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Do I Have A Few Surprises For (Most Of) You!

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Always an independent thinker, Rudi has not shied away from making big out-of-consensus predictions that proved accurate later on. When Rio Tinto shares surged above $120 he wrote investors should sell. In mid-2008 he warned investors not to hold on to equities in oil producers. In August 2008 he predicted the largest sell-off in commodities stocks was about to follow. In 2009 he suggested Australian banks were an excellent buy. Between 2011 and 2015 Rudi consistently maintained investors were better off avoiding exposure to commodities and to commodities stocks. Post GFC, he dedicated his research to finding All-Weather Performers. See also "All-Weather Performers" on this website, as well as the Special Reports section.

Rudi's View | Jul 04 2019

In this week's Weekly Insights (published in two parts):

-Do I Have A Few Surprises For (Most Of) You!
-M&A Is Back; Who's The Next Target?
-Conviction Calls
-Three Charts To Mark Mid-2019
-Caveat Emptor: Retail Landlords
-Rudi On Tour
-Rudi Talks

Do I Have A Few Surprises For (Most Of) You!

By Rudi Filapek-Vandyck, Editor FNArena

The first six months of calendar 2019 have again superbly proved as to why this equities bull market has been dubbed "the most hated in history".

At face value, equity markets have rallied by up to 20% suggesting making money from asset price inflation via the share market has seldom been easier for investors, but a closer look reveals nothing could be further from the truth.

Imagine an investment portfolio consisting of Adelaide Brighton, Bank of Queensland, Challenger, Caltex Australia, Domino's Pizza, Flight Centre, Link Administration, Pendal Group (the old BT Investments), South32 and the old Westfield, now Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield.

An equal weighted portfolio of these ten household names in Australia generated a negative return of nearly -10% between January 1 and June 28. That's ex-dividends, but the average yield from the portfolio cannot fully compensate for the erosion in capital values. Besides, the ASX200 Accumulation index is up nearly 20% over the same period.

And that's assuming investors venturing into some of the riskier stocks on the ASX haven't been caught out by disasters experienced by Syrah Resources (down -39%) or Wagners (-42%) or Bionomics (-72%), and numerous others.

Many a self-managing investor has portfolio exposure to the big four banks, large resources and energy producers, as well as Telstra, Woolworths, and Wesfarmers-Coles. They don't necessarily need to compare their performance with a benchmark, so they most likely are feeling happy with the Big Bounce post the Grand Sell-Off during the closing months of 2018. In particular if they also managed to pick up some additional gains from smaller cap highflyers such as Afterpay Touch, Austal and Credit Corp.

For professional fund managers, however, the scenarios for share markets in 2018 and the first half of 2019 have made beating the index an extremely tough challenge; indications are most have continued to underperform. This, mind you, at a time when ETF providers offer ever cheaper alternatives and most retail investors would feel emboldened about their own talent and capabilities too.

It should thus be no surprise that, with the notable exception of Magellan Financial ((MFG)), most listed asset managers have been relegated to the basket of consistent underperformers on the ASX, with shares in Janus Henderson ((JHG)), Platinum Asset Management  ((PTM)), Elanor Investors Group ((ENN)), K2 Asset Management ((KAM)), Pinnacle Investment Management ((PNI)), and others overwhelmingly in the doghouse at a time when most investors feel like celebrating.

Internationally, the first signals are becoming apparent the industry of actively managed investment funds is ripe for consolidation, or otherwise a shake-out. Locally, all major banks with exception of Westpac ((WBC)) have unveiled plans to divest their wealth management operations, while Magellan Financial acquiring Airlie Funds Management and Ellerston Capital acquiring Morphic Asset Management are but two early indications the industry locally is equally facing major transformation in the years ahead.

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But why exactly is it that most active managers cannot beat their benchmark?

One narrative that has been going around recently is that investor exuberance is largely to blame. With stocks like Afterpay Touch ((APT)), Appen ((APX)) and other smaller cap technology stocks up 100% and more in the space of only a few months, the narrative goes that institutional investors cannot own these stocks as they are trading on valuations that can never be justified, and with these kinds of share price gains, it makes beating the index a near impossible task.

Sounds plausible, yes? Except that it doesn't stand up to the test of deeper analysis.

Everyone familiar with the major indices in Australia is aware that Financials make up more than 30% of the ASX200 (of which the Big Four Banks more than 20%) while Materials + Energy adds another 23%. Combined these sectors represent more than 50% of the index. Add a few extra large cap names such as Macquarie Group, CSL, Telstra, Woolworths and Wesfarmers and the index representation rises above 66%.

In most years, underperforming or outperforming against the index is determined by how these large cap stocks perform versus exposure in investment portfolios.

But let's first tackle the misguided narrative mentioned earlier.

The WAAAX stocks as a group, comprising of WiseTech Global, Afterpay Touch, Appen, Altium, and Xero, represent a total index weight of 1.58% as of June 1st. The average gain from these five stocks is a smidgen over 80%. However, Fortescue Metals ((FMG)) alone weighs 1.35% and its shares went up by more than 117%. Plus Fortescue pays a big dividend and the WAAAX stocks don't.

