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
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
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 JAGI
UK equity income trusts trade at a discount to their global-equity-income-focused counterparts, yet our research suggests that without the headwind of weak sterling they have delivered comparable dividend growth and have, for at least the past decade, steadily built their revenue reserves. On average, both the UK and global equity income sectors yield the same (3.7%), but have very different share price ratings. Investment trust buyers clearly share international investor’s preference for investments outside of the UK. But is this discount justified? The current yield is one thing, but for an equity, one of the main considerations is the ability of that dividend to keep up with or exceed inflation over the long term. Historically, equity yields have been below those of fixed income because of their propensity to grow over time. The last financial crisis and QE changed all that, and for most of the past decade, gilt yields have been below those of equities. At the same time, the managers of businesses have responded to the huge demand for dividends from otherwise income starved savers and have been ramping up dividend payments. As a result, investment trust’s earnings have been rising, and so boards have been able to increase dividends handsomely over the past decade or so. The table below illustrates quite how startling these increases have generally been regarding the trusts that have track records of greater than ten years.
Companies: Lowland Investment Company Perpetual Income & Growth Invest. Trust
Perpetual Income & Growth (PLI) has a good track record over the long term, delivering annualised NAV total returns in excess of 8.5% per annum over ten years. Over this period, the trust outperformed the FTSE All Share by a comfortable margin, performing particularly well in relative terms thanks to manager Mark Barnett’s conservative style during more difficult periods for markets. Driven with a high-conviction, cautious style, PLI has a clear emphasis on risk control, with lower beta than the average trust in the AIC UK Equity Income sector. The trust has much in common with its sister fund, Edinburgh Investment Trust. Both are managed with a benchmark agnostic approach that sees the manager take significant over and underweights versus the index, and both focus on large, cash generative companies that the manager believes are undervalued. Unlike Edinburgh, however, PLI is also able to invest in small and unquoted companies, adding another level of flexibility that allows Mark to invest in companies which, while they may not pay a dividend ‘today’, have the potential to grow their dividend exponentially. Despite the manager’s formidable reputation, the trust has been on the back foot in the last two years, suffering because it has no exposure to mining stocks (a position which had been to the trust’s benefit in 2014-15), HSBC or Royal Dutch Shell as they rallied in 2016-17 and significant exposure to domesticallyfocused UK companies that were downgraded after the Brexit referendum and remain deeply unloved. This weak patch of performance has seen the trust slip out to a significant discount of around 9%, while still offering a respectable yield of 4%.
Companies: Perpetual Income & Growth Invest. Trust
We have for some time argued that traditional equity income funds are too heavily dependent on a narrow range of stocks, and that the stocks themselves are perhaps looking overstretched in terms of the dividends they pay compared to their underlying earnings. In November last year we published research showing that 25.1% of the capital in the AIC UK Equity Income sector is invested in just ten stocks, and across those companies the average dividend cover is 1.17x. We found that open-ended funds are even more heavily concentrated, with just under 30% of assets invested in ten stocks, among which the average dividend cover is just 1.04%. The mood amongst investors seems to be changing as awareness of this concentration grows, not least because of articles like this one in the Times warning of a ‘squeeze’ ahead for investors and, where once UK Equity Income was regularly the top selling Investment Association sector, outflows have been building steadily for some months. In fact the IA UK Equity Income sector saw bigger retail outflows in January this year than any other bar the Specialist sector. Even after recent outflows, however, the sector remains one of the largest overall with assets of more than £62bn under management – accounting for roughly ten percent of all assets invested in open-ended funds. Among investment trusts, assets amounting to £10bn are held in UK Equity Income trusts. Income still commands a strong pull, then, and within the Investment Trust sector, the practise of boosting income by paying out a proportion of capital profits has become increasingly common as a means to attract new investors. The appeal of this practice from a fund manager’s point of view is obvious. Many investors clamour for income, so introducing a yield can encourage greater demand for shares. International Biotechnology Trust (IBT), which we cover in detail here, announced plans in September 2016 to convert some of the capital it generates into income, aiming for a yield of 4%. As the chart below shows, the discount has come in sharply since it did so, moving to a premium earlier this year having previously rarely traded inside a double figure discount for a large proportion of its lifetime. Invesco Perpetual UK Smaller Companies (IPU) saw a similar re-rating when the board announced plans to pay a significantly enhanced dividend partly funded by the capital account in September 2016. Like IBT, the trust, which yields 3.5%, has seen its discount tighten up sharply, moving in from a consistently wide double-digit discount to trade in single figures since the enhanced dividend was introduced. Looking at these share price movements, we thought it might be interesting to examine the broader investment trust sector and see whether a correlation exists between discount and yield.
