Liontrust GF SF Pan-European Growth Fund

Q1 2021 review

The Fund returned 5.8% over the quarter in euro terms, underperforming the MSCI Europe Index’s 8.4% (which is the comparator benchmark)*.

Ongoing struggles with vaccine rollout may delay an economic rebound in the EU, spilling over into political sabre-rattling. For markets, the pace of recovery, inflation and interest rates are forefront of the minds of investors but, from our long-term perspective, we continue to believe a well-diversified portfolio with multiple thematic drivers and high-quality companies is the best way to navigate challenging macroeconomics.

In recent months, we have seen a recovery in some of the more cyclical sectors (such as resources and consumer discretionary companies like miners and auto original equipment manufacturers). These more cyclically sensitive, statistically cheap and, dare we say, lower-quality companies have outperformed our growth and quality names. For the long term, however, we are confident our process of investing in high-quality, high-return businesses with a tailwind from enabling a cleaner, healthier and safer economy will continue to produce superior results. Over the life of the Fund, we have seen many periods of ‘value’ outperforming; during these periods, we stick to the process and try to block out short-term noise.

We have learnt over the last 20 years that high-quality businesses companies with structural demand, pricing power and strong balance sheets, that will continue to grow and reinvest earnings for the next five and 10 years tend to be mispriced by the market. Our process focuses on sustainability, growth and returns and such a longer-term horizon, beyond the majority of market participants, enables a powerful compounding effect that shorter-term investors miss.

In terms of top performers over the quarter, Softcat, exposed to our Enhancing digital security theme, continues its strong demand and market share gains. Public sector growth remains resilient, with healthcare, education and local authorities looking to increase efficiency and safety through digitisation of services, and this was coupled with a strong rebound in IT spend from SME customers. This outlay on hardware, software and, in particular, security, is not discretionary; the economy continues to digitise and businesses must spend to compete, and given its obsession with customer satisfaction and unique culture, Softcat is best placed to help its customers thrive. The company announced strong six-month results to end January, with a 10.1% increase in revenues and gross profits up 20%.

National Express has also been one of our best-performing names since we added the stock to our European portfolios under our Making transport more efficient theme in Q4, on the back of good fundamentals and an attractive valuation. We think the company can take market share from weakened competition and an accelerated shift to outsource more transport services. The environmental advantages of public transport are an important factor in reducing emissions, which, along with urbanisation, should also boost growth longer term.

Elsewhere, access solutions specialist Assa Abloy was also among our strongest holdings, with the company held under our Building better cities theme and specialising in mechanical and digital locks, security doors and automated entrances. Assa released its annual and sustainability reports for 2020 over March, with the former revealing an operating margin in Q4 at target level and a record high operating cashflow for the full year, despite the challenges presented by the pandemic. On sustainability, the company said it had exceeded the majority of targets for health and safety, energy, water and materials efficiency in the 2015-2020 period and has set new goals, including halving emissions by 2030 and reaching net-zero by 2050. 

Over Q1, several financials (DNB, Prudential, St James’s Place, Svenska Handelsbanken, Axa and Ringkjøbing Landbobank) were among the top names as the sector continued to enjoy a strong spell of performance as a ‘value’ part of the market. Among these, we see DNB and Svenska as cheaper, trading on 1x and 1.1x book respectively, whereas Ringkjøbing has moved towards our view of intrinsic value so we reduced our holding. We also continued to see strong performance from Q3 2020 addition Avanza, under our Saving for the future theme: we have covered this investment platform in recent commentaries but note its 2020 results showing net inflows and customer growth more than doubling over the course of last year. The company releases data monthly on new customer numbers, inflows and trading volumes, and continues to surprise us with its growth and engagement levels of the customer base. We suspect trading in January and February was unsustainably high, however, driven by the unusual GameStop/Wall Street Bets narrative and expect this to normalise as we continue through the year. Although Avanza is the dominant platform in Sweden, there is an ample runway for growth ahead: it has a strong foothold in the country’s shares and mutual funds space but less than 3% of savings accounts and 1% of occupational pensions and insurance.

Among weaker holdings, Puma, exposed to our Enabling healthier lifestyles theme, had a tough period despite reporting resilient performance in 2020. Remarkably, the company narrowly grew revenues overall despite some months being down over 50% relative to 2019. This is really due to one factor – respect for the supply chain. Puma’s management team decided not to cancel orders for the first half of the year, honouring all its orders, paying suppliers in full for their products and ensuring people in the supply chain were not let go as a consequence. This paid dividends in the second part of the year with rebounding demand in Asia and America as well as in the e-commerce channels. The company has been cautious in its outlook for 2021 profits with rolling lockdowns impacting sales, which contributed to some of the selloff in Q1, alongside the rotation into perceived value areas of the market. We remain confident in Puma’s prospects and have added to our position; echoing our long-term view on several stocks exposed to this theme, the company’s CEO Bjørn Gulden said people around the world clearly want to do more sport as soon as restrictions allow.

CTS Eventim and Spotify, two names exposed to our newest Encouraging sustainable leisure theme, also had a slower quarter. As Europe’s largest ticketing company for music and live events, CTS continues to suffer from dramatically reduced sales due to lockdown measures but we remain confident in the financial strength of the business and believe demand will return when the vaccination programme begins to get control of Covid-19. The shares have performed well since our purchase at the height of the pandemic, particularly in the last quarter of 2020, and the Q1 selloff reflects the market focusing on value areas rather than anything company specific.

