Fund Profile


Disclosure – Non-Independent Marketing Communication

This is a non-independent marketing communication commissioned by AVI Japan Opportunity. The report has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research and is not subject to any prohibition on the dealing ahead of the dissemination of investment research.

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AVI Japan Opportunity (AJOT) invests in Japanese small-cap stocks, aiming to generate high long-term returns by taking advantage of extremely cheap valuations in that part of the market but also using shareholder activism to supercharge returns.

The £78m trust, launched in October 2018, is run by Joe Bauernfreund, also manager of the £900m British Empire Trust. Joe looks for asset-backed companies on low valuations where he can see a catalyst for a re-rating. In small cap Japan he has found what he believes is an outstanding opportunity. On a look-through basis, the companies in the portfolio have 78% of their market cap in cash or transferrable securities and are trading on 3.9 times EV/EBIT, compared to 8.7 times on the MSCI Japan Small Cap and 18.5 times on the S&P 1500 all-cap index.

AJOT is an activist investor and aims to take advantage of the political and regulatory pressure on Japanese companies to increase the efficiency of their balance sheets. One of the “three arrows” of Abenomics is policies for growth, and in part this means a determined push to put idle corporate cash and cross-shareholdings to more productive use and thereby boost shareholder returns.

In their view, AVI is therefore increasingly pushing on an open door. In the first six months of the trust’s life it has seen nine of its 29 portfolio companies make shareholder friendly moves, be that paying or increasing a dividend, buying back shares or other measures. NAV performance has also been solid, with the trust up 0.3% compared to a 1.6% loss for the MSCI Japan Small Cap index, to the end of March. Although it was aided by it not being fully invested during the global market downturn in November and December, most of the outperformance came when it was fully invested, illustrating the success of the stock-picking.

Following the encouraging start, and to take full advantage of the current opportunity, the company drew down £10.4m in borrowings in April 2019, amounting to gearing of 12.5% of NAV.

The trust has been trading on a premium since launch, in part helped by not being fully invested in the Q4 2018 market slump. The trust is now on a 3.2% premium. The board is yet to seek to address this, but the prospectus does allow for further share issuance if the trust is trading above NAV. AJOT will offer a liquidity option after four years and every two years thereafter, meaning that if returns are disappointing investors can redeem at close to NAV.

There is no specific income objective. However, AJOT’s portfolio currently yields 2.1% (at NAV) and, to retain investment trust status, the board will have to pay out 85% of that after costs. Through 100% charging costs to capital, the majority of the portfolio yield will flow through to shareholders as dividends.

Kepler View

The first six months of the trust’s life have been hugely encouraging from a corporate governance point of view, and prove that there is a real trend towards governing in shareholders’ interests rather than those of management in Japan. Should this trend continue, we believe it could be the impetus that prompts a re-rating of Japan in general and AJOT’s portfolio more specifically. As we highlight below, the trust owns high-quality businesses trading on depressed valuations, each with a specific catalyst that could lead to a re-rating. We therefore believe this trust should be attractive to investors looking for a strategy with high return potential after a decade-long bull market in global equities. Early performance has also been encouraging, with the trust’s stocks outperforming the market in a rough period for Japanese small caps, illustrating the benefits of a value approach.

Valuations look attractive and the portfolio looks exceptionally cheap
Japan has traditionally been cheap
The manager has a track record of generating activist wins at British Empire
Change occurs at a slow pace in Japan
Government support for corporate reform should help push activist wins through
The Japanese market has a high beta to the global economy
Continue to Portfolio

