Mark Draper

Mark Draper

Bell Potter have produced a special report on developments of COVID-19 focussing on the virus itself with particular reference to Europe and the US.

The report looks at infection rates and death rates, comparing the first and second waves.

The analysis considers the likelihood of reaching herd immunity.  Complete with statistics and graphs the report is designed to assist investors reach their own conclusions about what may be in store for the world with COVID-19.

Download your copy of the report by clicking on the report below.

 

Friday, 04 September 2020 09:05

Best of the Best - August 2020

The Investment Team at Montgomery Investments have produced their bi-monthly "Best of the Best" report.

This edition focuses on:

- Why it's time to focus on quality businesses

- Optum - Hidden GEM in US Healthcare

- Nanosonics has a long runway for growth

- Three reasons we continue to like Woolworths

 

Download your copy of the report by clicking on the report below.

 

Friday, 04 September 2020 08:56

What we learned from reporting season

The only thing certain about the future right now is that the future is uncertain.  So as we complete one of the strangest company reporting seasons we have ever seen, investors should reflect on the company profit announcements to see what they can learn about what may lie ahead 

Matt Williams (Portfolio Manager, Airlie Funds Management) says that while overall profits were down 20% compared to the previous year, the dire predictions in late March proved to be too bearish and there are now more profit upgrades than downgrades.  He said “The economy has strongly outperformed the accepted bearish scenarios of late March, retailers have produced phenomenal numbers”.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has not been uniformly bad for all Australian companies.  Travel related companies and listed property trusts with shopping centre assets have had a tough 6 months, while electrical retailer JB Hifi, hardware and office retailer Wesfarmers, AfterPay and Domino’s Pizza all saw record revenue over the past 6 months, benefitting from consumers being quarantined at home” according to Hugh Dive (Senior Portfolio Manager, Atlas Funds Management).

Nathan Bell (Head of Research & Portfolio Management, Investsmart) picked up on the travel sector which saw airlines and travel retailers at the epicentre of the COVID-19 storm.  “You could hear the desperation in Alan Joyce’s voice as he pleaded for state borders to reopen after announcing a $4bn loss”.  Bell also highlighted the almost 100% drop in passenger numbers since COVID-19 emerged for listed Sydney and Auckland airports.  He is of the view that leisure travel ultimately recovers and even if business travel only recovers to 70% of past highs due to a permanent shift to online meetings, both airports represent good value at current prices.  “People are once again going on holidays in the northern hemisphere, which is another good omen for this pair of airports.  Vietnam, Taiwan and Korea recently reopened their domestic borders and passenger numbers are now 10 – 20% above 2019 levels, suggesting pent up demand” he adds in support of the investment case for a rebound in airports.

Food and alcohol retailers (such as Woolworths and Coles) reported solid results as they benefitted from changing consumer purchase patterns, but they now trade at huge valuations.  Their valuations suggest future returns are likely to be far more muted if not negative should the impact of Job Keeper payments and people raiding their super funds wear off.

Dive points to the fact that “cash flows from the government were a significant feature of the August results season, albeit one that was understandably not highlighted by management when they presented their results.  JobKeeper and higher JobSeeker payments have helped companies such as JB Hifi and Afterpay as cash flows from the Government have supported retail sales despite the significant rise in unemployment”.  Investors would be wise to resist extrapolating the impact of these Government payments over the past 6 months into the future.

While the Telco sector reported earnings hits from lower global roaming charges and reduced retail sales during lockdowns, the 5G networks will cover the majority of the population in the next 12 months which represents revenue growth opportunities.  More rational mobile pricing should also help the Telco’s.

Banks reported much lower profits due to a mix of low credit growth, low interest squeezing margins and increasing bad debts.  Bell says of the banks “the bull case for Australia’s largest banks rests on them trading at large premiums to book value despite reporting single digit return on equity figures.  If this happens, Australia will be the exception to the rest of the world.  We don’t see why Australian banks are an exception as more people deleverage in the years ahead and property investors look beyond property for large capital gains”.  Ultimately the loan repayment deferrals will also need to be bought to account as well.

Williams said that in his discussions with company management, the key themes about the future were:

-       What happens at the end of the Government stimulus where retailers would appear most exposed.  

-       Opening up of state borders

-       Economic reform

With around 70% of companies either not issuing future earnings guidance or withdrawing earnings guidance, coupled with some market sectors trading on extremely high valuations, the job of assessing investment value is difficult.  The best opportunities ahead are less likely to be found in this years’ reporting season stars.  

 

This article was published in the Australian Financial Review during the month of September 2020.

Friday, 04 September 2020 08:48

What we learned from reporting season

The only thing certain about the future right now is that the future is uncertain.  So as we complete one of the strangest company reporting seasons we have ever seen, investors should reflect on the company profit announcements to see what they can learn about what may lie ahead 

Matt Williams (Portfolio Manager, Airlie Funds Management) says that while overall profits were down 20% compared to the previous year, the dire predictions in late March proved to be too bearish and there are now more profit upgrades than downgrades.  He said “The economy has strongly outperformed the accepted bearish scenarios of late March, retailers have produced phenomenal numbers”.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has not been uniformly bad for all Australian companies.  Travel related companies and listed property trusts with shopping centre assets have had a tough 6 months, while electrical retailer JB Hifi, hardware and office retailer Wesfarmers, AfterPay and Domino’s Pizza all saw record revenue over the past 6 months, benefitting from consumers being quarantined at home” according to Hugh Dive (Senior Portfolio Manager, Atlas Funds Management).

Nathan Bell (Head of Research & Portfolio Management, Investsmart) picked up on the travel sector which saw airlines and travel retailers at the epicentre of the COVID-19 storm.  “You could hear the desperation in Alan Joyce’s voice as he pleaded for state borders to reopen after announcing a $4bn loss”.  Bell also highlighted the almost 100% drop in passenger numbers since COVID-19 emerged for listed Sydney and Auckland airports.  He is of the view that leisure travel ultimately recovers and even if business travel only recovers to 70% of past highs due to a permanent shift to online meetings, both airports represent good value at current prices.  “People are once again going on holidays in the northern hemisphere, which is another good omen for this pair of airports.  Vietnam, Taiwan and Korea recently reopened their domestic borders and passenger numbers are now 10 – 20% above 2019 levels, suggesting pent up demand” he adds in support of the investment case for a rebound in airports.

Food and alcohol retailers (such as Woolworths and Coles) reported solid results as they benefitted from changing consumer purchase patterns, but they now trade at huge valuations.  Their valuations suggest future returns are likely to be far more muted if not negative should the impact of Job Keeper payments and people raiding their super funds wear off.

