Third Point Investors

TPOU’s strong performance, and new board initiatives to narrow the discount, offer an attractive package…

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This is a non-independent marketing communication commissioned by Third Point Investors. 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.

Third Point Investors

Summary

Third Point Investors (TPOU) offers exposure to Third Point’s flagship master fund. Third Point applies an opportunistic approach to investing in companies across the capital structure on a global basis. It aims to invest in different asset classes to optimise risk and reward through a market cycle, and provide consistent long-term capital appreciation. The strategy has in the past demonstrated market directionality over short term time frames but, as we discuss in Performance, has delivered returns matching (and sometimes exceeding) those of equities, but with lower volatility.

As we discuss under Portfolio, Daniel Loeb stepped back into the sole-CIO role at Third Point in Q2 2020, and is responsible for overall capital allocation across the teams. He has described four pillars of the strategy, centring around activism, fundamental and event-driven equities, credit, and venture. Net equity exposure is currently higher than the long run average reflecting Third Point’s bullish outlook on the opportunity set.

Venture (or private) investments have been a strong contributor to returns this year, helped by several successful IPOs. Private investments now account for only c. 8% of NAV, down from c. 12% at the beginning of 2020. As part of the board’s strategic review published recently, given the prospective opportunity set and increasingly blurred lines between public and private markets, TPOU will be increasing its exposure to these investments in the future, up to a maximum of 20% at the time of investment.

At 17%, TPOU’s Discount remains wide. At the time of writing, the board has c. $105m of the buyback programme remaining. Additionally, the board has stated that it intends to implement two tender offers for 25% of NAV, at a discount of 2% to NAV, if in the six-month periods ending 31 March 2024 and 31 March 2027, the average discount to NAV is more than 10% and 7.5%, respectively.

Kepler View

Third Point’s activity during 2020 and so far in 2021 encapsulates how they as managers add value, and in our view provides an interesting and differentiated exposure for investors in global equities. During 2020, all of the strategies were employed to deliver strong returns, and private investments have been a key driver this year so far.

In Performance, we compare TPOU to trusts in the AIC’s Global and Flexible sectors. Over various time frames, TPOU has delivered an admirable return profile of returns broadly in line with the Global sector, but with volatility in line with that of the Flexible sector.

As part of the board’s strategic review published recently, TPOU will be increasing its exposure to private investments, up to a maximum of 20%. We think this is potentially an attractive feature for investors in TPOU, given other trusts which offer private company exposure trade at significant premiums to NAV.

Together with the remaining buyback facility, the recently announced conditional tenders in 2024 and 2027 provide a credible long-term route towards seeing the TPOU discount narrow towards the board’s target of 7.5%. As such, the current Discount of 17% – when combined with the measured, risk-aware approach to investing that the manager has demonstrated over the years – offers some very interesting investment properties.

In our view, the share price offers material upside potential from the discount narrowing towards the board’s target. In the context of a challenging equity backdrop, the combination of the NAV returns, and the discount narrowing could prove attractive on a relative basis.

BULL
BEAR
Good long-term track record
Compared to typical closed-ended funds, relatively poor disclosure on underlying portfolio
Manager’s ability to pivot portfolio on asset classes with good potential risk-adjusted returns
Proposed increase in gearing could lead to higher volatility in the NAV
Discount at wide level in absolute terms; board buying shares back
High OCF compared to long-only equity funds

Portfolio

Third Point Investors (TPOU) offers exposure to Third Point’s flagship master fund. Third Point applies an opportunistic approach to investing in companies across the capital structure on a global basis. It aims to invest in different asset classes to optimise risk and reward through a market cycle. The ultimate objective of this is to provide consistent long-term capital appreciation, but the strategy has in the past demonstrated market directionality over short term time frames. We believe the manager’s approach is distinctive, revolving around Third Point’s ability to look across global credit and equity markets for what it perceives as the best risk-adjusted returns. The manager has specialist teams in credit, equity, merger/activist and venture strategies, not to mention a specialist short-selling team. The team has had some success in private investments and, following a recent strategic review, it is expected that TPOU’s maximum exposure to these investments will rise from 10% to 20%.

