Just a couple of months ago, Strategic Equity Capital (SEC)’s net asset value (NAV) and share price were at all-time highs. However, since then, the covid-19- related sell-off in markets has led to a flight to safety. NAVs of smaller companies funds have fallen and discounts have widened. Against this backdrop, SEC has proved relatively resilient, however.
Companies: Strategic Equity Capital
Just a couple of months ago, Strategic Equity Capital (SEC)’s NAV and share price were at an all-time high. However, since then the covid-19-related sell-off in markets has led to a flight to safety, to the detriment of smaller companies funds’ NAVs, and a widening of discounts. SEC has proved relatively resilient, however.
There was palpable shift in sentiment over the third quarter with the cautionary undertone perhaps best reflected by gold’s resurgence. Ongoing trade jockeying between the US and China did not help the mood and neither did the Argentine debt default in August. At the real economy level, manufacturing output has been trending lower across some of the major global economies.
Companies: AEMC BIOG SIGT IBT JEFI MHN MERI MTE PSHD RSE SIR FJV LTI MVI SEQI SOND SLI EGL SUPP VNH CSH VSL BRLA UTL ADAM SOHO GPM TPOU LEAF JRS JLEN SEC IGC MPO LIV INTU THRL
Jeff Harris and Adam Khanbhai have been managing Strategic Equity Capital’s (SEC’s) portfolio jointly since February 2017. Since this time, NAV growth has been solid (a total return of 14.3%, which is broadly in line with the MSCI UK Small Cap Index’s return of 14.1%) but SEC has strongly outperformed during the last year, returning 2.3%, while the index fell 5.8%. Despite this, its discount has remained stubbornly wide.
Jeff Harris and Adam Khanbhai have been managing Strategic Equity Capital’s (SEC’s) portfolio jointly since February 2017. Since this time, NAV growth has been solid (a total return of 14.3%, which is broadly in line with the MSCI UK Small Cap Index’s return of 14.1%) but SEC has strongly outperformed during the last year, returning 2.3%, while the index fell 5.8%. Despite this, SEC’s discount to NAV has remained stubbornly wide.
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 JAGI BEE SDV BRIG AAIF HFEL SCF SIGT BRFI IVPG CTY HINT JCH NAIT
At the latter stages of a bull market, enthusiasm can sometimes get the better of all of us. Investors always find ways to justify prices for companies at any stage in the cycle. To contrarians, the fact that the price of something has gone up tenfold doesn’t necessarily make it more attractive. However, momentum (as it is now called) is popularly touted as a sustainable investment strategy for the long term. Have the proponents of the ‘ever the greater fool’ theory had a re-brand? Within the world of investment trusts, ‘excessive optimism’ is more easily measured in terms of premiums to net asset value (NAV). This is particularly the case where the majority of a trust’s assets are themselves quoted. Of the 90 trusts (or investment companies) which currently stand on premiums, 55% have illiquid and/or unlisted assets representing greater than 50% of their portfolios. With these trusts, overenthusiasm is perhaps a little less easy to gauge – it is entirely possible that either valuations have moved on since the last official valuation, or that the board is being conservative in its valuations. Either way, each is likely to have its own story and a premium is not necessarily an indicator of excessive optimism. We list below the trusts which have greater than 50% of their assets in listed or publicly traded investments, yet trade at significant premiums. One of the common themes observable is that of strong relative performance over recent times. However, whether you are a contrarian or not (or a follower of momentum as a strategy), we believe that paying anything over a very modest premium is setting yourself up for a fall. Premiums are very rarely sustainable and tend to evaporate at inflection points, exacerbating a poor period of performance from a manager in absolute or relative terms. Indeed, the table below shows how quickly a premium can be eroded, with a corresponding effect on shareholder returns, irrespective of manager performance.
