BMO Capital & Income Investment Trust (BCI) targets long-term growth in both capital and income, primarily from a portfolio of companies listed on the FTSE All-Share Index. Managed by Julian Cane since 1997, BCI has increased its dividend every financial year since launch in 1992 (as discussed under Dividend) and is an AIC ‘dividend hero’.
BCI currently yields c. 4% on a historical basis (as at 14/12/2020). Julian seeks to identify total return opportunities whilst ensuring the dividend is covered in ordinary market circumstances. However, the extraordinary market backdrop in 2020 has seen the board use revenue reserves to maintain dividend growth, allowing the manager to focus on what he believes are the most attractive total return opportunities.
Stock selection focusses on identifying high-quality companies with strong management teams when they are on attractive valuations, as discussed under Portfolio. Constituent companies typically exhibit high barriers to entry and strong competitive advantages, with management teams with track records of strong capital allocation. Julian looks to identify companies where growing free cash flow can ultimately support growing dividends. This, he notes, has helped BCI to outperform over the longer term.
ESG considerations are embedded in the investment process, and impact calculations of fair value. As detailed under the ESG section, ESG evaluations and engagement strategies with company management are considered key inputs to the investment process.
With a well-diversified shareholder base, BCI has consistently traded at a premium in recent years (as we discuss under Discount), and this has allowed the board to issue shares for greater economies of scale. However, BCI has moved out to a narrow discount in recent days.
BCI seems to us to be positioned as a ‘core’ UK equity income product, aiming to generate a relatively consistent return profile, and with growth and income considerations balanced. We think it should therefore be of interest to income investors looking to ensure ‘real’ growth in income without sacrificing capital value. The trust has an enviable long-term track record of dividend increases, and the ability to deploy some of its sizeable revenue reserves against the current challenging backdrop for dividends has helped ensure the strong track record of dividend growth has been extended. In an environment where many companies with long-term growth potential saw sharp valuation de-ratings, recourse to the use of revenue reserves has also enabled the manager to concentrate on identifying the strongest total return opportunities instead of being compelled to reach for yield.
The yield is somewhat lower on a historic basis than that of many peers, which may deter investors looking to maximise their income. However, we believe there are attractions in the remaining revenue reserves and in the manager having had the ability to pivot to companies which may have low trailing yields but stronger prospective yields. Coupled with BCI’s historic tendency to outperform peers in a rising UK market, should Brexit resolution lead to a return of international capital to the UK market this could represent an interesting entry point, despite recent returns having been more challenging.
|Strong track record of dividend growth
||Yield is currently slightly lower than the peer group average, though the manager expects it to prove more sustainable
|Low cost base
||Gearing can amplify downside as well as magnify upside
|Has tended to outperform in rising equity markets
||The trust has drawn on its revenue reserves during the financial year which ended on 30 September 2020
BMO Capital & Income Investment Trust (BCI) targets long-term growth in both capital and income, primarily from a portfolio of companies listed on the FTSE All-Share Index. Long-standing manager Julian Cane, who has managed BCI since 1997, adopts a long-term time horizon in excess of five years. He looks to identify companies where he believes a confluence of quality, valuation and good management offers the potential for strong total returns.
This long-term focus on total return means that the manager is not required to reach for yield, as we discuss under the Dividend section. Instead, he focusses on opportunities where he believes there to be the strongest potential for returns, with the board utilising the trust’s revenue reserves in years where underlying income generation has proven insufficient to cover the distributions necessary to support the progressive dividend policy which is in place. With this approach having helped BCI grow its dividend for every year since 1992, BCI is currently an AIC ‘dividend hero’.
The investment approach is primarily focussed on identifying bottom-up stock opportunities. However, the manager has access to significant internal risk analytics from two separate teams, and will utilise their output to ensure sector risk is managed. This research is treated as informative rather than definitive, with overweights to sectors such as financials typically producing output which would suggest BCI’s portfolio would exhibit positive sensitivity to interest rate rises. However, whilst this is in the main in line with what Julian would expect, he notes that much of the associated read-through to the operational models of the underlying companies is potentially misleading. Much of the financials weighting is in asset managers, or other financials where profitability is not so directly tied to interest rates.
