Thursday, 19 July 2018 09:51

How to profit from Market Myths

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In 1962, President John F Kennedy delivered Yale's graduating class of 1962 a piece of advice that all investors should hold dear:

"The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie - deliberate, contrived and dishonest - but the myth - persisent, persuasive and unrealistic .... We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought"

All too often, investors rely on conventional wisdom.  Ideas that may have been true one dday, which are perhaps not relevant today. For those investors who fail to question the myths they have always believed, danger lies ahead.  On the other hand, great investment opportunities can stem from the continual questioning of conventional wisdom and the dispelling of myths.

This article has been reproduced on our website with the permission from Montgomery Investment Management.

Is discussed the myths surrounding Consumer Packaged Goods, and why they may be a dangerous place to invest.

 

Friday, 13 July 2018 11:49

China - What just happened?

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Reproduced with permission from Charlie Aitken - Aitken Investment Management

 

This article is written by Charlie Aitken, founder of Aitken Investment Management.

 

Substantial outflows from emerging markets ETFs, driven by US Dollar strength, triggered large and relentless selling in the largest index weightings in Hong Kong (Chinese equities). Fears of a “trade war” have also weighed on China sentiment.

The Hang Seng China Enterprises Index (HSCEI) fell -7.6% in June, while the Chinese mainland benchmark, the Shanghai Composite Index (SHCOMP) fell -8.0%. From mid-January peak both indices are now down over -20%, triggering a technical “bear market”.

It has been a brutal and indiscriminate technical sell-off in Hong Kong. However, we remain confident in the investment case for Chinese consumer facing companies and the major technology platforms which have pulled back to what we consider compelling investment arithmetic. We will explore that investment arithmetic later in this note.

While Chinese stocks listed in China had a very poor month, it seems somewhat odd to us that China facing stocks listed on developed market exchanges such as the NYSE or ASX proved broadly immune to any price falls. That most likely suggests this is a violent emerging market to developed market rotation, rather than a wholesale de-rating of all things China facing.

We believe this is a technical ‘clearance sale’ in leading Chinese equities and we want to emerge from this rotational correction holding the very best fundamental portfolio of tier one Chinese structural companies we can.

Outflows from Emerging Market equities

The US dollar rally that began in May has seen significant outflows from Emerging Market equities. We can use the IShares MSCI Emerging Market ETF (“EEM.US”) as a good proxy to illustrate this point. EEM has seen a 20% redemption of units on issue since April (approx. $7.7bn of outflows at today’s prices). China is the biggest weighting in this ETF at 30% and Tencent is the biggest single stock weighting at around 5.5%, so redemptions from this ETF and all other products like it lead to direct selling of Tencent and other large cap Hong Kong Listed equities.

The following chart shows the number of units outstanding in EEM (the blue line) versus the DXY USD Dollar index (the red line) which we have inverted. In simple terms USD strength has seen an exodus from Emerging Market equities. For context the outflow in EEM over the past 8 weeks is greater than the outflow for the entire of 2015 when the world was in a China-centric deflationary spiral.

In 2015 evidence of a fundamental slow-down in China was obvious everywhere from Chinese economic data, to global PMIs, trade data, commodity prices and even Australian listed China facing equities. The most obvious example is BHP shares which have historically had a very strong correlation to H-Shares. The chart below shows the HSCEI Index (H-shares) versus BHP. One of these 2 is sending us the wrong message on Chinese economic fundamentals. The gap in this chart will close one way or another in the second half of this year. Note the divergence started around the same time as the EM exodus (BHP is not part of EM equities).

Is China grinding to a halt?

Relative to the strong-growth seen in 2017 we are definitely seeing a moderation of growth in China. This was evident in our recent trip to China and can been seen in monthly data series such as the YoY change in Industrial Enterprise Profits and the Li Keqiang index (which measures YoY change in rail freight data, power consumption and bank lending). However as can be seen below the picture at this stage is fundamentally different to what we saw in 2015. The key question is, are HK equities pre-empting a move in fundamentals or is this a market driven panic? 

What are markets pricing in?

Whilst the 2015 bear market in Chinese equities saw a combination of very high starting valuations and badly deteriorating economic fundamentals the picture today is quite different. The market PE for domestic Chinese equities is already below the trough of 2015. 

We see plenty of inconsistencies in global cross asset market prices at the moment. It feels like Hong Kong listed Chinese equities are pricing in a harsh slow-down in global growth whilst other equity markets (and other asset classes such as gold and commodities) are taking a more optimistic view. 

Below we present a snapshot of AIM’s four biggest Chinese holdings.

We believe all these businesses have very bright futures and are very attractively priced at current levels. They are the leaders of their industries, have expanding moats, have massive addressable markets, and are all platform businesses or benefitting from technology. We believe their earnings growth outlook is unchanged, we have recently met with management teams, and we have great confidence in their business strategy and execution abilities.

While it was a disappointing end to the financial year for those of us who are structurally bullish on China, we remain of the view that the potential for strong total returns remains in FY19 particularly given the entry points and highly attractive valuations of our core high conviction Chinese investments above.

Don’t run away from the clearance sale: take advantage and buy the best Chinese consumer brands while they are cheap.

Monday, 02 July 2018 11:12

The Best of the Best - June 2018

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The Investment Team at Montgomery Investment Management regularly produce a report "Best of the Best".

We bring you the June 2018 edition.

This report is put together by the investment team, and not a marketing spin doctor.

 

Click on the image below to download your copy.

 

Tuesday, 05 June 2018 11:32

Let's take a look at the Banks results

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Article reproduced with permission from Montgomery Investment Management.

 

In the midst of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in Financial Services, the major banks have released their latest half yearly results. The market headed into the reporting period with a high degree of apprehension given the public backlash emanating from the revelations coming from testimony at the Royal Commission to date.  In a number of articles over a long period of time, we have discussed our concerns about the outlook for revenue growth given the impact on loan book growth, that is likely to result from the turn in the long term structural decline in interest rates globally. Expected is a slowing of loan book growth, as volume growth is no longer boosted by the falling cost of debt, which has allowed households and businesses to sustain progressively higher levels of debt.

The first half results showed signs of this playing out, with loan book growth, based on the average balance for the period, continuing to slow on a sequential basis.

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 5.24.13 pm
Source: Company Data *CBA data represents the 3 months to 31 March 2018

Slowing loan growth has been offset in recent periods by rising net interest margins, as a result of the repricing of interest only and investment property mortgage rates. In 1H18, the banks benefited from some easing in the level of competition for deposits.

However, over the last couple of months, the banks have been exposed to rising benchmark short term wholesale interest rates (BBSW and LIBOR) relative to official central bank rates. This is expected to see the funding costs of the banks shift from being supportive for net interest margins to now presenting a headwind.

Net interest margins were down for three of the four majors, with negative mix in mortgages (switching to lower rate principal and interest mortgages) and a full period impact of the bank levy offsetting any residual repricing benefit.

The other factor to take into account is the impact of trading and markets activity on the net interest margin. This is a very volatile part of the equation. For ANZ (ASX:ANZ) and National Australia Bank (ASX:NAB), a weaker trading performance relative to 2H17 reduced net interest margin (NIM) in 1H18, while for Westpac (ASX:WBC) it boosted NIM materially.

Given the volatility of this income, this is a low value driver of NIM and should be looked at in a historical context when projecting into forward periods due to the likelihood of mean reversion. This is particularly relevant for WBC’s result in which the Markets and Trading component of the NIM is well above historical levels and therefore should be treated with a degree of caution when forecasting from this base.