Companies: MAJE SUPP IBT SLPE ICGT IIT SEC JEO SYNC III
After a strong period of performance in 2017, when Strategic Equity Capital (SEC) beat a strong small cap index by 6%, 2018 has proved problematic. Short-term performance has been impacted by stock specific price weakness within SEC’s concentrated portfolio. SEC’s managers are longterm investors, however. They have confidence in their portfolio, based on 3-to-5-year investment theses, and bought shares throughout Q2 2018, now owning around 4% of the trust. SEC’s discount is towards the bottom end of its trading range; this could represent an opportunity. The board has authorised share repurchases to stabilise the discount. In the past, investors’ patience has been well rewarded.
After a strong period of performance in 2017, when Strategic Equity Capital (SEC) beat a strong small cap index by 6%, 2018 has proved problematic. Short-term performance has been impacted by stock specific price weakness within SEC’s concentrated portfolio (see pages 5-6). SEC’s managers are long-term investors, however. They have confidence in their portfolio, based on 3-to-5- year investment theses, and bought shares in the trust throughout Q2 2018, now owning around 4% of it. SEC’s discount is towards the bottom end of its trading range; and the managers believe that this could represent an opportunity. The board has authorised share repurchases to stabilise the discount.
Investing predominantly in small cap UK equities, Strategic Equity Capital (SEC) is not constrained by market indices and aims to maximise returns for investors over the medium term. Run by Jeff Harris and Adam Khanbhai since the start of 2017, the trust is extremely concentrated (18 stocks), focusing on undervalued growth companies. Prior to this, Stuart Widdowson headed the team, with Jeff Harris as his deputy. Stuart ran the portfolio since 2014, but left to form a new fund management business backed by investment trust veteran Christopher Mills. During his tenure at the helm, Stuart was successful in utilising private equity techniques to invest in smaller companies, delivering returns of 40.6% - almost double the return of the FTSE Small Cap (01.01.14 – 31.12.16). 2018 has brought a more challenging period for the trust, with the UK market remaining out of favour and concerns over a normalisation of monetary policy, not to mention the prospect of a trade war. Since the start of the year, the trust has underperformed the benchmark by 3.4%, with NAV losses of -2.4%. Nevertheless, the managers remain optimistic and believe that the reporting from their companies and the derating of the broader UK market supports their investment thesis. Pessimism towards the UK, as well as possibly uncertainty about the new lead manager arrangements, has meant the trust has gone from trading on a premium of around 10% three years ago to a discount as wide as 20% this year. Currently, on a discount of 16.3% the trust is close to double the average discount in the UK Smaller companies sector, and is trading at the 4th widest discount of the 21 trusts.
Strategic Equity Capital (SEC’s) managers believe the current portfolio consists of very high quality smaller companies. The high cash balances that built up in 2016, on the back of events such as the e2v technologies takeover, have, largely, been redeployed. Cash drag and the fund’s focus have held back returns
over the past year (see page 12). However, investment activity (detailed on page 10) has generated encouraging initial returns. Longer term, the detailed private equity derived process, focus on high quality small companies and positioning of holdings in long term structural growth areas provide the managers with confidence for the future.
The team acquired a significant number of shares earlier in the year and a programme of share buybacks, operating since April 2017, appears to have stabilised the discount.
Strategic Equity Capital (SEC) announced Stuart Widdowson’s departure from GVQ Investment Management on 7 February 2017. GVQ stress that it is “business as usual” and say Stuart’s absence has no impact on the investment philosophy behind SEC, GVQ’s investment approach or SEC’s portfolio. Jeff Harris has stepped up to become lead portfolio manager and Adam Khanbhai becomes the new deputy manager. The management team is enthused about the prospects for SEC’s future performance as they say that former “problem children” within the portfolio are showing positive initial signs of recovery and they expect the market will recognise the latent value within the portfolio.
Strategic Equity Capital (SEC)’s managers believe that we are now in a late-mid-stage bull market. Reflecting this, they are maintaining a preference for companies exposed to structural growth, are aiming to operate with higher levels of cash in the portfolio (10- 15% up from 5-10%) and the focus is on “reasonably priced growth” and “self-help” opportunities.
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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
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
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
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.