Dive points to the fact that “cash flows from the government were a significant feature of the August results season, albeit one that was understandably not highlighted by management when they presented their results.  JobKeeper and higher JobSeeker payments have helped companies such as JB Hifi and Afterpay as cash flows from the Government have supported retail sales despite the significant rise in unemployment”.  Investors would be wise to resist extrapolating the impact of these Government payments over the past 6 months into the future.

While the Telco sector reported earnings hits from lower global roaming charges and reduced retail sales during lockdowns, the 5G networks will cover the majority of the population in the next 12 months which represents revenue growth opportunities.  More rational mobile pricing should also help the Telco’s.

Banks reported much lower profits due to a mix of low credit growth, low interest squeezing margins and increasing bad debts.  Bell says of the banks “the bull case for Australia’s largest banks rests on them trading at large premiums to book value despite reporting single digit return on equity figures.  If this happens, Australia will be the exception to the rest of the world.  We don’t see why Australian banks are an exception as more people deleverage in the years ahead and property investors look beyond property for large capital gains”.  Ultimately the loan repayment deferrals will also need to be bought to account as well.

Williams said that in his discussions with company management, the key themes about the future were:

-       What happens at the end of the Government stimulus where retailers would appear most exposed.  

-       Opening up of state borders

-       Economic reform

With around 70% of companies either not issuing future earnings guidance or withdrawing earnings guidance, coupled with some market sectors trading on extremely high valuations, the job of assessing investment value is difficult.  The best opportunities ahead are less likely to be found in this years’ reporting season stars.  

 

This article was published in the Australian Financial Review during the month of September 2020.

Monday, 10 August 2020 14:03

Sustainable returns from Telco sector

Telecommunication companies (Telcos) have been central to many of our activities during the COVID-19 crisis, ranging from virtual wine tasting nights with friends, working from home, Netflix binges or simply ringing family.

In recent years Telco’s have been challenging for investors with falling margins from mobiles and the NBN crushing broadband margins.  The worst of this may be behind the sector now and investors are now presented with an investment opportunity that may be COVID-19 proof.

An investment into a Telco company typically involves two main segments, infrastructure and retail/business operations which includes broadband, mobiles and services. .  

In Australia the three major players are Telstra, Optus and TPG which recently merged with Vodafone.  Telstra and TPG are listed on the ASX.

According to Andrew Peros (Deputy Head of Research, Ausbil) “infrastructure is probably the most attractive on the assumption that it can be successfully separated from the retail assets.  Telecommunications infrastructure provides a long term steady cash flow which is highly valued by the market.  Unfortunately, in Australia, there are no pure play communication tower investments.  Telstra’s communications infrastructure are currently part of the overall business and have not yet been demerged as a separate business, similarly with TPG’s cable infrastructure”

That may be about to change following a restructure announced last year which resulted in Telstra splitting its infrastructure assets into a separate business segment called InfraCo.  InfraCo consists of exchanges, ducts, data centres, subsea cables, fibre and 8,000 towers that host networking equipment.

Towers and other parts of InfraCo currently generate revenue from servicing Telstra alone.  If this division were separated from Telstra, these assets could increase revenue by servicing other Telcos.  A tower that currently services only Telstra could service all three mobile networks.  Competitors would have to supply their own networking gear, but the infrastructure owner could earn three times as much revenue. Mobile network towers are a natural monopoly and it makes little sense to duplicate a network once it has been constructed.  We don’t duplicate water pipes or electricity wires and the same can apply to mobile towers. This is an important opportunity for investors to grasp.

Annabel Riggs (Telco Analyst, Airlie Funds Management) is “attracted to the mobiles market, with the sector transitioning into a more rational pricing environment after a period of intense competition between network operators.  We are beginning to see evidence of a more rational market with Telstra lifting prices a couple of weeks ago across its post paid mobile plans.  This is positive for earnings and returns.”

5G is the next battle ground for the Telco’s.  Riggs believes that “network operators will selectively compete with the NBN in some areas by using a fixed wireless product.  The margins and returns on this product work if the customers are relatively low usage.  We have seen in New Zealand that about 20% of their broadband base is now on Fixed Wireless and bypassing their own version of the NBN.”

Peros adds “telcos are likely to hesitate on fixed wireless if competition between operators is expected to lower returns on capital, and there is a risk in Government support firming to protect the value of the NBN.”

Government regulation would seem one of the key risks to investing in the Telco sector.  The relatively high access costs the NBN charges the telco resellers for broadband is a good example.  Riggs points out that the NBN has improved its pricing model however the total cost of accessing the NBN for telcos is still much higher than the copper network.  The higher access costs to the NBN has put huge pressure on earnings of the telco sector.

The decision to ban Huawei from providing 5G equipment in Australia was another big decision.  Huawei was a lower cost equipment provider which will ultimately increase expenditure for TPG which was planning their 5G build around Huawei equipment.

Peros flags the economies of scale in a geographically large country with a small population as another important risk.  

Investors should also pay attention to some interesting new entrants.  Riggs points to Uniti Group who has recently acquired Opticom as having an interesting opportunity to challenge the large players in the fibre market.  Peros likes NextDC which owns data centres which will benefit from the increased demand for data now that a greater proportion of the workforce are working from home.

It would seem that Telco’s revenues are largely COVID-19 proof, but the growth story could come from the demerging of infrastructure and new entrants.

This article was published in the Australian Financial Review online on Monday 3rd August 2020

Note:  Mark Draper, Shannon Corcoran and their entities own shares in TPG and Telstra.

Monday, 10 August 2020 13:52

Sustainable returns from Telco sector

Telecommunication companies (Telcos) have been central to many of our activities during the COVID-19 crisis, ranging from virtual wine tasting nights with friends, working from home, Netflix binges or simply ringing family.

In recent years Telco’s have been challenging for investors with falling margins from mobiles and the NBN crushing broadband margins.  The worst of this may be behind the sector now and investors are now presented with an investment opportunity that may be COVID-19 proof.

An investment into a Telco company typically involves two main segments, infrastructure and retail/business operations which includes broadband, mobiles and services. .  

In Australia the three major players are Telstra, Optus and TPG which recently merged with Vodafone.  Telstra and TPG are listed on the ASX.