BCI: Sector weightings
Julian is able to utilise the internal resources from the wider BMO global equities team in his research, with recourse to a wide internal database of company research notes to which he also contributes. Company research notes are subject to ongoing updates and are reviewed regularly at weekly team meetings.
As noted above, Julian is looking to identify companies which he believes to have an attractive blend of quality, valuation and management characteristics. Whilst aware of stock valuations, Julian doesn’t buy stocks solely because they are cheap but takes positions in companies where he believes the valuation does not adequately represent the growth prospects. He is also looking to ensure that these companies also have robustness to fluctuations in the business cycle derived from their quality characteristics, and that they will not be at the mercy of a variable economic backdrop.
Typically, the search for such quality characteristics will highlight companies operating in industries with high barriers to entry and competitive advantages relative to peers. This should afford them pricing power, and ideally should also see them operating highly scalable business models where, beyond a certain level of activity, profitability expands more rapidly as revenues grow. Frequently they will be market leaders in particular niches, such as challenger bank OneSavings Bank, a market leader in buy-to-let lending. Although there are challenges for the buy-to-let industry – particularly through changes to the tax code – Julian notes that this actually increases OneSavings Bank’s competitive advantage as the industry professionalises, and can help support returns on capital which have historically exceeded c. 20% per annum.
Many of the companies held within BCI will also have what Julian regards as strong growth prospects. This is interlinked in many ways with considerations around managements and their ability to leverage strong operating conditions into superior returns on capital. Julian is looking for management teams which have a track record of efficiently and successfully allocating capital, and regularly conducts meetings with the management teams of both current and prospective holdings to assess their business strategies and progress. Julian is also keen to ensure that management teams are appropriately incentivised, with their interests aligned with the interests of long-term shareholders.
It is in this context that he is therefore looking to assess the valuation of a business, generating discounted cash flow analysis to try to determine fair value for a stock. Where a company has, in the manager’s view, the prospect of generating sustainable superior returns, this can help generate confidence in a potential valuation re-rating higher to help further drive total returns. External broker research is consulted in this respect, in order to understand consensus-level expectations and evaluate how this compares to Julian’s expectations.
The turbulent market conditions of Q1 2020 gave rise to some significant opportunities, as many companies with relatively robust growth profiles saw sharp valuation de-ratings and share price drawdowns. This could be seen in Intermediate Capital Group (ICG), for example, where market assumptions that growth in the asset management business were inextricably linked to the fortunes of the market caused sharp de-ratings. Yet the ICG management team have for several years been investing significant amounts to help drive growth in their US business, and in Julian’s view are starting to see returns on this investment. Whilst there remains variability in the cost base and in top-line revenue generation (the latter linked to fund performance), Julian regards the management team as very strong and notes that the company is very financially robust. Although he expects investment in growing the US business to continue, he anticipates a higher return on the capital deployed going forward, which can in turn help support free cash flow growth and future dividend growth.
ICG currently yields c. 3.2% on a historic basis, but is anticipated to continue to grow this going forward. This is consistent with the general approach taken to income generation within BCI, where Julian is keen to ensure the trust’s dividend is, in ordinary conditions, covered by underlying income generated. However, he also seeks to utilise the trust structure (and the ability to pay dividends out of revenue reserves) to ensure he can focus on total returns instead. In 2020 this has meant focussing more on identifying the stocks with the strongest potential for capital returns and dividend growth, at the expense of headline yield. Earlier in 2020 the portfolio was concentrated from around 69 positions to around 59 positions, both to cut exposure to stocks where the pandemic was deemed to pose a risk to the fundamental investment thesis, and to introduce and increase exposure to ideas where excessive downside risk was deemed to be priced in.
The portfolio continues to reflect what Julian regards as the strongest total return opportunities available. At the margin the manager has, however, trimmed some of the portfolio’s winners on the back of strong performance in order to manage position size, with Julian generally preferring to have no one position at more than c. 5% of NAV.
