Tag Archives: market review

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/

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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: 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: 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: 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/

 

June 2017 Market Review

 This edition of the Market Review discusses another surprising election result.

The UK General Election delivered yet another surprising political result. Overall, the market’s response has been measured, but political uncertainty remains high and valuations are no longer cheap following an 18-month period of strong performance. Whilst this dampens our enthusiasm for new investments in the short term, the long-term case for equities remains compelling. Moreover, our emphasis on quality, value and diversification leaves us confident that our portfolios are well prepared for a wide variety of eventualities.

June 2017 Market Review

Points of View: Technology stocks

This week I am writing about the technology sector following an interesting article in the Telegraph.  The article highlighted that the NASDAQ index surpassed 6,000 for the first time and drew comparisons with the dotcom bubble of the 1990’s.

The NASDAQ index has a weighting of over 50% in technology stocks and serves as an indication of the performance of the technology sector.  Since March 2009 the index has had an annualised performance of roughly 20%.

The dotcom bubble was synonymous with the overvaluation of companies and investors ability to ignore companies’ underlying profits.  Indeed, these themes can be observed in some form in the current market.  The NASDAQ performance has inflated it well above the S&P 500 – indicating investor enthusiasm for tech stocks.  There are also signs of investors ignoring profits, illustrated by Netflix recent strong performance, despite being estimated to lose $2bn this year.

Technology has, however, moved on since the turn of the century.  Most noticeable the rise of the internet, broadband and smart phones has created an environment in which disruptive technology can thrive.  In addition, the valuations of tech companies do not look as stretched as previously.  In 2000 Microsoft’s price to earnings multiple peaked at 57 times. Today it is 30 times.

Investors can take some comfort from the more modest (but still high) valuations and the greater maturity of the sector. For these reasons we are not predicting an imminent decline in the sector. However, whilst the growth expectations are attractive the ratings leave little room for disappointment. Given our value bias we find it difficult to be optimistic about highly rated sectors.

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