Fund History

21 Jun 2024 AVI Japan Opportunity
Joe Bauernfreund
Rewatch this webinar as part of our week-long June online series 'Small caps - a lost decade' hosted by the team at Kepler Trust Intelligence...
Watch Recording
29 May 2024 It’s a small world after all
A recent rally in smaller companies could be the start of a long-term recovery…
01 May 2024 From riches to rags to riches, is this time really different for Japan?
Japan’s decade-long corporate governance push is finally leading to significant improvements to underlying Japanese businesses…
25 Mar 2024 BoJ rate hike underlines that Japan has changed
Japan raising interest rates is a positive, but the real story is corporate governance reform…
16 Jan 2024 December sees sharp rally in AGT and AJOT
Narrowing discounts and Japanese reforms have driven striking returns…
12 Jan 2024 Fund Analysis
AJOT has delivered a strong year of performance…
03 Jan 2024 Probably better asking an octopus
Our investment trust experts uncurl a tentacle each and choose their ‘top picks’ for 2024…
23 Aug 2023 Halfway there…investing on a prayer
We provide an update on our picks for 2023 and see which analysts' prayers are being answered…
19 Jul 2023 Simply the Best
Investing in high quality companies was a successful strategy for many years, but has its time passed?
13 Jul 2023 AVI Japan Opportunity Trust
Joe Bauernfreund and Daniel Lee
This webinar is part of our single manager July event
Watch Recording
19 Apr 2023 Are we nearly there yet?
We look at which trusts have done best year to date, and ask where there may be value…
13 Apr 2023 Fund Analysis
AJOT has delivered strong returns to date from a unique and original strategy…
15 Feb 2023 Lost in translation
We argue Japanese equities look attractive on both a short and long-term view…
04 Jan 2023 Here we go again
We review our ‘top picks’ for what was a wild year and place our bets for the year ahead – which doesn’t look much calmer…
20 Jul 2022 Ingredients for success
We identify several less conventional trusts that offer strong sources of diversification to major indices…
29 Jun 2022 Fund Analysis
AJOT’s activist approach has led it to generate highly idiosyncratic, sector-leading returns over the last 12 months…
19 Jan 2022 Apples and pears
We examine the relationship between the demand for open- and closed-ended funds, and ask whether investor behaviour can be predicted...
26 Nov 2021 Fund Analysis
AJOT’s concentrated, highly active approach to Japanese small caps has led it to generate strong outperformance over the last 12 months…
02 Jun 2021 Fortune favours the brave (sometimes)
Our research suggests wide discounts often herald high NAV returns too…
05 May 2021 Vive la revolution
For thirty years quality has had a structural tailwind; but revolt is in the air and value is on the barricades…
28 Apr 2021 Fund Analysis
AJOT’s policy of active engagement means it is primed to capitalise on Japan’s incoming governance reforms…
24 Mar 2021 Shoot to Thrill: ISA targets for long term growth
We all intend to invest for the long-term but can often be distracted by the news...
02 Dec 2020 Can you teach an old dog new tricks?
Cheap companies in Japan are drowning in what cheap companies elsewhere would kill for: buckets of cash…
07 Oct 2020 Fund Analysis
AJOT invests in Japanese small caps, taking advantage of extremely low valuations and using shareholder activism...
13 Aug 2020 Underground bangers
We look for hidden gems in the smaller end of the investment trust universe...
05 Jun 2020 Deep impact
Audio and presentations from our conference this week, where fifteen of the world's best fund managers described a profoundly altered investment landscape...
20 Feb 2020 The return of the activist... but not as we know it.
Why the ‘20s will go down as the decade of the corporate activist...
09 Jan 2020 Full house
The KTI team’s ‘top picks’ for 2019 have delivered strong results…
04 Dec 2019 Fund Analysis
AJOT invests in Japanese small caps, taking advantage of extremely low valuations and using shareholder activism...
28 Nov 2019 Is there a generational opportunity in Japan?
Two of our analysts go head-to-head, arguing the case for Japan...
11 Sep 2019 Nanny knows best: how regulation is influencing returns
New research suggests disruption is threatened by increased regulation, with clear consequences for investment strategists...
13 Jun 2019 Real growth in a world of fake news
Presentations and audio from our event at the London Stock Exchange, where six fund managers set out their stall for an exciting future...
22 May 2019 On a roll
As Western economies show signs of their own 'Japanification', we explore the Japanese industries poised to take advantage of this change...
10 Apr 2019 Fund Analysis
AJOT invests in Japanese small caps, taking advantage of extremely low valuations and using shareholder activism...
09 Jan 2019 Class of 2018...
After a flood of new investment trust launches in 2018, we examine their progress so far...
31 Dec 2018 Ladies, gentlemen and non-binary persons, start your engines…
With Britain only months away from the bright, sunlit uplands of Brexit and America officially ‘great’ again, we present our best ideas for what looks set to be a fascinating year…
06 Sep 2018 Bullseye
The third arrow of Shinzo Abe's grand plan, corporate reform, puts undervalued Japanese equities in a very attractive position...
06 Sep 2018 Fund Analysis
AVI is launching a small and mid cap focused Japanese equities trust to take advantage of what it believes to be the most compelling opportunity in its three decades of investing in the country...
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