Spotify, meanwhile, reported user growth of 27% and paying subscriber growth of 24% in the final quarter of 2020. The company continues to grow ahead of peers and invest in both exclusive content and improving the user experience. Over the next 10 years, we believe it can reach 900 million users and see a number of ways the company can monetise this audience. Spotify recently announced the acquisition of Betty Labs, creator of the popular live sports audio app Locker Room, which enables fans to discuss their favourite sports teams. With all this innovation, we are confident about the next decade and more for Spotify, despite the recent tech selloff.

TeamViewer’s shares also gave back some of their recent performance over the quarter amid this sector pullback, with the company another of those benefiting from the need for digitalised processes and remote work across all industries around the world. TeamViewer announced record billing figures for 2020 in February and is targeting €1 billion by 2023, supporting our thesis that trends accelerated by Covid are not transitory and signal permanent shifts in working patterns. The company had a busy quarter on the corporate front, signing sponsorship deals with Manchester United and Mercedes-AMG and acquiring Upskill, a US-based pioneer in augmented reality (AR) software for frontline workers in areas such as industrial manufacturing and inspection.

In terms of purchases, we have added IT engineering business Nagarro, a spinout from German tech company Allgeier with a business model to build software solutions for blue-chip clients such as BMW, Roche and McKinsey. Nagarro tackles complex and specific tasks for customers, helping them save time and money and improve their customer experience. This is a good fit for our Increasing the resource efficiency of industry and agricultural processes theme and we also highlight the strong culture, with effective management of the human capital that makes this business stand out among peers. Finally, as a recent spinout, the company is not that well known so the valuation for future cashflow growth is very reasonable.

In term of changes, we took the opportunity to start a position in London Stock Exchange after the shares suffered their largest one-day fall in more than 20 years in early March and continued to build our holding on weakness. In its final-year results, the company disappointed the market with its cost and revenue synergy guidance over the next few years following the Refinitiv acquisition. We know the London Stock Exchange business well, as long-term holders in our other portfolios, and believe the management team has been unfairly punished for doing the right thing – investing in their digital infrastructure, people and portfolio of solutions. Short-term investors wished to see near-term earnings accretion at the expense of the long-term sustainability and growth of the business.

As a recap, the Refinitiv acquisition has made LSE the global scale provider of financial data and analytics, moving the business further towards a resilient recurring revenue business model and less reliant on trading volumes. Data businesses have to continually invest in their platforms to ensure functionality is optimal and the required financial outlay to do that has worried the market in the short term. As long-term investors, however, we see investment for growth and ensuring a strong customer experience as positives underpinning future earnings and would be concerned if LSE were not doing this. We applaud management for investing in their business and thank short-term investors for selling their shares to us at a heavily discounted price to intrinsic value.

Other additions were Lifco under our Providing affordable healthcare theme, which acquires small and medium- sized business in areas including dental materials and equipment. We also participated in the IPO of consumer review website Trustpilot, a further purchase for Increasing financial resilience.

In terms of sells, we exited Novozymes on valuation grounds and it goes back onto our watchlist; we feel the current price reflects intrinsic value and the valuation needs to reset to a more mature growth profile. We also sold Corbion, where we see the legacy natural preservatives business as fairly low growth and commoditised. We bought the company for the bioplastics business and our thesis has worked; this now accounts for roughly half of the market cap despite being at a very nascent stage, accounting for just 7% of sales.

Discrete years' performance* (%), to previous quarter-end:

 

Mar-21

Mar-20

Mar-19

Mar-18

Mar-17

Liontrust GF SF Pan-European Growth Fund
A1 Acc

43.3

-0.5

-0.8

1.4

12.8

MSCI Europe

35.3

-13.5

5.5

-0.4

17.0

 

*Source: Financial Express, as at 31.03.21, primary share class, in euro terms, total return, net of fees and income reinvested.

 

For a comprehensive list of common financial words and terms, see our glossary here.



Key Risks


Past performance is not a guide to future performance. Do remember that the value of an investment and the income generated from them can fall as well as rise and is not guaranteed, therefore, you may not get back the amount originally invested and potentially risk total loss of capital. The majority of the Liontrust Sustainable Future Funds have holdings which are denominated in currencies other than Sterling and may be affected by movements in exchange rates. Some of these funds invest in emerging markets which may involve a higher element of risk due to less well-regulated markets and political and economic instability. Consequently the value of an investment may rise or fall in line with the exchange rates. Liontrust UK Ethical Fund, Liontrust SF European Growth Fund and Liontrust SF UK Growth Fund invest geographically in a narrow range and has a concentrated portfolio of securities, there is an increased risk of volatility which may result in frequent rises and falls in the Fund’s share price. Liontrust SF Managed Fund, Liontrust SF Corporate Bond Fund, Liontrust SF Cautious Managed Fund, Liontrust SF Defensive Managed Fund and Liontrust Monthly Income Bond Fund invest in bonds and other fixed-interest securities - fluctuations in interest rates are likely to affect the value of these financial instruments. If long-term interest rates rise, the value of your shares is likely to fall. If you need to access your money quickly it is possible that, in difficult market conditions, it could be hard to sell holdings in corporate bond funds. This is because there is low trading activity in the markets for many of the bonds held by these funds. Mentioned above five funds can also invest in derivatives. Derivatives are used to protect against currencies, credit and interests rates move or for investment purposes. There is a risk that losses could be made on derivative positions or that the counterparties could fail to complete on transactions.

Disclaimer

The information and opinions provided should not be construed as advice for investment in any product or security mentioned, an offer to buy or sell units/shares of Funds mentioned, or a solicitation to purchase securities in any company or investment product. Always research your own investments and (if you are not a professional or a financial adviser) consult suitability with a regulated financial adviser before investing.

Monday, April 19, 2021, 11:18 AM