The chart below shows the annualised rate of growth in net interest revenue for the four major banks in 1H18 relative to 2H17. Growth, excluding the impact of trading, provides a better indication of the underlying sustainable rate of growth in the period as it strips out the volatile impact of trading activity on NIM.

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 5.25.26 pm
Source: Company Data *CBA data represents the 3 months to 31 March 2018

Non-interest income was similarly soft, particularly once trading revenues and one-off profits from the sale of investments and businesses are excluded. This resulted in total revenue growth in the low single digits. We note that the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX:CBA) trading update provided limited detail on the underlying drivers.

However, according to CLSA Australia’s banks team, net interest revenue was negatively impacted by a restructuring charge on a hedge from a funding issue last year, as well as a reduction in trading revenue and a proportionally more significant impact from the increase in Bank Bill Swap Rate (BBSW) in March given CBA’s announcement was for three rather than six month earnings.

Operating cost growth was mixed with higher growth from NAB and CBA while ANZ continues to reduce its cost base. The Royal Commission resulted in elevated cost growth in the period, and this will continue into the rest of this calendar year and potentially beyond. Excluding this, revenue would have increased in the March quarter.

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 5.26.58 pm

Source: Company Data *CBA data represents the 3 months to 31 March 2018

NAB’s increase excluding the upfront redundancies and write downs from its cost reduction strategy reflects an uplift in investment in the near term to assist the transformation of the business over the next few years. However, based on its guidance for flat operating costs between FY2018 and FY2020, aggregate costs over this three years period will be higher than average analysis forecasts prior to the announcement of the cost reduction programme in November last year.

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 5.28.04 pm

Source: Company, UBS, JPM, CS, DB, CLSA, Citi

Slowing revenue growth is continuing to turn up the heat on management to reduce operating costs as an offset.

Provisions for bad debts were once again a positive for the net profit outcome.

Unlike in recent results, the main source of surprise came from lower new individual provisions rather than write backs of prior period charges. This is despite a continuation of the modest increases in mortgage arrears. Of most concern was CBA’s comment that “there has been an uptick in home loan arrears, influenced by a small number of customers experiencing difficulties with rising essential costs and limited income growth”. This could be the first signs of a squeeze on household budgets that has been a core part of the bear thesis for those warning about the outlook for the bank stocks.

While ANZ and Westpac (ASX:WBC) continued to reduce their collective provision balance as a proportion of credit risk weighted assets (meaning these banks have less of a buffer against a downturn in credit quality), NAB actually increased its collective provision balance.

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 5.29.06 pm

Source: Companies

Bank capital levels were generally in line with market expectations, with ANZ surprising to the upside. CBA highlighted the future impact of the Prudential Inquiry by APRA which will require it to increase its operational risk regulatory capital by A$1billion from 30 April 2018. The introduction of AASB 9 will also see CBA increase its collective provision balance by A$1.05 billion. These two issues will reduce CBA’s Common Equity Tier 1 *(CET1) ratio by 53 basis points. CBA expects a 70 basis point increase in its CET1 ratio from the sale of its Australasian life insurance operations in the next 8 months, but this will also reduce CBA’s sustainable earnings and capital generation in future periods.

The Montgomery Funds own shares in Westpac and Commonwealth Bank  This article was prepared 15 May 2018 with the information we have today, and our view may change. It does not constitute formal advice or professional investment advice. If you wish to trade Westpac or Commonwealth Bank you should seek financial advice.

Mark Draper (GEM Capital) recently spoke with Joe Lai who is the portfolio manager of Platinum Asia fund.

We are pleased to bring you the podcast from this discussion and for those who prefer it, here is a transcript of the interview.

 

Joe specifically talks about why he believes China is unlikely to experience a debt crisis despite the constant media attention it receives and he outlines the magnitude of the investment opportunity in China.

 

 

Speakers:  Joe Lai (Platinum Asset Management) and Mark Draper (GEM Capital)

Mark:  Joining us here is Joe Lai from Platinum Asset Management and in particular, Platinum Asia, who Joe runs the listed investment company, Platinum Asia, as well as the unlisted version of Platinum Asia that you find across the spectrum. Thanks for joining us, Joe.

Joe:  Hi, Mark, thanks.

Mark:  We’ll start with the Asian markets because they’ve had a big run, albeit from the low base.

Joe:  Yeah.

Mark:  18 months ago, 2 years ago. So, is this run—sustainable is not the right word, but is this as good as it gets or can investors expect decent returns from the Asian sector going into the future?

Joe:  Yeah, look, I mean, what we believe the opportunity in Asia is one of a long-term opportunity because the growth rate in Asia is going to be, you know, robust, and going forward for quite a long time. And also, the scale of opportunity is just unparallel compared to anything else we’ve seen for a very, very long time.

Growth rate on China, even we’re saying that China is growing at—slowing a bit from the heady days of 8 or 9% growth, to about 6 to 6-1/2% growth, that would be still one of the fastest growing regions of the world.

And outside of China, we’ve got countries like India and also the ASEAN countries. I mean, these are countries with, you know, collectively, more than a billion people and for the region itself, it’s close to three billion people. They are going to grow in a way—in excess of 3-4% on average. Again, the scale is huge.

Mark:  And compare that to the American market, the American population I think is somewhere between 3-400.

Joe:  Yes, about 300 million people and it’s growing much slower.

We look at that long-term trajectory, I think, is very, very good. And then we look at the markets. I mean, there’s a lot of concern about valuations and whether we’ve peaked. I mean, the U.S. market is definitively expensive if we look at price to earnings multiple or price to book multiple. In fact, if we look at a lot of EPS growth that the American market has been able to generate, a lot of it has been through financial engineering.

What I’m talking about is borrowing money, companies borrowing money, and do share buy-backs, to reduce the number of shares outstanding to—

Mark:  Which then increases earnings per share.

Joe:  Yeah, absolutely. But in the case of Asia, that has not been the case. Perhaps the Asian corporates or CFOs are a little bit behind in terms of doing engineering, engineering the balance sheets. But certainly a lot of the upside in Asia has been a result of actual earnings growth in the last few years as opposed to EPS growth or a great deal of market re-rating or the PE ratio going up.

Mark:  You talk about 6-1/2% growth, but I think—and which is less than 9% growth—but the reality is that China’s been growing at a big rate for a long period of time. Is it possible to put some perspective on the size of the economy? Say compared to where it was historically? Because 6-1/2 might not sound great, but 6-1/2 on a big number is a big number.

Joe:  Yeah. I mean, the size of the Chinese economy is by no means small. At the moment, it’s probably slightly more than 10 trillion U.S. dollars and U.S. is probably 16, 17. On an aggregate basis, it is still smaller, but however, when we look at many of the industries in China, they’re already bigger than that of the U.S. I mean, these may be an interesting fact which a lot of people may not realize, if we look at the passenger car market in China, they’re running at about—selling about 28 million passenger cars a year. U.S. is about 20 million.

That market alone, which is a big part of the economy really, it’s already about 40% bigger than that of the U.S. or Europe. 

The other part of it is this: That market is still growing. I mean, still growing at about 5% to 10% a year and most people buying cars in China are not reliant on car financing. That’s very different to, I guess, the more developed markets. Eventually, how big this market will grow into, it’s hard to estimate. That’s one.

But when we look at the property market clearly, the Chinese market is a lot bigger than anything else in any other parts of the world, literally, two, three, four times the size of Europe or U.S. If we look at the smart phone markets—I mean, I’m talking the smart phone here which is, I’m sure are made in Taiwan or Mainland China. China domestic smart phone market is about half a billion. 