Companies: IVPU IBT MVI MUT DIG EDIN PLI BEE BRWM IVI SCF AAIF PLI
Investment trusts are often the structure of choice during booming markets. The ability to gear, plus the investment freedom of a closed-ended structure allow skilled managers to capitalise on rising share prices. However, the same has not necessarily been true on the way down, as leverage exaggerates losses and discounts widen. This has often been a time to buy, with market volatility providing a chance to buy into good trusts at knockdown rates. Cherry Reynard asks, has the market rout since the start of the year produced any opportunities for value-hunters? There are 28 trusts that have seen their discounts widen by more than 5%* since the start of the year. This appears a mild reaction to the market sell-off. The FTSE 100 was down 7.5% over the same period. Peter Walls, manager of the Unicorn Mastertrust (a fund of investment trusts), said this first bout of volatility, triggered by expectations of higher interest rates in the US, passed much of the sector by unnoticed: “There was some intra-day volatility in some of the more highly geared, specialist funds. Some of the trusts that had enjoyed strong demand from self-directed investors also proved volatile – Fidelity China, Scottish Mortgage and F&C Global Smaller Companies. However, those hoping to pick up cheap opportunities were disappointed.” There were a number of reasons why investment trusts didn’t exhibit panic selling. Notably, companies proved active in buying back shares. Scottish Mortgage, for example, bought back 3,000,000 ordinary shares at a price of 449.34p at the start of March. Walls added: “The boards are aware that discount volatility is not great for shareholders and did their best to manage discounts through this time.” However, while the rout itself did not throw up any conspicuous bargains, it did exaggerate some existing trends among some familiar investment trusts. The first is the weakness of the infrastructure trusts. There were seven infrastructure trusts among those trusts that saw the greatest discount widening over the period. In some cases, the moves were extreme - GCP Infrastructure saw a 9.4% move, while HICL saw an 8.0% move. 3i Infrastructure and John Laing Infrastructure moved from a long-standing premium to a small discount. Infrastructure trusts have long been seen as a ‘bond proxy’ investment and as such, might be expected to suffer on the prospect of rising rates. However, as Walls points out, there were also other factors at work. Concerns over the collapse of Carillion and an increasingly aggressive stance from the Labour Party on PFI have weighed heavily on investors. This has unquestionably led to better value, with discounts at multi-year highs. The question for investors is whether the rising interest rate environment is reflected in current prices, or whether any further inflation shocks could send prices lower still. Simon Moore, senior investment manager at Seven Investment Management (7IM) believes a more fertile ground may be the UK Equity income sector, where sentiment has been dented by Brexit concerns. He says: “There are three investment trusts which stick out where their price has fallen significantly over the last three months. All of these have Neil Woodford/ Mark Barnett connections (make of that what you will): Edinburgh Investment Trust, Perpetual Income & Growth and Woodford Patient Capital. “These have a few UK small caps that have been in trouble, arguably nothing to do with the market sell-off, but each manager have been vocal supporters of UK listed companies despite obvious global pessimism on UK equities post-Brexit referendum. If they are right - and their judgement calls have often been right in the past - then these funds could be rerated.” Moore points out that both managers have styles that will go in and out of favour. Certainly, all three trusts have moved down a long way. Patient Capital has seen its share price total return dip 10.7% and its discount widen 5.4%. Edinburgh Investment Trust hasn’t seen a significant change in its discount, which is hovering around 9%, but its shares are down 8.6%. It is a similar situation with Perpetual Income & Growth, where the shares are down 7.7%, but the discount remains at around 9.5%. Moore says: “It is worth remembering that Patient Capital is a very different fund to either Edinburgh Investment Trust or Perpetual Income and Growth and is not for the faint hearted. Given the nature of some of the companies it invests in, there may well be more ups and downs to come. But the clue is in the name - investors who can afford to be patient may well be rewarded over the long-term." Walls sounds a note of caution, saying that some of the classic equity income type stocks favoured by these two managers are still seeing a difficult time. Some of the outsourcing groups, for example, remain out of favour with investors. Much will depend on whether investors come to believe in the ‘value’ trade, where this type of stock will revert to more normal valuations. The other sector to see some change in ratings among the recent volatility has been the technology and media sector. Of course, this comes after a lengthy expansion in the technology sector, with companies such as Facebook, Amazon and Netflix leading markets higher for much of 2017. Walls says: “A couple of the technology trusts, such as Polar Technology Trust and the Allianz Technology Trust have moved to a small discount. I wouldn’t say they look like bargains.” Walls suggests that some sectors where there should have been bargains – such as UK smaller companies – have not seen any real movement in aggregate and are certainly ‘not exciting for value-minded investors’. That said, some are certainly cheaper than they were: Chelverton Growth trust has taken a hit, for example. The other weak trust has been the River & Mercantile UK Micro Cap, though this dropped following the departure of manager Philip Rodrigs over a ‘conduct issue’. Overall, most trusts have held up well since the start of the year. This reflects well on the sector, which appears to have grown better at managing market downturns. There are opportunities, but these have arisen from issues idiosyncratic to each sector rather than market volatility as a whole
Companies: SMT EDIN PLI SUPP PCT ATT RMMC
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Cenkos’s first half results demonstrated the benefits of its flexible operating model and strength of its client relationships. While challenges related to COVID-19 are set to continue, Cenkos’s focus is on growth companies and its fund-raising year-to-date has had a greater emphasis on corporates financing M&A and growth opportunities rather than for defensive purposes. This should prove more sustainable although, as always, the timing of transactions in the encouraging pipeline reported remains uncertain.