Reflecting dissatisfaction with performance during Q1 2020 – a difficult period for all investors – Daniel Loeb stepped back into the sole-CIO role at Third Point, and is again responsible for overall capital allocation across the teams. Daniel has described four pillars of Third Point’s strategy going forward. The portfolio will continue to centre around activism, credit, venture, and fundamental and event-driven strategies, the latter of which include a core of high-quality compounders which are able to reinvest their earnings at attractive internal rates of return. Net equity exposure is currently higher than the long run average reflecting Third Point’s bullish outlook on the opportunity set. Over the medium to long term, net long equity exposure is expected to remain in line with historical norms of the strategy, which has averaged c. 50% since the start of 2009. Overall, the net exposure (i.e. including credit and private investments, as well as equity after deducting short positions) is 114% as at 31/03/2021. Whilst this might imply a higher level of volatility given this represents a geared exposure, as we discuss in the Performance section, the historic annualised volatility and drawdowns of the strategy have consistently been lower than global equity markets.

TPOU: Overall exposure by asset class

Source: Third Point LLC,
representing Third Point Offshore Master Fund LP’s exposures as at 31/03/2021

In some ways, the team’s activity during 2020 and so far in 2021 encapsulates how Third Point as manager adds value, and in our view provides an interesting and differentiated exposure for investors in global equities. During the year, all of the strategies were employed to deliver strong returns including event-driven, activist, and growth equity investing; private securities; and high yield, investment grade, and structured credit. With equity markets plunging in Q1 2020, the Third Point team deployed significant capital away from equity markets and into the credit space. The team reduced the net equity exposure by c. 15% shortly after the sell-off began (from 66.2% at 29/02/2020, to 51.5% at 30/04/2020), primarily by adding hedges. This enabled them to reallocate c. $2.2bn of capital to corporate and structured credit investments that they viewed as having highly asymmetric return profiles. In the second half of the year equities contributed strongly to returns, as one might expect, but so too did other asset classes. Of particular note, TPOU was a beneficiary when one of the portfolio’s private investments (Upstart Holdings) IPO’d at $20 in early December 2020, and rapidly increased in value subsequently. The price at the time of writing is $110, representing a significant win for the team.

With the IPO of Upstart, the public offering of Social Finance (SoFi) in early January 2021 via a SPAC, and prior IPOs of Wish (ContextLogic) and Palantir, private investments now account for only c. 8% of NAV, down from c. 12% at the beginning of 2020. As we note above, Third Point as a manager is making significant investments to further the success of their private investing business (see Third Point Ventures website). As part of the board’s strategic review published recently, TPOU will be increasing its exposure to these investments in the future, up to a maximum of 20% at the time of investment. With the ability of growth companies to remain private for longer, a particular feature of the last decade or so, we think this is potentially an attractive feature for investors in TPOU. Investment companies such as Chrysalis Investments, Augmentum Fintech and Schiehallion currently trade at significant premiums to NAV because of their exposure to this area of the market.

Outside of venture/privates, Third Point allocates opportunistically between three asset classes/strategies:

Activism

What Third Point calls ‘constructivist’ investing has been a hallmark of the firm’s investing history. Within this strategy, Third Point aims to drive long-term value in portfolio companies through various forms of engagement. Daniel is very positive on the current potential for this specialist investment strategy, particularly given Third Point’s depth of expertise. Third Point applies a sophisticated hedging strategy when investing in a constructivist idea, which is intended to reduce systematic risk from activist investments, aiming to maximise alpha and enhance idiosyncratic returns from each trade. In this way, the team hope to make deliberate decisions on how much market, sector or factor risk they wish to take. In our view, this is an area that passive investors will find impossible to replicate. The manager notes that it has invested a cumulative total of $26bn in this strategy (to end of December 2020), generating an annualised IRR of 21% since 2011.