Mark:  It’s about 500 million.

Joe:  It’s 500 million.

Mark:  New handsets every year.

Joe:  New handsets a year. U.S. is about a 150 million, so even that market, which is—you wouldn’t say is a back water, sort of like—we’re not talking about sports shoes or T-shirts, we’re talking about a smart phone. Sure, some parts are coming from Japan or Taiwan or U.S. to make the smart phone, but they’re producing a lot of these parts domestically in China as well, as they climb the technological ladder.

The smart phone market it literally  two, three times the size of U.S. or Europe and the car market is 50% bigger than U.S. or Europe. That is the scale already. We’re talking about when the economy is about, probably two-thirds the size of the U.S., officially. So, I guess, that’s how far they’ve come and they’re going to—the aim for them is to climb the technological ladder and to clean up the environments going forward.

Undoubtedly, I mean, they will continue to progress further. Compared to where they started, I guess, since liberalization, the GDP per capita of China, if we look back 35 years ago, it would be very close to that of North Korea. I mean, it’s amazing. This country has taken off where some of the countries haven’t moved on at all. That’s, I guess, the scale and opportunities there.

Mark:  And part of that is driven by population growth, but it’s more than population growth. It’s the rising wealth in middle class here, so you’ve spoken about car ownership, you’ve spoken about mobile phone and internet access.

Joe:  Yeah.

Mark:  What are some of the other things that you’re seeing in China that as middle class develops, they’re spending money on, that by extension creates investment opportunity, clearly.

Joe:  Okay. I mean, that’s a lot of stuff—which a lot of things which are changing for the better. I guess if we sort of go back one step. I mean, what is underpinning sort of this growth in income and all productivity is because they’ve done the appropriate amount of investment in various things. If you travel to China these days, you’ll see that they’ll have first class infrastructure in roads, telecommunication, a 4G network. The high-speed rail, which just completely opened up the country. Even the smaller cities offer a few million people.

So, you mentioned you’re doing business that you can actually ship things around and things just work.

Mark:  Yeah.

Joe:  And also, the investment in education is actually quite interesting. Each year there’s about 8 million university graduates that China produces.

Mark:  8 million is a third of the population of Australia every year as your graduates. [Laughs]

Joe:  Yeah. And this number actually has ramped up in the last five or six years, so there has been some effort to increase the supply of skilled labor into the economy where because there has been a desire for the economy to lift productivity, to climb the technology ladder, they knew that they needed people. And of the 8 million, half of which are actually engineers and scientists. I mean, it’s actually what they need. That’s very different, I guess, to other countries which actually haven’t grown their university graduates or the focus on engineering and science may have actually gone backwards in the last 5 or 10 years.

Investment in infrastructure and education are key for—to sort of the strong underpinnings for economic development for the country.

So, looking forward, we mentioned about cars and we mentioned about smart phones. These are markets which are already bigger than in the U.S. compared to—sorry, bigger in China, compared to I guess developed countries in those market size.

There are some areas which China is still smaller in aggregate than Western countries. And we sort of have experienced some of it in this country, like things relating to consumption of insurance, healthcare, some of the luxury goods, some of the—I guess things which are more, I guess, differentiated or tastes which they’ve yet to acquire.

I guess in this country we’ve seen the vitamins doing well. Perhaps some of the milk stuff from New Zealand and also wines going well. These are some of the stuff, I mean, we’re not directly involved in those because these are sort of, I guess, local companies. But the markets which I mentioned, insurance and healthcare, and some of the technology companies, I mean, the insurance market in China is small compared to that of Western countries on a per-capita basis.

Even if you go to places like Shanghai, the insurance penetration is literally a fraction of that of Hong Kong or Taiwan, but you know that it is an essential product that people would want, once they have money and they want to protect their wealth, they want to protect their family’s livelihood.

Mark:  You’re talking life insurance or you’re talking car insurance, house insurance, etc.?

Joe:  Yeah, yeah. So that’s interesting. And we’re seeing private companies in China doing very interesting things. Some of these industry leaders are doing things which are leading, I think, most of the world. For example, we own one of our biggest, or bigger, positions is a company called Ping An Insurance. I mean, they’ve actually applied artificial intelligence in a big way. I mean, literally spending literally billions of dollars over the last, about three or four years, on improving their ability to serve the customers by using AI. They’ve got a voice recognition product that when you call up, they can, I guess verify your identity without you telling them anything. I mean, you know, when we call up Telstra and ask you for date of birth or address to certify that’s who you are, but here they’ve got technology to go to Mr. A and then we know this voice and then if this voice matches, that’s him. 

So, that’s something like that. And also, when the people have car accidents, they’ve got this thing on the smart phone, this app on the smart phone where they can launch their claim. I mean, they can photo of the car, where the damage is, and actually utilizing artificial intelligence to work out what is the damage and also the cost of repair. Then this is, I guess, good for controlling fraud. It’s good also for customer experience.

I mean, these are just some of the things which are happening very rapidly in China because it’s the investment cycle in China of experimentation, try something out. If it works, use it. If it doesn’t, let’s move on. It’s much faster than most other countries.

And then of course healthcare. The next area is healthcare. So the market in China is more and in fact, we’re seeing this to be growing rather quickly because—

Mark:  Have they got a national healthcare scheme at the moment?

Joe:  Absolutely, Mark. I mean, that’s been ramping up. The desire from the government is to improve the livelihood of those people who sort of didn’t share as much in the fruits or dividends on economic growth in the last 20 years. Over the last few years there’s been progressive rollout of coverage in terms of health insurance. I mean, it’s not perfect. But nowadays, most people in China are covered by one kind of insurance or another, mostly public based and then some are local government based. But what it means is that going forward, we think that the consumption of healthcare will continue to grow, almost irrespective of the growth or GDP growth of the country.

And as the people get more discerning in terms of their healthcare, they will start to use some of the drugs which Western countries are used to. Like if you actually look at the top 10 selling drugs in most Western countries, including Australia, these days, most of those drugs are what are called biologics and they’re actually quite expensive. Expensive drugs which can target specific diseases very accurately. Gone are the days of using one drug to treat everything. It’s almost very titled medicine.

I mean, I was a medical doctor before I did this, working in this industry and the type of drugs I’m seeing today is truly amazing and China is starting to adopt these drugs as well. We own some companies which are producing some of these biologics in China. They’re not the easiest to produce and these drug are not even in the top hundred in the Chinese league of drug sales, whereas some of these drugs are already top 10, including these countries.

That to us is very interesting and it’s going to grow multiples the pace of the economy.

Mark:  Are you seeing homegrown healthcare companies compete with the West?

Joe:  Yes.

Mark:  Or are you seeing Western healthcare going to Asia?

Joe:  Yeah, I mean, that’s an interesting question, Mark. I mean, it has certainly been a mix of the two. And the fact is, I mean, it would go to the issue of scale and accountability. I mean, China is almost unparalleled compared to most other countries. But bottom up work suggests that in early days, foreign companies would go into China and sell their drugs or medical devices and actually at a quite high price, because it’s seen as like a luxury good. You know, they can charge—the prices we pay in Australia would be literally a fraction of how much these local Chinese people paid previously.

As you can see, the dynamic, together with sufficient capability, but domestic eyes and capital to invest in R&D, what have you, creates this dynamic where the pressure for the locals to actually substitute for the imports is very high because they can see that if they do well, first of all, they’ll make a lot of money. Second of all, there is some government support for the locals. Thirdly, it is—they also, I think, recognize that they’re doing a benefit for the local people who may not be able to afford imported drugs.