According to Andrew Peros (Deputy Head of Research, Ausbil) “infrastructure is probably the most attractive on the assumption that it can be successfully separated from the retail assets.  Telecommunications infrastructure provides a long term steady cash flow which is highly valued by the market.  Unfortunately, in Australia, there are no pure play communication tower investments.  Telstra’s communications infrastructure are currently part of the overall business and have not yet been demerged as a separate business, similarly with TPG’s cable infrastructure”

That may be about to change following a restructure announced last year which resulted in Telstra splitting its infrastructure assets into a separate business segment called InfraCo.  InfraCo consists of exchanges, ducts, data centres, subsea cables, fibre and 8,000 towers that host networking equipment.

Towers and other parts of InfraCo currently generate revenue from servicing Telstra alone.  If this division were separated from Telstra, these assets could increase revenue by servicing other Telcos.  A tower that currently services only Telstra could service all three mobile networks.  Competitors would have to supply their own networking gear, but the infrastructure owner could earn three times as much revenue. Mobile network towers are a natural monopoly and it makes little sense to duplicate a network once it has been constructed.  We don’t duplicate water pipes or electricity wires and the same can apply to mobile towers. This is an important opportunity for investors to grasp.

Annabel Riggs (Telco Analyst, Airlie Funds Management) is “attracted to the mobiles market, with the sector transitioning into a more rational pricing environment after a period of intense competition between network operators.  We are beginning to see evidence of a more rational market with Telstra lifting prices a couple of weeks ago across its post paid mobile plans.  This is positive for earnings and returns.”

5G is the next battle ground for the Telco’s.  Riggs believes that “network operators will selectively compete with the NBN in some areas by using a fixed wireless product.  The margins and returns on this product work if the customers are relatively low usage.  We have seen in New Zealand that about 20% of their broadband base is now on Fixed Wireless and bypassing their own version of the NBN.”

Peros adds “telcos are likely to hesitate on fixed wireless if competition between operators is expected to lower returns on capital, and there is a risk in Government support firming to protect the value of the NBN.”

Government regulation would seem one of the key risks to investing in the Telco sector.  The relatively high access costs the NBN charges the telco resellers for broadband is a good example.  Riggs points out that the NBN has improved its pricing model however the total cost of accessing the NBN for telcos is still much higher than the copper network.  The higher access costs to the NBN has put huge pressure on earnings of the telco sector.

The decision to ban Huawei from providing 5G equipment in Australia was another big decision.  Huawei was a lower cost equipment provider which will ultimately increase expenditure for TPG which was planning their 5G build around Huawei equipment.

Peros flags the economies of scale in a geographically large country with a small population as another important risk.  

Investors should also pay attention to some interesting new entrants.  Riggs points to Uniti Group who has recently acquired Opticom as having an interesting opportunity to challenge the large players in the fibre market.  Peros likes NextDC which owns data centres which will benefit from the increased demand for data now that a greater proportion of the workforce are working from home.

It would seem that Telco’s revenues are largely COVID-19 proof, but the growth story could come from the demerging of infrastructure and new entrants.

This article was published in the Australian Financial Review online on Monday 3rd August 2020

Note:  Mark Draper, Shannon Corcoran and their entities own shares in TPG and Telstra.

Saturday, 08 August 2020 08:44

COVID-19 - Vaccine Progress

 

Transcript of interview with Bianca Ogden - COVID 19 - July 2020

Bianca Ogden Healthcare Portfolio Manager – Platinum Asset Management

Speakers:  GEM Capital, Bianca Ogden, Douglas Isles

Gem Capital:  We’re here today with Douglas Isles and Bianca Ogden from Platinum Asset Management, talking about COVID-19. Douglas, I’ll hand over to you to introduce Bianca formally first.

Douglas:  Thanks, Mark. Bianca, Dr. Bianca Ogden, in fact, is our Healthcare Analyst and Portfolio Manager here at Platinum. Bianca joined the company back in 2003, so she’s been with us for 17 years looking at the sector and managing money. But more interestingly is Bianca’s background prior to that and most appropriately, given the times that we’re in, Bianca worked as a virologist looking at HIV and cancer research in companies such as J&J and Novartis prior to joining Platinum. Bianca brings real world, real industry expertise, and that’s what really gives us an edge in both understanding the sector and today, more importantly, understanding what’s going on with COVID-19.

I’ll hand back to you, Mark, and I think you’ve got some questions for Bianca today.

Gem Capital:  That’s great and thanks for your time. Bianca, thanks for joining us.

We’re talking about the virus today. One of the things that we hear through the media is that the virus has actually mutated at least once, which makes treatment for it and a vaccine difficult. Is that right or what’s your take on that?

Bianca:  Viruses mutate all the time. It just depends on where it mutates. So, when you look at what a virus looks like, it’s got basic like a shell, then it has different kind of spikes sitting on it. And those spikes basically help it to get into where it wants to get to. 

That’s a bit like the key/lock principle. Basically, the spike is the key and the lock sits on the cell where it wants to get in. 

Often, what happens is because over time the lock may not fit as well, or we know it from ourselves, this key, sometimes you have it worn out and then you have to get new ones. And it’s the same there, that this kind of key that sits on the virus tends to change a little bit, but it doesn’t really matter, because it still gets in. Sometimes it mutates towards getting in better. Sometimes it mutates to getting in not at all anymore. 

There’s different kind of pressures onto it and it’s a kind of normal evolution that happens.

Then there are other areas where it mutates, which may be a more kind of—could be more of an issue. But on the surface, on this spike, you will always see some mutation. There’s one mutation that basically looks like it may get into a cell easier. So, it may spread a little bit quicker. But it’s not something where a lot of people then say, “Well, we’ve got a therapeutic or a vaccine against that, it won’t work anymore.” That’s not the case.

Unless, you have to think about, it’s always nice when you see the schematic pictures of all of these things, but in reality, these are kind of three-dimensional structures, and that’s more important to a vaccine than actually little tiny bits. So, as long as it doesn’t keep mutating in this area and there are certain conditions that need to be in place, then you’re fine. 

But viruses mutate all the time. It just depends on where it is and what it does.

Gem Capital:  So, in terms of the mutation that’s taken place to date, has that given you cause for concern that a vaccine or treatment can’t be developed?

Bianca:  No, I don’t think so. I think at the moment, the only issues referring to something, I think DU146—correct me, I know it’s D-something—that’s the mutation that people talk about a lot at the moment.

But it’s more worrisome , so at the moment the  other thing, when you look at a vaccine, almost all vaccines that are currently in development go after this spike protein. Some go after it in just a certain shape or form, others go now after the MRA like the ones that Moderna and Biotech both go after the full length of this.