Companies: Cenkos Securities plc
Avation is a lessor of 46 commercial aircraft to a diversified airline client base. This morning, the group has released results for the 12-months to 30 June 2020, which illustrate the challenges faced by its customer base as a result of Covid-19, as well as the corrective actions taken by the Board that have resulted in profitability being maintained in the year as a whole. Loan repayment deferrals of c.$24.4m were obtained in the period, in comparison to $13.1m short-term rent deferrals being granted to airline customers and thus emphasising management's focus on liquidity during an unprecedented period for global airlines. Avation again reports that it is currently reviewing alternatives in relation to the 6.5% senior notes due in May 2021. Whilst at this point our forecasts remain under review, and near term challenges remain across the industry, we believe that demand for aircraft from lessors such as Avation will increase in time as a result of airlines being even more reliant upon aircraft leasing firms due to the retirement of older aircraft during 2020 in combination with much weaker balance sheets that are unable to support direct aircraft purchases.
Companies: Avation PLC
Record’s Q221 trading update confirmed that its new $8bn dynamic hedging mandate has started and that, prior to this, assets under management equivalent (AUME) expanded by 4% in the quarter. The group continues to work on developing new products and is deploying technology to enhance its ability to deliver these and existing products cost effectively.
Companies: Record plc
Primary Health Properties (LON:PHP) is a real estate investment trust (REIT) that holds a portfolio of 510 primary health facilities in the UK (92% of the portfolio by value) and Ireland (8%). The business model is to manage the properties for rental income and to grow the portfolio over time. The
Companies: PHP PP51 PHPRF
In another upbeat update, GHT has confirmed that the business is tracking in line, in turn being driven by strong traction with key customer, ANZ. Here, new sales have driven a 20% increase in contracted customer revenue to >£11m in FY21. As a strategic partner (deeply involved with GHT in bringing new Clareti banking services to market) this extra investment is very encouraging, as it’s indicative of these services‘ strong future potential. Also announced today – GHT state that its transition to a recurring subscription model (commenced just two years ago) is now complete and that ARR now stands at £11.9m, ~+16% annualised organic growth since FY20 y/e. In a tough new business environment, we view this as a highly credible performance. It’s also worth noting that management reference remaining pipeline opportunities, these would further benefit strong forwards visibility – already £22.4m for FY21. Given this – and also as sign of confidence – today we reinstate FY21 forecasts. We look for a reacceleration in top-line growth: +16% y/y to £28.7m at a Group level, in turn driven by c.+24% organic growth in Clareti, to £20m. For valuation – with Clareti still in its relative infancy – we continue to view a sales multiple as most appropriate. Here, we note that peers typically trade in a 5-7x range vs. GHT at 4x our FY21 estimate. This suggests 25-75% upside to fair value for this disruptive company, with a multi-year growth opportunity still ahead.
Companies: Gresham House
As expected following the US banks’ releases, Barclays’ third quarter results saw a sharp reduction in provisions build-up while the emergence of delinquencies has been delayed by the State’s supporting measures. Management continues to expect a reduction in the cost of risk next year. It remains to be seen if this guidance is capable of withstanding new lockdowns or a no-deal Brexit.
