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Investment trust portfolio: Shifting dials

John Baron explains the rationale behind the portfolios’ Q1 changes
Investment trust portfolio: Shifting dials

The dial is shifting across a range of issues. These include Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s more robust foreign policy shifting geopolitical calculations, the pandemic crystallising more immediately a number of trends and priorities for both governments and peoples alike, and investors becoming aware that central banks have changed their tune and inflation is no longer ‘transitory’. The latter in particular has implications for investors not only in relation to the balance and nature of their portfolios’ diversification, but also the composition of their equity component. Investors need to be positioned accordingly as interest rates rise more than initially expected

 

Higher inflation and interest rates

The column ‘Preparing for inflation’ (12 March 2021) outlined why persistently higher inflation was now part of the investment equation, in contrast to forecasts at the time, and how portfolios were being positioned accordingly. On the back of a global economic slump during the pandemic, the consensus was that deflation was the greater threat. However, there were and are counter-balancing forces are at work.

Reference in the piece was made to the Alice in Wonderland world of Quantitative Easing (QE) where economic reality and asset prices get distorted, and to our long-term contrarian view as to why governments had kept interest rates artificially low. Both policies had facilitated high borrowing and deficits, with central banks relaxed as to whether such policies would encourage moderate inflation given this would help erode the high debt levels over time – the prevailing belief being inflation could be tamed before it became a problem. Such policies also had the added advantage of concealing the true agenda in plain sight.

Accordingly, central banks have been ‘behind the curve’. Despite all the usual precursors to higher inflation flashing red at the time (for example, the UK M4 and US M2 money supply figures) and clear evidence of pockets of meaningful inflation, policymakers did not react as they once would have done by raising interest rates quickly. The Federal Reserve indicated at the time that it was more relaxed about inflation rising above 2 per cent, given forecasts that inflation was not a problem. One is again reminded of Galbraith’s quip that the only purpose of forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.

This has now all changed. The inflationary ‘genie’ is out of the bottle. The problem with the early rounds of QE was that the money printed was largely soaked up by the financial system to restore bank balance sheets crippled during the financial crisis. This time the money printing has been reaching the front-line economy and affecting prices, and central banks have become alarmed at the level of expected inflation. There is no more talk of inflation being ‘transitory’.

In addition to QE being replaced by Quantitative Tightening (QT), the Federal Reserve and markets are now factoring in an increased number of interest rate rises – some estimates suggesting UK rates will reach around 2.5 per cent by the end of the year. The concern for the markets is one of recession or very possibly ‘stagflation’ – high inflation and low/no economic growth. The portents are ominous. Of the 16 tightening cycles since the 1970s, certainly 12 have ended in recession.

And any market equivocation about the issue will come to better recognise the other long-term structural factors affecting inflation – some of which have been reinforced of late. Geopolitical risk is seldom absent as the trade war and rhetoric between the US and China has reminded us, but the invasion of Ukraine marks the coming of a new Cold War in the defence of democracy – something we have previously thought required little investment. The West is once again waking up to the fact that the concept is fragile – it needs nurturing and protecting – for there are many who do not value it. Hard and soft power budgets are going to increase.

The resulting hardening of alliances, together with the lessons from the pandemic, is contributing to business and energy supply chains being shortened. The ‘just in time’ model is gradually being replaced with a ‘just in case’ approach. Corporate cash reserves will increase to accommodate any crises. This will also make the sourcing of cheap labour more difficult. Indeed, wage inflation will be a key factor in this new inflationary landscape, also encouraged by the shortage of workers courtesy of demographics and an understandable political agenda to better support the lower paid. This will all adversely impact on profitability unless prices rise.

In combination, such factors will result in persistently higher inflation almost regardless of the economic backdrop. Markets are readjusting to this new environment. Portfolios need to be suitably constructed, relative to their remit. The changes during Q1 therefore continue with the theme of portfolio resilience given the expected volatility ahead.

 

Portfolio changes

The Growth portfolio sold entirely its holdings in Montanaro European Smaller Companies (MTE), Montanaro UK Smaller Companies (MTU), Worldwide Healthcare Trust (WWH), Baillie Gifford US Growth Trust (USA) and JPMorgan Japan Smaller Growth & Income (JSGI). Monies raised helped to top-up JLEN Environmental Assets Group (JLEN) and Finsbury Growth & Income (FGT), while Murray International Trust (MYI) and City of London (CTY) were introduced.

The Income portfolio reduced its holding in Herald (HRI), and sold its holdings in Smithson Investment Trust (SSON) and Edinburgh Worldwide (EWI). Ruffer Investment Company (RICA) and CQS Natural Resources Growth & Income (CYN) were added to, while Bluefield Solar Income Fund (BSIF) was introduced. Otherwise, both portfolios sold their holding in Aberforth Split Level Income (ASIT) and introduced JPMorgan Global Growth & Income (JGGI).

