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
Recent years have seen companies opt to remain private for longer; due to their ability to access capital from alternative areas and to remain free of the increasingly burdensome requirements of being listed. The implosion of the Woodford Equity Income Fund as a result of liquidity problems has shone a negative light on open-ended funds holding stakes in private companies. However, the capacity to hold illiquid assets is one of the key characteristics of the investment trust structure. In this article we assess the advantages and disadvantages of holding minority stakes in private companies, and the impact that being re-valued periodically can have in a market characterised by wild swings in sentiment; which is perhaps of most relevance in the current market.
Companies: MERI USA SMT FCSS RCP EWI AUGM
RIT Capital (RCP) has twin objectives: to generate long-term capital growth, and to protect shareholders’ capital. To this end, this self-managed trust invests in a broad range of asset classes and managers, each exhibiting differentiated returns. This, along with judicious management of risk (including currency) exposure, is how the trust aims to protect its investors in troubled economic environments. RCP now has net assets of close to £3bn. Having gone through various stages of evolution, it now has a senior management team that allocates and invests the trust’s capital. Lord Rothschild, whose family owns 21% of the trust, has this year announced he will step down as chairman of the trust, marking the final step in his succession planning which has been progressing over many years. The managers have four basic categories of investments: listed equities, private investments, absolute return and credit, and real assets. For a while now, the managers have been cautious on the outlook for equity markets, and so have been dialing back risk. As at the end of 2018, exposure to listed equities was 47% (the five-year range has been 35% - 70%). In reality the trust typically has a lower net exposure to equities, the difference being shorts (within hedge funds), any derivatives exposure and liquidity. RCP has long been a proponent of investing in private, unlisted companies on a minority basis – which is now becoming much more popular in the closed-end fund space. As we discuss below, it is one of the “six cylinders” that the managers hope to drive performance through, and has increased as a proportion of the portfolio over the year from 22% to nearly 26%. One of the distinctive features of the trust as an investment opportunity is the network of contacts that Lord Rothschild and the Executive Committee has developed over the years. This means that RCP can often obtain access to managers others can’t, either in closed funds or employing managers to run mandates solely on their behalf. Indeed, we understand that nine out of the team’s top ten current third-party managers are closed to new money. The portfolio is currently cautiously positioned, which helped it deliver a small positive total return last year, when almost all asset classes delivered negative returns. Over five years, RCP has comfortably beaten its absolute performance target of RPI +3%. Against the MSCI AC World Index, the NAV has struggled to keep up. However, this has to be seen in the light of the lower exposure to equities of the trust and, indeed, its raison d'être – which is to protect wealth as much as grow it. The trust has delivered it’s performance with volatility of 5.6% over five years, relative to the benchmark volatility of 9.2%. Against peers in the flexible investment trust and open-ended peer groups, RCP has handsomely outperformed. The trust has been trading on a premium to NAV since 2015. Demand for its shares has been strong during recent turbulent market and political conditions. The current high single digit premium (8% at the time of writing) reflects the current uncertain environment, and the attraction of a vehicle which aims to protect capital in difficult times, but grow capital in better times. It is worth noting that any sudden shock, either to RIT Capital itself, or global markets, could see this premium evaporate overnight, and thereby compound any NAV losses for shareholders.
Companies: RIT Capital Partners
NextEnergy Solar – Acquisitions | 3i Infrastructure – Partial syndication | RIT Capital Partners – Interims to 30 June 2018
Companies: NESF 3IN RCP
Closed-ended funds have outperformed open-ended funds in the major equity sectors since 2000. Unlike the latter, investment trusts have outperformed their benchmarks net of fees too, according to research from academics at Cass Business School. According to research recently published by Andrew Clare and Simon Hayley, one major reason for trusts outperforming was that they hold more illiquid assets, namely smaller companies. They stripped out this effect in order to calculate the alphas generated by managers running these two types of investment fund (because overweighting higher beta areas, like small caps, should lead to extra returns irrespective of manager skill). However, they found that investment trusts still showed significant outperformance over their benchmarks and open-ended peers. Interestingly, gearing was not a reason for the outperformance, on their analysis, although market timing and share buybacks did contribute. The fact that closed-ended funds held significantly more in smaller companies is no accident: the structure allows managers to take larger positions in less liquid parts of the market and be truly long term about investment, both of which favour investing more in small and mid caps. While it makes sense to exclude a higher small cap weighting from the alpha attributed to a set of managers, as Clare and Hayley have done, when comparing the relative merits of open and closed ended funds it is clearly relevant. This is particularly true given that one cannot invest passively in small caps due to precisely the same liquidity issues. We drill into the details of the research before asking whether closed-ended funds will retain their advantages in the future. We find reason to be optimistic they will, and consider some trusts which display the key characteristics the research highlights.