In the case, just some examples, in the case of insurance, I mean, I think some listeners may know insulin, basically it’s used to treat diabetes. There’s different types of insulin and in most parts of the world, this market isn’t only. It’s dominated by four or five, probably four companies. Sales are different, the same kind of insulin, but at a very high price.

In China, there’s already drug companies making insulin, which is actually very uncommon. I mean, it’s almost happening nowhere in the world, so we’re sort of investing in one of them to provide, I guess, cheaper version of high-quality insulin in the country. 

The other element, the other example I can cite, is cardiac stents. These are things which are used to treat blockage of the arteries, in the heart. Again, this is, in the rest of the world, is an oligopoly, controlled by a few big U.S. and European companies. In China, more than half, in fact, maybe 60% or 70% of the cardiac stents are made domestically, by domestic companies. 

Mark:  Right.

Joe:  And some of them are trying to sell it overseas. They’re very successful. We are sort of invested in one of the companies there as well which makes cardiac stent for the locals. They’ve actually gone around the world in acquiring the second player globally, or third player globally, of pacemakers…what else? Orthopedic prosthesis, to bring it back to the country. To maybe make it at a lower price, but huge market. But the product itself is—the products themselves are superior to what the locals have been making previously.

So, I mean, we find that to be rather a prospective area to have some money.

Mark:  One of the perineal things that seems to be around the Australian media is the expectation of a Chinese credit crises or a banking collapse over there. Can you give us a feel for whether that’s reality or misguided?

Joe:  Yeah, look. I mean, okay, I think it’s misguided. It is understandable why there has been a concern because China has ramped up as a country, rammed up its debt load since the global financial crises. And a lot of it is the stimulus which they implemented. But the good news is this is something that everyone knows about. I mean, if there’s anything that we can trust the local Chinese authorities to do, is to count. They can actually calculate and count where the problems are. I mean, it’s been like literally six, seven years since even Western countries or people outside the country started to talk about geez, there’s debt. You can imagine and I think you can believe that the local authorities who are interested in a 30, 50-year future for the country or more, to want to diffuse any problem that may have arisen as a result of the stimulus.

What are we looking at today? China’s debt to GDP is actually about 250%. And okay, to put it into context, that is actually similar to most developed countries. I mean, USA is about 250, 260. European area is about 250. Japan is about 400% to GDP, so it’s a lot higher and it shows that a country with a trade surplus actually can sustain very high level of debt, because it means that they’re not relying on foreign capital to fund their debt when they run the trade surplus. And Japan is the case, is a good example.

If the absolute accurate good level is high and it’s ramped up quickly, but it’s not disastrous and in fact, it’s manageable. And the second thing is, almost all the debt in China is domestic. In other words, they’re not reliant on foreign countries or people or corporations to keep buying their bonds. They can actually buy their bonds themselves with the savings.

Mark:  Like its self-funded.

Joe:  And the other benefit of having all the debt in domestic currency is that if really push comes to shove, they can print money, which I guess most countries have done in the last five—or since the GFC. There’s all these levers they can pull. 

The next thing is, as we mentioned before, this problem is not unrecognized and if you Googled—I mean, there has been some—basically its getting managed and that’s been, I think, increasingly recognized by people. The Bridgewater guy, Ray Dalio, I think he recently did an interview, mentioned about that. It’s interesting, he said, well, you know, in the GFC, we have I guess developed countries, central banks reacting to the problem. But here we actually have a forthright regulator trying to deal with the problem and in fact, he thinks they’re doing a good job. But anyhow, that’s just an aside.

But what I believe is that China is already trying to reduce the growth of the loan and they call this process deleveraging, which means slow down the growth of loan and then look where the problems are. They’re probably more than halfway through this process and I think at the end of it, the banking system will actually look rather nice. And then after that, even now, you ask the question: What else can we say that’s wrong with the country? I mean, it’s actually a difficult thing to come up with. [Laughs]

Mark:  Donald Trump has helped in that respect because he’s, through his Twitter account, talked about potential trade wars. Is that something that is concerning you guys?

Joe:  Look, I mean, the fact is, I mean, I find it so hard to predict what Trump—what Mr. Trump is going to say or do. But if we—I guess put it this way, if we go down the path of an all-out trade war, it’s clearly not good for markets, and particularly, I think, it may change the way how people assess the U.S. market, especially given the valuation of that market because put up tariffs and whatever, it is going to harm them just as much as harm everyone else. Just increasing inflation, reduce the ability of people’s real—or reduce real income for the people.

But I think if one, I guess, try to rationalize it, everyone knows that it’s a bad outcome for all and so it makes—it actually makes no sense for anyone to want to go down this path in a big way. There may be skirmishes and there may be some people making statements to actually have across the board withdrawal basically of globalization. I just don’t see how anyone can effectively support that.

The reaction from, I guess, the key countries, interesting. We see these aluminum steel tariffs, which, Trump talked about. China actually didn’t say much about it. They actually said, it’s not good.

Mark:  Canada was vocal.

Joe:  Yeah, and the reason is, as you know, Mark, that the percentage of Chinese imports into U.S. in these two products is literally less than 5%. I think the percentage of Chinese imports or steel imports in the U.S., China constitutes maybe 2% or something like that. It’s very low percentage. Certainly, it’s a very, like less than 1% output of Chinese steel industry. So, they go, okay. 

But whereas Canada is a much bigger part and Mexico and also Brazil and maybe even Korea or Japan.

They’re not too worried but I guess if we go down this path, then it would be something. But also last week, I mean, China sent one of the leaders—this is a guy below the presidency—over to the States to talk to the people in the White House about this issue. It is something that, in a way, they don’t want to—

Mark:  It’s not the steel and aluminum and such, it’s the bigger issue of whether it’s more widespread.

Joe:  Yeah. It becomes more widespread and because everyone—and so they do want to stave off this—Mr. Trump going down this path by, I think they will announce some things to try to appease him. Whether it’s enough or not, I think it will, I guess, calm down the situation somewhat. But of course, if there is real impact made to the various economies, particularly in China, they would retaliate in the form of maybe tariffs on some of the agricultural imports from the States and maybe cars. I mean, the truth is, most car companies—a lot of foreign car companies, from China’s perspective, are reliant on the Chinese market for profits.

Mark:  GM, Ford. They’re all there.

Joe:  GM, Ford, yeah. And it is the biggest car market in the world. It makes no sense to go down this path, but I can’t really predict one way or another.

Mark:  It’s a good answer. And sorry to drag down the tone actually of this conversation about Asia with Donald Trump.

Joe:  That’s all right.

Mark:  But that’s just something to cover off. 

Joe:  Yeah.

Mark:  It is a generational opportunity to invest in the Asian region and thanks very much for your time to explain some of how you guys are going about harnessing this opportunity for investors. Thanks, Joe.

Joe:  Thanks, Mark.

[End of Audio]

 

Monday, 04 June 2018 14:26

Telstra - Good Value or Value Trap?

Written by

Mark Draper (GEM Capital) is writing a monthly column for the Australian Financial Review.  This article will appear in the print edition of the Financial Review on Wednesday 13th June 2018.

At the time of writing, Mark did not own Telstra shares.

 

If you have any story ideas that you would like us to write about, we would love to hear from you.

 

 Here is the article.

 

Telstra look’s cheap on a valuation model (see chart below), but is it a value trap?

