To those who regularly invest in investment trusts, discounts can often be part of the opportunity. But to others, discounts are an extra complication, not to mention an extra risk. The last six weeks has probably strengthened the prejudices of both sides on the topic. The recent bout of volatility has – in our opinion – more clearly exposed both the advantages and the disadvantages of investment trusts. Our perspective is that discounts are like a drunk friend. They are fun to have around, but at times they let you down, often when it matters most. Ultimately, the investment trust sector is defined by its discounts. The NAV is what the manager delivers, which is the reason why most of our research is focussed on the NAV. Whereas the share price return reflects the NAV with an accelerant (or detractor) – represented by the change in discount over the respective holding period. Why discounts narrow or widen is a matter of continuing debate and, in most cases, comes down to very specific factors applicable to each trust. We would argue that – with the exception of very broad patterns or trends – past movements in discounts are significantly less repeatable than past NAV performance. Fundamentally this is why we believe it is more helpful to use historic investment trust NAV returns as a prism through which to judge the performance characteristics of a trust, rather than historic share price returns. On the other hand, there are ways to incorporate discount analysis into an evaluation of the opportunity presented by an investment trust at any given point in time. We feel that understanding the historic volatility of the discount is fundamental to the task of analysing a trust’s discount, and of defining factors that will influence it in the future. In this article we attempt to quantify the reasons for discount volatility, and point to trusts which offer significantly less discount downside from the current level.
Companies: PLI BHGU SMT RCP TIGT MWY RICA JAM BRWM
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
Last year we published a number of studies showing that investment trust managers were counteracting the rise of passive vehicles by further concentrating their portfolios and using the advantages of the closed-end structure such as gearing and the ability to pay income from capital more aggressively. New analysis from the team at Kepler shows that that over the past five years, trusts which have seen the greatest reduction in number of stocks in portfolios have generated the highest levels of alpha. Similarly those trusts which reduced their turnover the most have generated a higher alpha compared with those which haven’t. This corroborates the academic literature on the subject. In our view this finding is a strong indicator of the future direction for investment trusts in combating the threat from passives. In this article we dive into the data, which shows that having more active portfolios has delivered strong benefits for shareholders. We also consider the reasons why the investment trust universe remains a place that active managers can outperform. Finally we highlight three trusts that have most recently taken decisive steps to become significantly more active.
Companies: MNP MNKS HNE MRC FSV JAM
From 1 January 2019 wealth managers have been required to provide a full breakdown of the costs borne by a portfolio, as measured by the Key Information Document Reduction in Yield (KID RIY) figure. This includes any underlying fees from collectives. As most of us know, performance after fees is what really counts. So we continue to believe that, while shining a light on costs is entirely right, changes in investment behaviour that are driven solely by cost will do little for investor returns over the long run. That said, the new KID RIY measure does not, in our view, properly represent the reality of future costs. This is not least because it includes interest charges and performance fees incurred historically. Neither of these helps comparability between trusts. Gearing should enhance returns over the long term, and performance fees are (usually) earned only after an investor has benefited from their investment in performance terms. Using either measure as an indicator of future costs is clearly flawed. The ongoing charges (OCF) figure is our preferred statistic, and in our view most representative. Nevertheless, while the AIC has guidelines on how the OCF is calculated, calculation methodologies do vary. This is also the case with KID RIYs, which are meant to be the industry gold standard, but in many cases significant variations in methodology still exist.
Companies: KIT HNE JAM IVI
For six months now, JPMorgan American (JAM) has had a new team behind it. In general portfolio terms, the change has not been revolutionary. However, in other ways, there have been very meaningful changes. Since June, two highly regarded individuals (Jonathan Simon and Timothy Parton) within JPM’s US Equity team have been investing JAM’s large cap assets. What sets them and the new set-up apart, is that one is a specialist value investor, whilst the other is a specialist growth investor. Each manager has discretion when it comes to holdings, but with a strong awareness of the other in a portfolio context. The split between growth and value is expected to remain fairly evenly balanced over time, but they do have the option to strategically tilt between the styles. They have each been tasked with managing a highly concentrated portfolio of between ten and 20 stocks, meaning JAM’s large cap portfolio can constitute between 20 and 40 stocks at any one time. In reality, the large cap portion will typically be around 40 names. This is highly concentrated by traditional portfolio standards, and means the large cap portion of JAM has the lowest number of portfolio holdings in the North America investment trust sub-sector. Gearing is expected to be a feature of JAM, but it is tactically employed, rather than being structural. Deploying gearing is driven by both the board and manager. In October 2018, the range agreed between the board and manager was set at 0%, plus or minus 2%. In November 2019, gearing was reintroduced in the portfolio. With the US equity market seemingly so hard for active managers to beat, Timothy and Jonathan’s specialist and concentrated approach has paid off – with the strategy having historically outperformed the benchmark as well as investment trust and open-ended peer group averages. It is clearly early days yet, with only six months having elapsed, but so far they are marginally underperforming the benchmark on a sterling total return basis.