Companies: AGT SMT ASL RCP
RIT Capital has twin objectives: to generate long term capital growth, and to protect shareholders’ capital. To this end, it invests in a broad range of asset classes, each exhibiting differentiated returns. This, along with judicious management of risk (including currency) exposure, is how the trust aims to protect its investors in troubled economic environments. The trust offers the opportunity to invest alongside Lord Rothschild and family, who own a fifth of the shares, and the management invests with the long-term perspective and focus on capital preservation of a family office. The range of assets and strategies employed is unique, and the network of contacts and relationships the company has, allows it access to managers, funds and private investments that the average investor would otherwise be unable to buy. The company is currently cautiously positioned, with management concerned about the distortions created in the markets and economy by QE and low interest rates. As a result, hedge funds and absolute return strategies are a significant part of the portfolio, government bonds and rates exposures at practically zero. The managers estimate that net equity exposure for the year has been c.44% on average. The trust has been trading on a premium to NAV since 2015, barring a small window where it traded at a small discount following the Brexit vote. The trust does not aim to outperform any benchmark, however sluggish performance relative to a fastrising market last year has seen the discount come down slightly to 5.1%, from an average of 6% last year.
RIT Capital has a long track record of outperformance and capital preservation and, while it regularly underperforms the MSCI World index during strong positive periods, the managers’ success in missing the troughs has added up to a formidable cumulative return in share price and NAV terms. Indeed, capital preservation is a major theme of the trust’s marketing, and since inception (1988), they claim to have participated in 76% of up moves in the equity market, and 39% of market down moves. This performance profile is highlighted over the past 20 years to the end of February, with RIT Capital Partners having delivered annualised NAV total returns of 9.4% per annum (compared to 5.4% from the FTSE All Share), but with a maximum drawdown – or the most an investor could have lost if they had bought and sold at the worst possible times during that 20 year period – of 24% (compared to 42% from the FTSE All Share). Examination of discrete performance further highlights this trend, as the trust has held up well during falling markets, particularly in 2008, when the trust’s NAV fell 11% compared to a 20% fall from global equities and a 16% loss from its peer group average. As one might expect, however, the trust’s cautious approach and focus on capital preservation comes at the cost of upside when markets are in high spirits, particularly if the managers don’t share that euphoria. Last year, in particular, was a case in point with the index up by more than double the amount delivered by the trust.
The original essay plan for this article was put together in January, and so it is with an unpleasant mix of irritation (because we didn’t publish it sooner) and impotent smugness (because we told you so, only we didn’t) that we have watched the market stumble in the last few days. Our view for some time has been that after almost nine years of gains and with global stock markets trading at all-time highs – the very broadly evident optimism towards risk assets which had gripped investors until very recently was somewhat misplaced. Before the tide turned on the back of US payrolls data last Friday, 2018 had seen the Dow Jones and FTSE 100 break out of their historic ranges, and record flows into index tracking ETFs. The economic backdrop in nearly all corners of the world appears stable and, in many cases, is improving (particularly in the US) while central bankers’ extraordinary monetary policies of ultra-low interest rates and money printing, as the FT recently put it, “look as though they might actually allow the world economy to take off again without having to endure a crash or a bout of hyperinflation first”. But as we have seen since stocks began to tumble in the US, then Asia and Europe, asset prices are not the same thing as the economy. Further, behind all the euphoria, there has been a consistent narrative among more sophisticated investors that a correction is inevitable and probably desirable, and that asset prices have become overly inflated during the ‘endless bull market’ which has driven them forward since the end of the credit crunch.