The trouble with valuation models is that they rely on assumptions.  We are of the view that it is better for investors to spend time thinking about what is likely to alter the inputs of valuation models, such as margins and competition rather than finessing the model itself.

Telstra has a dominant market position, the best infrastructure in the country and receives high margins for its services and yet trades on a Price Earnings ratio on a historic basis of less than 9 times. 

The latest trading update from Telstra showed deteriorating earnings and falling margins.  The bright spot for Telstra was that free cash flow was at the upper end of forecasts, while earnings was at the low end.  The dividend at 22 cents per share for this year was confirmed, putting the stock on a juicy yield of over 7% fully franked. The dividend on a medium term view however is under a cloud, particularly once the one off NBN payments stop.  It is important for investors to look beyond todays yield and to concentrate on the future earnings of Telstra in order to determine value.

Telstra earns most of its money from broadband and mobile divisions, so it is critical that investors understand what is happening in these divisions well.

The core earnings of the Mobile division are under pressure.  After years of customers flooding to Telstra’s mobile network, a recapitalised Vodafone is growing market share and TPG will turn on their network later in 2018, initially offering free service for 6 months and then offering plans at a jaw dropping rate of $9.99 per month.  Average revenue per user in Telstra’s mobile division is around $65 per month today, but TPG and other competitors are likely to force this to below $50 per month according to analysts at Intelligent Investor. Telstra currently enjoys margins from its mobile business of around 40% but this margin as well as customer numbers are under threat.  

The NBN offers no comfort for Telstra share holders either, as around 180 NBN resellers are fighting for market share.  The economic model of the NBN looks challenged, but even if access charges to NBN resellers were to fall, there is no certainty that the price cut to access charges would improve margins, or simply be competed away.  As the NBN grows it transforms Telstra from an asset owner into a reseller.

5G, which is to be launched next year, potentially makes parts of the NBN redundant according to several institutional investors.  That is a potential positive for Telstra as they would receive income directly from their 5G customers, most likely at a higher margin than reselling the NBN.  The unknowable question however is how much will Telstra need to spend to buy 5G spectrum.  

Roger Montgomery from Montgomery Investment Management currently believes the ability for Telstra management to cut costs is under-appreciated by the market.  Telstra has already announced cost savings of $1.5bn, but if larger savings can be made, this could help fill an earnings blackhole of around $3bn.

Telstra is an outstanding mobile operator with infrastructure advantages, but the risky thing is its ambition to offset declining broadband and mobile margins with a plan to become a global technology business.  If management can execute this strategy well, shareholders would be rewarded, but it carries material execution risk.  

Telstra management plan to provide a critical update to the market during June 2018 about their future plans for business.

It seems that there is universal agreement that Telstra’s earnings decline in the foreseeable future. So despite the share price having some valuation appeal we are likely to wait until the June update from management before making our next move.

Souce: Skaffold

 

 

Why investors should take notice of rising bond rates

Are the Bond market ghosts of 1994 coming back to haunt, or is this as high as long term interest rates rise?  That’s unknowable at this stage, but investors should ensure their portfolio’s can weather rising interest rates.

Investment strategies that worked well while interest rates fell, are unlikely to be rewarded when rates rise.  

Long term interest rates, particularly the 10 Year US bond rate (also known as the risk free rate of return) is important to investors as an anchor point against which asset prices such as property and shares, are measured.  Generally speaking a higher long term interest rate results in lower asset prices, in the absence of earnings growth.

Future inflation expectations are filtering into long term interest rates following stronger than expected US wage growth in the first few months of 2018.  This has resulted in the total returns for Investment Grade (IG) bonds having their worst start to a year in 20 years.

Chart provided courtesy of Intelligent Investor

US 10 Year Rates have doubled since July 2016 from under 1.5% to currently around 3%.  This has seen long term bond prices fall (price of bonds fall as rates rise). Assets considered bond proxies including infrastructure and property have also come under pressure during this time.

Long term bonds, which feature in many investors portfolio’s under the labels of “Fixed Interest”, “Bond” or “Conservative” funds/ETF’s are vulnerable to rising interest rates, particularly those with longer duration.  While rising interest rates increase the income from bonds, rising rates can be devasting to the capital value of a bond portfolio owned in managed funds, ETF’s and super funds.  The chart below shows the capital destruction of US Bonds and Australian 10 Year bonds in the event of rates rising by 2% and 4% respectively from current levels.  Not exactly a defensive investment in a rising interest rate environment!

Source: Bloomberg

 

Bond proxies such as infrastructure and property are generally considered to be negatively impacted by rising long term rates, but caution is required before dismissing these assets during periods of rising rates.

Assets such as toll roads can offer some protection from rising inflation and increasing interest rates as toll revenue is usually linked to inflation.  Therefore rising inflation (which generally feeds higher interest rates) can result in material earnings growth for toll roads.  Citylink tolls as an example are linked to inflation.

Infrastructure businesses can see an increase in the cost of debt funding as rates rise, and these businesses generally carry high levels of debt.  While higher interest rates obviously increase the cost of debt servicing, good infrastructure businesses have used the extended period of low interest rates to secure long term debt at low rates which means that the impact of rising interest rates may not be seen for many years.   During 2017, Zurich Airport, raised debt for a 12 year term at 0.6214% interest. 

Property investors where rents are linked to CPI can offer some protection against rising inflation and rising rates, but there are some property sectors where rents are under pressure, such as retail property.

While clearly there are potential losers from rising interest rates, there are also potential winners.  Companies that hold large fixed interest portfolios of short duration, such as insurance companies stand to earn materially higher levels of investment income.  Computershare is another listed company in Australia whose earnings stand to benefit from rising rates from client funds it holds.

For other parts of the share market, rising company profits are the best defence against the negative valuation effects of rising rates.  Earnings growth for the ASX200 is forecast to remain at high single digits for financial years 2018 and 2019 (source Ausbil Roadshow) and Asian company earnings are forecast to grow at double digits this year.  This should cushion share prices against the valuation impact of rising rates.

With the unwinding of Quantitative Easing (money printing) in the US, and with the Euro region likely to follow suit soon, it seems that the interest rate environment has changed.  Investors should check their investment strategy is positioned for a rising interest rate environment.

Tuesday, 03 April 2018 15:58

Trump and Trade War Risks

Written by

Written by Shane Oliver - Chief Economist AMP

 

Introduction

After the calm of 2017, 2018 is proving to be anything but with shares falling in February on worries about US inflation, only to rebound and then fall again with markets back to or below their February low, notwithstanding a nice US bounce overnight. From their highs in January to their lows in the last few days, US and Eurozone shares have fallen 10%, Japanese shares are down 15% (not helped by a rise in the Yen), Chinese shares have fallen 12% and Australian shares have fallen 6%. So what’s driving the weakness and what should investors do?

What’s driving the weakness in shares?

The weakness in shares reflects ongoing worries about the Fed raising interest rates and higher bond yields, worries that President Trump’s tariff hikes will kick off a global trade war of retaliation and counter retaliation which will depress economic growth and profits, worries around President Trump’s team and the Mueller inquiry, rising short-term bank funding costs in the US and a hit to Facebook in relation to privacy issues weighing on tech stocks. The hit to Facebook is arguably stock specific so I will focus on the other bigger picture issues.

Should we be worried about the Fed?

Yes, but not yet. The risks to US inflation have moved to the upside as spare capacity continues to be used up and the lower $US adds to import prices. We continue to see the Fed raising rates four times this year and this will cause periodic scares in financial markets. However, the Fed looks to be tolerant of a small overshoot of the 2% inflation target on the upside and the process is likely to remain gradual and US monetary policy is a long way from being tight and posing a risk to US growth.

