MichaelFlitton

About Michael Flitton

Michael began his investment career at GLG Partners, the hedge fund, in 2006 where he focused on the Basic Materials and Industrials sectors. He worked as an equity research analyst at Citi (2011-2017), initially covering Mining & Steel (2011-2015) and latterly European Chemicals (2016-2017). Michael graduated from the University of Nottingham with an BA (Hons) in Industrial Economics.

Gold – Foul Weather Friend

By |2019-09-09T08:58:23+00:00September 9th, 2019|Asset Allocation, Asset Class Returns, Cerno Capital, Cerno Capital Posts, FX and Rates, General Investment, Strategy|

Sapiens rule the world because of stories. As the historian Yuval Harari convincingly sets out in his excellent series of books on the past, present, and future of humanity, stories are the real difference between us and chimpanzees. Stories are the glue that allow millions of strangers to organise and cooperate towards a common goal. Corporations, nations and money are all fictions. They do not exist outside the imagination of human beings. We believe in them, which give the concepts power. Gold is one of the most powerful stories in finance. Coveted in ancient cultures, it holds little intrinsic value in the modern age. Its industrial uses are limited, and it generates no yield for the holder. And yet, over centuries a story has been woven in which gold acts as the ultimate store of value. The universal reserve currency. This belief has survived innumerate tests. Isolating the period since 1982, when inflation was tamed, illustrates gold’s characteristics. It is hard to utilise as a buy and hold asset: underperforming US equities 69% the time. Outside of periods of anxiety, the underlying deficiencies of gold’s reality come back to the fore. However when it does perform, it tends to perform [...]

Microsoft – Azure Skies

By |2019-08-28T15:06:36+00:00August 28th, 2019|Asset Allocation, Cerno Capital, Cerno Capital Posts, Cerno Global Leaders, General Investment, Global Leaders|

“Whatever happened to Microsoft?” the Guardian[1] mused in August 2012. In some respects, this might have appeared an odd question. The company dominated the PC market via Office and Windows, while it also led in the corporate server market. At a market cap of US$220bn the company was still one of the biggest in the world. However, while its core business was nigh-on impregnable, strategic missteps had left it on the side lines of key consumer trends, most notably the smartphone and social media. In 2012, the iPhone brought in more revenue than all of Microsoft’s products. While the group held a small stake in Facebook its participation in the secular megatrend of interconnectedness was minimal. The most damaging factor was the speed of change. Apple had created the smartphone market from nowhere only 5 years earlier; Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer infamously declared at the time it had “no chance”. Facebook was about to welcome its billionth user 6 years after launch. Microsoft’s reaction function was to chase the pack, in all directions. The group embarked a series of misadventures including, acquiring Nokia for €7bn. This flailing added to the perception that Microsoft was a yesterday company. As the Guardian pointedly [...]

BB Healthcare – being part of the solution

By |2019-06-05T10:38:15+00:00June 4th, 2019|Asset Allocation, Cerno Capital, Cerno Capital Posts, General Investment, Manager Selection, Strategy|

Healthcare offers a fertile hunting ground for investors with horizons beyond that of most market participants. In the search for companies capable of compounding earnings over long periods the unique secular demand underpinning the sector is a useful tailwind. Within Cerno clients’ portfolios we own companies in orthopaedics (Zimmer Biomet), pharma & technology (Johnson & Johnson and Waters) and post-operative care (Coloplast). 5 of the 27 stocks within our Global Leaders strategy are bracketed healthcare stocks with many more feeding their products and services into the supply chain. Newer, disruptive technologies are also represented in the Baillie Gifford Global Discovery Fund where healthcare represents 35-40%. Nevertheless, it is our observation that our investment footprint risks lagging the expanding opportunity set. As we set out in a recent missive, The New Ways, affordability is becoming an increasingly intransigent, and central issue for the effective delivery of healthcare. In the US healthcare spend is a colossal US$3.3tn, expanding at twice the rate of inflation. Traditional pharma has few tools in its locker to resolve the problem. The answer instead lies in a broad church of business, from medical technology (MedTech), to managed care, to healthcare IT. Technology often lies at the heart [...]

ASML – pre-eminent in photolithography

By |2019-05-14T08:47:54+00:00May 14th, 2019|Cerno Capital, Cerno Capital Posts, Developed Equities, General Investment, Global Leaders|

ASML is the dominant supplier of photolithography tools for semiconductor manufacturers. Photolithography is the process of printing with light. In semiconductors it is the process whereby a light source is used to expose circuit patterns onto a wafer via a photomask. Photolithography has played a pivotal role in the evolution of semiconductors. It was Robert Noyce (future co-founder of Intel) at Fairchild Semiconductors in 1960 who saw the potential of the process to enable the printing of electronic circuits on flat, silicon wafers. This vision gave birth to the first integrated circuit and catalysed the race to ever smaller geometries in chip design. As transistor scale approaches the atomic level, the next limiting factor for the continuation of Moore’s Law1 is the wavelength of light. The shorter the wavelength, the smaller the scale in which a circuit can be printed. A radical reengineering of the lithography process is required. For the last 20 years ASML has been working on just such a radical solution. EUV or Extreme Ultraviolet lithography drops the wavelength of light from 193nm to 13.5nm enabling the extension of Moore’s Law through 2025. The payoff for this commitment of capital, and shouldering of risk, is 100% market [...]