A recent example of Third Point’s activist strategy is its investment in Intel. In late December 2020, Third Point published a letter in which the manager asked the board to consider a strategic review, including divesting some previous acquisitions. Over 2021 (to 31 March), both Intel and Prudential (another activist position) have been amongst the five biggest individual contributors to returns.

Credit

Credit was a key area of focus for Third Point during 2020, and it contributed around a third of gross returns over the year. The fund’s net exposure to credit peaked at just under 50% during Q1 2020, and represented an opportunistic pivot into credit, recognising the strong risk adjusted returns available at the time. In the view of the manager, many of the high-grade corporate credits that it invested in during the early stages of the pandemic offered very wide spreads over government bonds (and offered significant IRRs), but had relatively limited downside, particularly relative to equities. During March and April it was very far from clear that equity markets would rebound, and so Third Point’s credit positioning would have protected capital significantly better than if it had a pure equity exposure. Credit now constitutes around 28% of net exposure (as at 31 March 2021), balanced between corporate & sovereign and structured.

Looking ahead, Third Point expects the opportunity in structured credit to be particularly appealing given the size of its balance sheet, its networks and its ability to source opportunities across the corporate lifecycle. In particular, it is finding additional opportunities to purchase whole loan portfolios and securitize the risk to yield-hungry investors. The investment manager has historically executed this strategy in the residential mortgage space, but is applying the same toolkit to the consumer asset-backed security space, including student loans and auto loans.

Long Equity (Fundamental & Event)

Recognising the unique nature of the pandemic, the investment manager has shifted focus towards identifying global high-quality secular growth companies. These companies can benefit from their ability to reinvest in their own businesses in order to generate high IRRs over time through compounding. Since March 2020, Third Point reshaped its equity portfolio through a series of well-timed entries into new positions in the ‘fundamental and event’ category, namely Alphabet, JD.com, and Amazon. These positions delivered strong returns during 2020, and along with Upstart have also contributed into 2021 – with the category having delivered 10.2% of the 18% total gross long returns of the fund over the three months to 31 March 2021. At the same time, Third Point has retained exposure to the dedicated short-selling book, representing single-name short positions, as well as tailored portfolio-wide hedges against certain factors, which continue to have the effect of dampening the volatility of the overall portfolio.

Third Point discloses its top five gross long positions every month, which we reproduce in the table below. As we note above, Upstart Holdings is the recently IPO’d company that Third Point invested in as a private. We also note the activist positions of Prudential, Intel, and Walt Disney all now ranking in the top holdings. Pacific Gas & Electric is an ‘event’ position; Third Point took an equity position in PCG while it was in bankruptcy, to sit alongside an existing credit position in the company. By investing through a marriage of equity and credit, Third Point believes it is in a strong position to influence the process as the company becomes rehabilitated with capital markets.

TOP FIVE HOLDINGS


Prudential PLC
Pacific Gas & Electric Co
Intel Corp
The Walt Disney Co
Upstart Holdings, Inc

Source: Third Point LLC, as at 31/03/2021

Geographically the manager can invest globally, though has tended through time to be fairly US-centric. Allocations are determined purely on a company-specific basis, although we do note that the manager has historically had a bias towards US equities. Over recent months, this bias has become even more prevalent, with a very significant proportion of the equity investments now in the US as is shown in the table below.

Equity GEOGRAPHICAL EXPOSURE


LONG %
SHORT %
NET %
Americas
95.9
-35.3
60.6
EMEA
17.7
-4.6
13.2
Asia ex Japan
1.7
-0.5
1.4
Japan
0.0
-0.7
-0.7

Source: Third Point LLC, as at 31/03/2021

Gearing

TPOU has not hitherto employed traditional gearing. However, following the strategic review in Q1 2021, the board has announced its intention to employ flexible gearing of up to 15%, in order to increase exposure at times of increased opportunity. Whilst this implies investors might be relying on the manager’s ability to time markets, given the strategy employs both long and shorts, the reality is more nuanced. Indeed, Third Point is used to increasing and decreasing gross and net exposure depending on the opportunities that the team see. For instance, Third Point expects that net equity exposure will typically be between 40% and 80%, but could at times exceed this, depending on the opportunity set (it is currently 74.5%). Over time, equity exposure has varied quite significantly, as the graph below illustrates. As such, we see the use of gearing in this way as a natural extension of the investment process, rather than a fundamental change. At the same time, when gearing is applied, it will serve to increase the volatility of NAV returns. As we show in Performance, given the NAV has typically had lower beta/drawdown statistics than equity markets, this is not necessarily alarming, but is worth noting.

