TR European Growth Trust (TRG) suffered in the recent equity market sell-off for a number of reasons, including its relatively high level of gearing, procyclical bias and structural focus on the smaller end of the European small-cap market. However, by taking advantage of the chance to buy good companies at low valuations, and disposing of holdings whose balance sheets looked vulnerable, manager Ollie Beckett has so far outperformed the EMIX Smaller Europe ex-UK Index since the mid-March lows. The manager argues that while the COVID-19 pandemic may have wide-ranging effects, and an EU-wide approach to rebuilding economies is key to the union’s long-term survival, there are many opportunities for small-cap investors to benefit from the recovery, whatever shape it takes.
Companies: TR European Growth Trust
Smaller companies are usually a problematic area to invest in during significant downturns or recessions; and the sharp fall in 2020 hasn’t been an exception. In this article we assess the performance of smaller companies trusts throughout the pandemic, while identifying the factors that have differentiated the winners from the losers. This includes the impact that cash, market cap exposure, sector allocation, revenue exposure and growth or value biases have had, with some surprising results. We also ask whether now is an attractive time to invest in smaller companies, highlighting the trusts which stand out to us…
Companies: THRG GHE MINI RMMC ASIT ASL MTE TRG BRSC DSM
This time last year the team at Kepler Trust Intelligence (KTI) chose their personal ‘top picks’ within the investment trust universe for 2019. The aim was for each member of the team to choose the trust they believed would perform best from an investor’s point of view; i.e. in share price terms rather than NAV. Any trust could be selected, regardless of whether it was equity-focused or not. Overall the year was a prosperous one for those brave enough to hang on throughout. The MSCI World Index (in sterling terms) rose by 22.4%, with the US the best-performing major market. The S&P 500 rose by 26.4%, while the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 were up by 17.3% and 28.9% respectively. The DAX and MSCI Emerging and EURO STOXX 50 also increased. In terms of currencies the pound sterling ended the year roughly where it started relative to the dollar. This has masked what has actually been quite a volatile period for both currencies. The same pattern has been seen with sterling versus the yen, which started the year at around 140 and has ended at a similar level, around 143. What may surprise some investors is that sterling has appreciated relative to the euro by 5.9%; once more not without volatility, and with much of the gain coming in the second half of the year.
Companies: KIT STS AJOT TRG MWY
The focus for the team at TR European Growth Trust is to deliver capital growth by investing in smaller and medium-sized companies in Europe (excluding the UK). At the helm of the portfolio is Ollie Beckett, who uses a bottom-up approach to stock selection, splitting companies based on their stage of the life cycle. Depending on the stage, the manager looks at different attributes, valuation metrics and sell signals to understand if a company is intrinsically undervalued. This unique method not only helps the manager to decipher between different opportunities, but also to diversify the fund’s risk exposure. 2018 was a difficult year for the trust, and the correction in Q4 saw the trust lose 19.9%. However, the trust has rallied strongly in 2019 and has delivered NAV total returns of 15.7% year to date. In comparison the EMIX benchmark has returned 14.4%, while the IA and AIC peer groups have returned 14.1% and 16.3% respectively. As might be expected in the current European climate, the discount for the trust is extremely wide relative to past history. 2018 saw the trust switch from a premium of 1% to a double-digit discount: at the time of writing the discount sits at 17%. The last time the trust was at this level was during the referendum in 2016.
TR European Growth Trust (TRG) has seen its share price de-rate substantially over the past 18 months, from a c 3% premium to NAV to a c 15% discount, following a period in which its small-cap value style of investing has been out of favour with investors. However, its NAV has risen c 13% year to date, with lead manager Ollie Beckett taking advantage of depressed valuations in smaller European companies whose growth potential he believes is underappreciated by the wider market. The portfolio is diverse, with c 140 holdings broadly spread by country and industry sector. TRG has a more value-oriented investment approach than its peers and is more exposed to stocks at the lower end of the market capitalisation spectrum, which have greater potential to grow exponentially. The largest positions rarely exceed c 2%, which limits stock-specific risk, while a well-covered c 2.5% dividend yield provides support for total returns in periods of market volatility.
As with most people, we are sick of discussing Brexit’s endless possible scenarios and how it might impact equity markets. The outlook is forever shifting, the large majority of “information” being pure conjecture. Nevertheless, the political and economic backdrop means that Europe is now one of the most out of favour investment regions. In the open ended IA sector, Q3 and Q4 of last year saw total outflows of -£1.6bn in Europe, relative to the US and Global sectors which saw inflows of £289m and £114m respectively. Only the UK saw greater outflows. The discounts on closed-ended funds also suggest an out-of-favour asset class. As can be seen below, relative to both historical averages and global peers, European investment trusts are good value. In fact, Europe is even more out of favour than the UK, judging by discounts.
Companies: HNE BRGS TRG FEV JESC
The aim of TR European Growth Trust is to deliver capital growth through investing in small and medium-sized companies in Europe (ex-UK). The manager uses a purely bottom up approach, and holds a well diversified portfolio of 120-150 companies. This approach includes splitting companies based on their stage of life cycle, helping the manager to decipher opportunities and diversify the fund’s risk exposure. Additionally, different attributes, valuation metrics and sell signals are looked at, helping to further understand the life cycle stage in which the company operates. 2018 has been an extremely difficult period for the trust, largely because of macroeconomic factors (as opposed to company specific performance). Alongside this, the manager’s approach has been a particularly out of favour, as 2018 has very much been a momentum led year, as opposed to the value driven strategy that TR European Growth has favoured. With this said, the manager remains optimistic about the outlook of Europe where he thinks valuations continue to look cheap. That said the manager, Ollie Beckett, admits that there are headwinds going into 2019, mainly the FED raising rates, political uncertainty (including Brexit) and global trade wars. As one might expect against this backdrop, the discount has widened significantly throughout 2018, starting at a premium of 1%, and descending to a discount of close to 10%. Towards the end of 2018, the discount widened to as much as -14.3%.
