F&C Investment Trust

FCIT is celebrating its 50th year of consecutive dividend growth…

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This is a non-independent marketing communication commissioned by F&C Investment Trust. 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.

F&C Investment Trust

Summary

F&C Investment Trust (FCIT) offers investors a well-diversified equity strategy, combining multiple different listed investment strategies and private equity holdings into a single portfolio. Its ongoing allocation and stewardship is the responsibility of its portfolio manager, Paul Niven. FCIT is one of the more distinguished trusts within the AIC universe, as it is the oldest continually operating investment trust and has celebrated its 50th year of continuous dividend growth, having grown its dividend by 4.3% over 2020.

FCIT’s strategies are predominantly run in-house by BMO Global Asset Management, given the natural synergies that arise; however, it retains a number of external managers Paul believes are best-in-class. One of the more defining features of FCIT is its dedicated allocation to private equity, which Paul has continued to develop during his tenure, with additional new capital having been committed over 2020. ESG has also become increasingly important to FCIT, with adjustment having been made to its portfolio to accommodate this; we detail all the major changes Paul has recently made in the Portfolio section.

Paul continues to deliver strong performance figures, while simultaneously fulfilling the trust’s dual mandate of both income and capital growth. Since taking over the trust Paul has delivered returns marginally ahead of global equities, with his stewardship of the trust having been particularly impactful during the pandemic. We outline both the long-term performance of the trust and the contributions of individual strategies in the Performance section. Despite the competitive performance and illustrious dividend history, FCIT currently trades at a discount, whereas in the years prior to COVID-19 it had largely traded at a slight premium.

Kepler View

We believe that FCIT continues to offer investors a ‘one-stop shop’ solution to global equity investing. This is not simply the result of its competitive long-term performance and strong dividend history, but also through the active stewardship lead manager Paul Niven provides. The nature of his oversight can give investors confidence that FCIT is unlikely to be overexposed to a single factor or style, remaining a balanced approach to equity investing regardless of prevailing market conditions.

Paul’s stewardship continues to add value to FCIT, beyond simply fulfilling its objectives of capital and income growth. He continues to make FCIT a more unique offering within the global equity space, thanks to increasingly utilising private equity strategies and his recent inclusion of a sustainable equity allocation. We view the latter, along with a commitment to net zero carbon and other progressive policies, as clear evidence of the board’s increasing dedication to ESG integration, which we believe places FCIT on a trajectory towards improving ESG credentials further relative to its peers.

As we come out of the pandemic and the momentum behind the associated factors dissipates (be it for the ‘COVID-19 winners’ or the vaccine recovery trade), a more balanced approach may become more prudent. Economic normalisation may prevent any one style of investing returning to the forefront as it did over the last 12 months, rewarding investors like Paul who value a diversified yet market-aware approach to investing.

Bull
Bear
Well-diversified portfolio which combines listed and unlisted equity
May underperform during momentum- or narrowly driven markets
Clear commitment to ESG and the improvement of its integration
Unable to fine-tune or quickly adjust the portfolio as fast as a conventional listed equity strategy can
Post-pandemic discount is an attractive entry point
Gearing can amplify losses on the downside

Portfolio

F&C Investment Trust (FCIT) remains the oldest continually operating investment trust, having been launched in 1868, and follows an objective of both income and capital growth. Today the trust is run by BMO Global Asset Management and has net assets of £4.8bn, which also makes it one of the largest investment trusts of any sector. Under the management of Paul Niven, FCIT invests in a highly diversified portfolio, combining both listed and unlisted equities. FCIT also celebrates its 50th year of consecutive dividend increases, making it one of the AIC’s dividend heroes (an accolade which requires at least 20 years of dividend increases) and ranking it as one of the longest track records of any investment trust tracked by the AIC.

Paul delegates the individual stock selection to each of his chosen managers, each of which runs a specific global or regional strategy or private equity component. Paul’s role is to act both as an asset allocator, by setting the weight allocated to each strategy, and as a strategy and manager selector, vetting potential investment managers to find what he believes are the best risk/return profiles for each respective style. Each of his regional and global allocations is achieved used a segregated mandate whereby Paul is able to alter each delegated manager’s strategy in a way which best complements the overall portfolio of FCIT, as opposed to simply purchasing an existing fund. FCIT’s listed equity allocation is currently split between nine different regional and global investment allocations, four of which are managed using external managers, while it also invests in three private equity strategies. FCIT’s current allocation is outlined below.

