Companies: Non-Standard Finance
There has been much comment on the fact that equity markets in the US and Europe have been shrinking for some years now, certainly in terms of the number of quoted companies, if not in total market capitalisation (MCap). This paper has been written with the assistance of the Quoted Companies Alliance (QCA) and focuses on the evidence for such in the London market and, in particular, that for smaller and midcap companies. It assesses that evidence and considers explanations. Finally, we ask why it matters, and assuming that it does, what practical steps can be taken to reverse the trend. Successful public markets have been a key part of the United Kingdom’s economic success for generations, even centuries, and we should not allow them to wither on the vine.
Companies: AVO AGY ARBB ARIX ASAI DNL GDR HAYD NSF PCA PIN PXC PHP RE/ RECI RMDL STX SCE TRX TON SHED VTA
TruFin is an operating company with holdings in four FinTech businesses that operate in underserved niches. The businesses have established market positions, proven routes to market and are growing fast. With this growth requiring no additional equity, and the realistic prospect of all four being profitable within our forecast horizon, we believe that executional delivery, and a resolution of the current shareholder uncertainty will result in the current discount to fair value unwinding. We initiate with a BUY rating and a 29.3p target price, implying 83% upside.
Smaller companies are usually a problematic area to invest in during significant downturns or recessions; and the sharp fall in 2020 hasn’t been an exception. In this article we assess the performance of smaller companies trusts throughout the pandemic, while identifying the factors that have differentiated the winners from the losers. This includes the impact that cash, market cap exposure, sector allocation, revenue exposure and growth or value biases have had, with some surprising results. We also ask whether now is an attractive time to invest in smaller companies, highlighting the trusts which stand out to us…
Companies: THRG GHE MINI RMMC ASIT ASL MTE TRG BRSC DSM
Despite the disruption caused by COVID, Harworth has continued to make good progress across each business area. Liquidity has also been enhanced with an increase in the RCF announced at the end of April.
Companies: Harworth Group