Tag Archives: investment markets

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/

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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.

Stocks in Focus: McColl’s

 

This week I am looking at McColl’s following the announcement of its interim results on Monday 24 July.  McColl’s is a leading neighbourhood retailer with 1,650 stores across the UK and the results mark one year since it announced the acquisition of 298 convenience stores from the Co-Op; a deal that has accelerated its shift away from being a traditional newsagent towards being a full-blooded convenience store retailer.

On the plus side, results show that like-for-like sales were up 0.2% for the first half of the year and 1.4% in the second quarter – a good result considering that like-for-like sales had hitherto been in negative territory for an extended period.  The Chief Executive, Jonathan Miller, highlighted McColl’s focus on the relatively robust convenience market and the IGD forecasts that the UK convenience market will grow by 12% between 2016 and 2021.  McColl’s hopes to benefit from this growth while continuing to grow its footprint and improve its in-store offering through better product ranges and the addition of more services (such as post offices and online shopping collection points that help drive customer footfall). On the downside, the food retail market remains very competitive and larger supermarkets also remain focussed on improving their convenience store offering. This competitive market may at some point drive negative like-for-like sales again, which can in turn hurt margins.

At the current valuation the shares do not look expensive and successful integration of the Co-Op stores should deliver attractive earnings growth.  However, the increased debt as a result of the store purchases does leave the company more vulnerable in the short term should the UK economy suffer a downturn.

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

 

Points of View: Interest Rates

The Bank of England’s (BoE’s) Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) met last Thursday and voted to keep interest rates at the historic low of 0.25%.  However the minutes of the meeting showed that three members (out of eight) voted to increase interest rates. The voting was considerably more hawkish than previously, with only one MPC member voting to increase interest rates at the last round of voting. This would usually be indicative of interest rates rising in the near future.

The MPC members that voted to increase the BoE base rate, cited the recent higher inflation as a reason.  Inflation has picked up to 2.9%, well above the 2% target.  Setting the base rate is one of the BoE’s principle tools for controlling inflation.  Interest rates are generally increased to seek to control higher than targeted inflation.

Inflation has increased following the fall in sterling as imports have become comparatively more expensive.  Many economists argue that inflation is only temporarily higher, with slow economic growth inflation will naturally fall and therefore there is no need to push rates up to control it.  Furthermore any increase in interest rates is likely to put an increased burden on households as two thirds of all mortgages are linked to the base rate.

While we agree with the consensus that interest rates are unlikely to rise in the short term, we will eventually see an increase from these historic lows.  When rates do increase, bond yields will increase and therefore bond prices will fall.  Equities may also see valuations fall but will conversely benefit from higher inflation.  We continue to hold fixed return investments with a low sensitivity to interest rate movements and exercise caution in looking at stock valuations.

https://www.nwbrown.co.uk/news/2017/jun/21/points-view-interest-rates/