Global Healthcare – The New Ways

By |2019-02-15T16:08:03+00:00February 15th, 2019|Asset Allocation, Cerno Capital, Cerno Capital Posts, General Investment|

Nothing is certain but death and taxes. To this Benjamin Franklin might have reasonably addended ‘but people’s desire to avoid both should not be underestimated’. Putting aside the morality of the latter the desire to maximise one’s health speaks to us all. It is this desire which has helped the healthcare sector to deliver enviable multi-year returns. Globally the sector has generated a total return of 9% p.a. since 2005, outperforming the broader market by over 2% p.a. Source: Bloomberg, world = developed markets But fortunes have not been evenly distributed. Beneath the surface the drivers of growth are shifting. Since the late ‘80s cash earnings for the broad healthcare space have exhibited a rising trend against the market, illustrating the unique secular demand underpinning the sector. However, the beneficiaries of this demand have rotated. Large cap pharma, often a heuristic for the sector, continues to dominate the market cap spectrum, but better growth is to be found elsewhere. This is reflected in starkly contrasting stock performance. Despite representing some 50% of the whole, pharma gained only 46% since 2012 (a CAGR of 6%) against the sector up 112% (CAGR: 13%). Distributable Cash Earnings - US Healthcare vs S&P 500, [...]

What does credit default pricing tell us about the cycle?

By |2018-11-23T12:55:49+00:00November 23rd, 2018|Cerno Capital, Cerno Capital Posts, Credit, General Investment|

Credit risk is the risk that companies do not repay their debts. This risk can be measured and traded. CDX IG is an index comprising the 125 most liquid single name Credit Default Swaps (CDS) in the investment grade space in the US. The most commonly traded tenor point is 5 years and the index is refreshed by the provider every 6 months to maintain maturity and liquidity profile of the underlying names. We are currently on series 31 (meaning the index has been running in one form or another since 2002-2003). The index is quoted in terms of basis points and a quote represents the annual cost of insuring a notional amount of the underlying assets (as a simple approximation). For example; with CDX IG NA currently trading at 78bps (0.78%) an investor paying to insure US$10mn for 5 years would pay US$78,000 annually. In return for this insurance premium they would be made whole (minus the recovery rate) in the event of any defaults during the period, proportionate to the size of the constituent. On the flip side, the seller of such a contract would receive US$78,000 annually whilst being on the hook for the above obligations. These [...]

Cerno Capital awarded HK Connect status

By |2018-09-26T10:05:55+00:00September 25th, 2018|Cerno Capital, Cerno Capital Posts, General Investment, Other Posts|

Following several months of work, we have been awarded HK Connect status which allows us to invest in Shenzhen and Shanghai listed ‘A’ shares (formerly known as local stock). The ‘stock connect’ link between China’s mainland markets and Hong Kong relaxes restrictions that historically split the Chinese stock market between shares targeted at local investors and those available to international investors. The link was first launched in 2014 between Shanghai and Hong Kong. In late 2016 it was further extended to include the burgeoning, technology hub of Shenzhen. It allows mainland Chinese to purchase shares listed in Hong Kong and lets foreigners buy China A shares listed on the mainland. This vastly expands the range of possible investments we can make in the world’s most exciting economy. Fay Ren, Co-Manager of TM Cerno Pacific & Emerging comments: “The A-share market is more than twice the size of the H-share market, giving us access to a wealth of new ideas to explore. There are some real gems in the mix and we are thrilled with the opportunity to find and own them, in particular the more tech oriented entrepreneurial names that are little known outside the country”. Goldman Sachs, with whom [...]

The Next Global Downturn: Corporate Debt & the Concept of Fragility

By |2018-07-24T10:14:59+00:00July 16th, 2018|Cerno Capital Posts, Cerno Global Leaders, Developed Equities, General Investment, Global Leaders, Other Posts, Strategy|

Our aim, within the context of the Global Leaders Fund, is to own great companies over multiple market cycles. In this way we operate over a timeframe where competition is scarcer, allowing us the best opportunity to outperform global markets. This overarching objective is underpinned by three concepts: growth, long term relevance (sustainability of returns) and financial soundness. All three are crucial in delineating the leading businesses we want to own. Companies that we can employ in a concentrated, low turnover portfolio and sleep comfortably at night. Growth is perhaps the easier to define: does the company have the tools at its disposal to compound earnings at an attractive rate over time. Relevance and sustainability has sharply diverging meanings depending on who one asks. Our preference is to cast the net as broadly as possible: simply, a company whose current earnings to do not borrow from its future earnings. This concept is wide ranging and influences the fund exclusions. Tobacco for example, where new customers must be found to offset the natural elimination of the existing base by the product itself. Old energy with the extensive disruption from renewables already in full swing. Banks, where inherent leverage hangs like a [...]

Chr. Hansen – Approved for Investment

By |2018-06-08T13:49:53+00:00June 8th, 2018|Cerno Capital Posts, Cerno Global Leaders, Other Posts|

Newly approved Global Leaders stock: Chr. Hansen is a leading global bioscience company engaged in the development of natural ingredient solutions for the food, nutritional, pharmaceutical and agricultural industries. The group’s products leverage its core competence in microbial strains, or ‘good bacteria’, enzymes and natural colours. 60% of group sales are derived from microbial cultures (the majority of which are starter cultures for cheese and fermented milk), 20% from human and animal probiotics, and 20% from natural colourings for the food and beverage industry. The group is uniquely positioned at the convergence of multiple consumer trends: the desire for natural ingredients, the removal of antibiotics and chemical preservatives in the food chain, health and wellness and the huge potential of the human microbiome. Over the past 10 years the group has delivered an admirable combination of expanding margins and organic growth of 10% p.a. Concurrently return on capital has expanded from 4% in 2010 to 16% in 2016/17 driven primarily by improved asset turnover.