Companies: RICA PNL RCP ATR
RIT Capital Partners (RIT) has established a strong track record over many decades. Over the last five years, its share price total return has almost doubled and it has returned to trading at a premium. RITs investment style emphasises long-term thinking and the avoidance of permanent capital losses. In recent years, RIT has allocated capital away from equities towards uncorrelated strategies (ones whose price movements are not aligned with equities) thereby positioning itself in anticipation of a correction in equity markets.
RIT Capital Partners (RIT) has established a strong track record over many decades. Over the last five years, its share price has doubled and it has returned to trading at a premium. RITs investment style emphasises long-term thinking and the avoidance of permanent capital losses. In recent years, RIT has allocated capital away from equities towards uncorrelated strategies thereby positioning itself in anticipation of a sharp correction in markets.
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Trading in the royalty partner portfolio over Q1/21 shows a material rebound from May, which has been sustained to date, as the portfolio as a whole returns to more normalised trading. Consequently, Duke's cash receipts, while down 20% YoY currently, are set to step up in H2/21 as forbearance measures largely expire and deferred royalties realised. This bodes well for a rebound in earnings and a return to cash paid dividends. A share price down over 55% since Feb 20, standing at p/book of 0.56x H1/20A's NAV p/s thus appears overdone. We await further clarity on the portfolio before reissuing forecasts, thus leave our recommendation U/R.
Companies: Duke Royalty
L&G reported an operating profit from continuing divisions (excluding Mature Savings and General Insurance businesses) of £1,128m, -2.2% yoy. The COVID-19-related cost was £129m. LGR posted a growing operating profit to £721m. Net profit amounted to £290m vs. £874m a year before, being affected by the reduced discount rate used to calculate LGI reserves. The Solvency II ratio stood at 173%. The Board recommended an interim dividend of 4.93p/share, stable relative to H1 19.
What’s new: Purplebricks Group results for the year to 30 April 2020, show the Australian and US units as discontinued; but include the Canadian unit sold for C$60.5m (i.e. £35m) in July. Investors will focus on the UK unit which revealed:
11% fall in UK revenue to £80.5m (FY19: £90.1m), as the number of instructions fell 23% (impacted by early Covid uncertainty and lockdown), but the average revenue per instruction “ARPI” rose 12% to £1,394;
UK gross profit margin improved to 64.1% (FY19: 63.0%);
UK marketing costs to revenue improved to 25.6% (FY19: 29.6%);
Spend on Digital capacity pushed UK operating costs 32% to £26.2m (FY19: £19.9m), as new management team pursued initiatives which are being “delivered at pace with significant opportunity for further innovation.”
UK adjusted EBITDA fell 53% to £4.8m (FY19: £10.2m).
Companies: Purplebricks Group Plc
For this Monthly, we are delighted that Rooney Nimmo and 24Haymarket have allowed us to reproduce a recent report they jointly published, entitled An analysis of UK exits (2015-2019), which provides a granular analysis by sector of the activity in our dynamic private companies world. We hope you find the insights of interest.
Companies: AVO AGY ARBB ARIX CLIG ICGT NSF PCA PIN PXC PHP RECI SCE TRX SHED VTA
H1 20 operating profit declined by 12% to £1,225m and the COVID-19 claims impact was £165m. Cash remittances from business units to the group was only £150m. The insurer said that it will focus on the UK, Ireland and Canada, which means an exit from other European and Asian markets. The Board has declared a second interim dividend in respect of the 2019 financial year of 6p/share and will inform shareholders about the 2019 final dividend in Q4 20.
Companies: Aviva Plc
Since the restrictions were lifted in mid-May, Belvoir has seen a surge in activity due to pent-up demand, resulting in June being a record breaking month for the group’s Newton Fallowell estate agency network in terms of instructions and sales and the financial Services division in terms of written income. Management have stated that with the positive impact of the stamp duty reductions still to take effect they are confident that the Group is well positioned to capitalise on the current market upturn and to take advantage of the opportunities arising from more challenging conditions. We have upgraded our PBT forecasts for FY 2020 to the level we forecast pre-COVID. We have also upgraded our target price from 169p to 233p and highlight that H1 2020 has demonstrated the resilience of the group, management’s ability to navigate difficult market conditions and the power of the franchise-led strategy.
