Tag Archives: market price

Points of View: 2017

Despite heightened political risk, 2017 turned out to be a good year for equity markets. This was in large part thanks to accommodative monetary policy and a supportive economic environment of low inflation and steady growth. This week I will be looking at a couple of the key topics of the year.

In the UK, Theresa May has managed to cling on to power having unexpectedly lost her parliamentary majority in June’s General Election. Her authority however remains in doubt and this heightens the possibility that a resurgent Jeremy Corbyn will trigger a change of government and/or a shift towards policies that the market perceives as business-unfriendly and risky.

Central Bank policy also continued to greatly influence markets, as historically low interest rates and quantitative easing have pushed borrowing costs down and thereby promoted the further accumulation of debt. According to the Institute of International Finance (IIF), global debt levels continued to rise in 2017 and total global debt has reached a record high of $217 trillion (327% of global GDP) compared to $149 trillion in 2007 (276% of GDP).

In contrast to uncertainties discussed above, there has been ample evidence that global growth is now at its strongest since the Financial Crisis of 2008 and that a prolonged but muted recovery is at last turning into syncronised global growth. With this growth being neither too hot to cause excessive inflation, nor too cold to derail consumer spending and profit growth, investors are currently enjoying “Goldilocks” conditions, which has contributed to a strong year for equity markets.

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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/

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: Smith & Nephew

This week I am looking at Smith & Nephew, a leading UK-based global manufacturer of medical devices, following a transitional year bringing the business back to growth. The company operates across three specialist divisions: Reconstruction (hips and knees), Advanced Wound Management and Sports Medicine & Trauma.

The group has faced a number of setbacks in recent years, many of which stemmed from a flawed corporate structure of separately operated ‘silo’ divisions, which led to restricted innovation. This allowed competitors to catch up and take market share, although the company still enjoys a top 5 position across all the categories it operates in.

Management was then put in to question last year with the announcement that the CEO, Olivier Bouhon, had been diagnosed with cancer and would require treatment across much of the year. In addition to this, it was revealed that the CFO, Julie Brown, would be leaving to join Burberry after 3 ½ years with the company.

Despite these challenges, Smith & Nephew recently published positive full year results, demonstrating a return to growth and an encouraging outlook for the future, particularly within Sports Medicine. The internal restructuring of the business is now complete, which promises improved execution across the divisions and a stronger pipeline of new products. Olivier Bouhon (CEO) is now back at the helm and has recently announced the appointment of a new CFO, Graham Baker, who has 20 years’ experience at AstraZeneca and is expected to be a good addition to the board.

With a better structure in place and strong management team behind it, Smith & Nephew should now be well positioned to take advantage of an era where an ageing population and active younger generation mean health solutions are more essential than ever. Nevertheless, competition remains fierce and management will need to continue to drive innovation within key growth areas to keep ahead in this market.

http://www.nwbrown.co.uk/library/

Stocks in Focus: Hilton Food Group

This week I am looking into Hilton Food Group further to its recently published full year results for 2016. Hilton was established as a meat packing facility in Huntingdon in 1994. Since then it has grown to build processing and packing facilities and factories across Europe, with the business focusing on helping customers improve processes and become more efficient. More recently they have expanded further overseas through joint ventures with supermarket group Woolworths in Australia and food retail group Sonae in Portugal.

Following the results, which were above expectations thanks to strong volume growth in the UK, Ireland and Australia, I spoke with Robert Watson (CEO) and Nigel Majewski (CFO). The model for expanding into new territories is interesting. To develop the relationship with Sonae, Hilton initially sent a consultancy team to Portugal to review their current processes and systems. The consultancy period gave Hilton the opportunity to demonstrate their business case and as with the arrangement with Woolworths in Australia, Sonae went on to sign a full joint venture to redevelop its production facilities. While the core business is focussed on the processing and packing of meat, Hilton have been able to respond to their customers’ needs in wide range of fresh food preparation and packaging solutions, as shown with their fresh pizza range in Sweden.

Hilton now operates as a more diverse business geographically, with the ability to offer customers a more extensive range of solutions.  Expanding too far from the core business could create some challenges, but management remain optimistic that Hilton will be able to steer through these challenges and remain in a strong market position.

http://www.nwbrown.co.uk/library/

Stocks in Focus: GlaxoSmithKline

This week I am looking at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) following the appointment of a new Chief Executive, Emma Walmsley, on Monday 3 April. She takes over from Sir Andrew Whitty, who steps down after nearly 10 years in the role, and inherits a business that has recently diversified away from its core Pharmaceuticals division and towards its Consumer Health and Vaccine divisions (following an asset swap with Novartis). Nonetheless, Pharmaceuticals remains the largest division and the focus of this article.

The pharmaceuticals industry relies on heavy investment in research and development to create new treatments. This pipeline is essential as older products lose their patent protections and generic alternatives come into the market, driving down pricing. The development process is expensive, as a drug needs to go through a rigorous process to gain approval. The skill of the new Chief Executive will be to select at an early stage those drugs with a strong likelihood of gaining approval and thereby recouping the development costs and to avoid those that have a low possibility of succeeding.

The UK’s exit from the EU will throw up further uncertainties as the European Medicines Agency currently approves drugs across all 28 member states.  It is possible that a new UK regulator could drive companies away from developing drugs in the UK, forcing them instead to focus on Europe.

The long-term prospects for pharmaceutical companies remains their ability to develop successful new drugs and to get those drugs through expensive clinical trials. GSK has a strong pipeline with a number of drugs expected to gain FDA approval this year. Ms Walmsley’s role as Chief Executive will be to guide the company through the aforementioned uncertainties and focus on the specific treatments and markets that will generate growth over the long term.

http://www.nwbrown.co.uk/library/

Stocks in Focus: Murray International

This week I am looking at Murray International, an investment trust that recently released its full year results for the year to 31 December 2016. The fund aims to achieve capital growth while also providing an above average dividend yield, predominantly through investment in worldwide equities.

Murray’s 2016 results were very positive and its total return performance was in the top 25% for Global Equity Income funds during the year. Sterling weakness was cited as being a key factor for the strong performance, as the fund has relatively low exposure to the UK economy while being significantly overweight in the Asia Pacific and Latin America regions. Successful stock selection and asset allocation was also a large contributor to the outperformance.

The manager, Bruce Stout, has focussed the fund towards emerging markets, as this is where he sees the most growth potential alongside attractive valuations. Mr Stout has also reduced the gearing in the fund by 30% by clearing a Yen denominated loan on the back of this strong performance, with all remaining debt now drawn in sterling.

After a couple of years of underperformance due to high weightings in Asia and Latin America/Emerging Markets, Mr Stout has this year been rewarded for sticking to his process. This fund offers investors a different approach to income investing and provides diversification against the traditional UK and Global income funds. Bruce Stout’s conviction in his methods has been beneficial to recent performance and highlights the need to take a long-term view when investing.  The investment trust historically has not traded at a wide discount to NAV and is currently at a 1% discount; in line with its 12 month average.  Despite its narrower discount it does offer a 4.1% yield, which is noticeably higher than most globally invested funds.

http://www.nwbrown.co.uk/library/