TR European Growth Trust (TRG) lead manager Ollie Beckett says he and his team are still finding plenty of investment opportunities, in spite of the global bull market in equities arguably being closer to the end than the beginning. The managers focus on attractively valued smaller companies in continental Europe, where improving returns or management changes have not yet been appreciated by the wider market. After a stellar year of performance in FY17 (NAV and share price total returns of +54.0% and +75.5% respectively), recent returns have been more muted relative to the benchmark and peers, and the trust has moved from a slight premium to NAV to a discount, more in line with long-term averages. Beckett has recently taken profits in holdings where valuations looked stretched, and has increased TRG’s gearing to take advantage of a dip in investor sentiment. The stock list is towards the longer end of the historical range.
TR European Growth Trust (TRG) invests in a diversified portfolio of small and mid-cap European (ex-UK) companies, with the aim of achieving capital growth. Its manager at Janus Henderson Investors seeks companies that are undervalued as a result of being misunderstood by the market. The portfolio is weighted towards the smaller end of the market cap spectrum, where companies are less well-researched. As recovery has taken hold in Europe, TRG’s recent performance has been exceptionally strong. It has beaten its benchmark, the EMIX Smaller Europe ex-UK index, in share price and NAV total return terms over the last five discrete years to 31 October, and cumulatively over one, three and six months, and one, three, five and 10 years. It also ranks first in its peer group over one, three and five years. TRG actively manages gearing in a range of up to 15% of net assets (13% at end-October 2017), does not tend to hedge currency exposure, and currently offers a dividend yield of 1.2%.
TR European Growth Trust (TRG) has enjoyed an exceptionally strong period of recent share price and NAV performance, posting gains of c 50% over 12 months to 30 April. While returns from all overseas investments have been boosted by the weakness of sterling since the UK’s Brexit referendum, TRG’s outperformance has been assisted by a focus on better-value cyclical stocks, and the decision of lead manager Ollie Beckett to increase gearing in the second half of 2016. The trust invests in European (ex-UK) smaller companies, with a particular focus on those at the lower end of the market cap spectrum, where both rewards and risks may be higher. Because of this, TRG has a longer stock list than peers. While the discount to NAV has narrowed somewhat, it remains at c 9% compared with an average of 0.7% for the investment company universe.
TR European Growth Trust (TRG) holds a diversified portfolio of European (ex-UK) small and mid-cap companies, with the aim of achieving long-term capital appreciation. Set up in 1990, the trust has been managed by Ollie Beckett (assisted by Rory Stokes) at Henderson Global Investors since July 2011, over which time it has comfortably beaten the benchmark Euromoney Smaller Europe ex-UK index in share price and NAV total return terms, as well as outperforming larger-cap European stocks and the FTSE All-Share index. The portfolio is biased towards value situations and companies at the smaller end of the market cap spectrum. While focused on capital growth, the trust has also grown its ordinary dividend by a compound 15.5% a year over the past five years.
TR European Growth Trust (TRG) is an established investment trust investing in small and mid-sized continental European companies. Managed by Ollie Beckett at Henderson Global Investors since July 2011 (assisted by Rory Stokes from 2013), its principal aim is to achieve capital growth, although it also has a long record of year-on-year dividend growth. TRG has a longer stock list than its peers, driven by its focus on companies further down the market capitalisation spectrum, where greater diversification may be advised. This focus on the smaller end of the market (as well as a small exposure to unquoted companies) means performance may diverge from that of the benchmark; the trust has outperformed the Euromoney Smaller Europe ex-UK index in four of the last five 12-month periods to 30 September in both NAV and share price total return terms.
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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.
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
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
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
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
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
The Merchants Trust (MRCH) is managed by Simon Gergel at Allianz Global Investors (AllianzGI). Aiming to continue to provide a high and growing level of income, he is adjusting the trust's portfolio in the wake of dividend cuts sparked by the negative economic effects of COVID-19. If there is an income shortfall in this financial year, MRCH is well positioned to maintain its dividend, with revenue reserves of more than 1x the last annual payment. It has not been an easy period for value managers over the last decade as growth stocks have led the charge; however, Gergel has outperformed the UK market over this period in both NAV and share price terms. The board reduced MRCH's gearing in late January 2020, which was opportune timing ahead of the recent significant stock market weakness.
Companies: Merchants Trust
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
The positive market movements (£19.5bn) offset the net outflows of £1.3bn. The adjusted operating profit before tax reached £1,149m, down 21.9% yoy. The insurer benefited less from longevity assumption changes (£126m vs. £441m in 2018) in the Heritage business and the lower Asset Management fees margin (38bp vs. 40 bp in 2018) in the Savings and Asset Management one. The current context has led to a decrease in the Solvency II ratio by 10%, but the capital position remains resilient at 166%.
Mattioli Woods has issued a trading update around the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We are reassured to hear that trading for the first 9m of FY20e (to Feb-20) was in line with expectations. There is likely to be a revenue impact, from falling asset prices and limits to normal business activity, however, it is not possible to quantify this just yet. A number of proactive measures are being taken to adjust the cost base to mitigate the short term impact, including reduced senior management team/variable compensation. We would highlight that c.55% of MW’s revenue is not linked to the value of client assets, providing a degree of insulation to asset prices. We make no forecast changes at this stage, but will monitor events and make any adjustments when there is greater certainty
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
The COVID-19-related crisis further increases the top-line pressure. However, the quarter showed ongoing efficiency gains and, above all, management’s cost of risk guidance stood significantly below our stress test based projections.
Companies: Lloyds Banking Group