Companies: Belvoir Group Plc
Today's update highlights that despite the Covid-19 outbreak and UK/IRE lockdown, which has affected trading, Duke has continued to collect cash royalties from most of its royalty partners. Short-term alternative payment terms have been agreed with those partners hardest hit, to support them to periods where royalties can be fully recouped. Therefore the 61% fall in p/b from 1.3 (at 20 Feb) to 0.5 today, appears overdone.
The group’s earnings surprise was driven by goodwill impairments. On the negative side, management upgraded, albeit slightly, its full-year loan impairments guidance and warns about revenue and CET1 pressure. It also reckoned that the tensions between the US and China will impact the group.
Companies: HSBC Holdings Plc
The Law Debenture Corporation (LWDB) has reported another strong set of results for its independent professional services (IPS) business in H120, with EPS growth remaining in the target mid- to high single-digit range despite a more challenging economic backdrop. With the trust’s largely UK investment portfolio having been hit by the widespread stock market sell-off in February and March, IPS has provided a larger than average contribution to revenue returns. This means fund managers James Henderson and Laura Foll can continue to search for attractive total return opportunities in a broad range of sectors, while maintaining LWDB’s focus on both capital appreciation and above-inflation dividend growth.
Companies: Law Debenture Corporation
As expected, the quarter saw a sharp increase in loan impairments. However, one can wonder if the increase was not capped by the group’s willingness to keep its results afloat. Management’s downbeat guidance in terms of revenue recovery potential and cost reduction does not bode well as regards the group’s future credit loss absorption capacity.
Companies: Lloyds Banking Group Plc
Vacancy strongly increased in Q2 20. LTV surpassed the 50% mark on 30 June 2020 due to strong value destruction in H1 20. Hammerson announced a £550m cash capital increase coupled with a disposal of £270m. Its ex-post pro forma net debt should be £2.2bn, i.e. LTV of 42% on a proportionate basis. Too high?
Companies: Hammerson Plc
We believe now is an interesting time to invest in Northgate, with a new executive board and a capable management team in place who have already delivered progress on an ongoing turnaround as we await a full strategic review. The group now has a clear and well communicated capital allocation strategy in place and improved earnings quality, in our view. We believe that the growth opportunity in the UK, the value of the Spanish business and the progress made to date with the turnaround are not being reflected in the share price, which is currently 15.9% below book value (414p per share in FY19A rising to 468p in FY22E). We use a variety of valuation methods including P/B, SOTP, DDM and DCF modelling and arrive at an average implied share price of 450p, 29.0% above the current share price.
Companies: Redde Northgate Plc
Despite challenging market conditions, Picton’s Q121 DPS was well-covered by EPRA earnings and robust portfolio capital values. Combined with low gearing, NAV per share was just 1.3% lower versus Q420 and including DPS paid, the NAV total return was -0.6%. With encouraging rent collection data continuing and the lockdown easing, we have reinstated our estimates and look for the quarterly DPS run-rate to increase in H221.
Companies: Picton Property Income Ltd.
The scaling of Duke's royalty portfolio was progressing as expected up to March 2020, with record cash receipts that month. Due to Covid-19 and the UK's economic shutdown, macro conditions have worsened and become highly uncertain. This is likely to see some royalty partners' future cash royalties decline, which in turn, will negatively impact FV's in the FY20E results. Duke's high margin and cash generative nature ensures it is well placed to trade through these challenges. Given the degree of uncertainty in outlook, we remove forecasts and put our recommendation Under Review and await further clarity on the portfolio.
Raven’s positive trading update was reassuringly robust, despite ongoing uncertainty regarding the long-term impact of Covid-19 on the Russian market. We believe that kind of performance deserves attention, although we plan to reinstate detailed forecasts post (a) the General Meeting scheduled for 31 July, which will decide upon proposals designed to create a simplified capital structure (outlined below) and (b) the interim results due in August.
Companies: Raven Property Group Ltd.