BCI: Top ten holdings
|Intermediate Capital Group
|Legal & General Group
Source: BMO Capital Management, as at 30/11/2020
Some of the increased opportunities being identified have been a by-product of meetings with managements in existing holdings, such as brickmaker Forterra. In this instance, meetings with Forterra’s competitor Ibstock suggested to Julian that there was a broad-based sector opportunity which could be accessed through both the market leader (Ibstock) and its closest competitor (Forterra), both of which met the quality, valuation and managerial criteria he requires.
Other sources of idea generation can come from reviewing the existing database of research notes, or from internal team meetings. Julian sits as part of the broader BMO global equities team, who hold regular meetings to discuss research which has been conducted. This includes the UK smaller companies team, who often highlight stocks which may display the characteristics Julian desires and be approaching his preferred level of market capitalisation (with Julian generally reluctant to take positions in companies worth less than around £1bn, though there are exceptions).
This internal team review structure is also utilised in the interests of risk management, with companies not meeting the operational assumptions the team have previously input subject to review. Such reviews are conducted by different team members, with the aim of challenging the robustness of the initial research and assessing whether setbacks are temporary or more indicative of a deterioration in the fundamentals of the business. This helps inform selling decisions.
Julian also has recourse to an extensive internal ESG team, who variously highlight and challenge key assumptions around the outlook for different companies. As discussed under ESG, the broader team are increasingly incorporating ESG considerations into their stock analysis, and companies which score better on an ESG basis will be generally assumed to have a lower cost of capital when building valuation models.
BCI currently has gearing (based on the most recently reported figures on 30/11/2020) of c. 6% (as at 14/12/2020). The manager has the option to gear up to a maximum of 20% of net assets, which is undertaken through bank loans.
The manager typically looks to utilise gearing when he identifies stock-specific opportunities; he nonetheless takes a relatively cautious view on the use of gearing, which he expects to generally represent around 5% of net assets. By September 2019 gearing had fallen to c. 2%, with cash of c. £4m on what Julian deemed a paucity of opportunities. This cash was subsequently deployed in the coming months, and the level of gearing was doubled (in GBP terms) following the sizeable drawdowns seen in Q1 2020 in positions where Julian deemed market movements to have been excessive. Gearing levels have since remained static, though the gearing ratio has declined as the NAV increased.
BCI: Net market exposure
Over the five years to 09/12/2020, BCI has seen NAV and share price returns of c. 38.8% and c. 33.7% respectively. This represents outperformance of the Morningstar UK Equity Income peer group, which saw unweighted average NAV and share price returns of c. 33% and c. 21.3% respectively. It also represents outperformance of the benchmark FTSE All-Share Index (as represented by the Xtrackers FTSE All-Share ETF), which generated returns of c. 30.3%.
Perhaps slightly surprisingly, given the typical qualitative skew towards quality over value (as discussed below), much of the cumulative outperformance relative to peers was generated over the course of 2016 and 2017. This was concurrent with a significant ‘value’ rally and a period which saw significant outperformance from materials and energy. Indeed, BCI’s underweight exposure to these sectors harmed returns relative to the benchmark at this time, but this was offset by strong returns from long-standing holdings such as OneSavings Bank and Intermediate Capital Group. However, relative to the peer group average BCI generally tracked closer to large caps, which outperformed over this period, and the trust did display slightly greater correlation to commodities. It is perhaps a reflection of a greater tilt towards large-caps than that typically seen within the wider peer group that the relative fortunes of BCI to the peer group have somewhat followed the absolute fortunes of the benchmark index. Should this relationship be maintained and the recent recovery in the UK market be sustained (which we think there is the potential for), this could prove supportive for BCI’s relative profile looking forward.
