Tag Archives: market commentary

Points of View: Insurance

This week I have been looking at the unfolding 2017 hurricane season and the effects that Harvey, Irma and Maria could have on the US economy and the broader insurance sector.  These events have caused devastation across the Caribbean, Texas and Florida.  The financial impact that they will have is difficult to judge this early on.  However, total losses are expected to be between $80 and $125 billion.  Over the short term there will be a negative impact to the US economy. US jobs data has already shown that the number of jobs created by the economy has contracted for the first time since 2010 and the hurricanes have been seen as a large contributor. However, economic activity is expected to return as insurance policies pay out, property is rebuilt and damaged items such as cars are replaced.

Closer to home the impact will be felt by Lloyd’s Insurers, the London based, global insurance market. They have estimated that Harvey and Irma will cause around $4.5bn in losses to their members.  This is expected to lead to an underwriting loss for the year but CEO, Inga Beale, has stated that this is to be expected in such events and that “this is what we are here for”.

Natural disasters are both good and bad for those insurers covering this market. On one hand, they will suffer some large capital pay-outs in the short term. On the other hand, such events inevitably help push future premiums up. This is especially relevant at the moment given that the lack of disasters in recent years has driven premiums down to a level that has caused problems in the market.

 

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

Advertisements

Stocks in Focus: Shell

This week I am writing on Royal Dutch Shell, a company I last wrote about in 2015, when it agreed to buy BG for a consideration of £47bn.

The integration of BG’s assets remains on track and with synergies from this deal and leveraging efficiencies, Shell has stripped $10bn of annual operating costs from its business.  On top of this, the enlarged company is continuing to drive down its debt ahead of targets and has reduced capital expenditure by $20bn.

While the integration of BG’s assets is running to plan, Shell cannot rest on its laurels.  A switch from fossil fuels to more clean energy sources over the long term will put pressure on demand.  One example of this is the move of car manufacturers towards producing electric vehicles (EV) or hybrids.  To counter the move away from fossil fuels, many of the big oil and gas companies are investing heavily in renewable energy solutions.  Shell has committed to invest up to $1bn per annum in “new energy” by 2020, including an investment in hydrogen production to rival the EV market.  While this is a fraction of their overall capital expenditure it shows that the company is trying to future-proof its business as the demand for oil inevitably falls.

Shell also highlights that there will need to be a stable source of electricity when wind and solar are not available.  The management see gas providing this stability and have increased their liquefied natural gas (LNG) capabilities with the purchase of BG.

The success of Shell compared with its peers will be determined by how well it manages this switch to renewable energy sources.  Any heavy investment now would be a drag on cash and the adoption rate for electric vehicles, for example, may be slower than anticipated.  However if Shell delays investing in renewable energy it risks being left behind in a declining sector.

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: Intertek

This week I am looking at Intertek Group Plc, the global inspection, testing and certification company. The specialist organization has more than 42,000 employees across 100 countries and provides quality and safety assurance to companies across several industries.

The company’s latest interim results were better than expected for the first six months of the year. Revenues were up nearly 14% compared to last year, while pre-tax profit jumped almost 28%. Management also upgraded their profit margin guidance from “moderate” to “robust”. Indeed, it has been a good couple of years for Intertek and this has been reflected in the share price, which has risen nearly 125% since the end of 2015 to its recent all time high of 4880p per share.

The global quality assurance industry has seen rapid growth in recent years as regulators are demanding stricter compliance measures and increased focus on risk management following several high-profile scandals that highlighted gross negligence by the companies involved. Intertek was well positioned to capitalise on the increase in demand.

That said, its resources division, which provides services to the oil, gas and mining sectors, suffered a dip in revenues. This was due to lower capital investment from its clients, but investors seem to have looked past this isolated weakness given the division’s relatively small contribution to overall revenue and the fact that the majority of its oil & gas exposure comes from fairly stable sources of operational expenditure and cargo inspection. The question for long term investors, however, is whether the strong performance and upbeat prospect still leave the stock as an attractively priced investment given the recent rise in the share price.

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

Stocks in Focus: GlaxoSmithKline

I am once again looking at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) following the announcement of its first set of results since the appointment of Emma Walmsley as Chief Executive. Ms Walmsley has been with GSK for seven years, having previously worked at L’Oreal in a variety of marketing and management roles. With Pharmaceuticals being the core of GSK’s business, it is unusual to have a CEO whose experience lies outside the core division – although the ability to review the division from a fresh perspective could well be advantageous.

The second quarter results were slightly ahead of consensus, giving Ms Walmsley a solid start to her tenure. Alongside the results she set out her key objectives for the first time, highlighting the need to prioritise improvement of the core Pharmaceutical division. In short, GSK needs to become better at developing and commercialising lucrative drugs. Despite launching high volumes of new drugs, the company has not seen many of these lead to huge sales. Indeed, GSK’s last “blockbuster” product release was the asthma treatment, Advair, which at its 2013 peak made up one-fifth of the group’s revenues.

Ms Walmsley therefore plans to strengthen the pipeline by a) increasing the amount spent on research & development, and b) channelling 80% of this spend on a narrower set of four therapy areas (Respiratory, HIV, Immuno-inflammatory and Oncology). She also plans to bring about a more dynamic/accountable commercial model to help the business make the most of its innovations.

With an enthusiastic, fresh CEO at the helm and a credible plan in place to increase productivity over the long term, GSK looks well set. However, it is fair to say that previous attempts to increase productivity and commercial success have not been entirely successful – and investors may therefore want to wait for some evidence of success before buying into Ms Walmsley’s vision.

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