On a fundamental basis, TPOU is already geared in another way. TPOU’s gross exposure (the total of longs and shorts to equity and credit) is typically above 100%. As at 31 March 2021, TPOU’s gross exposure was 197%, and its net exposure 114%. Currently gross exposure is higher than the historical average of 152% (looking back to 2007 when TPOU was listed), and net exposure is also higher than the average of 77% over the same period. It is worth noting that the beta of the credit exposure is typically lower than that of equity, and so these exposures do not necessarily imply that the beta of the fund to equity markets will be as high as the net exposure might imply. We show the historic gross and net equity exposure over time in the graph below.

GROSS AND NET Equity EXPOSURE OVER TIME

Source: Third Point LLC

Returns

Since its inception in December 1996, the Third Point Offshore Fund Ltd has delivered annualised net returns (as at 31 March 2021) of 15.1%, in excess of the S&P 500 and MSCI World indices, which have generated 9.1% and 7.6% over the same period. In addition to this significant outperformance, the fund has also exhibited lower volatility than global equities (12.4% versus 15.4% and 15.5% respectively).

TPOU listed in July 2007, since when the US shares of the company (reflecting its US dollar denomination) have delivered NAV total returns (including dividends reinvested) of 234% compared to the MSCI World Index’s return (in USD) of 145% (Source: Third Point LLC, to 31 March 2021). TPOU has achieved this with lower volatility than the index (13.2% vs 16.5%, Source: Bloomberg), and with NAV correlation to the MSCI World Index of 0.70 (Source: Third Point LLC).

Over more recent years, TPOU has experienced periods where it has lagged equity markets. However, more recently – over the past 12 months – performance has been strong. One might argue that equity markets are not the best comparator because of TPOU’s lower equity exposure and more varied exposure to other asset classes. As such, alongside the MSCI World Index ETF and Global investment trust peers, we also compare performance against the AIC’s Flexible Investment peer group (the AIC defines the Flexible Investment sector as representing those “companies whose policy allows them to invest in a range of asset types”). The graph below illustrates that TPOU’s NAV is ahead of all of these comparators (barring the technology heavy AIC Global sector) over five years.

FIVE-Year NAV Total REturn

Source: Morningstar

Given TPOU’s manager allocates between equities, credit and absolute return strategies, it can often have less than 100% exposure to equities. Over various time frames, TPOU has delivered returns with lower volatility than equities. As the table below shows, NAV risk (as defined by beta, standard deviation and max drawdown) has been broadly in line with the Flexible sector, but NAV returns have been broadly in line with the Global sector. In our view, this epitomises the attractions of TPOU – in offering a way to achieve actively managed equity like returns over the cycle, but with lower risk. However, in contrast to both of the Flexible and Global sectors, TPOU remains on a very wide discount in absolute and relative terms (as we discuss in Discount).