What’s the risk of a global trade war hitting growth?

In a nutshell, risk has gone up but is still low. This issue was kicked off by Trump’s tariffs on steel imports and aluminium and then went hyper when he proposed tariffs on imports from China and restrictions on Chinese investment into the US and China threatened to hit back. It looks scary and is generating a lot of noise, but an all-out trade war will likely be avoided.

First, the tariff hikes are small. The steel and aluminium tariffs relate to less than 1% of US imports once exemptions are allowed for and the tariffs on Chinese imports appear to relate to just 1.5% of total US imports. And a 25% tariff on $US50bn of imports from China implies an average tariff increase of 2.5% across all imports from China and just 0.375% across all US imports. This is nothing compared to the 20% Smoot Hawley tariff hike of 1930 and Nixon’s 10% tariff of 1971 that hit most imports. The US tariff hike on China would have a very minor economic impact – eg, maybe a 0.04% boost to US inflation and a less than 0.1% detraction from US and Chinese growth.

Second, President Trump is aiming for negotiation with China. So far the US tariffs on China are just a proposal. The goods affected are yet to be worked out and there will a period of public comment, so it could be 45 days before implementation. So, there is plenty of scope for US industry to challenge them and for a deal with China. Trump’s aim is negotiation with China and things are heading in this direction. Consistent with The Art of the Deal he is going hard up front with the aim of extracting something acceptable. Like we saw with his steel and aluminium tariffs, the initial announcement has since been softened to exempt numerous countries with the top four steel exporters to the US now excluded!

Third, just as the US tariffs on China are small so too is China’s retaliation of tariffs on just $US3bn of imports from the US, and it looks open to negotiation with Chinese Premier Li agreeing that China’s trade surplus is unsustainable, talking of tariff cuts and pledging to respect US intellectual property. While the Chinese Ambassador to the US has said “We are looking at all options”, raising fears China will reduce its purchases of US bonds, Premier Li actually played this down and doing so would only push the $US down/Renminbi up. It’s in China’s interest to do little on the retaliation front and to play the good guy.

Finally, a full-blown trade war is not in Trump’s interest as it will mean higher prices in Walmart and hits to US goods like Harleys, cotton, pork and fruit that will not go down well with his base and he likes to see a higher, not lower, share market.

As a result, a negotiated solution with China looks is the more likely outcome. That said, trade is likely to be an ongoing issue causing share market volatility in the run up to the US mid-term elections with Trump again referring to more tariffs and markets at times fearing the worst. So, while a growth threatening trade war is unlikely, we won’t see trade peace either.

Australia is vulnerable to a trade war between the US & China because 33% of our exports go to China with some turned into goods that go to US. The proposed US tariffs are unlikely to cause much impact on Australia as they only cover 2% of total Chinese exports. The impact would only be significant if there was an escalation into a trade war.

Should we worry about Trump generally?

Three things are worrying here. First, it’s a US election year and Trump is back in campaign mode and so back to populism. Second, Gary Cohn, Rex Tillerson and HR McMaster leaving his team and being replaced by Larry Kudlow, Mike Pompeo and John Bolton risk resulting in less market friendly economic and foreign policies (eg the resumption of Iran sanctions). Finally, the Mueller inquiry is closing in and the departure of John Dowd as Trump’s lead lawyer in relation to it suggests increasing tension. The flipside of course is that Trump won’t want to do anything that sees the economy weakening at the time of the mid-term elections. But it’s worth watching.

What about rising US short term money market rates?

During the global financial crisis, stress in money and credit markets showed up in a blowout in the spread between interbank lending rates (as measured by 3-month Libor rates) and the expected Fed Funds rate (as measured by the Overnight Indexed Swap) as banks grew reluctant to lend to each other with this ultimately driving a credit crunch. Since late last year the same spread has widened again from 10 basis points to around 58 points now. So far the rise in the US Libor/OIS spread is trivial compared to what happened in the GFC and it does not reflect credit stresses. Rather the drivers have been increased US Treasury borrowing following the lifting of the debt ceiling early this year, US companies repatriating funds to the US in response to tax reform and money market participants trying to protect against a faster Fed. So, it’s not a GFC re-run and funding costs should settle back down.



Source; Bloomberg, AMP Capital  

Is the US economy headed for recession?

This is the critical question. The historical experience tells us that slumps in shares tend to be shallower and/or shorter when there is no US recession and deeper and longer when there is. The next table shows US share market falls of 10% or greater. The first column shows the period of the fall, the second shows the decline in months, the third shows the percentage decline from top to bottom, the fourth shows whether the decline was associated with a recession or not, the fifth shows the gains in the share market one year after the low and the final column shows the decline in the calendar year associated with the share market fall. Falls associated with recessions are highlighted in red. Averages are shown for the whole period and for falls associated with recession at the bottom of the table. Share market falls associated with recession tend to last longer with an average fall lasting 16 months as opposed to 9 months for all 10% plus falls and be deeper with an average decline of 36% compared to an average of 17% for all 10% plus falls.

Our assessment remains that a US recession is not imminent:
 

  • The post-GFC hangover has only just faded with high levels of confidence driving investment and consumer spending.
  • US monetary conditions are still easy. The Fed Funds rates of 1.5 - 1.75% is still well below nominal growth of just over 4%. The yield curve is still positive, whereas recessions are normally preceded by negative yield curves.
  • Tax cuts and increased public spending are likely to boost US growth at least for the next 12 months.
  • We have not seen the excesses – debt, overinvestment, capacity constraints or inflation – that precede recessions.


We have not seen the excesses – debt, overinvestment, capacity constraints or inflation – that precede recessions.


Falls associated with recessions are in red. Source: Bloomberg, AMP Capital.

What should investors do?

Sharp market falls are stressful for investors as no one likes to see the value of their wealth decline. But I don’t have a perfect crystal ball so from the point of sensible long-term investing:

First, periodic sharp setbacks in share markets are healthy and normal. Shares literally climb a wall of worry over many years with numerous periodic setbacks, but with the long-term trend providing higher returns than other more stable assets.

Second, selling shares or switching to a more conservative investment strategy or superannuation option after a major fall just locks in a loss. The best way to guard against selling on the basis of emotion after a sharp fall is to adopt a well thought out, long-term investment strategy and stick to it.

Third, when shares and growth assets fall they are cheaper and offer higher long-term return prospects. So the key is to look for opportunities that pullbacks provide.

Fourth, while shares may have fallen in value the dividends from the market haven’t. So the income flow you are receiving from a well-diversified portfolio of shares remains attractive.

Fifth, shares often bottom at the point of maximum bearishness. And investor confidence does appear to be getting very negative which is a good sign from a contrarian perspective.

Finally, turn down the noise. In periods of market turmoil, the flow of negative news reaches fever pitch. Which makes it very hard to stick to your well-considered long-term strategy let alone see the opportunities. So best to turn down the noise.

Mark Draper recently met with Andrew Clifford (Platinum Asset Management) to talk about the change in CEO at Platinum Asset Management and what it means for investors in Platinum funds.

Below is a podcast of the discussion and also a transcript.

 

 

 

 

Speakers:  Mark Draper (GEM Capital) and Andrew Clifford (Platinum Asset Management)

Mark:  Here with Andrew Clifford, Chief Investment Officer, or currently Chief Investment Officer of Platinum Asset Management, soon to be Chief Executive Officer of Platinum Asset Management.

Andrew, thanks for joining us.

Andrew:  Good morning. It’s good to be here.