Current allocation by manager


Strategy
Primary Manager
Approach
Allocated (%)
Holdings
Active Share (%)
REGIONAL





US Growth
T.Rowe Price
Growth

19.2

69

70

US Value
Barrow Hanley, Mewhinney & Strauss
Value

17.6

49

82

Europe
BMO Global Asset Management
Fundamental quality value

9.7

46

88

Japan
BMO Global Asset Management
Quality GARP

4.7

20

83

Emerging Markets
LGM
Long-term quality

9.5

44

97

GLOBAL





Income
BMO Global Asset Management
Systematic income GARP

7.0

73

90

Smaller Companies
BMO Global Asset Management
Core quality growth

6.2

50

97

Sustainable Opps
BMO Global Asset Management
Quality

9.8

43

92

Quality Income
Quality value

4.0

73

92

PRIVATE EQUITY




Funds
Harbourvest, Pantheon
Fund of funds

2.0

16 (FoF)
n/a
Direct
BMO Global Asset Management

6.7

37

n/a

Source: BMO, as at 30/04/2021

FCIT’s overall portfolio combines a range of varying yet distinct investment styles, each with their own high active share, in a single well-diversified portfolio. Paul’s approach to portfolio construction is highly nuanced, with FCIT’s asset allocation being decided through a combination of both bottom-up and top-down factors. When allocating capital Paul does not look at the risk/return profile of each strategy in isolation, instead allocating in respect of the marginal contribution to risk of the portfolio, i.e. the incremental risk contributed by each strategy. Paul believes that diversification should be made through effective use of the strategy’s risk budget and that it is best not to make bets on a handful of factors by chasing potential winners while incurring increased volatility. We outline Paul’s approach to asset allocation and fund selection in more detail in our previous note.

There have been a number of substantial changes made to FCIT over the last 12 months. While Paul’s overall investment philosophy remains the same, the trust’s overall approach to ESG as well as his views on asset allocation and access to private equity have led to a number of meaningful changes to FCIT’s allocation. The most obvious change has been to the overall allocations to the various strategies over the year, both in terms of their overall weighting in the strategy, and – for a select few – their stock allocation. During 2020 Paul retained a substantial overweight to the US growth sector relative to FCIT’s US benchmark (each region is compared to its own relative benchmark). As we highlight in the Performance section, this has been a substantial contributor to the performance of FCIT over that period. Looking forward Paul believes that growth stocks no longer have the same relative attraction as some of the other strategies, due to the relatively stretched valuations in the US. Thus in the first quarter of 2021 he saw fit to diversify his growth allocation by taking profits in the US growth bucket and rotating into global income, US value and small-cap managers, strategies which he believes are best placed to take advantage of the normalisation of economic activity as they tend to be more cyclical or economically sensitive in nature. In 2020 Paul also reduced his allocation to Japan; however, this was less of a macroeconomic call and rather a restructuring of his Japanese stock selection to provide greater focus in stock selection. Paul has also made a reduction in the trust’s allocation to its European equity strategy, reflective of the relative strength he sees in other regions.

There has also been further progression in FCIT’s private equity allocation. As we have highlighted in previous notes, FCIT retains an allocation to a number of older private equity strategies which are mature and in so doing are returning cash to the trust. However, Paul maintains his commitment to retaining a meaningful allocation to private equity, both to enhance FCIT’s risk/return profile and to improve FCIT’s attractiveness as a ‘one-stop shop’ for global equity allocation. To that end he has continued to both increase the capital FCIT has committed to private equity strategies, aiming for a 5–15% allocation to private equity, while also selecting what he believes are some of the best strategies available today, leveraging the exclusive access BMO can provide. Over 2020 Paul has allocated $180m to a bespoke programme run by Pantheon, a private equity fund of funds which will focus on opportunities in best in class venture and growth opportunities. Paul has also made use of BMO’s own private equity offerings, with commitments being made through BMO’s own co-investment strategies. As of the end of 2020 FCIT had c.£250m of outstanding commitments to private equity strategies, with 8.7% of the current portfolio invested in private equity. It is encouraging to see the further development of FCIT’s private equity allocation, not simply for the improved diversification but also because Paul has in the past highlighted the difficulty of accessing such strategies. Paul has noted that best-in-class private equity managers, which he believes his recent investments are counted amongst, are relatively exclusive about whom they allow to invest.