That’s as long as the confirmation is kept. As long as it doesn’t look like that it uses something else, some other lock where it wants to get in, you should be okay.

Now, by saying that, the way I look at vaccines is essentially you have a first wave, which is like the first generation, which is essentially, obviously, done very quickly. And then these companies will refine their approach. But what we’re seeing and from the speed that we’re seeing, they can refine that relatively quickly now, so if there is something, they will go back to the drawing board and do that again. That’s not the biggest problem.

When we look at therapeutics, personally I actually think the more interesting part of therapeutics is also again the next wave, which we’ll look at different enzymes that a virus uses to use the host machinery to replicate again. At the moment, most therapeutics go again after the surface, but I actually think there are some enzymes—there’s a couple of companies going after it—that will be much more interesting, which is essentially what we did with HIV. They will also try to go after the surface first because the internal one takes a little bit longer. But once we then had these drugs that go after the enzymes from the virus, we actually turned HIV, or AIDS, into a more chronic disease, where patients now take that lifelong therapy and are fine to continue living as normal. 

So, there’s different things going on, but at the moment, I think we are doing the best we can. Coronavirus isn’t known for these kind of escape mutants. So, that’s lucky for us and we’re seeing what happens. But yes, so far, so good.

Gem Capital:  One of the other things we hear in the media is if a person contracts COVID-19, whether or not they’re immune to catching it for a second time, what’s your perspective on that?

Bianca:  It depends on what you define the time of immunity. So, when you look at—and as a rule, you should always go back to what—so, viruses belong usually to families. So, this particular virus belongs to the Coronavirus family. You then basically look at other members of that family and see, maybe we know a little bit more about them. 

There’s four of them around which cause the common cold. We get the common cold quite frequently, really. That means that we’re not immune for a long time.

Now, is that the same for that? I don’t know. But that’s kind of my base assumption. 

The question now is, obviously, what we’ve seen what the virus does, some people get very sick, others don’t feel it at all. There is obviously some immune response that prevents them from getting really sick and there’s some discussion about is that—have they already had a very strong immune response to other Coronaviruses and  they react better.

I think you will be immune for some time, but I don’t think we will be immune like we are when we get a measles or chicken pox. I don’t think that’s the case. I think Coronavirus is quite different than that. 

That’s where my assumption comes in, where so what at the moment we have a pandemic and we’re going to have a pandemic vaccine, but this will actually be an endemic virus that will be around and it almost will be a franchise for a lot of these companies where they’ll then bring out Coronavirus vaccines and you have to get boosters. Like the flu vaccine, really.

The good thing, hopefully, will be that will also have therapies available, because there’s a lot more effort put into than into a flu therapeutic really.

Gem Capital:  Yes.

Bianca:  And that together will be franchises that will be with us for a long time. 

Gem Capital:  And we’ll get to where we are in the development part, in fact, seeing some treatments, in a second. 

The other question we had was:  What have you learned about COVID-19 in the last month or so that hasn’t been reported in the media?

Bianca:  Good point. I think one of the things that I’ve learnt—which is maybe not so much—it’s more the immune response to the virus and also how—it’s slowly coming into the press, is how doctors have learnt about actually treating the disease, which is COVID-19. 

I think that is something, because initially we thought, look, it does something to our lungs. It’s like a  viral pneumonia  that’s what people thought that’s what it is.

But what we’re now learning is a lot of more of the immune effects the heart. It really has something to do with our circulation, without blood circulation. Doctors actually treat it quite differently, now they’re treated at the start of this disease. So, initially, everyone thought, oh yeah it a virus whatever. But what now, I think when you triage them, you look at them very quickly and see how is their oxygen saturation in the blood? What’s going on? Basically, a very, very different approach.

That’s something that I’ve learnt  over time, a lot, and then also, I think what I’ve learnt, which may not be scientific, but the supply chain of vaccines, how intense that is, and how many things have to go right. There’s one thing to do the vaccine itself, but the other part is getting a logistical undertaking and getting for example sand for making the glass vials, the stoppers to put in the syringes, the whole cold chain that we need. And all of that to put into pieces. It's not very scientific, but it’s something that you are not really aware.

Because at the same time, we’re obviously going into winter in the north hemisphere. They have to make sure they have the flu vaccine at the same time. So, all this capacity that you may have thought you have, you now have to double up or triple up to—you have to make all the other normal vaccines. All of that is a very interesting, fascinating area now to see how companies can mobilise that. 

But scientifically, it has been really about probably the virus itself, how interested—the virologists have always interested, how clever they are, they are so  kind of very, they are not very complex and have what they have, what they have on board, but they do have complex things that really hijack different things in a cell where they go into and that’s something that I’m not sure the popular press likes to look at this, but that’s something that I find quite fascinating because I can then look at, okay, who’s looking at targeting different enzymes that this virus brings along. That, to me, is not being talked about, but I find that will be very important in the next, I think, 6-12 months.

Gem Capital:  You mention the different treatment now, compared to from the start. What tangible results have come from that?

Bianca:  I think that the biggest thing is that we’re really trying to avoid blood clots. So, really looking at managing the blood and looking at that and really also looking at heart support straightaway and making sure that that’s there. 

Before it was very standard viral kind of lung disease and it was all about in the press about ventilation, ECMO, and all these names that everyone knows now. I think that that is still important, but ultimately, the quick looking at—when people at the start first came in to emergency and people thought, “Oh, yeah, you’ve got the virus,” think that they didn’t actually check the oxygen saturation. Now, that’s the first thing they check and do. There’s little things and it’s interesting, because it is a new disease, and I always, from the start, compared it to AIDS and HIV and it was the same that we are learning about, for doctors, what is this? How do I diagnose that? Or what are the things, what does this virus do? And so, yeah, it’s quite different.

Gem Capital:  Okay. So, looking toward vaccines now, my understanding—and I’m not a virologist—so, there’s three types of vaccines. Can you give us background on that and then we’ll move into to where we’re moving toward vaccine developments.

Bianca:  Yeah, sure. I think if you step back and basically say, “What does a vaccine have to do? What’s the idea?” The idea is to essentially prime the immune system. So, the immune system knows in advance what to do when this culprit, this bad thing comes and invades you. 

The best you can do is you basically show the immune system some parts, and either some part of the virus, or the whole virus in an attenuated like in a weakened form. That’s the basic idea of a vaccine.

What a lot of companies do today is they say, okay, we made the surface, which is obviously the first thing that the immune system sees, we make that artificially. That’s basically what several of these vaccines do. They do it in different ways, but it’s the same thing. They use the spike protein that sits on the surface of the virus and they make it artificially and then inject it.

