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Source: The Bank of New York Mellon (International) Ltd as at 31.12.20
The view from our Investment Manager, 30 September 2020
Over the third quarter of 2020, the Company’s total shareholder return and NAV total return were 4.4% and 3.5% respectively, outperforming the benchmark MSCI All Country World Index (ACWI) which returned 3.3% over the period.
Over Q3, stock markets were calmer than in the previous quarters. Whilst Q3 overall was strong, September experienced a partial reversal of the July and August gains as investors’ confidence reduced with the rise in Covid-19 cases in major markets around the world. There was a disparity in market reactions to the second wave of the COVID-19 outbreak. Asian equities returned over 5% as China managed to contain the virus, whereas both UK and European equities fell over the quarter as the number of cases and hospitalisations started to rise again. The UK was notably weak, perhaps due to renewed concerns about Brexit as well as the COVID second wave. US equities performed strongly, however the impending election does bring further uncertainty. For now all eyes are on the stimulus package that is being discussed in Congress, which will influence the trajectory of the US economy over the coming months.
Earnings reports of company fundamentals have indicated that there has been some improvement seen beyond the technology and healthcare companies into more cyclical sectors, such as materials. Nevertheless, there are still some industries (travel, hospitality) that remain severely afflicted by the ongoing crisis.
We have made some small rebalancing adjustments to the portfolio. In August we reduced the portfolios exposure to the larger cap, quality growth managers (Vulcan, SGA, GQG) following the extremely strong gains seen since the end of March. This was distributed across Black Creek, Veritas, R&M and Lyrical. This adjustment accounted for approximately 2% of the portfolio. Our approach remains the same in that we have maintained a style neutral, diversified portfolio focused on high conviction stock picks.
Within the Company’s portfolio, a position was initiated in Vinci, a leading toll road and airport operator in France. The substantial decline in demand from consumers for transport services over lockdown led to a dramatic fall in the shares price, creating an attractive opportunity for the portfolio. In Contrast, the position in the leading global distribution system company, Amadeus IT, was removed from the portfolio. The persistence of Coronavirus has prolonged the fall in demand for air travel, diminishing its use by travel agents and airlines. Despite this, the Company’s stock pickers saw lucrative opportunities elsewhere, taking advantage of the fast recovery of the US housing market and the trend in de-urbanisation of living, by purchasing a position in Owens Corning, a leading North American Company that produces Insulation, Roofing and Fiberglass composites. This holding also has attractive the ESG credentials, as Owen Corning centralises its business around energy efficiency and renewable energy.
We made a small increase to the gross gearing in September (£20m), although this had a modest impact on net gearing as the additional cash from borrowings was offset by the cash paid out to fund share buy-backs. We remain defensive in our use of gearing in light of the continual uncertainty in equity markets as the Coronavirus pandemic persists. However, gross gearing has fallen below the bottom end of our usual range and we have begun a gradual process of increasing it towards the bottom end of the usual range (7.5%). We intend to take the next step coinciding with the funding of a new manager in the portfolio in the fourth quarter 2020. We continue to review the gearing position on a regular basis. The most obvious trigger for materially increasing gearing to the higher end of our range (12.5%) would be a material fall in equity market valuations more broadly. However, we also continue to monitor events, such as the US election which may have implications for markets (positive or negative) through central bank action or policy changes.
Our approach remains long-term, our goal is to own the right companies such that long-term returns they generate for shareholders will be superior to the broad market, no matter what ‘events’ happen through time. Ultimately companies, and our stock-pickers portfolios can and do adapt to the political, economic and other challenges that we all face.
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