Mark:  Shooting this in Adelaide, too, by the way. So, welcome to Adelaide, Andrew.

It was announced to the market recently that the joint founder of the business, alongside of you, Kerr Neilson, who is the current CEO of Platinum Asset Management is going to step down as CEO, still stay within the business.

I just want to talk about that this morning for our Platinum international investors.

Are you able to give us an overview? What does this actually mean for the business?

Andrew:  I think what people should understand is that we’ve built over the last 24 years, a very deep and experienced investment team. I think also it would be good for people to understand just exactly how the process works internally to understand the role, how Kerr’s changing role affects us.

Across that team, one of the things that we think if very important in coming up with investment ideas is that there’s a very thorough and constructive debate about investment ideas. If you put someone in the corner of a room and leave them to their own devices for four weeks to look at a company, on average through time, they’re not going to come up with good ideas, they’re going to miss things.

Part of our process is that the ideas, even from the very beginning, should we even be looking at this company or this industry, is something that is thoroughly debated all the way along.

We have five sector teams and also our Asia team. These are teams of sort of three to five people and they’re working away, coming up with ideas, debating them internally before they’d even presented to the portfolio managers for a potential purchase.

Then what happens is we have a meeting around that and you get all the portfolio managers for whom that is relevant and the idea is further debated and one of the things to understand about the process is we’re not trying to all come to some lovely agreement about whether this company is a good idea. We’re trying to work out what’s wrong with it.

Then ultimately, what happens after all of that, invariably there’s more questions to follow up and work to be done, but what happens is then each of the portfolio managers make their own independent decision on whether to buy that company or not.

The important role of the portfolio manager, as I see it, is everyone always thinks of them as these gurus who are making a decision about buying this stock or investing in this idea, and certainly they have that final responsibility. But I actually think their most important role is leading that discussion and debate.

Indeed, what happens in the places, that you can see that if an idea comes through to buy a certain company, if I buy it and Clay Smolinski doesn’t or Joe Lai doesn’t, when it’s an Asian stock, or Kerr does, but he buys 3% in the fund and I buy half a percent, there’s some kind of difference of opinion there that needs to be further debated and discussed. We have particular meetings where we do that.

I give this all as a background to say that there’s a very—

Mark:  It’s a bigger process.

Andrew:  —deep and proper process there.

Mark:  It’s not one person pulling the strings.

Andrew:  That’s right, absolutely. When it comes to Kerr and his role, Kerr will continue to be part of the investment team, he will continue to work away on investment ideas, which is his love. When you do this job, you’re never going to stop doing that.

He’ll still be there working away on this idea or that, as pleases him. Also, he will be looking at the ideas other people are putting forward because that’s what excites him.

He will still be part of our global portfolio manager’s meeting, which is the meeting of the most senior PMs, where we actually debate those ideas, where those differences of opinion are occurring amongst the PMs.

He’s still there going to be doing that and as Kerr would say, the demands of being a—of running a global portfolio, are not inconsequential in terms of the time and effort. What he is hoping to be doing is then being able to take that time where he doesn’t have to think about absolutely everything we’re doing to focus on what he believes are the really good ideas.

It is a change, but it may not be as significant as it sounds to people.

Mark:  I think the interesting thing from my perspective is that it’s not like Kerr is resigning from the company, selling all his shareholdings and just walking away. This is very much—sounds like a planned event. He is still going to be in the business, he’s just moving out of the CEO role so he can focus on the investment side and still remain contributing to the company. Is that…

Andrew:  Yeah, I mean, absolutely. Because I think it’s one of these things is that you, as I said, you can’t really retire from investing. You’re going to be doing it one way or the other. This is a great way for him to continue to do what he loves doing and it’s great for the rest of the organization to still have that input from him. It’s something that the younger members of the team will value because he will, as he does today, he’ll walk across the floor to talk to someone about what they’re working on and be quizzing them on that idea.

Because along with that idea, all those sort of more formal processes of how an idea comes to life, there’s also the discussions in the kitchen when you’re making a cup of tea and what have you.

He’s going to remain there as a full-time employee and part of the investment team.

Mark:  What’s he likely to do with his shareholding? Because he does own a significant amount of Platinum Asset Management. I think he said publicly in the press that he’s just retaining them. Is that—

Andrew:  Yes, so it’s hard for me to talk for him, so I can really only repeat what he has said, which is that I think at the moment there’s no intention to sell any of the stock at this stage.

Mark:  Going back to the funds for a second, what are the changes to the management of the funds and with a particular focus on the Platinum International Fund, which is the flagship fund, and also Platinum Asia. Probably the easiest one to start with is Platinum Asia.

Andrew:  Really, for Platinum Asia, there’s no changes in the management of that. Joe Lai has been running that in its entirety for a number of years now.

What you would expect with what we’ve done with Asia previously, with myself and Joe, when I used to run that, he started at 15% of the fund and progressively moved up to half and then the whole fund. That’s something—this is all part of both the development of individual members of the team and also building in that succession planning across the firm.

While there’s no intention to change that today, at some point in the future, you would expect that we will bring in another portfolio manager to run a small part of that fund and then build that up through time.

Mark:  I think that’s really interesting because Joe started out having a smaller amount of that fund, got built up, and then is now running all of it. The Platinum International Fund is not too dissimilar to that, in that Clay Smolinski, who has been with Platinum for quite some considerable time and is a very high quality investor, he’s currently managing 10% of the Platinum International Fund.

Andrew:  Yes.

Mark:  What’s going to change in that respect?

Andrew:  Clay’s also been running the un-hedged fund for a number of years now.

Mark:  Which has performed really, really well.

Andrew:  It’s performed very well, as the European Fund did, or continued to, even after Clay left, but is also—he did a very good job running that.

What’s going to happen is Clay will take 30% of that fund and what you again might expect at some point in the future, that is a third portfolio manager will be brought in there. One of the reasons for not doing that—a lot of people ask us why we’re not doing that today and it’s simply that these types of changes now, five years ago, didn’t attract a lot of attention, these days, the research houses are very focused on these changes. We’ve already given them quite a bit to think about in the last month. So, rather than make yet another change at that point, we want to leave that for a point in the future.

But people might be interested, across the range of our funds, that besides moving to that 30%, we will essentially bring—

Mark:  And then you manage 70%?

Andrew:  I manage 70%.

Mark:  You’re currently managing around half?

Andrew:  40.

Mark:  40, so you got a lot and so does Clay.

Andrew:  But some of our other funds that are similar mandates, this is not so much relevant for Australian investors, but our offshore uses product will also be 70/30. I will take over the management of Platinum Capital, whereas Clay will take over the management of—

Mark:  Platinum Capital being the listed investment company?

Andrew:  Listed investment company, yes.

Mark:  We have some invested in it.

Andrew:  But then also there are funds, the Platinum Global, which is the in fund, that its mandate is much more similar to the un-hedge fund, so Clay will take over that.

Mark:  Right.

Andrew:  They’ll be changes in other funds as well.

Mark:  Yeah. You touched on research houses. One of the things—and this is probably more relevant for Platinum Asset Management investors, rather than investors of the funds, but it strikes me that one of the key things is what the research houses say about you in their capacity as acting as a gatekeeper between you and financial advisors, like us.

What’s been the reaction of the research houses, Morningstar, Lonsec, etc.? What’s their reaction been to this, Andrew?

Andrew:  As you can imagine, we were on the phone to them, in for a meeting within 24 hours.

Mark:  You’re very much on the front foot, I must say, with that.

