Cerno Global Leaders

Q&A from recent Global Leaders Breakfasts

By |2019-11-07T12:33:27+00:00November 7th, 2019|Cerno Capital Posts, Cerno Global Leaders, Events|

How do you contrast between picking companies and picking industries? The one is integral to the other. The obvious latch points are the companies but we always need to understand their environments. We own VISA and therefore it is necessary to have a view on the whole marketplace including MasterCard and to an extent American Express. The big tide here is the shift from credit to debit and how the rising mix of e-commerce is pulling returns up. The big existential risk is that a platform such as Alipay gains access and related technologies undermines the incumbents. Semiconductors is an example of an industry where competition has been winnowed down by virtue of the increasing capital costs of capex and R&D to compete at the cutting edge.  In 2000, 28 companies were capable of producing chips with the most advanced technology. Today that number is 3. We own Samsung and TSMC within the portfolio. The relentless ratchet in spending requirements is well illustrated by the cost to purchase the newest photolithography machines for EUV from ASML. These cost some 4x the prior generation. The next phase machines will cost 2x this again. The extremity of the technological frontier in semiconductors [...]

Portfolio changes to Cerno Global Leaders Strategy

By |2019-09-04T13:58:51+00:00September 3rd, 2019|Asset Allocation, Cerno Capital, Cerno Capital Posts, Cerno Global Leaders, General Investment, Global Leaders, Strategy|

Over the summer months, we have made a number of changes to the Global Leaders portfolio. 3M and Reckitt Benckiser have been sold within the portfolio whilst Nidec, Microsoft and Philips have all been added. We profile the rationale for each below. 3M After many decades of impressive growth, we believe 3M now faces considerable pressure from lower quality substitution, powered by powerful retail and procurement platforms of which Amazon is the most notable player. Secondly, 3M now has proportionately less growth opportunity than any time in its history – by geography and by market segment. Following a period of review, 3M has been sold from the Global Leaders portfolio. 3M is a somewhat unique company. Its corporate DNA is based on product invention and development across very wide product segments, appealing to both household and industry buyers. It has been at the vanguard of US companies pushing into a globalised world. It runs thousands of product lines across four divisions without seeming inchoate: safety & industrial (34% of group sales), transportations & electronics (29%), health care (21%) and consumer (16%). Group sales total US$32bn, meaning that an additional US$1bn is needed to achieve 3% growth. This is a hard [...]

Philips – Slimmer, lighter, healthier

By |2019-08-28T15:08:33+00:00August 28th, 2019|Cerno Capital, Cerno Capital Posts, Cerno Global Leaders, General Investment, Global Leaders|

In 2017, Royal Philips, the Dutch company known for its lightbulbs and electric shavers, was reclassified into the Healthcare sector from Industrials, having undertaken a multi-year corporate transition to shift its portfolio from electronic goods to providing more personal and professional healthcare solutions. Once the largest European consumer electronics conglomerate, Philips was famous for its industrial and fundamental research, pioneering cutting-edge products from compact cassette recorders in the 1960s to integrated circuits and transistor technology in the 2000s. Many companies today share their roots with Philips, including the leading semiconductor equipment makers ASML and NXP; and Universal Studios, whose previous life as PolyGram (founded by Philips), was the largest global entertainment label in the 1970s. Despite being an innovation powerhouse, Philips made the classic conglomerate mistake of losing strategic focus owing to overdiversification, bloating its empire with unconnected low margin businesses. At its peak in the 1980s, Philips operated 13 major divisions and over 120 businesses across electronics, appliances, medical systems, entertainment, lighting, components and semiconductors, employing a massive workforce of 380,000 people. The indigestion was felt keenly when the company almost went into bankruptcy in the early 1990s. Its television tubes and lighting business was at risk of commoditisation [...]

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 [...]

Portfolio changes to Cerno Global Leaders Strategy

By |2019-08-14T14:19:21+00:00August 14th, 2019|Cerno Capital Posts, Cerno Global Leaders, Global Leaders|

3M and Reckitt Benckiser have been sold within the portfolio and Nidec has been added. After many decades of impressive growth, we believe 3M now faces considerable pressure from lower quality substitution, powered by powerful retail and procurement platforms of  which Amazon is the most notable player. Secondly, 3M now has proportionately less growth opportunity than any time in its history – by geography and by market segment. Following a period of review, 3M has been sold from the Global Leaders portfolio. 3M is a somewhat unique company. Its corporate DNA is based on product invention and development across very wide product segments, appealing to both household and industry buyers. It has been at the vanguard of US companies pushing into a globalised world. It runs thousands of product lines across four divisions without seeming inchoate: safety & industrial (34% of group sales) , transportations & electronics (29%), health care (21%) and consumer (16%). Group sales total US$32bn, meaning that an additional US$1bn is needed to achieve 3% growth. This is a hard task in the world of materials where products can be readily substituted, in many cases. To some extent 3M is the victim of its own successes: its [...]

