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Fund Profile

Aberforth Split Level Income 12 December 2019


Disclosure – Non-Independent Marketing Communication

This is a non-independent marketing communication commissioned by Aberforth Split Level Income. 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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Aberforth Split Level Income Trust (ASIT) invests in UK smaller companies in order to provide a high income to investors, by aiming to identify undervalued companies with attractive dividend yields and use structural gearing to enhance the income they provide. The ordinary shares currently yield 5%.

ASIT is managed by a team of seven at Aberforth Partners, who have been employing a disciplined value strategy in the small-cap space since 1990. The track record of the team illustrates the outperformance potential of such an approach, while they also have experience in managing geared income portfolios like ASIT - find out more about ASIT's performance track record.

The trust has a fixed life and will be wound up in July 2024. It is geared through the issuance at launch of zero dividend preference shares (ZDPs), which pay back a fixed amount at wind-up and receive no dividends, allowing ordinary shareholders to receive a higher yield (see the gearing section for details). Gearing can amplify returns, but it can also exacerbate losses.

ASIT is the successor to Aberforth Geared Income Trust, which was managed with the same approach for seven years to June 2017, and which successfully met its income objectives and generated a total return of 20% per annum to shareholders (up to the time when it was wound up at the end of its fixed life). These high returns were aided by an excellent period for small caps, which might not be repeated.

ASIT was launched into a rough period for a value approach to investing, but the portfolio it owns looks extremely cheap relative to the market, and relative returns since mid-August have been strong. The managers take a highly active approach which offers long-term outperformance potential. Following the strong run in recent months, the discount has narrowed and sits at 8.3%, wider than the average AIC UK Smaller Companies trust - read more on ASIT's discount history.

Analyst's View

ASIT offers an attractive way to diversify an income portfolio, in our view. The 5% yield is attractive relative to the average AIC UK Equity Income trust sector, which yields just 3.9%. At the same time, it offers income from a segment of the market which few income investors find their way to. In a recent strategy note, we highlighted concentration risk in the income of the FTSE 100 and how the yield in that index comes from a limited number of companies. Investing in a trust such as ASIT allows investors to increase the average yield on their portfolio while reducing concentration risk and enhancing income diversification.

The trust could also usefully be held by a small-cap investor to diversify the biases from which the average AIC UK Smaller Companies trust suffers. The use of a value strategy in small caps is itself quite rare, and most investors are invested in growth strategies in this area. As we discuss in the Portfolio section, the trust is also very different from the average small-cap fund. For example, the trust does not invest in AIM and is biased towards the smaller end of the small-cap market, in both cases at odds with the mainstream of UK small-cap investing at this point in time.

Given the value tilt, its bias to UK domestic earnings and even simply investing in the UK stock market at all, ASIT is exposed to a number of themes which have been out of favour for some time, which means it could do particularly well when those trends reverse. In particular, we think the portfolio could experience quite a rebound if we get a decisive UK election result and a pragmatic Brexit deal. However, in our view an unequivocal rising rate environment is likely to be necessary if we are to see a sustained rotation in favour of value versus growth. On the other hand, the structural gearing will compound losses for shareholders if the portfolio falls in value for whatever reason. However, for those investors who like the Aberforth approach and want exposure to its style of value investing, ASIT’s structural gearing offers greater long-term outperformance potential than the less geared portfolios run by the team.

bull bear
A high yield from a portfolio with average dividend cover over two times Structural gearing will amplify the volatility of the ordinary shares
A highly experienced management team with a long-term track record of outperformance
A no-deal Brexit could be bad for absolute and relative returns
A diversifying source of income for many investors No discount control mechanism, beyond the limited life
Continue to Portfolio

Fund History

07 May 2024 Thomas McMahon speaks on the Money Makers podcast
Thomas McMahon, Head of Investment Companies Research, appears on the Money Makers podcast to discuss three current themes in the investment trust sector: BCPT and commercial property, ASIT and split-level trusts, and the UK micro-cap sector...
29 Nov 2023 Fund Analysis
ASIT’s managers: Today’s investment opportunity is amongst the best in Aberforth’s 33 years…
09 Jun 2023 Fund Analysis
ASIT has the potential to deliver strong returns in its short remaining life…
06 Apr 2023 Fallen Kingdom?
Since the UK was described as a ‘Jurassic Park’ stock market, it has outperformed. Is this a new age for the stock market..?
18 Jan 2023 Fortune favours the brave
Our research suggests a recession has already been priced into small cap trusts, but risks abound...
14 Dec 2022 Fund Analysis
ASIT offers potentially exciting returns as its planned 1 July 2024 wind-up date approaches…
16 Jun 2022 Fund Analysis
ASIT offers potentially exciting returns as its July 2024 wind-up approaches…
17 Nov 2021 Fund Analysis
ASIT is well-positioned to perform exceptionally well in an economic recovery…
01 Jun 2021 Fund Analysis
ASIT’s portfolio remains highly geared to an UK economic recovery...
26 Nov 2020 Fund Analysis
ASIT’s high gearing and cyclical portfolio mean it could offer exceptional performance potential as the end of the pandemic becomes clearer…
25 Nov 2020 Britannia Redux?
UK equities have been despised for almost five years and could offer extreme rebound potential…
29 Jul 2020 To be, or not to be (geared), that is the question
Gearing is part of the toolkit that trusts use to outperform OEICs. But how is it best implemented?...
27 May 2020 Fund Analysis
ASIT’s gearing allows it to offer a very high yield and strong rebound potential…
12 Dec 2019 Fund Analysis
ASIT is a small-cap value trust, with a yield of 5%...
01 Aug 2019 Rethinking UK equity income
Despite being a popular allocation for investors, the UK Equity Income sector is currently plagued by the problem of concentration. Our analysis suggests smaller companies could be a strong alternative source of diversified income…
30 Apr 2019 Fund Analysis
ASLIT is a high yielding smaller companies fund with a disciplined value approach, offering a historic yield of 4.9%...
23 May 2018 Fund Analysis
A differentiated UK small cap income trust, heavily exposed to the domestic UK economy...
23 May 2018 Backing Blighty
We consider the outlook for UK equities as they endure their Brexit induced 'darkest hour'...
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