Better not look down, Better not look down, If you want to keep on flying. Put the hammer down, Keep it full speed ahead. Better not look back Or you might just wind up cryin’. You can keep it moving, If you don't look down “Better Not Look Down”, Sample & Jennings, BB King, 1979 Perhaps your analyst has a cultural proclivity to look down too often. Certainly there have been no rewards in financial markets, at least since Q1 2016, for those not prepared to put the hammer down. Whether gauged by low cash levels in pension funds and mutual funds, high margin levels, low short interest levels or extinct volatility, all the evidence is that the hammer is down. Meanwhile, far below – so far it seems that even those occasionally glimpsing down cannot see it – a liquidity crisis is developing that is likely to become an emerging market debt crisis. Since Q1 2013 this analyst has been pointing out that the debtors of Turkey are likely to default. They may indeed be forced to do so if their government were to impose capital controls. Mass defaults have not occurred, though Turkey’s largest ever private sector default [...]
It is rare for investment managers to write about investment management fees. Like the artist who struggles to describe his ceramic pot in monetary terms, high quality investment managers prefer to build portfolios that deliver client objectives while leaving fees to their business colleagues. Investment management services are typically charged for by one of two methods. The most common is to charge a fixed percentage of assets managed for example, 0.75% per annum. This fee is set at a level which covers the costs of the investment manager and which also delivering a profit to the owners of the business. Critics point out that the manager earns his fee, and presumably a profit, regardless of the success of the strategy. To determine this, one needs to be clear on the investment objective. All investment managers should be able to express what their investment objective is. Under a flat fee scale the value of the fee shrinks when portfolio values fall and rises on growth. If increasing the value of an investment portfolio is the objective, this way of charging seems to align interests quite well. The second way of charging is to explicitly tie the fee earned to the performance [...]
Fay Ren compiles a glossary of questions asked in recent investor meetings and the related answers. Would you discuss your idea generation screen? Our permanent source of ideas is a screened universe of companies. We narrow the global universe of publicly listed companies by applying liquidity, size and profitability parameters. We also exclude banks, energy and basic materials companies given the leverage inherent in the former and commodity price sensitivity of the latter two groups. This screen provides a list of approximately 500 companies which are qualitatively reviewed for Global Leader characteristics. This list is not restrictive and analysts are free to generate ideas from multiple sources, however the screen ensures there is always a ready supply of ideas to work on. Do you have positive ESG filters? We anticipate holding our companies for very long periods of time and therefore look for those businesses which embrace sustainable practices. While we have not set ethical screens, we have found that our positive screening rules out many of the sectors most associated with ethical screening, for example, our growth criteria rule the tobacco companies out of consideration. Do you invest in utility companies? We do not invest in utilities as [...]
On November 1st, Cerno Capital will launch a concentrated, low turnover, global equity fund, TM Cerno Global Leaders. The strategy has been active in client accounts since 2013 and target 25-30 holdings are identified via proprietary research from our investment team. In the captioned podcast, Lead Manager James Spence explains the underlying thinking and portfolio structure and protocols which we believe make it a unique offering in the global equity sphere. Listen to the podcast here, or using the player below.
The investment world can be split into many camps, but, in discussions of risk, owners and custodians of capital, their agents, academics, analysts and journeymen pitch their tents firmly in one of two camps. In one field we have those for whom risk means the probability of a permanent loss of capital which would cancel all hope of achieving an investment objective. This group will oft reference the Sage of Omaha, Warren Buffet, who has been robust in his observation that risk is not synonymous with the preferred definition of the other camp – volatility. In business school classrooms, university lecture halls and many of the world’s largest asset managers it has been standard practice to use volatility, or the “spikiness” of a price chart, as a proxy for the risk of a tradeable asset, sector or asset class. The use of volatility stems from the study of the role markets play in setting the price of individual assets in the short term. It is the role of markets to rapidly assimilate information and establish a price. The mechanism by which this is achieved is the assessment of future returns by a myriad of market participants, each of whom will [...]
