Sygnia Growth Equity Comment - Sep 19
The OECD cut its world growth forecast to 2.9% from 3.2% as intensifying trade conflicts take a toll on confidence and investment. On 1 September, the US implemented a further 15% import duty on $110bn of Chinese imports, and China retaliated by implementing tariffs on $75bn of US goods. With drone attacks on Saudi Arabia affecting more than half their oil supply and pushing the price of oil up nearly 20%, trade wars were eclipsed by the threat of world wars. The US, UK, France and Germany have blamed Iran for the attacks, with Trump saying the US is “locked and loaded depending on verification”; US-Iran relations remain a major risk to global stability, with global political uncertainty levels at a five year high.
Central bankers continue to do their best to support growth, with Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Emerging Monetary Mood Indicator at its most dovish since 2009. September saw Russia’s central bank slash its interest rate for a third consecutive session, to 7%. Indonesia cut rates for the third time, the Turkish Central Bank cut the benchmark lending rate by 3.25% to 16.5% and the Brazilian Central Bank trimmed the benchmark rate by 50 bps to 5.5%. The SARB held our repo rate steady despite weak inflation of 4.3% in August.
The SACCI business confidence index fell to 89.1 points in August, the lowest level since April 1985. The Chamber noted that the “current state of fiscal deficiencies, social injustices and unemployment necessitates an urgent adjustment”, and Moody’s noted that Eskom’s financial position remains a significant threat to economic growth and government debt levels. However, the agency acknowledged that progress would be slow, offering South Africa a temporary reprieve from a sovereign downgrade for the next 12 to 18 months.
US consumer sentiment fell to 89.8 in August, the largest fall since 2012 and its lowest level during Donald Trump’s presidency, amid concerns about the impact of US trade wars. Federal Reserve data showed factory output falling for a second consecutive quarter. This allowed the Fed to lower the main interest rate for a second time this year, but due to steady inflation, the committee was divided on the need for further easing.
Despite lowering the key rate, US bank liquidity dried up in September, forcing the Fed to conduct its first repo auction in a decade, injecting over $400bn into US money markets as overnight repurchase rates spiked as high as 10% and threatened to bring markets and businesses to a standstill. This is a form of quantitative easing, as Fed reserves proved insufficient to fund the US banking system. Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi announced a formal Trump impeachment investigation, in which Trump is accused of seeking foreign help from Ukraine to smear Democratic rival Joe Biden ahead of next year’s presidential election. However, the challenge is unlikely to pass given the Republican majority in the US Senate. inflation overshoot.
Despite massive opposition, ECB President Mario Draghi restarted quantitative easing and cut interest rates. From 1 November, bond purchases will be conducted at a monthly rate of €20 billion and will continue until interest rates are raised. Reinvestment of maturities will continue as long as necessary and well past the time that interest rates start to rise. The deposit rate was cut from -0.4% to -0.5% and, to support bank lending, a two-tiered system for reserves will be introduced, in which part of the banks’ excess liquidity will be exempt from negative remuneration on the deposit rate facility. Interest rates will only rise when inflation has robustly returned to the 2% ECB target.
UK manufacturing PMI fell to a seven-year low of 47.4 in August. The British parliament voted to force Prime Minister Boris Johnson to delay Brexit to 31 January 2020, and Johnson lost his second attempt to trigger an early general election. Parliament was prorogued until 14 October, but the UK supreme court ruled that Johnson’s advice to the queen to prorogue was “unlawful, void and of no effect”, and parliament reconvened on 25 September. Johnson was defiant and refused to resign or apologise. UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid unveiled a £13.8 billion boost to government spending in areas such as health, education and security – the largest increase in public spending in 15 years.
India’s economy grew at a slower-thanexpected rate in the three months to June, at 5 percent year-on-year. As a result, India’s government announced a reduction in the corporate tax rate to boost the economy.
The Chinese official manufacturing PMI eased slightly to 49.5 in August, staying below 50 for the fourth month in a row, while industrial output and retail sales grew more slowly than expected. However, Chinese service sector data for August showed its fastest expansion in three months. The People’s Bank of China announced a 50-basis-point cut in the reserve requirement ratio, which will take the cash reserves to their lowest since 2007. China also cut its one-year benchmark lending rate by 5bp (from 4.25% to 4.20%) for the second consecutive month in attempts to further support growth.
The Sygnia Growth Equity Fund returned -6.7% for the quarter, underperforming its benchmark, the FTSE/JSE SWIX Index, which returned -4.3%. The Fund was hurt by an underweight position in precious metal miners and overweight positions in Sasol and select SA industrials, while an overweight position in rand hedges and an underweight position in SA telecoms and retailers benefitted performance. During the quarter, the Fund marginally increased exposure to its core SA-facing mid-cap holdings, in line with the its investment objective of providing long-term capital appreciation by investing in companies that are expected to grow their earnings at above-average growth rates.
The Sygnia Growth Equity Fund is a general equity portfolio that seeks to identify and invest in companies expected to grow their earnings at above average growth rates. The fund management approach will be to construct portfolios from the bottom-up, based on independent fundamental research and valuations. The manager will also look to identify those companies they consider to be in a growth phase, defined by the fact that they are entering or are already dominant in a market segment that is expected to enjoy above average growth prospects for the foreseeable future. While the fund will not be averse to investing in stocks with higher that average Price-Earnings ratios, the manager will also have the ability to invest in shares with low Price-Earnings ratios whom the manager deems to have above average earnings growth prospects. Assessment of management culture and business strategy will be key to this type of investment.
The Fund will primarily invest in large and mid-sized companies from a range of industry sectors, and will be a concentrated portfolio. This is to ensure that the return from investment opportunities is maximised and not diluted away by an over-diversified portfolio. The portfolio will consist of high-conviction positions, generated by company-specific investment cases that meet the growth criteria set out by the manager. A strong sell-discipline is key within this portfolio and positions will be trimmed as the expected return of any given position declines, either due to a change within the business, or due to share price appreciation.
The portfolios investment universe consists of financially sound equity securities, preference shares which generate capital growth as a result of their earnings growing faster than the average, property shares and property related assets in liquid form. The portfolio may also invest in participatory interests and other forms of participation in portfolios of collective investment schemes, registered in South Africa and other similar schemes operated in territories with a regulatory environment which is to the satisfaction of the manager and trustee of a sufficient standard to provide investor protection at least equivalent to that in South Africa and which is consistent with the portfolio's primary objective.
The portfolio may from time to time invest in financial instruments, in accordance with the provisions of the Act, and the Regulations thereto, as amended from time to time, in order to achieve the portfolio's investment objective. The manager may also include unlisted forward currency, interest rate and exchange rate swap transactions for efficient portfolio management purposes. The portfolio's equity exposure will always exceed 80% with the balance, if any, invested in assets in liquid form.