Tag Archives: investment markets

Stocks in Focus: Prudential Plc

This week I am looking at Prudential, the multinational life insurance and financial services company.  Prudential has had a strong year after economic conditions turned in its favour, reporting a new business profit increase of 17 per cent for the year to September 30. The third quarter trading update also reassured investors that there are still clear structural opportunities in each of its three key markets – Asia, the US and the UK.

Much of the rise in the new business profit has come from the Asian market. This growth is expected to continue to drive the share price going forward. Management are hopeful that the Asian business will double in size every five to seven years thanks to a growing and increasingly affluent Asian middle class that has driven demand and sales.

Elsewhere, the company intends to strengthen its position in the UK asset management market, targeting the retirement income needs of an aging UK population, following its merger with M&G asset management. Prudential also own one of the largest life insurance providers in the US, Jackson National, and expect this area to perform well given the demographic shift of Baby-Boomers moving into retirement.

The Asian business now accounts for over a third of group profits but faces strong competition, with companies such as AIA having a much greater presence in China. Other concerns include how a weakening of the US Macro backdrop could impact the US business, and whether an excessive rise in UK interest rates could threaten the UK annuity business. While the company appears to be well-poised for further growth, these threats are significant.

https://www.nwbrown.co.uk/news/company-report-library/

Advertisements

Stocks in Focus: Vodafone

This week I am looking at telecommunications giant Vodafone, which recently published its half-year results. For the past couple of years the company has been facing tough competition in Europe and losing market share in Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. Furthermore, Vodafone had to write-down £4.3 billion earlier this year in India, its most promising growth market, when competition intensified with the introduction of a new mobile carrier that offered six months free service to customers.

However, these concerns seem to be easing as Vodafone surprised investors last week by raising its annual profit forecast. The revised outlook is the result of a stronger than expected start to the year with notable improvements in operating profit, service revenue and cash flow. European operations have performed well with strong performances in Spain and Italy. The group also announced that the merger of its Indian operations with former local rival, Idea Cellular, is progressing well, which gives hope that the combined business can recover in the near future. Management has raised its guidance for full-year profit growth to around 10% from 4%-8% and the interim dividend was increased, which reflects a growing confidence in the future positive performance of the group.

Several undertakings led to these encouraging results, namely improvements in the quality of products and services, investment in networks, cost cutting measures and the merger of underperforming operations. Nonetheless, the cost of delivering these enhancements, including spending on infrastructure and mobile spectrum, is enormous. Investors should not neglect the importance of sustainable revenue and strong cash flow generation when evaluating companies.

https://www.nwbrown.co.uk/news/company-report-library/

Stocks in Focus: Kier Group

This week I am looking at property, residential, construction and services firm Kier Group, which announced preliminary full year results last week. The performance was in line with management expectations and the results showed a group pre-tax profit of £126m, compared with £116m last year, while revenues for the year have risen to £4.28bn, 3 per cent higher than the previous year.

The results were well received in a sector where a number of Kier’s competitors had experienced problems. Investors were reassured that management’s portfolio simplification programme has been a success since they made the decision to sell the Hong Kong and Caribbean businesses earlier this year. The simplification has resulted in increased focus on its three core markets; building, infrastructure and housing, which now represent 90 per cent of the group’s revenues and profits.

Management are confident that the business will remain relatively unaffected by Brexit and the firm is likely to benefit further from the increasing government focus on affordable housing, having already secured government funding over the last year to build new homes.

When writing about Kier last year, we explained that the contractor had laid out a “Vision 2020” plan of strategic targets to reach by 2020. The reassuring recent results along with the decision by the board to raise the full year dividend by 5 per cent, should help to increase investor belief that the group is on track to hit its ambitious target of £200m in annual operating profits by 2020. However, the economic environment remains challenging.

https://www.nwbrown.co.uk/news/company-report-library/

Stocks in Focus: Dunelm

This week I have been looking at national homeware store Dunelm.  The company reported annual results on Wednesday 13 September that were in line with market expectations.  The company had a weak start to the year as a result of unpredictable weather combined with the tightening of consumer spending.  The second half of the year performed better with Easter falling later and improvements in the timing of promotional and seasonal events.  It has been an eventful year for the company following the purchase of online homeware retailer Worldstores from administration, together with the sudden departure of CEO John Browett at the end of August.

Dunelm had been interested in Worldstores for twelve months before the company went into administration, allowing Dunelm to take the initiative to buy the assets for a nominal £1.  The acquisition and ongoing integration of Worldstores is allowing Dunelm to accelerate both its furniture and online offerings.  Worldstores focussed predominantly on producing and sourcing furniture and selling through their online store.  These were both areas where Dunelm was underrepresented.  Worldstores also owned the Kiddicare baby and infant products store.  Whilst not a traditional core business to Dunelm the company believes that an integration of the brand, perhaps as a mezzanine level in existing stores, could help drive footfall of an otherwise untapped customer demographic.