Another development is that Paul has reduced the foreign currency exposure of the trust over 2020. As a result of the trust’s increased exposure to USD-denominated assets and the increasing strength of the pound against global currencies, Paul has placed a £300m hedge against the dollar. As at year end 2020 FCIT has currency exposures of approximately: 7% GBP, 16% Euro, 54% US dollar, 7% Yen.

The final noteworthy change to FCIT has been its further integration of ESG into the investment process. While we outline the trust’s approach to its integration in the ESG section, there have already been material changes to FCIT’s allocations as a result. At the beginning of 2021 Paul saw fit to add a new category to FCIT’s asset allocation: ‘Sustainable Global’, a strategy which mirrors BMO’s Sustainable Opportunities fund. The purpose of this allocation is threefold. The first objective is to tap into the ever increasing opportunity set Paul sees in sustainable investing. The second is to further align FCIT’s overall portfolio with its ESG objectives, and the Trust has set a target of net carbon neutrality by 2050. Finally, the third objective is to further diversify FCIT’s growth allocation, with this new investment being funded in part by the proceeds of the reduction to US growth exposure.

Evolution of portfolio allocation

Source: BMO, as at 30/04/2020

Gearing

Current net gearing for FCIT is 9%, with a maximum allowed gearing of 20% of NAV (as at 31/03/2021). Structural gearing is a feature of FCIT, as the board believes that over the long term the total returns of the trust will exceed the costs of the debenture, thus being a positive contributor.

Since Paul took over as lead manager of the trust in 2014, the gearing has been steadily extended and refinanced at lower rates, with the weighted average cost of debt falling from 7.1% at the end of 2013 to 2.1% by the end of 2020. There is also a revolving credit facility for short-term needs. Given the strong performance of FCIT over 2020, gearing contributed 1.2% to performance over the same year.

In March of this year, the Trust announced that it had agreed a further £140m of borrowings with maturity dates of 15, 17 and 35 years with low all-in borrowing costs for the debt of 2.09, 2.15% and 2.33%. The loans will be drawn in June 2021 and will largely be used to refinance short dated debt.

Returns

FCIT has generated returns comparable with those global equities, despite its dual mandate of income and capital growth and Paul’s balanced approach to investing – something which is particularly relevant given the dominance of growth and momentum styles over the last two years. FCIT has generated an NAV total return of 104.6% and a share price return of 113.5% over five years. This is slightly ahead of its benchmark, the FTSE All-World Index, which returned 103.4% (proxied by an ETF in the graph below).

FCIT is marginally behind the simple average of its peer group, the AIC Global sector, which generated an NAV total return of 123.9% over five years. However, a large amount of the peer group’s recent outperformance can be attributed to a small number of growth-orientated strategies which were able to generate significantly higher returns over 2020 due to the pandemic. Since taking over the trust in July 2014, Paul has been able to generate 140.5% in NAV total return terms, again edging ahead of the benchmark’s return of 138.4% over the same period.

Five-year performance

Source:
Morningstar

Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results

The advantage of Paul’s measured approach to equity investing can be seen in FCIT’s discrete annual performance. Since Paul took over the strategy, FCIT has been able to generate discrete annual returns with less intra-year volatility than both its peers and benchmark. While FCIT’s standard deviation has been in line with its benchmark over five years (12.8% vs 12.4%), the higher consistency between each year’s performance implies FCIT is less sensitive to the fluctuating market than its peers. This is likely the result of Paul’s active stewardship of the trust, adjusting the trust’s sectoral allocation to account for prevailing trends. It could also be down to FCIT’s private equity allocation, a sector often associated with lower short-term correlation to the broader market.