The investment trusts sold during the quarter remain excellent companies, and ones which are all held in some of the other 10 real investment trust portfolios managed on the website www.johnbaronportfolios.co.uk. The Growth and Income portfolios are two of five website portfolios reflecting an investment journey, which becomes progressively diversified and defensive as time passes. The remaining five portfolios pursue a range of remits and so have greater latitude in their choice and weightings.

The changes largely represent a reduction in exposure to ‘growth’ stocks (MTE, MTU, WWH, USA, JSGI, EWI, HRI, SSON) given higher interest rates will continue to bring into question their ratings, in favour typically of larger more defensive ‘value’ companies (CTY, MYI and JGGI) which yield more – both in the UK and overseas. The changes also see an increase in exposure to other assets, less correlated to equity markets, which should benefit from rising inflation (JLEN, CYN and BSIF) or which focus on capital preservation (RICA) given the challenges ahead.

 

Portfolio breakdowns as at 31 March 2022
Growth PortfolioIncome Portfolio 
Bonds Bonds 
    New City High Yield (NCYF)4.5%    iShares Index Linked Gilts ETF (INXG)5.0%
    iShares Index Linked Gilts ETF (INXG)2.5%    Henderson Diversified Income (HDIV)2.5%
UK Shares     CQS New City High Yield (NCYF)2.5%
    Murray Income Trust (MUT)5.0%UK Shares 
    Edinburgh Investment Trust (EDIN)4.5%    Dunedin Income Growth (DIG)5.0%
    City of London (CTY)4.0%    Edinburgh Investment trust (EDIN)4.5%
    Finsbury Growth & Income Trust (FGT)4.0%    The Mercantile Trust (MRC)3.5%
    The Mercantile Trust (MRC)3.0%    Invesco Perpetual UK Smaller Cos (IPU)3.5%
    Henderson Smaller Companies (HSL)3.0%    Montanaro UK Smaller Cos (MTU)2.5%
    Aberdeen UK Smaller Cos (SLS)3.0%International Shares 
    BlackRock Throgmorton Trust (THRG)2.0%    Murray International Trust (MYI)5.0%
International Shares     JPMorgan Global Growth & Income (JGGI)3.5%
    AVI Global Trust (AGT)4.5%    Utilico Emerging Markets (UEM)2.5%
    JPMorgan Global Growth & Income (JGGI)4.0%Themes 
    Murray International (MYI)3.0%    Ruffer Investment Company (RICA)4.0%
    Edinburgh Worldwide (EWI)2.0%    Apax Global Alpha Ltd (APAX)3.5%
    Oryx International Growth Fund (OIG)2.0%    Personal Assets Trust (PNL)3.5%
Themes     Herald (HRI)2.5%
    Herald (HRI)4.0%    BB Healthcare Trust (BBH)2.0%
    Standard Life Private Equity Trust (SLPE)3.5%Other Assets 
    Personal Assets Trust (PNL)3.0%    BioPharma Credit Investments (BPCR)5.5%
    Bellevue Healthcare Trust (BBH)3.0%    Standard Life Property Inc (SLI)5.0%
    Augmentum Fintech (AUGM)2.5%    HICL Infrastructure Company (HICL)4.5%
    Apax Global Alpha Ltd (APAX)2.5%    JLEN Environmental Assets Group (JLEN)4.5%
Other Assets      BlackRock World Mining (BRWM)4.5%
    Standard Life Property Income (SLI)6.0%    CQS Natural Resources Growth & Inc (CYN)4.5%
    HICL Infrastructure Company (HICL)5.0%    WisdomTree Physical Gold ETF £ (PHGP)3.5%
    BlackRock World Mining Trust (BRWM)5.0%    Regional REIT (RGL)2.5%
    BioPharma Credit Investments (BPCR)4.5%    International Public Partnerships (INPP)2.5%
    JLEN Environmental Assets Group (JLEN)4.5%    GCP Asset Backed Income Fund (GABI)2.5%
    CQS Natural Resources Growth & Inc (CYN)3.5%    Bluefield Solar Income Fund (BSIF)2.5%
Cash2.5%Cash2.5%
Total100%Total100%
Holdings are rounded to the nearest 0.5%   

 

Portfolio performance
 Growth  Income
1 Jan 2009 – 31 Mar 2022 
Portfolio (%)418.4298.4
Benchmark (%)*223.9159.5
   
YTD (to 31 Mar)  
Portfolio (%)-6.6-1.5
Benchmark (%)*-1.7-2.4
Yield (%)3.43.9
*The MSCI PIMFA Growth and Income benchmarks are cited (total return)