Andrew:  Yes. Both Morningstar and Zenith have reaffirmed the writings across our fund, so there’s been no change there. I don’t really want to speak for them either. They’re very independent in their views and their positions can be read. But essentially, I think, this was not unexpected in their minds and they’ve reaffirmed those writings, but as always, they’re watching carefully to see how we go.

Mark:  As always.

Andrew:  As it stands today, while we’ve had feedback from Lonsec, we don’t know what their final decision is at this stage.

Mark:  I do know Morningstar were out in the press last week, I think, saying they think that the management of Platinum Funds just continues as is. They were actually quite supportive in the press.

Andrew:  Yes. And I think that came on the back of the one that had that we won the Morningstar, not just the fund manager, the International Fund of the Year, but we also got the Fund Manager of the Year Award, which means that’s won against the entire, you know, all comers who are doing product across the range. And they assured me that was decided before any of the decisions anyway, but it was actually very nice timing to win that at that point for the organization and the investment team because it really recognizes what has been a period of very strong performance.

Mark:  Yes.

Andrew:  After a period where actually we didn’t think our performance was that poor, but in a relative sense, we had lagged the market for a while, by a very small margin, but I think that it was very nice to win that aware at that point.

Mark:  Absolutely.

Andrew:  We stuck to doing things the way we’re doing and the end result has been good. As I say, I’m not one to normally get too excited about awards, but it was a lovely time to get it and at this point in time as well.

Mark:  Congratulations, by the way for that. The track record, so Clay and yourself are running the flagship fund. There’s no changes to Platinum Asia. The track record of Clay and you has been really good over a long, long period of time. Are you able to provide any context around that? I know that’s actually a hard question.

Andrew:  This is the thing, I go back to where we started and talk about the process that is there, and I don’t want to take away from Clay’s excellent record, but here’s the thing, over our 24 years of history, we’ve had 14 different portfolio managers running money. Every one of them, their long-term record was one of out performance. That’s quite extraordinary. I don’t think you find that many easily, in any market.

Now, of those 14, 10 are still with us. 2 of them were other founders who have stepped aside. But I look at this say, this is the system. If I have a flippant response to people when they worry so much about the role of the portfolio manager because if I’m sitting here, I have 30 people in the office bringing me great ideas. If they only bring me great ideas, because they’re well thought through and well argued out,  then all I need to do is buy every one of them or flip a coin and buy every second one, whatever it is.

Now, there’s more to it than that. But the job of running money becomes easy when you’re supported by a strong team.

Mark:  The main message really here is that. This is very much a team business and it’s a big team. You’re probably one of the deepest teams in the country, in international equities.

Andrew:  I think in the country, very easily and across probably all investment teams in terms of depth of experience and what have you, I mean, there will be other people globally who have similar histories.

But, you know, I think the thing that we see when we talk to clients overseas, is that the things that differentiate us very strongly, not any one of these things, but a collection of all of them, is that we’ve been going for a while, 24 years. We’re managing a substantial sum of money with 27-odd billion Australian dollars. Very defined investment approach and extraordinarily deep team, and a long-term record of out performance. You’ll find that people who have got four of the five or three of the five, but there aren’t many.

What I should say, I think one of the things that stands out with overseas clients is when we say we construct our portfolios independently of the MSCI Index, is that we genuinely do. There are many other people who say they do.

Mark:  Say they do and they don’t. [Laughs]

Andrew:  But they still end up with—and some of those who’ve got great records, but they still end up with 45% in the U.S., even though they say they’re not doing that, which interests us. We genuinely are—

Mark:  You’re true to label though, aren’t you? You’re very much true to label. What you say you’re going to do, you do.

Andrew:  We do. I think that maybe sometimes in Australia that’s not valued quite as much as it could be because we’ve been around a long time and people know us. But I think it is—there’s no one else we know of that can show all those attributes.

Mark:  Our position, Andrew, is that we know the depth of your management team at Platinum Asset Management, and you individually have been managing that team for the last five years officially, I believe, in any case.

Andrew:  Officially, yes. Unofficially, for longer than that. [Laughs]

Mark:  Yeah, that’s right. [Laughs] From our perspective, nothing has really changed other than it’s a change of role for Kerr, but he’s still in the business. We’re still positive on Platinum Funds, clearly.

Have you got any last thing that you would like to say for our Platinum investors or PTM shareholders?

Andrew:  I think the other thing that people ask about is, I’m taking on this additional role of CEO and what are the—how much of a workload, how does that—I guess the fair concern is how does that detract from the investing side of things?

Again, I think that not everyone will be aware of just how strongly our organization, that investment team is supported by the other functions. Liz Norman, who was there on day one and I think most clients and financial planners in this country know her. I make the joke, I walked into the Morningstar Awards and everyone is saying, “Hi, Liz. Who are you?”

Mark:  [Laughs]

Andrew:  But you know, he’s run all of that part of the business for 24 years, does an extraordinary job. On the other parts of the business, the accounting, legal, compliance, tax, we had a great founding CFO, Malcolm Halstead. He left the business a few years ago, but he built an extraordinary team of people. There’s all these boring things people wouldn’t know about, portfolio accounting and registry, but these are very important functions because when they go wrong, they can create havoc and they can cost—well, they never cost the clients money but they’ll cost—

Mark:  They cost the business and it’s a management distraction.

Andrew:  It costs the business money and a lot of distraction and we have an incredibly strong team there, now led very well by Andrew Stannard, our current CFO.

When it comes to the role of CEO, the reality is that Liz and Andrew and their teams, they run the business. We want an investment person as CEO because ultimately the CEO makes the final, critical decision on important things and we want those decisions taken from a perspective of is this going to impact the investment process? You can have all these great ideas, we should have this product, we should do this, we should open an office in New York, we can have all the great ideas in the world, but ultimately, they need to be run through the filter of how does this impact the way the investment team functions.

All of those things, those sort of decisions, can impact and hurt that and that’s why I’ve taken on that role. In reality, yeah, there will be times where there’s more to do, but in fact, the way it’s worked, is Kerr and I have already long divided those responsibilities. So, most of the accounting and compliance-type discussions where it’s come through to the management committee, which is Andrew Stannard, Liz, Kerr, and myself, they’ve tended to be my area and Kerr is focused more on the client side of the business. I’ve been part of those discussions for 24 years, so it’s not like I have to all of a sudden get on top of, or how does this work or how does that work? I’ve been there the whole time.

There will be some time into that, but I don’t believe that it will be substantial.

Mark:  Good answer. Andrew, all the best for the new role as CEO and I know you’ve been there forever [laughs], so all the best for the transition. Thanks very much for making the time to talk to us about it.

Andrew:  Thank you.

[End of Audio]

Transcription by Fiverr.com bethfys

We are planning to add Montgomery Investment Management to our recommended list of investments early in 2018.  In particular we are impressed by their Global Investment team who have had an impressive track record since the fund began a few years ago.

The Montgomery Global Fund is listing on the ASX on 20th December 2017 and is a portfolio of high quality global companies aiming to pay a half yearly income distribution of 4.5%pa.  We will have further details on this fund in the new year.

In the meantime, here is a sample of how Montgomery Investment Management think about investing in a comprehensive report that makes excellent reading over the Festive Season.  The articles are written by the investment team at Montgomery Investment Management, rather than a marketing spin doctor and are very informative. 

 

To read the report simply click on the picture of the report below.

Some of the content in this edition include:

1. How the changes in the $AUD impact global facing businesses

2. Why do Montgomery's own Facebook

3. Should you own Wesfarmers?

And many more articles.

 

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