Discrete annual performance

Source:
Morningstar

Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results

2020 was an interesting year for the trust, as while FCIT managed to outperform its benchmark not every component of the trust was a positive contributor, with Paul’s active allocation often compensating for his delegated managers’ underperformance (or vice versa). The largest overall contributor to FCIT’s return was its allocation to the US, as would be expected given its weighting and the region’s strong performance over the year. Paul’s active overweight to US growth stocks relative to the broader US market was the primary reason why FCIT’s US allocation was so successful given that the delegated US growth manager, T. Rowe Price, had an unusual period of underperformance against its assigned benchmark. T. Rowe Price returned 30.1% in 2020, underperforming the Russell 1000 Growth index by 4.5%. This was primarily due to the underweight to Apple and zero position in Tesla, with these two positions ‘costing’ the trust over 1% in relative returns over the year. Conversely, Paul’s overweight to the global income sector relative to the FTSE All-World was a detractor to the trust’s performance given the difficult period value and high-dividend companies have had during the pandemic. Yet the underlying investment managers were able to beat their benchmark and contributed an additional 1.8% in total outperformance, which helped to offset the overall detraction from this allocation. Investors should remain cognisant of FCIT’s dual objective of both income and capital growth, with Paul unable to entirely forego quality, dividend-paying companies. It is also worth noting that FCIT’s private equity allocation was able to outperform FCIT’s benchmark over 2020, despite the allocation having not yet been fully aligned with Paul’s target and the committed cash having not yet been fully invested.

Individual allocation performance over 2020



Allocation to strategy %
Underlying allocation %
Benchmark weighting %
Portfolio performance %
Relative index performance %
North America

40.7

54.5

58.3

16.0

15.8

Europe incl. UK

9.9

23.1

17.2

8.6

2.8

Japan

4.9

7.2

7.4

20.9

10.7

Emerging Markets

9.6

12.6

11.8

8.2

14.7

Developed Pacific

2.6

5.3


14.9

Global Strategies

26.6



8

12.4

Private Equity

8.3



13.6


Source: BMO, as at 30/12/2020

Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results

Since the start of 2021 FCIT has continued to outperform global equity markets, with an NAV total return of 7.8% YTD (as at 30/04/2021) compared to the 7.3% of its benchmark. Much of the recent outperformance can again be attributed to Paul’s active management, as by the end of 2020 he had begun to sell down his US growth allocation to rotate into economically sensitive sectors. Such sectors would go on to outperform during the vaccine-led recovery which characterised most of the first quarter of 2021. Looking forward, Paul is broadly bullish on the global outlook, highlighting that the US in particular will recover most of its lost output by the end of 2021, and so he expects a correspondingly strong bounce in earnings. While FCIT has clearly benefitted from the near-term tailwinds supporting cyclical and value companies, Paul believes that over the long term there will be a greater need for a balanced approach to investing, with FCIT’s current portfolio having a broadly equal weight between growth and value styles. Paul foresees upwards pressure on global inflation (though inflation will still remain low by historical standards), with long-term trends benefitting companies with strong financials and dominant market positions, whereas certain sectors will see both positive and negative lasting implications from COVID-19.

Dividend

2020 marked the 50th consecutive dividend increase for FCIT, making it one of only six trusts to currently have at least five decades of constant dividend growth. FCIT’s most recent dividend was 12.1p per share paid in its 2020 financial year (ending 31/12/2020), a 4.3% increase on the prior year’s. Unlike the prior four years the most recent dividend was not covered by revenues, as the revenue per share saw a 25.7% decline over 2020, a reflection of the difficult circumstances faced by many companies during the pandemic. We highlight that since Paul took over the trust in 2014 FCIT has been able to more than cover dividends via income, with the exception of 2020. FCIT has a current dividend yield of 1.4%, compared to the 1.8% of its peers.

Despite the material uncertainty many companies face in managing their dividend payout, the board of FCIT remains committed to sustaining its record of dividend growth. The board has the ability to utilise FCIT’s considerable revenue reserve, as it did in 2020, with FCIT having a revenue reserve cover ratio of 1.4 times (after accounting for the payment of the 2020 dividend). Despite the uncertainty surrounding global dividend payers during 2020, Paul notes that his global income allocation (which is split between two strategies managed by BMO and Pyrford) fared much better than that of FCIT’s broader peers during the pandemic.

Dividend and revenue per share

Source: BMO Global Asset Management

Management

The FCIT strategy is headed up by Paul Niven. Outside of managing FCIT, Paul is also the head of multi-asset investment (EMEA) at BMO Global Asset Management, having joined BMO in 1996. He took over management of FCIT in 2014, before which it was previously run by Jeremy Tigue. Despite its more than 150-year history FCIT has been remarkably stable in its operation, having had only 11 managers in that time, and with only three since 1969.

