Tag Archives: market commentary

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/

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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/ 

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/

 

Stocks in Focus: Reckitt Benckiser

This week I am revisiting Reckitt Benckiser, the global consumer goods company. In November of last year I mentioned how the company had a good start to 2016, supported by a successful cost savings programme and sales figures beating expectations. This year however, things have turned a little sour for the company with the news of a cyberattack taking its toll on operations and revenue.

The global cyberattack on multinational companies last month disrupted Reckitt’s ability to manufacture and distribute products to customers in multiple markets. Some of its factories are currently still not functioning normally but plans are in place to return them to full operation. Management stated that while it expects some of the sales lost in the past 3 months to be recouped in the current quarter, continuing supply chain disruptions mean that they could lose customers. As a result of these problems, Reckitt now forecasts a 2% revenue growth instead of the 3% originally expected.

Acquisition speculation is also in the news for Reckitt Benckiser as Unilever and Hormel Foods are believed to be bidding to acquire its £2.2 billion food division known for brands such as French’s Mustard and Worcestershire sauce. All three companies involved have not commented about the speculation, but we will surely find out more in the coming weeks.

Although Reckitt Benckiser is facing a tough period at a time when its shares are valued relatively highly, the company has historically shown resilience in difficult periods and consistent growth over the long run. Furthermore, its non-cyclical nature continues to be attractive to the long term investor.

https://www.nwbrown.co.uk/news/2017/jul/19/stocks-focus-reckitt-benckiser/