The other part that some people believe is more effective, is where you basically use a weakened version of the original virus and you give it to the patient. So, it looks very natural, obviously, but it’s still not—it doesn’t cause the infection. So, that’s kind of the key thing that people do.

And then what you usually do, you add some kind of booster element that essentially just gives another spike to the immune system. Basically, come on, everyone, something is happening here. That’s basically the key thing.

Each of the companies that are out there have their own technology in how they produce, for example, the sub unit of the vaccine. One, obviously the fastest ones, have so far been these messenger RNA companies, because it’s much easier to make. Then you have others that make it, again, different shapes of whatever technology they have. They all claim they have some kind of way of alerting the immune system in a certain way.

The important part is our immune system has two arms. One is called the B-cell arm or the humoral arm and the other one is the innate T-cell response. One is the antibody, one is the T-cell. Ultimately, you want to have both. The debate at the moment is when does the T-cell response happen and which antibody response do we really need? Is it fading and what’s happening? There’s lots of debate happening among scientists at the moment and in the end, we will see, probably October, November, roughly, September, October, we will see the latest results of the Phase 3, which are much bigger trials in looking at all of that.

But that’s basically what the vaccines do. Then there’s a third one, I guess, to that, is where people make antibodies that they’re basically used as vaccines, which is not a vaccine, but it basically is imitating what the immune system would do if you just give it to them. For example, hepatitis A, that’s often done when you go on holiday, you just get this so it lasts for a couple of months. 

That is an option and I think that’s probably not as talked about at the moment, but I think—because we haven’t seen the data, but that’s going to come out. 

So, there’s various activities going on, but in the end, it’s all about telling the immune system, hey, this is going to come, and that’s when you have to mobilise the immune system.

Gem Capital:  Okay. There’s over 100 companies working on this from a vaccine perspective. Are you able to give us an overview of where things are at, at the moment, given that where this is coming the end of July, leading into August—

Bianca:  Yeah, I can give you—so, there’s lots of them. One of the clear differentiators is who’s got the money and who was able to mobilise a lot of money very, very quickly? The two that basically just on Monday have started Phase 3 is Moderna and BioNTech. Moderna is the US, BioNTech is in Germany. They do it together with Pfizer.  Both of them do these messenger RNA vaccines, so it’s a new platform that now has reached—the idea of this platform was, we can make vaccines much quicker, it’s much easier to scale, and will be cheaper. 

Now, I think the much quicker and the much faster to scale we’re seeing at the moment play out. I wouldn’t say that they won’t be much cheaper, but we’ll see. They have started. Pfizer was very clear about, so by October we will have the results and then we will move very quickly from there, if it’s positive.

So, those are the two in the race. Then we have the traditional, I guess, vaccine players, which is then you’ve got J&J and AstraZeneca, as traditional, but they both sit behind that and I think they’re basically moving into the next phase very quickly as well.

And then it gets a bit more interesting because you’ve got Sanofi there, a little bit. They’re trying to do different kind of ways of reducing these subunits  of the vaccine. One is MRA, the other one is a so-called baculovirus that they’re doing. It’s like an insect cell that produces then the subunit. They haven’t been as vocal at the moment, but they say they will have scale next year. Then you have a lot of hangers-on and a lot of different ones that are trying to do it.

There’s one particular one, Novavax, who is quite strongly supported by the US government. We’re waiting to see some data there.

I think when you then get down lower, it’s very hard to see where they all fit in. They can raise money at the moment, but when you look at the leaders, they’re basically raising money by the 500 million range, so that goes just very quickly.

When you then look at each of them as also to make sure where they get the finish and fill done, where they get basic manufacturing support. In Moderna’s case, for example, they’re using Lonza in Switzerland, as well as Catalent in the US, and then each of them has put their kind of partners out and that will help them to manufacture these kind of amounts that you need. We’re talking here billions of dosages, which is, again, a big undertaking.

Yeah, if you had the money and you move fast, you will get there obviously faster. It will be interesting to see what happens to the later stages. Is there a second wave? Is there a second generation that could go into that? I’m not sure. 

We’ve been focusing mainly, because we always liked the mRNA platform anyway, even before the pandemic, that was our idea, and so we always have also invested in our health funds in J&J as well. We have that so we’re not so much in the other. I’m probably more interested in the therapeutic approach now.

Gem Capital:  Right, okay. Those companies, Moderna, and I forget the name of the other one.

Bianca:  BioNTech, yeah.

Gem Capital:  So they’re in Phase 3 trials right now?

Bianca:  Yes.

Gem Capital:  How long are they expected to last? Because you’re talking really results by September, October, which would imply a very short Phase 3 trial.

Bianca:  Yes. So, I give you an example. There’s another German company called CureVac, it’s a German private company. They started their early stage clinical trials, also mRNA, not long ago in Germany. They said, “All we’re going to need is 160 people in our first Phase 1 trial,” and they essentially did that almost within a day because they had about 2,000, I think between 2-3,000 people line up at the hospital in the morning on day one.

And if we’re looking at now, so, this week, Moderna reckons they already had 200,000, so they want to recruit 30,000. They already had 200,000 people wanting to enrol. 

The demand is there, you now just have to logistically inject them all. There will be one injection and then another one. So, I think they will enrol them quickly, and it then depends on—so, these are event-driven results basically, so you just have to wait till these people either get sick, or hopefully not get sick. But that’s basically what we see.

Look, they recruited very quickly, we’ve never seen this before. But yeah, there is demand out there and I was just looking at BioNTech and Pfizer, so Moderna only recruits in the US, BioNTech and together with Pfizer, they’re recruiting in over 38 countries. So, I haven’t really figured out whether there’s one in Australia, because I  would probably go and get injected. But so I haven’t found—I’ve got to send a friend  an email and ask if there are any centres here, but yeah, I think they—it’s remarkable speed that they’ve got to move.

Gem Capital:  Typically how long would a Phase 3 trial last for normally? Just for perspective.

Bianca:  It depends. It depends.

Gem Capital:  Okay. 

Bianca:  Let’s say you have a cardiovascular trial or diabetic trial that goes on at least 10,000, 15,000 people, that can be several years. That depends. If you look at an event, for example, whether a cardiovascular event or something, that will take a lot longer, several years. It really depends. Final trials are a bit faster because you have very clear end points. You can detect the virus, where with a cardiac event or stroke or whatever, it’s a bit different.