The change in management at the top was not so surprising given the disappointing performance of the company over the prior two years.  However, for the interim, the company seems to be in good hands under the executive leadership of Chairman, Andy Harrison (previously CEO of Whitbread), incumbent CFO Keith Down and founder and majority shareholder, Deputy Chairman Will Adderly. They have lofty ambitions to double Dunelm’s sales over the next five years or so but investors are currently wary that the company’s prospects are ultimately tied to the strength of increasingly squeezed UK consumers.

Stocks in Focus: Herald Investment Trust

This week I am looking at Herald Investment Trust, a UK-based fund that invests primarily in small-cap companies within the technology, media and telecoms sectors.  Herald has been run by Katie Potts and her team since it began in 1994, which is somewhat unusual for a fund but has ensured a consistent long term strategy for investors.

Unlike some other technology funds, Herald aims to pick stocks from the smaller end of the investment universe where the team sees significant opportunities in under-researched and often hard to access companies. These early-stage businesses are often held for long periods of time demonstrated by the fact that over 20% of the portfolio holdings have been held for over 13 years.  Of course, with early stage companies there can also be considerable risks and to counter this the fund is much more diversified than other collective vehicles, with over 260 stocks in its portfolio.

The Team’s breadth of experience and extensive company meeting programme has so far proven successful, and the Fund has enjoyed annualised Net Asset Value (NAV) total returns of 12% since inception, which has strongly outperformed both small-cap and technology indices.

That said, investing in the smaller end of the technology sector has not been without its difficulties in recent years, and Katie continues to struggle with the increase of acquisition activity from larger, global companies that has diminished the pool of companies she can invest in. Following the rush of takeovers at the end of 2016 the fund has maintained a higher level of cash than usual, which currently sits at 7.5%. This is however fairly consistent across many Managers, who have found value hard to come by given many company valuations are close to all-time highs.

https://www.nwbrown.co.uk/news/company-report-library/

Stocks in Focus: Templeton Emerging Markets

This week I am looking at Templeton Emerging Markets (TEM), which is an investment trust that aims for capital appreciation through investing in companies that either operate or are listed in emerging markets. The trust is coming up to its second year of new management after emerging markets pioneer Mark Mobius stepped down from his 26 year tenure as lead manager, to be replaced internally by Carlos Hardenberg.

Mr Hardenberg has enjoyed a good start to his tenure, having significantly outperformed the index since his appointment (96% vs 67%). In a recent presentation it was particularly interesting to read his thoughts on the rising influence of passive investment and the risks associated with this.

Passive investments replicate the index and provide investors with cheap access to markets. However, the large sums that have been flooding into the emerging markets have significantly changed the ownership of the underlying companies. Due to the nature of passive investors, TEM is unable to work with them when it comes to voting or improving corporate standards, a key aspect of investing in emerging markets. Furthermore, the large flow of money into investments that replicate the index also increases the dominance of certain countries and companies. Specifically, the top 5 countries in the Emerging Markets Index make up 71% of the index, and the top 10 companies account for 24% of the index.

The danger here is that passive investors are, perhaps unknowingly, being crowded into a fairly concentrated selection of countries/companies that are being inflated in value by the weight of money being invested in them. By using an actively managed fund such as TEM, investors can gain exposure to a more sensibly constructed portfolio of assets that takes into account diversification and value.

https://www.nwbrown.co.uk/news/company-report-library/

Stocks in Focus: HSBC

This week I am looking at HSBC, one of the world’s largest banks, which delivered promising half year results at the end of last month.

The results showed a pre-tax profit for the first half of 2017 of $10.2billion, an increase of over 5% on the same period last year.  The better numbers were thanks to a boost from rising US interest rates, which generally enables it to make wider margins on loans, and an improved trading environment. In particular, the bank continues to see growth opportunities in Asia, where it makes three quarters of its profits.

Additionally, management announced a new $2billion share buyback, which will raise the amount of total stock that they have pledged to repurchase in the last year to $5.5billion. On the subject of management, investors are keeping a keen eye on the bank’s succession planning. Mark Tucker has recently been appointed as the new chairman and one of his first priorities will be to find a replacement for existing Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver, who is due to step down next year.

The shares have performed well of late and are currently trading close to a four year high following a rise of more than 50% over the last year. This leaves the shares trading on a relatively high valuation of 1.4x book value at a time of management uncertainty. Set against this, there are still plenty of positives. The bank is financially strong, offers an attractive dividend yield of over 5%, and is well placed to benefit from further normalisation of US interest rates.