Range by David Epstein – Cerno Capital Book of the Year 2019

By |2019-07-18T10:40:39+00:00July 17th, 2019|Cerno Capital Posts, Cerno Global Leaders, General Investment|

We have been reading the newly published book, Range, by David Epstein. The central argument of the book is a refutation of a well circulated theory that expertise in most fields can be attained by 10,000 hours of dedicated practice. This original theory is grounded in a 1993 paper co-authored by Anders Ericsson entitled The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance1. Anders and his colleagues enjoyed considerable take-up of their core thesis with books on the subject authored by Malcolm Gladwell, Geoff Colvin and Daniel Coyle2. These books occupy a burgeoning section of non-fiction where sports meets self-improvement and cognitive science. Epstein opens the book by comparing Roger Federer to Tiger Woods. Woods might be considered an exemplar of the 10,000 hour rule – intensely coached by his father and associates from a very young age to become the second most successful golfer in the modern history of the game . Federer, by contrast, despite being the son of a tennis coach (mother in his case), was allowed to play all forms of ball sports into his teens and made the decision himself to begin to specialise in tennis, a full 10 years later than Tiger [...]

Renishaw Negotiates a Soft-Patch

By |2019-05-29T13:32:21+00:00May 29th, 2019|Cerno Capital, Cerno Capital Posts, Cerno Global Leaders, General Investment, Other Posts|

Renishaw, a UK engineering company held in the Global Leaders portfolio, held its annual Capital Markets Day on the 14th May in their Gloucestershire Innovation Centre, showcasing a selection of their machines. The company sells high precision measuring, gauging and calibration equipment to the high-end industrial and manufacturing sectors, enabling their customers to optimise processes and output, significantly reducing time and cost of production. Metrology has been core to Renishaw’s business since the founding of the company in 1973, when the original touch-trigger probe was invented by Sir David McMurtry, to test the integrity of finished aerospace components. Traditionally, finished parts are inspected at the end of the production line, if a defect is found, the entire batch is likely to be scrapped. For expensive components such as jet engine blades that cost northward of £250,000 a piece, this can become a costly undertaking. Exhibit: Renishaw Equator Gauging system next to a Fanuc Robodrill Source: Renishaw Renishaw’s value proposition to their customers is to integrate product inspection into the manufacturing process, tracking errors in real-time. Their probes and gauging systems are often found sitting alongside manufacturer’s machines on the factory floor. For instance, their flexible 5-axis probe (shown above), takes [...]

Nestlé – provenance and packaging

By |2019-05-21T09:59:38+00:00May 21st, 2019|Cerno Capital, Cerno Capital Posts, Cerno Global Leaders, General Investment, Global Leaders|

As the largest food and beverage company in the world, Nestlé leaves a significant footprint on the markets it touches. While Nestlé is not a primary producer, it maintains close links with agriculture to establish provenance and guard against reputational risk associated with poorly chosen inputs. While its products are mostly consumed, the packaging used to deliver product is a material consideration – Nestlé is concerned both with the source materials of packaging and its disposal after use. The investment that Nestlé makes in both packaging technology and ingredient sourcing is a competitive advantage that allows it to maintain Global Leader status. Rather than simply observing the practices used by agriculture, Nestlé is an active participant in the development of new practices that improve productivity, crop quality and environmental practices. Nestlé achieves this via its network of Plant Science R&D centres and directly employed agronomists. Each year, the company processes 10% of the coffee and cocoa produced globally. For an example of a practical initiative we can look to Jardin in the Colombian Andes where Nestlé sources high quality coffee beans for Nespresso capsules. Traditional processing of coffee cherries involves on-farm fermentation to remove the outer shell with the waste [...]

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 [...]

The Custom Option

By |2018-07-11T08:54:19+00:00July 9th, 2018|Cerno Capital, Cerno Capital Posts, Cerno Global Leaders, General Investment, Global Leaders, Investment Quarterly, Other Posts, Strategy|

Conducting big business in the decades following the industrial revolution normally entailed the marshalling of labour and resources in a profitable sinecure. Fur trappers and tin miners, agriculture and energy, railroads and steel all fit this model. These industries persist today but are becoming scarce in the pantheon of very top companies measured by market capitalisation or economic value addition. Labour has mobilised, a thicket of laws exists to prevent excessive exploitation and monopolies of international scale are prohibited. Only perhaps in the world of software and social media have we seen the kind of recently accrued market share power that breeds exploitative practices: Microsoft’s dominance of operating system software is a matter of historic fact and Facebook’s control of the network effect across its platforms are prime examples of predatory corporate behaviour: rabid until checked. Outside these large and unusual cases, successful companies conducting business across multiple continents need to balance of standardisation against customisation. Standard so often entails stand-still which is a death curse for companies. At the other end of the spectrum, few businesses can adopt a fully bespoke offering and hope to grow beyond their artisanal roots. There is another category, companies and sometimes just one-person [...]