Yeah, those things—I think where are we at? July, they’re definitely—I’m not sure. I haven’t really figured out if they potentially—if they have some interim analysis and it’s a 15,000-event or whatever, there could be something like that where they could speed it up.

But the bigger issue is, the problem you’re going to have is, let’s say these companies come out and say in September, “Oh, yeah, it all works well,” and then they say, “But sorry, we don’t have enough doses for everyone, so please bear with us.” So, they have to make sure that that’s timed almost perfectly. We’re seeing at the moment that the governments are pre-purchasing and doing that. So, yeah. 

It's very fascinating how an industry has mobilised while working from home in such a way so that it’s quite remarkable.

Gem Capital:  So, a hypothetical question on a vaccine, let’s say Moderna’s vaccine works and the Phase 3 trial comes out perfectly in September/October, when do you think people would expect to be able to be vaccinated after that?

Bianca:  I think the US would want it the day after the trial ends. 

Gem Capital:  Just before the election! [Laughs] Sorry.

Bianca:  And they’ve got how much? Moderna has got a billion dollars from the US government, so, let’s see. I think there is—expectations are now for the end of the year that you—and I think you have to stagger it and you then have to look at the healthcare workers and the people that have to deal with infected patients, the elderly in particular. And that’s a big discussion about is this working in elderly patients. Are they okay? 

So, I’m thinking that probably comes first and then it gets rolled out. The question, I think for Australia, is I don’t know where we are, to be honest, because I think we’re, at the moment, obviously hoping that the Queensland approach will work. I think AstraZeneca has a little bit of potential they will get some of that allocation, but I haven’t seen anything in terms of mRNA vaccines so far. I tried to get that out of the companies, but they weren’t very cooperative.

Gem Capital:  Okay. So, switching now to treatment options, rather than vaccines, what developments have happened in that area?

Bianca:  What you usually try and do with viruses is you try and attack something that is just basically part of the virus. And so one thing that they have done is look at the surface and made so-called antibodies against them and that’s basically what we’re waiting for. I think in the next couple of weeks we should see some results from a company like Regeneron to see what they have and whether they work or not.

And that takes a little while because what you have to do is, you obviously have to first have the sequence of the virus, but then you have to isolate the particles that you have and have a look at what’s going on. But what scientists do is they look at the sequence and you can then make the little bits of the vaccine. You can make the spike protein, you can make the enzymes inside, and you can kind of work out which one should we target and then you can start doing rational drug design.

There is something in this virus, it’s got two kind of enzymes that are quite interesting to target and crystallography structure of one of the proteins has been identified quite quickly and so there is, for example, Pfizer is trying to attack that and we can target and I think these are very interesting approaches which have worked for other viral infections like hepatitis B and HIV. That will be the next wave.

These ones are usually the more interesting ones because they’re really going after it. You then have to work out that it’s not as resistant. But if we had something like that, that would be pretty good, because then we would have a vaccine potentially and that and then I think we can breathe a little bit easier.

Gem Capital:  Yes.

Bianca:  Yeah, so that’s happening but it takes a little while because you have to understand the bits first, how they work, and then you have to develop an assay in your lab that you can actually test it against. Because one of the issues at the moment, if you want to develop something, you’re not really allowed in a normal lab to work with live vaccine and a live virus, that’s terrible. So, you just have to come up with something more artificial but that still does the same thing, to do it on a bigger scale. 

The same as diagnostic tests, if you make one, you want to verify, and usually have to then send it to a lab that is allowed to work with live coronavirus of this type.

There’s those logistics issues, but I think we’re now into that kind of—we’ve established these assays and now we can like really screen for drugs to go through, which will be quite fascinating. But it’s not really talked about that much yet.

It will come, hopefully.

Gem Capital:  Remdesivir was an early candidate for treatment.

Bianca:  Yes. Yes.

Gem Capital:  What’s the latest information on that?

Bianca:  So, Remdesivir was an  idea that goes after a battery of different viruses. So, it isn’t as specific, but it’s ‘okayish’ specific for these , they are called RNA viruses because their genomic information sits on an RNA.

It looks fine. I think one thing with the disease, particularly, so when you think about it, if the virus infects you, and initially it basically replicates in your throat and it’s quite happy doing that and you feel quite good. And then it starts basically to destroy different things. Because what viruses do, they go into a cell and when they replicate, they destroy the cell and come out. It’s a bit like a, I guess a spider, when they hatch little eggs. 

So, the thing is, if you then come too late, which at the moment Remdesivir is being tested on and has been used quite late, you actually—the virus is no longer really the issue, it was what the virus did to you, and the virus may not actually be so active anymore because it’s almost exhausted itself. The best thing is to go early and there are studies underway now and it’s interesting because Gilead itself obviously wasn’t planning on doing all of these activities on Remdesivir, they’re now spending about a billion dollars to come up with a different formulation because the drug that we have at the moment is approved as intravenous use and you have to get it at the hospital. They’re looking at inhaled formulations, different formulations, and also using it earlier. And I think then you will see  a much better effect than what we see now. We see some effect it does something, but it’s not like how a normal targeted antiviral should do.

There’s a couple of others. There’s another one out there in a similar class we’ve seen, but it’s the best that we have, to be honest, and it’s just, wouldn’t it have just been great if you know you can just, I don’t know, have it in your handbag and can just take it straightaway, but unfortunately, no.

Gem Capital:  Turning now to financial markets, at what point in a vaccine development or a treatment development would you become, for want of a better word, more aggressive, in terms of your investment positioning?

Bianca:  I think I can—I have to speak now as the healthcare fund manager. I’ve been very happy from the start, so I’ve been quite excited about the mRNA platform and what they can do and also knowing Moderna and how they manage is how they can just work, mobilise, and go through it. To me, it was like—and looking at coronavirus, what the virus is—so, to me, I thought well, we will have something. I can’t totally say whether it’s in September, October or whatever, but it will come within not what people say, it will come much faster.

I’ve been buying all through the pandemic sell-off, but I probably have recently reduced my exposure because biotechs have recovered very well.

Now, I think what I’m probably more worried about is really in terms of travel or those kind of things for what will happen. And I think that will gradually recover and I think that we will adjust to it as well and probably we already have. If I look at some of my family who live in Germany, they’re going on holiday. They’re just so used to wearing a mask that they don’t really—they don’t even seem to worry about it as much.

I think people will adjust to it. So, I’ve probably been really quite a lot invested and now I’ve pulled back a little bit. I don’t know Doug you can answer that more from the other side, but as a health fund manager I’ve been thinking no, I’ve never really seen in my career the mobilisation of the money that’s been basically pushed into this development, as well as the speed.