NAV RISK / RETURN STATISTICS



Return
(%)
Beta
Max Drawdown %
Std Dev
%
One year
TPOU

47.8

0.6

-2.0

10.9


Flexible Investment Average

28.7

0.7

-2.8

10.7


Global Average

43.2

1.0

-3.6

14.7







Three years
TPOU

53.7

0.7

-15.8

13.8


Flexible Investment Average

23.3

0.7

-14.9

11.6


Global Average

49.9

1.0

-18.6

15.9







Five years
TPOU

106.2

0.8

-15.8

12.8


Flexible Investment Average

51.1

0.8

-15.0

10.1


Global Average

121.1

1.0

-18.6

13.7







Ten years
TPOU

233.4

0.6

-15.8

11.5


Flexible Investment Average

106.5

0.7

-16.1

9.6


Global Average

227.2

1.0

-19.8

12.8

Source: Morningstar, as at 31/03/2021

As we note in Portfolio, performance during the first quarter of 2021, as well as the changed economic and market conditions, has led to Daniel Loeb returning as sole CIO. This led to several portfolio changes enabling TPOU to rebound from market lows, powered by credit and equity positions initiated during the crisis, as well as delivering a lower volatility return overall. As we note in Portfolio, performance during 2021 has also been robust, with a strong contribution from Upstart Holdings and Social Finance, both of which were originally invested in as private companies before they IPO’d.

NAV PERFORMANCE since start of 2020

Source: Morningstar

Dividend

The manager aims for capital growth and does not focus on generating a dividend. The company is not expected to pay out any gains in the form of income. However, as an alternative means of capital return, in September 2019 the board announced the implementation of a $200m share buyback programme. In our view, the scale of the buyback is an attempt to demonstrate that the board and the investment manager are serious about reducing the discount. Of potentially more interest to continuing shareholders is the fact that TPOU’s returns will be bolstered by the accretion to NAV from buybacks, which will be material if the discount to NAV persists.

So far, the total amount of shares bought back within the programme amounts to c. $95m, implying plenty more firepower. The average discount at which purchases have been made is c. 20%, which has contributed to useful NAV accretion. We note that the board continues to buy back shares regularly, most recently at a discount of c. 17.7% to the most recently announced NAV.

Management

Third Point LLC is an SEC-registered investment adviser based in New York City, New York. The firm was founded in 1995 by Daniel Loeb, who serves as CEO and CIO and oversees all investment activity, supported by an investment team of 32 investment professionals. The firm has approximately $15.5bn of assets under management (as at 31/12/2020). Approximately 10% of the firm’s assets are employee capital, demonstrating significant alignment of interests between the firm and its investors.

Daniel Loeb has over three decades of experience of investing in equity and credit securities in US and international markets.

TPOU’s board is led by the chairman, Steve Bates. Steve has a long track record of involvement with investment companies in the UK. As we discuss in Discount, Steve and the board continue to emphasise their determination to reduce the persistent discount at which the company trades. The board completed their most strategic review and published a ‘multi-pronged approach to enhance shareholder value’ on 1 April 2021. These included an increased flexibility to pursue unique opportunities in private markets (see Portfolio), the introduction of a discount control mechanism and tender offer programme (see Discount), and the introduction of gearing through a revolving credit facility (see Gearing).

Discount

The graph below illustrates that TPOU’s discount remains persistent. Over the last five years, the average discount to NAV has been 19.5%, and the discount at the time of writing is 17%. It is worth noting that historically the NAV was announced monthly, with a mid-month estimate also published which may have contributed to the perception of a wide discount (given the lack of datapoints for the share price to ‘anchor’ on). However, as part of addressing the discount at which the shares trade, the company now publishes weekly estimated NAVs which should help improve this.

Other initiatives that the board have taken, aimed at reducing the discount over the years include:

  • Implementing a buyback programme.
  • Removing the dividend (to focus on buybacks).
  • Rolling up the fairly illiquid GBP share class into the USD share class to increase liquidity.
  • Reducing the fee substantially.
  • Better transparency for shareholders via monthly report/quarterly investor update webcasts for TPOU investors.

In September 2019, TPOU announced it intended to use $200m to buy back its own shares over three years. In the recently published strategic review (1 April 2021), the board highlighted a long-term target discount level of no more than 7.5% and indicated that it would strategically continue its buyback programme to move the discount towards this target. At the time of writing, the board has so far spent $95m, leaving plenty of firepower left to continue to buy shares back. Additionally, in order to help achieve the board’s discount target, TPOU intends to implement two tender offers for 25% of NAV, at a discount of 2% to NAV, if in the six-month periods ending 31 March 2024 and 31 March 2027, the average discount to NAV is more than 10% and 7.5%, respectively. Together with the remaining buyback facility, this provides a credible long-term route towards seeing the discount narrow.