While Paul determines the asset allocation and strategy selection, the selection of the underlying investments within each strategy is the responsibility of delegated investment managers. The majority of these managers sit within BMO, helping Paul to synergise with them as he will remain in regular daily conversation with the teams and can account for their views in his investment analysis. The remaining strategies are delegated to external managers, including the largest mandate, which is run by T. Rowe Price. Paul will utilise external managers when he believes that their superior long-term performance will more than compensate for the slightly higher fees and the lack of the internal synergies which are offered by BMO managers.

Discount

FCIT currently trades on a 4.5% discount, wider than the 1.7% simple average of its peers. For much of 2018 and 2019 FCIT had traded on a slight premium, with the board taking the opportunity to issue shares. However, 2020 saw a substantial widening of FCIT’s discount, likely due to the impact of the pandemic, with investors showing a clear preference for growth-focussed strategies during much of the second and third quarters of the year. We think there remains the potential for a near-term reversal in FCIT’s discount, once the pandemic-driven market subsides and economies begin to normalise. Investors may once again place a premium on a more balanced approach to investing rather than chasing momentum or style factors supported by tailwinds from COVID-19, especially if the manager is able to deliver long-term outperformance.

Given FCIT’s discount the board saw fit to start buying back shares in 2020. Over the last 12 months the board has repurchased 8.8m shares, 1.6% of the current shares in issue.

Five year discount

Source: Morningstar

Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future returns.

Charges

FCIT operates under a tiered management fee system linked to the market cap of the trust. This equates to a fee of 0.35% on the first £3bn of assets, 0.3% on assets worth £3bn to £4bn, and 0.25% on assets worth above £4bn.

The current OCF, which includes operating expenses in addition to the management fee, is 0.59%, which is below the 0.65% simple average of the peer group. However, it should be noted that the OCF includes the management fee charged by the delegated managers. The current KID RIY is 1.20%, below the peer group average of 1.33%, although calculation methods vary by trust (Source: JPMorgan, as at 30/04/2021).

ESG

As part of BMO, FCIT can leverage BMO’s long history of sustainable and ESG-compliant investing. As an asset manager BMO operates with an independent team of ESG and responsible investment analysts whom its managers use to better integrate ESG into their investment process. BMO is also able to aggregate the voting rights of its strategies, allowing it to combine assets and place greater pressure on company management. Such practices can be more conducive to having a genuine impact at shareholder meetings. Paul believes that companies with a strong focus on their material ESG issues have the potential to reduce the risks they face over the long term.

2020 saw a clear step forward in FCIT’s integration of ESG factors, reflecting the board’s continuing commitment to ESG. All stock voting for FCIT’s holdings has now been brought in-house and undertaken by BMO, rather than being left in the hands of the third-party managers. The most striking change has been the commitment to becoming net zero carbon (at an aggregate portfolio level) by 2050, although the board aims to achieve this much sooner, a commitment which may require material changes in the underlying holdings of the delegated strategies to be achieved. As part of the board’s commitment to sustainability and the opportunity set perceived by Paul, FCIT has invested into the BMO-Sustainable Opportunity strategy, a clear indicator of the direction of travel for the trust. The board has also made strides in its ESG reporting, which can be seen in the expanded ESG section in FCIT’s most recent annual report. Investors should expect this trend to continue, as the board has made its commitment to ESG clear and will advance its ESG agenda further in 2021.

Morningstar has assigned FCIT a sustainability rating of average when compared to the Morningstar’s Global Equity Large cap peer group. When using external investment managers it can be difficult for a manager to assess the true ESG risk of their investments, as the extra layer makes the assessment of the true ESG risk of their investments opaque. This score will also fail to account for the direction of travel of FCIT, as it is clear that the board is dedicated to improving the ESG credentials of the trust. Rating agencies will also fail to account for the impact of the private equity holdings of FCIT and thus do not fully reflect the trust’s allocation, as being unlisted equities they do not report in a manner which can be accounted for by rating agencies.

Fund History

Disclaimer

This report has been issued by Kepler Partners LLP.  The analyst who has prepared this report is aware that Kepler Partners LLP has a relationship with the company covered in this report and/or a conflict of interest which may impair the objectivity of the research.

Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results. The value of investments can fall as well as rise and you may get back less than you invested when you decide to sell your investments. It is strongly recommended that if you are a private investor independent financial advice should be taken before making any investment or financial decision.

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