The funny thing is, someone said to me the other day, “Vaccine companies can’t say now anymore that that needs like years to make a vaccine. That’s the end of it now, if they pull this off, because no one is going to believe them ever.”

 To me, the world has to adjust but I think - I don’t know whether a vaccine as such will also solve the issue because initially it might be like the flu vaccine. It won’t be as protective as we may hope for it. It will gradually, maybe it blunts the disease. I think in the end we will have to adjust to this whole way of living that we do, but I think what we’re seeing, particularly in Europe, is people are going on holiday, they’re doing their thing. They go on the plane, maybe not as much. Yeah, over time, but there’s nothing where I can say, yeah, this is the event and I will get fully invested, I don’t know.

Yeah, I also look at some biotechs that I’ve invested in were so cheap where—and I still have some that trade below cash, and you think that’s crazy, so I will keep adding to those. It’s a bit more rational. I don’t know if that answers the question.

Gem Capital:  No, that’s a fair answer.

Bianca:  Yeah.

Gem Capital:  That’s a fair answer. Have you got anything to add to that, Douglas?

Douglas:  I look at it in a sort of broader market context as well and I would say that the way we’ve kind of looked at the world and what’s happened through this whole COVID experience, the market has really chased companies that have a couple of different criteria. One is probably such strong growth that they seem to be immune and the other is some group of companies either benefited from the situation and think of, like we’re having this conversation on Zoom. Look at Zoom’s share price, they’ve benefited. But it’s not a new technology. This stuff’s been around for a long time, it’s just something that’s come to people’s attention.

And the same, you know, people are shopping more at Woolworths, etc., changes in patterns. 

There’s really two stock markets. There’s a collection of companies, it’s pretty small, that have done very well, and it’s almost an exaggeration of a trend that was in place before COVID. And there’s this other stock market which effectively is pricing in the recession that we’re having and so the way we look at things at Platinum which is quite sort of behavioural, is that’s where you’re going to find the opportunities . Where there is a recession priced, there are companies that are probably somewhat opportunities on a 3-5 year view and that, Bianca touched on travel, that’s probably one of the areas we’ve been buying most heavily. The best companies, the most safest balance sheets that the booking engines and the aerospace engines rather than the airlines specifically. Semiconductors are doing pretty well. They’re powering all the growth themes. You know, the consumer in China is looking pretty healthy.

It's these kind of things where the market is pricing a recession is where I think you’ll find the best opportunities if you’re willing to look through the recession and determine that whether the vaccine comes and, you know, probably late ’20, into ’21, even into ’22, that that doesn’t matter to buying a company on a five-year view that’s priced as if it’s in real trouble. That’s, I think, the way we think about it.

Gem Capital:  Okay. Good answer from both of you.

Bianca:  I think one of the things that is probably counterintuitive, but I sometimes wonder, once we have the vaccine, and say that is the announcement, maybe people then just leave the stock market and think like, oh, okay, we’re done now, this is it, and everything just goes over the other way. So, I almost wonder what that—because people have been asking this, “When do you think what will happen?” It’s like, well, maybe it’s time to get opposite because that then, what’s the next theme, what’s the next, like where do I go? That was it, now we’ve got it, so what? And now, so I don’t know. It’s weird. I don’t know what will happen. I’m always surprised how every time Moderna puts something out, everyone just shouts about it and everyone suddenly knows this company and it’s like this is a bit crazy for me. [Laughs] 

Douglas:  And you go back and you look at the beginning of the year and the absolute bottom of the market in March coincided with the lockdowns in, I would say most of the developed world, so there’s New York locking down, it was much of Europe, the UK, Germany, and so on, they were all locking down around that time, and that ended up being the symbol for people to start or to stop selling the market and to start buying it again. 

So, the lockdown was perceived to be a big event and whether the vaccine has the same impact, because there isn’t the same fear as there was—when we locked down, we were basically at a high level of fear. As I say, today there are quality companies, Amazon has doubled, Apple has doubled, Microsoft has doubled in the last 12 months, and this is indicative of fear and they’re the biggest companies in the world. So, it may have a different impact.

Gem Capital:  Okay. I don’t think we’ve got any other questions at this end. Douglas and Bianca, thanks very much for your time and your insights into what is an amazing time period. Thank you.

Bianca:  Yes, it is.

Gem Capital:  And good luck for the awards tonight. The fund manager of year awards, Bianca. 

Bianca:  Thank you very much.

Gem Capital:  Okay. See you later.

Douglas:  Thanks guys.

Gem Capital:  See ya.

[End of Audio]

Transcription by Fiverr.com bethfys 

DISCLAIMER: This information has been prepared by Platinum Investment Management Limited ABN 25 063 565 006, AFSL 221935, trading as Platinum Asset Management (“Platinum”). This information is general in nature and does not take into account your specific needs or circumstances. You should consider your own financial position, objectives and requirements and seek professional financial advice before making any financial decisions. You should also read the relevant product disclosure statement before making any decision to acquire units in any of our funds, copies are available at www.platinum.com.au. The commentary reflects Platinum’s views and beliefs at the time of preparation, which are subject to change without notice. No representations or warranties are made by Platinum as to their accuracy or reliability. To the extent permitted by law, no liability is accepted by Platinum for any loss or damage as a result of any reliance on this information.

 
Wednesday, 08 July 2020 08:31

How to profit from electric cars

Australian investors would be forgiven for largely ignoring the prospect of electric cars in their investment decision making with only 6,718 new electric vehicles (EV) sold in Australia during 2019 (includes fully electric EV, and plug in hybrid EV).  For perspective, the total number of new vehicle sales in 2019 was 1,062,867.  Astute investors however, are aware of the electric vehicle tsunami that is coming and are positioning to profit from it.

Alasdair McHugh (Director, Baillie Gifford) highlights “that currently only around 1% of the global passenger car fleet of 1.4 billion vehicles are electric.  Therefore the opportunity for EV’s to replace the remaining 99% of passenger vehicles is substantial.  Even against headwinds of ride-sharing, public transport developments and cycling/walking to work, the shift away from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to EV’s leaves a vast market to penetrate.”

Nick Markiewicz (Consumer Analyst, Platinum Asset Management) believes that the size of the EV market “will ultimately depend on the end goals of Governments and regulators, adoption rates of EV’s among consumers and how automakers choose to meet their targets”.  While there is a wide range of views from credible pundits and automakers about EV penetration rates ranging from 10 – 60%, given the automotive sector is USD $2 trillion industry by turnover, even small adoption will still result in a large, high growth industry.

