Schroder Asian Total Return (ATR) has been the standout Asia Pacific trust over five years, thanks to strong stock selection and an innovative hedging overlay based on proprietary economic modelling. Not only has the trust generated the highest NAV total returns in its sector, but as we discuss in the Performance section, it is also the top-performing trust on a risk-adjusted basis, with the hedging strategies helping protect investors in rough markets. Managers Robin Parbrook and King Fuei Lee draw on the company research of Schroders’ large, locally based analyst team. They aim to identify high-quality companies and the best time to buy them, namely when companies’ current valuations underestimate their long-term growth potential. The philosophy is that if the managers are longer term in their thinking than their peers, the trust can outperform. The hedging strategies are based on the results of short- and long-term statistical models. These models use numerous indicators to highlight the risks of a correction or periods of material overvaluation in the underlying stock markets, and suggest to the managers when to hedge out exposure to certain countries. This allows the managers to maintain exposure to their preferred stocks when they think they will continue to perform in absolute terms. ATR has traded on a premium for most of the past two years. Following the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, it fell onto a wide discount but has rebounded to just a 1% discount at the time of writing. The trust’s overall strategy aims principally for capital growth, but dividend growth on the underlying companies means that the prospective dividend yield is now 2.1%.
Companies: Schroder Asian Totl Retrn Invstmt Co
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
Schroder Asian Total Return (ATR) aims to benefit from the impressive growth potential in Asian stock markets. At the same time, the managers seek to limit the equally impressive volatility that stock markets in the region have exhibited historically. Managers Robin Parbrook and King Fuei Lee have built an investment process on a foundation of highly active, valuation-sensitive stock selection. They overlay this with the use of quantitative economic models to warn them of impending market corrections in the underlying countries, which allows them to apply hedges to the portfolio to limit the exposure to the downside. The managers take a highly active, benchmark-agnostic approach, which they view as crucial in Asian markets. The valuation element to the stock-picking and the hedging strategy have helped the trust produce one of the highest upside/downside capture ratios in the sector over the past five years. At the same time, the trust has handsomely outperformed the index and peer group under the strategy implemented by Robin and King Fuei since March 2013. Over the past five years, the trust’s NAV total return has been 110%, while the average trust in the AIC Asia Pacific ex Japan sector has returned just 76% and the index even less – 71.1%. The trust has also displayed NAV volatility significantly below the sector average over the period. Although the trust has a total return objective, the managers view dividends as a sign of a well-run company and have been increasing their exposure to yielding companies as their view on the marker becomes more bearish. As a result, the trust’s dividend growth has been substantial in recent years, and the shares now yield 1.7%. Schroder Asian Total Return has traded on a premium since July 2017, currently 1.3%, and has been regularly issuing shares. The trust has a performance fee charged on absolute rather than relative returns.
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
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
Being a huge but emerging economy, China is a much larger part of global stockmarkets and GDP than is reflected in the main global indices. As a result, many investors are structurally underexposed to one of the fastest growing parts of the world. The inclusion of A-Shares into the main MSCI indices in May allows investors outside China to invest in Chinese equities easily for the first time, which may have consequences for this trend. The opening up of Chinese markets to foreign capital may lead to an increase in liquidity and interest in the stockmarket.
Companies: JMC PHI FCSS ATR
A commitment from the board exists to buy back shares if the discount extends beyond 5% under the proviso of ‘normal market conditions’, however, the trust has traded at a wider discount than that – notably in 2015 when China’s ‘wobble’ saw the discount reach out into double figures, and last year after the Brexit vote when it stretched to its widest point under Schroders’ tenure (15%). The board is under considerable pressure to control discount volatility, given the absolute return nature of the mandate and the need to appeal to investors with an absolute return mindset, but in the past its small size has made it difficult to buy back shares. Chairman David Brief spoke to Kepler Trust Intelligence last year and explained that the board’s strategy was to focus first on generating the performance needed to put positive pressure on demand for the trust’s shares. Performance has improved since then and the trust moved to a premium in Q3 last year, and has been issuing shares (from treasury) since then, increasing its size by almost £100m since our last review.
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
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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
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
Hipgnosis Songs Fund (SONG LN) has today announced a trading update for the full year ending 31 March 2020. The unaudited NAV has risen 13% YoY to 116.7p, up 14.3% since the last published NAV of 102.2p as at 10 January 2020. This represents a like for like valuation uplift of 11.4%. All equity has been fully deployed and shareholder approval has been sought to increase net debt from 20% to 30%. Revenue is strong with £64.7m generating an EPS of 10.7p (more than 2x the annual 5p dividend target). NAV growth has been driven by revenue statements which were up 2%, and an increase in streaming growth rate assumptions by the independent valuers. The portfolio comprises 54 catalogues, with 13,291 individual songs, now valued at £757m which was acquired at purchase price of £697m on an acquisition multiple of 13.9x – now valued on 15.0x historical earnings.
Companies: Hipgnosis Songs Fund
Ramsdens has reported a strong set of trading results in the last twelve months to March 2020. COVID lockdown has led to store closures, which will lead to weaker trading over the following months. However, Ramsdens has a very solid balance sheet, is diversified and is well positioned to re-open stores and continue its growth. We use an 8x multiple on last 12 months to March 2020 earnings as a reflection of a normalised earnings base which reduces our target price to 162p from 180p. At this target price Ramsdens would trade on a CY20 P/B of 1.5x. This target price offers 15% upside and we re-iterate BUY.
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
ULR’s finals were in line with on EPRA NAV and earnings a little better than expected. Valuations remain stable and full rent collection has been achieved for the current quarter. We see fundamental quality and resilience in the (now expanded) portfolio – ULR has already invested nearly £100m in the first two months of the new year following the £136m equity raise. We make no material changes to forecasts. Current valuation points to an 7%+ annualised return, with upside remaining from deployment of funding headroom, active management and potential for valuations to improve.
Companies: Urban Logistics REIT
TCS has confirmed it will pay the previously announced interim dividend of 3.25p. A number of mitigating actions to preserve cash ensures that this is affordable. We estimate the £1.7m payment is less than 10% of cash and available facilities, which should be little changed from the April update. Rent collection levels of 75%, or 86% including deferrals, is resilient under the circumstances. There are also optimistic signs from Europe that people will be shopping in material numbers from 15 June. TCS will have all locations safely open from that date. We lower our NAV forecasts c.2%, mostly for the dividend payment, but also for a tougher outlook for CitiPark. Official guidance understandably remains withdrawn. The shares currently price in a c. 30% decline in underlying property values, which we think is excessive. On this basis, we see upside to the share price, setting it at 235p, still a c. 25% discount to NAV while short-term visibility is low. BUY
Companies: Town Centre Securities
The covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on the share price of property companies, with 31% wiped off the value of their total market capitalisation during the first quarter of 2020.
Companies: AEWU CREI CSH BOOT INL HLCL THRL SUPR RESI RGL DIGS GR1T SOHO PHP BOXE ASLI UTG AGR UAI BLND UANC CAL SHED CWD WHR EPIC WKP GRI YEW HMSO PCA INTU NRR
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
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
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
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
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
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