Boutique wealth management firm Cerno Capital is participating in the litigation seeking damages from Volkswagen. James Spence, managing partner at the boutique, said that the following the emissions scandal, Cerno sold out of its position in the automotive company and joined an investors’ group to join in the litigation in Germany. Saying that it is the only litigation that the company has ever been involved in, Spence pointed out that he felt it was important to be in a part of it following the scandal. He said ‘We were investors in VW and when the emissions scandal broke we sold the position entirely and we are participating in the litigation against VW to seek compensation on behalf of investors. That grinds on. But we hope and expect to be successful on behalf of investors’. Last year, it was reported that fund management giant BlackRock had also joined a shareholder lawsuit, demanding €2 billion (£1.7 billion). The car manufacturer was slapped with damages claims totally €8.2 billion by investors in September. There are currently around 1,400 lawsuits against the company at a court in Braunschweig, Germany. Elsewhere, Cerno Capital has appointed Jane Tufnell, who co-founded Ruffer Investments, to its advisory board.She [...]
Financial markets will struggle to adjust to what was a very possible, however largely unexpected and definitely undesired result. Between today and his inauguration on the 20th January, they will pay rapt attention to every utterance of President elect Trump. Already, we see a gulf between the rhetoric of the campaign and his acceptance speech which, for the large part, hit the usual magnanimous marks. This though was written by others and it was all too obvious where he extemporised: “it will be a beautiful thing”. It is not difficult to locate why this has happened in political historical terms. America is about to become a minority white country and many resent this. Nor were all ready for the Obama presidency. Real wages for all but the top echelons have stagnated since the early ‘80s, fostering disappointment over a generation. A large majority of the country is pessimistic about the prospects for their children and 69% of the population is either “angry” or “disappointed” with their politicians and political processes. In broad portfolio terms, looking beyond the snap reactions, the key question is whether this introduces a change of direction for the world economy and its financial asset classes. From [...]
Cerno Global Leaders is a long term equity investment programme designed to identify and invest in high quality, defensible business franchises. We have been investing in an equal weighted portfolio of such stocks on behalf of investors since 2013. Results, to date, have been very encouraging and the portfolio has exhibited strong performance. The underlying process is very much tilted toward the research and identification stages with many possible candidates rejected along the way. To render a manageable list of candidates from the global equity universe of 68,000 listed companies, we apply a quantitative screen. To ensure sufficient liquidity, we screen for companies with a minimum market cap of US$2.5bn. We exclude highly leveraged sectors and deeply cyclical sectors such as banks, oil & gas, basic materials and mining. Positive profit histories and robust balance sheets are also requirements for inclusion. Note that past stock performance is not a criteria. This naturally gives the screened sample a high quality bias, which is reinforced at the next stage of the selection process. This leads onto the creation of an approved list of stocks, to be invested at the right valuation. With the universe defined, more rigorous qualitative assessment on selected candidates [...]
In an endemically low growth world, prone to accelerating forces of disruption, it has become progressively harder to identify stocks to hold for the very long run. There is, though, a group of superficially boring healthcare stocks which are locked into long term palliative, chronic or geriatric pathologies where the demand profile is observably robust and their respective market positions pretty much unassailable. We hold six such companies within the Cerno Global Leaders Strategy, an equity investment program designed to identify and invest in companies for the very long term. The six are made up of three medical equipment suppliers, two chronic conditions specialists and one generalist. The healthcare companies we like have very simple, understandable products and services and are accessing large and growing patient pools. These companies typically operate in oligopolies where the competitive environment is relatively benign, where they are able to maintain stable market shares through high barriers to entry, switching costs and superior intellectual property, thereby sustain high margins for an extended period. We avoid complex and intangible businesses with high valuations and no proven cash generative abilities, for instance many new names in the biotech segment. A basic understanding of the key demographics is [...]
Whilst the headline indices held up in 2015, the drivers behind the US equity market have been weakening for sometime. Index levels have been pendant on flows into a concentrated number large cap technology growth shares and, outside these, supported by extraordinary levels of share buy-back activity. Meanwhile the model-dependent Fed is hawkish as long as employment numbers hold up. Should they do so, higher rates crimp equities but should they weaken, other aspects of the US economy will presumably be weakening in tandem. These are an unattractive set of payoffs and our core thesis now calls for a bear market in US equities. We have been reducing risk within portfolios and have moved to a more defensive position.