In other words: Fortescue Metals shares have contributed more to the index gains than all of the WAAAX stocks combined. That's one myth gone.

This example does, however, further highlight one of the key characteristics of the local share market in recent years: the internal polarisation is enormous. The gap between winners and losers is extremely wide and both baskets contain plenty of household names each. It makes outperforming the index not only a case of picking enough winners; it's equally about avoiding the losers (see also portfolio mentioned at the beginning of this story).

This, of course, is more easily done with the advantage of hindsight. With most professional funds managers in Australia practicing a value-oriented approach, owning share market disappointments is pretty much par for the course. This year in particular, as corporate profit warnings have come out in large numbers throughout May and June.

Making matters worse, most managers have been running their funds with larger-than-usual allocations to cash and, certainly up until recently, an underweight exposure to the banks. The latter has proved unequivocally beneficial in years past as the banks underperformed the broader share market. In 2019, however, the banks have staged a notable come-back on the back of a surprise Labor election loss and the promise of RBA rate cuts.

And yet, for the six months to June 30th, the performance for the banks has not kept up with the ASX200 Accumulation index. Even if we exclude National Australia Bank ((NAB)), lagging once again, the Big Four Banks combined, and including above-average dividends, slightly underperformed the index.

Which leaves us with large cap resources stocks. BHP Group ((BHP)) shares added 21%-plus ex-dividend, which is better than the index, but Rio Tinto ((RIO)) rallied 32% ex dividend and shares in Fortescue, as mentioned, more than doubled. In the Energy sector, Woodside Petroleum ((WPL)) narrowly underperformed the index including dividend, but Santos ((STO)) shares went up by 29.43%.

What these numbers show is that underperforming or outperforming the local index over the past six months has been determined by a few large cap stocks only. In particular if we consider that Woolworths and Wesfarmers equally did not keep up with the index. In their place, large cap names Amcor ((AMC)), Brambles ((BXB)) and Telstra ((TLS))  -probably best described as "come back stocks"- all posted stronger than average gains.

Add Aristocrat Leisure ((ALL)) -up 43% ex-dividend, Goodman Group ((GMG)) -up 37% ex-div, Transurban ((TCL)) -up 25.5% ex-div- and Newcrest Mining ((NCM)) -up 51% ex-div- and it is clear most of the strong index gains this year occurred on the shoulders of no more than ten large cap stocks in Australia.

The most outstanding themes have been iron ore, gold, lower interest rates and bond yields, and structural growth stories in the case of Aristocrat Leisure, Goodman Group and the WAAAX companies. At the same time, less confidence and more investor caution has swung the market pendulum heavily back in favour of the large caps, both here as well as internationally.

Note, for example, the Small Ordinaries index barely scraped in a positive return for full financial year 2019, and only if we include paid dividends, for a total return of 1.92%. Over the past six months, the Small Ordinaries' total return was 16.81%. The Top 20 gained 26.72% ex-dividends. CSL too performed strongly, but equally could not match the index. Scentre Group ((SCG)) is responsible for the sole negative performance among Top 20 stocks.

The negative performance for stocks including Scentre Group and UR-Westfield contrasts sharply with the market beating performances for Goodman Group and Transurban. In prior times, all four would have been considered beneficiaries of lower bond yields. This time around, however, investors are excluding the structural challenges from online competition and household budgets under pressure, testing the patience -and frustration- of your typical value hunters in the share market.

After five years of notable neglect, value stocks have made a sharp come-back post late 2018 sell-off, as witnessed by (some) bank stocks in Australia, and via equally selective names among media companies, consumer oriented businesses and resources stocks. Meanwhile, the lure of disruptors and new technology-driven business models has not disappeared.

The latter remains equally one of the key characteristics of this hated bull market. Hated by you know who.

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Richard Coppleson, nowadays at Bell Potter, equally published analysis and stats on the performance of the Australia share market this week. Below are a few extra stats from his work to add extra colour to this week's theme:

The ASX200 Accumulation index gained 11.55% for the financial year to June 2019. This marks the third consecutive year of double digit percentage gains, which tends to be a rare phenomenon for the local share market. Last time this happened were the four financial years leading into the Global Financial Crisis of late 2007. Back then gains were 20%-plus each year rather than 10%-plus.

Top performers in terms of most index points added over the full financial year are BHP Group (+104.2 points), CommBank (+67.4 points) and Telstra (+56.5 points). To put these gains in perspective: the ASX200 added 424 points over the past twelve months. The three companies mentioned are responsible for 228 of those points.

Worst detractors have been Origin Energy, AMP and Lendlease.

Revisiting the narrative of the WAAAX stocks again: Afterpay Touch, WiseTech Global and Appen added the most index points to the Small Ordinaries of respectively 33.3, 20.4 and 20.1 points. The Small Ordinaries ultimately lost -25 points over the year (-0.90%) as stocks including WorleyParsons, Costa Group and Nufarm lost respectively -26.7, -20.9 and -19.3 points.

A long list of the past year's winners and losers shows average gains at the top of the table are larger than average losses, but average losses remain higher as one descends through the rankings.