BCI: Five-year returns relative to peers versus absolute performance of benchmark
More recent returns have been slightly more challenging, with BCI delivering both NAV and share price returns of c. -8% over the 12 months to 09/12/2020. This represents underperformance to the peer group, which saw average NAV and share price returns of c. -4.4% and c. -4.2% respectively. It also represents underperformance to the benchmark index, which saw returns of c. -4.9%. Gearing has been a net negative contributor thus far in calendar year 2020 relative to the benchmark, whilst overweight allocations to the financials and consumer discretionary sectors have been deleterious to returns. Within the latter sector, holdings in companies such as Hyve proved particularly harmful to returns, with the company forced to cease operations by the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
More positive has been the contribution from the manager’s decision to eschew the telecommunication sector (where he notes there is little to no differentiated product), and from stock selection within the financials and basic materials sectors.
BCI: 12-month NAV returns versus peers and benchmark
As we discuss under Portfolio, the investment approach taken is blended stylistically, but with an emphasis on identifying high-quality companies with strong growth potential. At a quantitative level, this focus on quality appears to have generally been the strongest factor input to returns when compared to growth and value factors. We can see this in the table below, which shows the median R² (a measure of correlation) of BCI to UK growth, quality and value factor indices over both the past 12 months and the past ten years. With growth factors having outperformed significantly over much of 2020, we would suggest that factor tilts have been a headwind to recent returns.
BCI: NAV rolling 12-month R² to factor indices (12-month and ten-year medians)
BCI also on average tilts slightly more towards large caps than the wider peer group does. In the scatter chart below, we can see the relative 12-month NAV performance of BCI against the peer group, and the performance of the FTSE 100 Index (blue) and the FTSE 250 Index (orange) relative to the Morningstar UK Equity Income peer group average. A trendline sloping from bottom left to top right would indicate positive correlation (i.e. BCI has been more likely to outperform its peers when that index also does so), whilst from top left to bottom right would suggest negative correlation. Whilst clearly not a ‘hard’ relationship, we think this chart is consistent with a focus on building a ‘core’ UK equity income portfolio and a tilt towards larger-cap companies.
BCI and FTSE 100 relative to peers, and BCI and FTSE 250 relative to peers (rolling 12-month returns)
BCI currently has a historic yield of c. 4% (as at 14/12/2020). The trust, which pays quarterly dividends, is an AIC ‘dividend hero’, having seen its dividend increase every year since financial year (FY) 1992. Over the previous ten financial years (i.e. from FY 2010), BCI has increased its dividend at an annualised rate of c. 3.1%.
Whilst the historical yield of c. 4% is towards the lower end of yields seen within the AIC UK Equity Income sector, and lower than the sector’s unweighted average historic yield of c. 4.9% (Source: JPMorgan Cazenove), we think the backwards nature of this reading is particularly worthy of attention at this time. BCI’s focus with regards to income is primarily on income growth, as opposed to maximising an absolute level of distribution in any one year. The manager notes that this focus is currently affording him greater flexibility to seek to maximise total returns at present, whilst the revenue reserve can be used to support near-term dividends.
The board has declared a final dividend of 3.75p per share for FY 2020, with an ex-dividend date of 04/12/2020. This makes the full FY 2020 dividend 11.5p per share, an increase of c. 0.9% on the FY 2019 dividend (ahead of the equivalent UK CPI inflation increase over the same period of 0.5%).
BCI reported a year-on-year revenue return decline of c. 36.4% between FY 2019 and FY 2020, with the most recent financial year having ended on 30/09/2020. Whilst clearly drastic, this is not anomalous with what has been seen in much of the UK market, with many leading dividend payers taking advantage of the crisis to ‘reset’ their dividend policy and reduce anticipated long-term payout ratios. This potentially increases the opportunity set for dividend growth going forward, where numerous yielding stocks now offer dividend policies which are likely to prove more sustainable.
In the absence of organic revenue growth, BCI’s board was able to draw upon substantial revenue reserves amounting to c. £11.8m as at 30/09/2020. However, this figure does not account for the fourth interim dividend to be paid. Based upon the difference between the ex-income and cum-income NAV on 04/12/2020 (the ex-dividend date), we estimate that BCI had earnings of c. 0.88p per share. When we account for this, we estimate that subsequent to the paying of the fourth interim dividend BCI will retain revenue reserve cover of c. 0.7x the full FY 2020 dividend.