Companies: JPMorgan American Investment Trust
All leaderships come to an end at some point. With investment trusts, however, it is rarely the electorate (aka shareholders) who initiate the change in manager. In some cases it is the board. In others, it is the management company itself recognising the need for a new manager, and replacing them before the board feels the need for more decisive action. A change instigated by the board will often result in a transformative outcome for a trust, perhaps with a change in management house as well as personnel. Changes proposed by the management company itself can be just as transformative, but can also be subtler. The aims are always the same: to improve performance for shareholders, and to stimulate demand to bring in the discount, or grow the trust through share issuance. Last week witnessed one of the more dramatic changes of manager in recent years. On 29 November Baillie Gifford effectively took control of the portfolio of European Investment Trust, one of the last remaining value trusts in the sector. The mandate being awarded to Baillie Gifford (the pre-eminent growth investment house) represents a significant change for shareholders, and comes after several years of a growth bull run. Time will only tell whether the board’s decisive (and dramatic) switching of horses will prove correct. In this article we reveal the results of a detailed analysis on how effective past manager changes have been for investment trusts.
Companies: JAM BRNA BRIG MWY
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
From 31 May, JPM American’s (JAM) large-cap portfolio will reflect the best growth and value ideas from the “Equity Focus” team in New York. As such, JAM’s new portfolio will be significantly more concentrated. To some extent, this change reflects an extension of the portfolio changes which were made in 2017, encouraging the previous manager to increase concentration in the portfolio, but also to run winners longer. JAM is one of few trusts focused on North America to have outperformed the benchmark over the short, medium and longer term. However, given the board has been consistently buying shares back, it has taken a proactive move to make the trust more interesting and/or relevant to today’s investment trust buyer by modifying the strategy. The key changes to the portfolio will be that each stock will reflect the best ideas from two co-managers who have worked together for over 20 years, and together run JP Morgan’s Equity Focus Strategy, who each have very different growth and value stock selection styles respectively. The split between growth and value is expected to remain fairly evenly balanced over time, but never more than a 60:40 tilt either way. Each manager has ultimate decision-making authority over their stocks in the portfolio, but at all times must have between 10 (minimum) and 20 (maximum) holdings at any one time. Position sizes are related entirely down to conviction levels, rather than any other considerations (benchmark constituent etc). Importantly, both managers in the past worked alongside and contributed to the management of JAM as a closed-end vehicle, and so the ins-and-outs of trusts, boards and the subtleties of managing a trust versus an open-ended fund. In other respects, JAM remains the same in terms of it’s objective, and positioning. The trust aims to achieve capital growth, and is expected to provide a 'core' exposure to North American equities. Since 2011 (when the JPMorgan Equity Focus SICAV launched), JAM’s previous manager outperformed peers, but marginally lagged the S&P 500. It is noteworthy that the new strategy has outperformed both, and without any gearing. The historic performance shows that the new strategy represents an evolution rather than a revolution to the returns that shareholders have come to expect from the trust.
Fees in the fund management world are a hot topic, and average fees across collective investment funds around the world have seen relentless declines. According to research from Morningstar, the average asset-weighted fee for actively managed equity funds has fallen by 18% since 2013, compared with a 28% decline at passive funds.
Companies: JAM ATST SUPP JEO RIV
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
JPM American (JAM) is one of few trusts focused on North America to have outperformed the benchmark over the short, medium and longer term. As we have discussed in previous research on the sector, we found that only 17% of US managers outperform their benchmark over five years, and within our IA/AIC combined sector, only 25% have outperformed the S&P 500. JAM’s chief aim is to achieve capital growth rather than a higher income, and the managers set their stall clearly as a ‘core’ exposure to North American equities. In addition, they are able to opportunistically harness the growth characteristics of small-caps through a separately managed sub-portfolio. There are currently 62 stocks in the portfolio which, at nearly £1bn, is large and has ample liquidity for larger investors. The team emphasises that the companies they prefer are generally global businesses, which happen to be headquartered and run from the US. As we touch upon in our recent research on the effects of Donald Trump’s presidency, the US has in the past been an exceptionally good place to run businesses from and, managed correctly over the long term, proved fertile ground on which companies have been able to thrive and grow.
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
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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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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