Norman started his career in investments in 1988 and has worked as an investment analyst and portfolio manager in asset management divisions. He has been actively involved in setting up investment processes and held the position of Chief Investment Officer in a previous company. Norman joined RMB Asset Management in 2000.
Momentum Financials comment - Jun 14
Global economic conditions appear to be on the mend, but risks to the outlook remain. In support of the pedestrian global recovery, key central banks have kept ultra-low monetary policy rates in place, which have, in turn, fuelled record stock market highs. South African (SA) equity valuations, which are not supported by underlying developed-market fundamentals, look expensive, which is likely to cause some underperformance.
While we expect more consistent growth in key developed regions, we see downside risks to the emerging market (EM) outlook given sluggish global trade activity and relatively benign domestic demand conditions. In the run-up to higher rates in the US, tighter financial conditions could further become a problem for countries, including SA, that remain highly dependent on foreign capital to fund their large external deficits.
Domestic labour unrest poses further risks to SA's economic outlook. Whereas significant growth downgrades are likely preventing a steeper interest rate profile at this stage, the need to anchor inflation expectations at a lower level and unusually-low real policy rates necessitate further rate increases. We expect a 50 basis point hike in July, to be followed by a further 25 basis points in November and March, downwardly biased on growth concerns.
Sector and portfolio overview
The financial sector continued its strong performance into the second quarter of the year, with the sector gaining 7.8% over the period, bringing the six-month return (to the end of June 2014) to 14.4%. Banks outperformed the life companies and general financials over the period, gaining 8.5% over the quarter relative to the 7.7% that both the life and general financials sectors delivered. Firstrand was the star performer amongst the banks over the three-month period, gaining 13%. Within the general financials index, while Investec performed well, ending up 15%, the outperformers were Brait and Zeder, which gained 23% and 37% respectively.
African Bank continued its downward slide and shed a further 37% over the quarter, bringing its year-to-date share price movement to -44%. RMI and Discovery were the best performing of the life companies, gaining 14% and 15% respectively.
Against this backdrop, the Momentum Financial Services Fund delivered 7.6% over the period and 35.57% over the past twelve months. The most significant contributors this quarter were overweight positions in Firstrand, Investec and Alexander Forbes Preference Shares Limited and underweight positions in African Bank, Growthpoint and Capital & Counties. An overweight position in Barclays and underweights in Sanlam and Brait were amongst the larger detractors this quarter.
With the risk of a steep and significant rising interest rate cycle quickly abating, the banking sector looks relatively attractive in a somewhat expensive market. We expect that the banks will be net beneficiaries in the current rising rate cycle as the positive earnings impact of higher rates will more than offset the potential losses as bad debts tick up.
We remain cautious on African Bank and do not hold any of the stock in the fund. While the share price has fallen significantly over the past twelve months, we believe that the risk/reward profile is still not compelling enough to begin building a position in the stock. Our decision not to hold any of the stock in the portfolio has benefited the fund and been the largest contributor to performance over the past six months.
At the end of the period, the fund reflected our preference for banks over insurers. Firstrand and Standard remain our preferred plays in the banking space, whilst, amongst the life companies, we are overweight Old Mutual and neutral Discovery.
The Momentum Financials Fund objective is to maximise equity portfolio returns over the FTSE/JSE Financials Index over time. The fund offers investors the potential for long term capital growth through exposure to insurance and banking counter and other stocks with financial services exposure.