As we can see in the chart below, BCI’s board has consistently opted to build the revenue reserve in recent years, and this has provided the board with a sizeable war chest in the current financial year with which to maintain a progressive dividend policy in an environment which has proven highly challenging for revenue generation.
BCI: Dividend and revenue return per share, and dividend as a percentage of revenue return (right-hand y axis)
BCI has been managed by Julian Cane since March 1997. Julian first joined BMO in 1993 from Mitsubishi Bank, and is director of UK equities at BMO. He sits within the global equities team, with recourse to the research produced by the wider team. The team ethos at BMO involves having regular meetings, with different team members challenging analyst assumptions and base-case scenarios for researched companies.
ESG is an important input to the investment process, and as well as conducting their own ESG analysis the analytical team can draw on a separate responsible investment team within BMO. This team now has over 21 members.
BCI presently trades on a discount of c. 0.2% (as at 09/12/2020). This is unusual compared to the previous five years, where BCI has on average traded on a premium of c. 0.5%, and has traded at a premium on c. 64% of daily readings. The discount has only been wider than the current level on c. 29% of days over the previous five years, though it has on occasion spiked to a discount as wide as c. 5%.
Having issued c. 3.9m shares at a premium in the financial year (FY) 2020 (which ended on 30/09/2020), the board has issued a further 154,754 shares thus far in the current financial year at a premium of c. 1.2%. This programme of issuance has seemingly helped serve to offset discount volatility despite the extraordinary market backdrop seen thus far in 2020, with net market demand for shares being met. The board has the authority to issue new shares amounting up to 10% of the shares in issue at the time of the last AGM (held on 11/02/2020), amounting to c. 10.73m shares. We would note that building through issuance whilst the trust is at a premium should allow the trust to develop greater economies of scale, and potentially could serve to help further lower costs going forward.
BCI’s board may also buy back up to 14.99% of shares in issuance should the discount to NAV widen dramatically; however, with consistent demand for BCI shares, the board has not needed to utilise this facility in recent years.
BCI has an ongoing charges figure (OCF) of 0.58%, below the sector average level of c. 0.61% (Source: JPMorgan Cazenove). This includes a management fee charged at 0.1% of funds under management every quarter. The OCF has seen a considerable reduction in recent years, having fallen from a 2010 level of c. 0.88%.
The Key Information Document Reduction in Yield figure is 1.05%, compared to a sector average of 1.21%, although we caution that calculation methodologies vary.
Julian considers ESG to be integral to the investment process, especially with regards to sustainability. The anticipated longevity of a business and the cash flow it generates are key considerations in the stock assessment process, and an ESG score is now assigned to every position. Internal research notes will also, as a matter of course, note if an investment is explicitly aligned with any of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The manager is also able to lean on the research work carried out by a sizeable internal ESG team, who sit separately to the investment team. BMO’s own ESG assessment is cross-referenced with external ESG scores to search for anomalies in scoring.
ESG considerations form a part of the engagement strategies with corporate management teams, with Julian and the team engaging with 36 constituent companies over FY 2020 on issues ranging from climate change and environmental standards to labour standards. Corporate governance proved a particular concern, having been raised with 33 of the 36 companies. Engagement strategies have been used with companies which may not typically be considered by ESG investors, such as BP. In this instance, Julian and the team have been engaging with the CEO to encourage and provide feedback on strategies designed to ensure the business can operate as a ‘net-zero emission’ company by 2050.
Julian notes that ESG considerations are now also factored into analysts’ assessments of the weighted average cost of capital, used within the discounted cash flow valuation models applied to existing and prospective positions. A higher ESG score will result in a lower assumed cost of capital and a higher implied fair-value valuation.
BCI currently has an ‘above average’ score on Morningstar Sustainalytics. We regard the ESG strategy as likely to prove consistent with the ESG requirements of most investors.