Johann has 24 years investment experience of which 14 years was spent as an equity analyst. The last 10 years were spent as a portfolio manager.He was one of the founder members of the large cap team and played a role in designing the large cap investment process.He is currently a member of the equity selection group at Sanlam Investment Management.
Sanlam Namibia General Equity Fund - Mar 19
MSCI developed markets experienced an exceptional quarter with a US Dollar return of 12.5%, outperforming emerging markets, which in turn also realised good absolute numbers of 9.9% year to date. After experiencing their worst December since 1931, global stocks posted their best January since 1987 and global equities had their second-best quarter on record. But the rally wasnft plain sailing with economic data releases surprising on the downside. Global growth is trending around the 3% mark, but the key question remains whether global growth has indeed bottomed at around trend levels.
The temporary ceasefire in the trade war and the postponement of the 25% tariff rate have provided the markets with some relief. The US Federal Reserve (Fed) joined the party with some dovish comments and markets now expect the Fed to cut rates both this year and the next, with only a modest rise in the US 10-year bond rate being anticipated. Finally, lower volatility provided a more favourable environment for risky assets .
Despite the S&P 500 Index posting its best start of the year in a decade, the inversion of the US yield curve at the end of the quarter put a damper on the initial bullish mood with concerns of a recession looming. The Fed will be using interest rates to target inflation, but Fed Chair Jerome Powell mentioned that the US was not at the neutral rate providing optimism that future hikes will be delayed. The Fed has effectively paused the federal funds rate at 2.5%, which is below the neutral level of 3%. This provided a boost to risk assets and weakened the greenback temporarily.
However, the possibility of a no-deal Brexit is also in the balance with another extension expected beyond the crucial 2 April vote. There is an increasing possibility that Britain will go for the customs union route (a socalled esoftf Brexit), but there remains the possibility of a referendum and an early election. The Chinese economy continues to experience a soft landing with growth expected to be in the 6.0-6.5% p.a. range in the year to come, the slowest growth rate in three decades. The Chinese are stimulating their economy further with tax cuts . the latest measure to be implemented . and at the end of March the manufacturing PMI surprised on the upside with the biggest month-on-month increase since 2012.
Some key risks that remains for 2019 are that the tailwind of quantitative easing is turning into the headwind of quantitative tapering. Net purchases by central banks were running at $23 billion per month and could turn negative this year, especially in the case of the Fed. This is likely to add to the uncertainty and volatility during the course of the year. While inflation in the developed world remains contained with US inflation below 2.5% p.a., the pickup in wage growth is a concern (from 1.5% to 2.5% p.a.) in the US. But it is noteworthy that there is no inflation pressure in Europe and Japan.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is forecasting a slowdown in the US this year with the rest of world growth stabilising. The risk remains that the Fed may still tighten rates further. However, the risk of a recession remains low in our opinion.
In the past decade economic growth has been hampered structurally by poor productivity. The SA Reserve Bank (SARB) leading indicator has started pointing downwards due to low manufacturing confidence and orders. Manufacturing confidence and orders have remained low for 10 years with the latest data showing a deepening contraction. We expect, nonetheless, a mild recovery from the GDP shock suffered in the first half of 2018, which is partly linked to weakening terms of trade and a weaker exchange rate (PPP Rand/Dollar being closer to 13) to shift our growth rate back towards a tepid 1.4% run rate (structurally we remain stuck below 2%).
South Africa is experiencing a steep yield curve, which would suggest that the economy should be improving. But the poor fiscal position has meant that the government has crowded out the private sector. This, in part, explains the low rate of credit growth at a sub-par 6% p.a. South Africa needs the private sector to invest but the return on investment remains too low. We do, however, expect a rebound in agricultural production to boost growth.
A key risk remains Eskom with the electricity availability factor dropping to 65% at the beginning of the year leading to stage four load shedding. This has already negatively impacted manufacturing output. In the National Budget government committed to provide some R69 billion of support to Eskom over the next three years, partly allaying short-term fears given its balance sheet hole of some R200 billion.
At the end of the quarter, Moody’s also gave us a stay of execution postponing the release of its credit review until after the elections.
The JSE had a solid quarter with the FTSE/JSE All Share Index (ALSI) posting a return of about 7.97% (SWIX 6%) for the quarter. The market has rewarded businesses that have been stable and focused on organic growth while businesses that have been acquisitive and laden with debt have been punished. We are in an environment where there is a serious risk that liquidity will be withdrawn by central banks. Businesses which were very acquisitive and funded these acquisitions with debt have been at the mercy of the economic slowdown, which contributed to poor returns.
On a sectoral basis resources stocks were the stars of the JSE once again, up close to 18% this quarter. Platinum stocks continued to shine bright, up close to 50% aided by rising basket prices and the benefit of good cost management over the past few years. Financials were flat this quarter with credit growth being very weak and corporate credit growth dipping below household credit growth for the first time in almost a decade. Industrial stocks posted solid returns, up close to 9% this quarter, a welcome difference to the recent past.
Your portfolio, on a gross basis outperformed your stated benchmark (ALSI) by about 80 basis points, which in current market conditions, could be seen as a good absolute performance.
The main driver of performance was the exposure to resources stocks, with the sector up almost 18% this quarter. Our very strong overweight positions in the Platinum sector had a meaningful impact on our relative performance -Northam and Amplats were the main contributors to this return. Large holdings in diversified miners Anglo American plc (22%) and BHP (17%) also performed well.
The big news on the industrial side were positive steps by Naspers to unlock its 40% discount to listed assets. Here the news on the listing of Naspers new consumer Internet Company in Amsterdam, which would house its 31% stake in Tencent and other valuable classified assets, plus house its 31% stake in Tencent and other valuable classified assets, plus the unbundling of MultiChoice could be seen as very positive steps. This should bring down the weight of Naspers in the FTSE/JSE Shareholder Weighted Index (SWIX) from 24% to 18% (the stock had a 5% weight in 2013 Naspers remains the largest position in the fund and was up a pleasing 21% this quarter. Another industrial holding, British American Tobacco (+30%), performed strongly after delivering solid results.
One of the largest contributors to our absolute performance was our very substantial holding in Namibian Breweries, which again produced a sterling performance.
On the downside, our overweight exposures in Nedcor and Dischem negated some of our outperformance and our underweight position in Richemont exacerbated this somewhat. Old Mutual was up a disappointing 1% with its maiden standalone results marred by a spike in mortality (an industry trend) and a revision in its Zimbabwean earnings by using a more realistic exchange rate. Old Mutual trades at a substantial discount to its peers with an attractive double-digit forward dividend yield.
Value investing requires patience and a long-term horizon. As demonstrated this year, alpha is lumpy and is impossible to time. After four mediocre years, a number of JSE stocks have been trading well below our estimate of intrinsic value, which we expect to realise in the forthcoming years