Nearmap, Clinuvel Pharmaceuticals and Afterpay Touch (all up more than 60%) have been the top performers in FY19. Galaxy Resources, Eclipx Group (even after 100% share price rally) and Nufarm have been responsible for the largest shareholder losses.

Equally remarkable is that Healthcare (+87%) remains the best performing sector over a four year horizon, while telcos (-35.4%) and banks (-9.8%) still have a lot of catching up to do, even after this year's come-back performance. The Energy sector's performance over the period is exactly zero percent.

Similarly, all major indices have performed pretty equally; 44%-45% over the past four years, dividends included, but the Small Ordinaries still stands out with 55% in total return, whereas the Top20 lags heavily with a total return of 17.9% only.

The ASX200, up 11.5% over twelve months, beat the S&P500 (+10.5%), as well as the DJ Euro Stoxx 50 index (+6%), the FTSE100 (+1.6%), the Nikkei 225 (-2.6%), and most other indices around the world.

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As far as the FNArena Vested Equities All-Weather Model Portfolio is concerned, with nil exposure to miners and banks, and more small and medium sized companies in portfolio, the first half of 2019 has been one of few periods since inception in late 2014 wherein we felt we simply had no chance in hell to even loosely keep track of the local index.

Winding back six months in time, everybody would have been elated with the prospect of 13% in return over the subsequent six months. In comparison with what we know now, which is that the ASX200 Accumulation index added 19.73% over the period, opinions are likely to be more divided.

This puts the portfolio performance for the full financial year at 5.52% versus 11.55% for the ASX200 including dividends. The difference in relative performance reversed in January.

In line with the analysis above, it's not the lack of winners, of which we hold plenty, but the small group of laggards and disappointments that can ultimately be held responsible for what appears to be an underwhelming return when measured against the world beating performance for the Australian market.

Stocks including Bapcor ((BAP)), Orora ((ORA)) and GUD Holdings ((GUD)) simply could not muster any enthusiasm from investors thus far in 2019. We still hold them because we remain confident in the potential for each longer term. Elsewhere, two of the companies owned issued a profit warning this year which understandably made investors extra-cautious after pushing share prices down.

We have thus far elected to retain both Reliance Worldwide ((RWC)) and Link Administration ((LNK)), but continue to monitor further developments.

In line with the general elevated sense of risks and uncertainties, the All-Weather Model Portfolio has kept what might look like an overly cautious allocation to cash, currently still between 19-20%.

We are also about to lose DuluxGroup ((DLX)) from the Portfolio with shareholders having accepted the take-over price offered by Nippon Paint. According to research we encountered recently, DuluxGroup shares have been the third best performer on the ASX since separating from Orica in 2010.

Admittedly, this year's premium offer issued by the Japanese suitor has had an impact on total return over the period, but it doesn't detract from the underlying story as to why stocks like DuluxGroup have been, and still are, a core constituent of the All-Weather Model Portfolio.

Quality companies are an investor's best friend in the long run, just not all the time or under all circumstances. The past six months have marked one such exception.

Rudi Talks

Audio interview Wednesday this week:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iqrF0o8AjQ

Rudi On Tour In 2019

-AIA National Conference, Gold Coast, Qld, 28-31 July
-AIA and ASA, Perth, WA, October 1

(This story was written on Monday and Tuesday 1st & 2nd July 2019. It was published on the day in the form of an email to paying subscribers, and again on Thursday as a story on the website. Part two follows on Friday).

(Do note that, in line with all my analyses, appearances and presentations, all of the above names and calculations are provided for educational purposes only. Investors should always consult with their licensed investment advisor first, before making any decisions. All views are mine and not by association FNArena's – see disclaimer on the website.

In addition, since FNArena runs a Model Portfolio based upon my research on All-Weather Performers it is more than likely that stocks mentioned are included in this Model Portfolio. For all questions about this: info@fnarena.com or via the direct messaging system on the website).

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BONUS PUBLICATIONS FOR FNARENA SUBSCRIBERS

Paid subscribers to FNArena (6 and 12 mnths) receive several bonus publications, at no extra cost, including:

– The AUD and the Australian Share Market (which stocks benefit from a weaker AUD, and which ones don't?)
– Make Risk Your Friend. Finding All-Weather Performers, January 2013 (The rationale behind investing in stocks that perform irrespective of the overall investment climate)
– Make Risk Your Friend. Finding All-Weather Performers, December 2014 (The follow-up that accounts for an ever changing world and updated stock selection)
– Change. Investing in a Low Growth World. eBook that sells through Amazon and other channels. Tackles the main issues impacting on investment strategies today and the world of tomorrow.
– Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Bear? eBook and Book (print) available through Amazon and other channels. Your chance to relive 2016, and become a wiser investor along the way.

Subscriptions cost $440 (incl GST) for twelve months or $245 for six and can be purchased here (depending on your status, a subscription to FNArena might be tax deductible): https://www.fnarena.com/index2.cfm?type=dsp_signup

(Do note that, in line with all my analyses, appearances and presentations, all of the above names and calculations are provided for educational purposes only. Investors should always consult with their licensed investment advisor first, before making any decisions.) 

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