As a result of these initiatives, in our view, the discount looks attractive on both absolute and relative terms. Fundamentally, as we have discussed in Portfolio and Performance, TPOU offers an attractive multi-asset exposure that likely provides diversification properties to equity portfolios. The addition of gearing may exacerbate NAV volatility from historic levels, but Third Point’s ability to pivot between asset classes towards what the manager sees as the most attractive risk-reward opportunities has delivered value for investors over the long term. As such, the employment of gearing should – over the long term – be seen as more attractive to investors.

Additionally, when viewed against other investment trust sectors such as the AIC Flexible and AIC Global sectors, TPOU’s discount looks attractive in relative terms – which we show in the graph below. As we discuss in Performance, the approach taken by the manager and the pattern of returns means that the trust can usefully be compared to the AIC’s Flexible Investment sector which it has outperformed strongly. Given the strength of the returns, and the global remit, it is also a strong performer relative to the Global sector which trades on an even tighter average discount to NAV. As such, at the current discount and when combined with the measured, risk-aware approach to investing that the manager has demonstrated over the years, TPOU offers some very interesting, perhaps unique investment properties. In our view, the share price offers material upside potential from the discount narrowing towards the board’s target. In the context of a challenging equity backdrop, the combination of the NAV returns, and the discount narrowing could prove attractive on a relative basis.

PREMIUM / (DISCOUNT) TO NAV

Source: Morningstar

Charges

As we note in Discount, TPOU pays a lower management fee than it used to (a change which took effect on 1 January 2019), and this is now 1.25% per annum. Additionally, the share class that TPOU invests in does not have particularly onerous liquidity constraints, and the 25% quarterly redemption gate leaves plenty of room for the board to freely manage buybacks. Relative to direct investors in Third Point’s funds, TPOU currently offers an entry point at a significant discount to NAV, and without the high investment minimum of $10m.

TPOU also pays the manager a performance fee of 20% of absolute performance above a high-water mark. However, if the Master Fund depreciates during any fiscal year and recovers during subsequent years, the fund must recover an amount equal to 2.5 times the amount of depreciation in the prior years before the investment manager is entitled to the full incentive fee. Until this occurs the fund will be subject to a reduced incentive fee, equal to half of the full incentive fee. Given strong performance over the past 12 months, we estimate that the fund is currently paying the full incentive fee.

The company last published a Key Information Document (KID) on 30 September 2020, which detailed ongoing costs of 1.73%, portfolio transaction costs of 0.61% and performance fees of 1.41%. In total this adds up to a KID Reduction in Yield figure of 3.75%. While this figure is high in comparison to traditional equity funds, it is not so far out of line with other members of the AIC’s Flexible Investment peer group, which has a weighted average RIY of 2.99% and is below RIT Capital’s RIY figure of 4.1% (Source: JPMorgan Cazenove).

ESG

Third Point created a dedicated governance team at the start of 2019. As we discuss in Portfolio, one of Third Point’s core strategies is as an activist investor, aiming to drive long-term value in portfolio companies through various forms of engagement. Activist investing is by definition the ultimate ‘engagement strategy’, and in this regard the investment strategy can be seen as having been aligned with the thinking behind ESG for a long time.

In fact, the arrival of ESG and engagement as a mainstream style of investing provides a tailwind to Third Point’s activist strategy. Certainly, increased shareholder democracy is a theme that Third Point should be able to harness to help it achieve its objectives.

With regard to ESG, Third Point’s approach includes developing proprietary data sets, as well as widespread use of third-party resources. The ESG process is now a key input into its investment ‘mosaic’, and the team report that there is continual dialogue between the CIO and other individuals involved in the investment process on all ESG considerations, both from a sector- and a stock-specific perspective. The aim is to identify ESG issues that may create value or destroy it, in order to engage company management. Third Point has a detailed explanation of its approach to ESG available on its website here.

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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