The most sophisticated market so far is China, which accounts for 47% of EV sales last year.  The Chinese Government has a goal for 40% of all new car sales to be EV’s by 2030 according to Baillie Gifford.

The chart below shows new car sales by region over the past 15 years.

 

Elsewhere in the world France has announced a ban on the sale of ICE vehicles from 2040 and in the UK, the ban will take effect from 2035.  

Investors can seek to profit from the EV boom not just by owning high profile automakers such as Tesla, and Chinese automaker Nio, both owned by Baillie Gifford.

Markiewicz believes that traditional makers “like BMW and Toyota still have a relatively bright future, and do not deserve to trade at their current multiples.  Both have deep electric vehicle expertise, with Toyota producing its revolutionary hybrid in 1997, and BMW launching the i3 in 2011.  Unbeknown to many, BMW and Toyota are already two of the largest electric vehicle producers in the world”.

While the manufacture of EVs requires fewer mechanical parts than ICE vehicles, it does need many new electric and electronic components and batteries.  Baillie Gifford like Samsung SDI in the battery supply chain and Platinum like LG Chem, who are battery producers. It is also interesting that EV cars are heavier resulting in increased tyre wear compared to conventional cars.

Some opportunity exists in Australia in owning resources companies who produce nickel, lithium and cobalt, which are used in battery production, alternatively investors can invest in managed funds to gain broader exposure to growth in electric vehicles.

The biggest threat, according to McHugh, to investing in the EV industry “is the emergence of a new type of energy efficient ‘fuel’ that could power cars, for example ‘electrofuels’.  One possibility is hydrogen gas (H2) made with renewable electricity.  At the moment there are scientific barriers to entry for this technology; storing the gas within the bodywork of a car is difficult and could be dangerous, and therefore expensive”. 

Second order effects of EV’s that investors need to consider is the impact of EV’s on the demand for oil, and the oil price.  Markiewicz says that the impact is “likely to be at the margin – there are 1.4bn passenger vehicles in the global car fleet which account for 20% of crude demand today. EVs are only 2% of new vehicle sales, and the global fleet only turns over every ~15 years. As a thought exercise, even if EVs were 50% of all new vehicle sales today, it would still take 15 years to displace 10% of the world’s oil demand (0.7% demand destruction per year). At the same time, oil demand will grow elsewhere. Hence, even under bullish scenarios for EVs, changes to oil demand are likely to be quite small – impairing growth, rather than absolute demand”.

Owning EV manufacturers may be the obvious investment for this thematic, but investing in other related components in the EV chain may be just as interesting.

 

This article was written by Mark Draper (GEM Capital) and featured in the Australian Financial Review in July 2020.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020 08:28

Making sense of the rally

Wednesday, 10 June 2020 08:04

Cheap Bank Shares - not risk free

Investors holding the banks as a safe yield play have had a wake up call courtesy of COVID-19.  NAB have cut their dividend by over 60%, ANZ and Westpac have deferred their interim dividends and decide in August whether to make a payment.  

Bank share prices have fallen by around a third since the February 2020 peak, but investors need to ask themselves whether they are in fact cheap, or do better opportunities exist elsewhere.  The bank bulls would point to Australian bank shares trading at a lower book value than they have historically been, a common measure to value a bank.  

Book value is determined simply by subtracting the banks liabilities from its assets and then dividing by the number of shares on issue.  Nathan Bell (Portfolio Manager Intelligent Investor) highlights that Australian banks trade at a premium to their US and European peers on a price to book value.  For example CBA currently trades at around 1.5 times book value, and 5 years ago traded at over 2.5 times book value.  European Bank, ING trades at a book value of around 0.4 times.  While Australian banks are trading at lower price to book values than they have been for some time, they are not necessarily cheap by global standards.

Matt Williams (Portfolio Manager, Airlie Funds Management) highlights that forecast Price to Earnings ratios for Australian banks in 2021 are 11.1, which makes them more expensive than UK banks at 8.2 times earnings and US banks at 10 times earnings.

One of the major risks to any bank relates to bad debts.  The COVID-19 crisis now adds the spectre of a serious bad debt cycle.

It seems universally accepted that COVID-19 will cause the first Australian recession in 30 years.  Recessions increase unemployment and when people lose their jobs, their mortgage repayments can be at risk.  The RBA is forecasting the unemployment rate to rise to around 10% during 2020, a level not seen since the 1990’s recession, and not even reached during GFC.

History of Australia’s unemployment rate

To put current provisioning for bad and doubtful debts into historical perspective Williams says “bad debts peaked at around 1% of gross loans following the 1990’s recession which compares to present day consensus forecasts for bad debts peaking in 2020 at 0.4% of gross loans.  The current provisioning is materially lower than what happened in the 90’s recession and the GFC.”

The base assumptions around current consensus bad debts assume a multi year ‘U’ shaped recovery.  Williams adds “If the recovery is more ‘V’ shaped and unemployment outcomes are better than feared then the banks are on the cheap side of fair”.  Conversely, if unemployment outcomes turn out to be worse than expected, bank shares would most likely fare poorly.

Bell sees the small business sector as the source of the greatest risk to consensus forecasts on unemployment and bad debts.  Small business is defined as those businesses with less than 20 employees.  According to the ATO’s 2019 annual report, of the 4.2 million small businesses that operate in Australia, 800,000 of them had entered into a payment arrangement to pay their tax liability.  That implies almost one in five small businesses couldn’t pay their tax bill, and that was before COVID-19 hit.  

According to Australia’s Small Business Ombudsman report in 2019, Small business contributes around 33% to Australia’s economic output, and employs around 44% of all Australians.  What happens to the small business sector matters a lot to the economy and to the unemployment rate.  Unlike listed companies who can raise capital through the share market, small businesses have limited options which usually revolve around the owner mortgaging their home.

Bell says “we won’t know the final position until government support falls and loans stop being extended and we see the real impact of COVID-19 on the economy, particularly small business.”

He adds “the bull case for banks rests on investors being willing to pay a premium over book value despite single digit return on equity figures due to low interest rates.  This has not been the case in major markets overseas, so it would be our version of Australian exceptionalism.”

Williams says the best environment for banks consists of slowly rising interest rates, low unemployment, strong migration resulting in economic growth, but those days appear over.

So while bank shares are cheaper than they have historically been, they are clearly not a risk free trade.

 

This article was written by Mark Draper (GEM Capital) and appeared in the Australian Financial Review in June 2020

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