Companies: Barclays PLC
Following on quickly from its impressive full year results, these interim results confirm that our confidence for growth in the Program Management business was not misplaced.Contracted Premium increased 95% YoY (and 12% ahead of December 2019) to $925m –a stone's throw away from the $1bn 2020 guidance set in 2018. At the same time, Gross Written Premium (GWP) grew 42.6% to £247.2m, resulting in Economic EBITDA turning positive, at £0.8m compared to a loss of £0.3m in 1H19
Companies: Randall & Quilter Investment Holdings Ltd.
Tatton has reported an in-line H1 financial performance: revenue totalled £11.0m (vs N+1Se £10.9m) and £5.0m adj. EBIT (50% N+1S FY21e). AuM grew by 3.4% to £7.8bn as net inflows continued throughout H1 (+£328m) – a positive performance given the backdrop. Paradigm, particularly in Mortgages, has been resilient post-lockdown. Having delivered 50% of our earnings forecast for FY21e, there is potential for upside. However, we leave our forecasts unchanged and a margin for safety as we remain alive to potential external risks/volatility.
Companies: Tatton Asset Management Plc
The interims confirmed that Covid-19 was minimally disruptive operationally in H1 20 and, ironically, may have improved both of R&Q’s divisions’ mediumterm trading outlooks. As the pandemic and other industry events have generated significant losses for insurers, they have created the current ‘hardening’ market driving demand for Legacy and Program Management.
Agronomics has announced it has conditionally raised £10.0m gross from an equity issue at a price of 6.0p, which represents a 6.8% premium to the most recently reported NAV per share of 5.62p. Assuming the company's post-raise cash balance is £8.15m, after repaying a £1.9m bridging facility, we estimate the new NAV per share to be c5.7p. We see significant potential in the cultivated meat sector and believe Agronomics is well positioned to support this developing sector and generate strong returns from these investments. We see upside in Agronomics' portfolio and have today initiated coverage with a Buy recommendation.
Companies: Agronomics Limited
ANGLE plc (AGL.L): Acceptance of FDA submission | Feedback plc (FDBK.L*): Partnership agreement | Open Orphan (ORPH.L): Human Challenge Study Model contract with UK Government
Companies: AGL FDBK ORPH
Agronomics is an investment company building a portfolio of investments in the developing alternative protein sector. The company is focused on early stage investments, offering attractive valuations and significant upside potential. Importantly, we believe Agronomics represents an opportunity for public investors to gain access to early stage private companies, which might not otherwise be available. We expect the cultivated meat sector to be driven by a number of global mega trends that will increase public awareness of the issues the sector is aiming to overcome. We see strong upside in Agronomics' existing portfolio and initiate coverage with a Buy recommendation.
Secure Trust Bank (STB) reported H120 PBT of £5.1m (vs £18.1m a year ago) and a 3.0% ROE. Income grew 4% y-o-y, but impairments almost doubled, and payment holiday charges also hurt. STB notes that since the lockdown ended, business has been rebounding. Its robust capital (CET 13.5%), business model and proven agility allow it to react to the changing lending environment. STB currently trades on a P/BV of 0.49x, reflecting sentiment more than fundamentals given its profitability track record and successful model. Our fair value estimate is 1,704p per share, down from 2,428p..
Companies: Secure Trust Bank Plc
Litigation Capital Management has announced FY20 results with gross profit up 7% to A$21.7m and PBT of A$9.2m, slightly behind expectations albeit the Group had already flagged that delays to 3 cases during the year would result in resolutions in FY21, thereby impacting FY20 results. That said, excellent strategic progress through the year and good news flow as well as increasing scale suggests more value to come. Reiterate buy
Companies: Litigation Capital Management Ltd
There was an eclectic mix of property companies to feature in the top price movers for September. Top of the tree was private rented sector and residential development specialist Sigma Capital Group, with a 34.2% rise. The group launched a £1bn joint venture with EQT Real Estate, the real estate platform of global investment firm EQT, to deliver 3,000 private rental homes in Greater London. Micro-cap investor Panther Securities also hit double-digit gains, while Macau Property Opportunities saw an uplift in its share price after announcing debt refinancing and a disposal. CLS Holdings, the investor in offices in Germany, France and the UK, continued to see a recovery in its share price – which has risen 15.1% in the last three months. Off the back of solid results, Berlin residential landlord Phoenix Spree Deutschland saw its share price gain 7.2%. Schroder REIT’s share price rose 6.6% in the month as it embarked on a share buyback programme, while Irish commercial property investor Yew Grove REIT also saw positive shareholder reaction to amending its investment strategy to increase its target loan to value ratio to 40%.
Companies: SUPR DIGS CRC PSDL ASEI TPON RLE UKCM BREI BCPT RGL SIR SLI TOWN CAL