Bargain hunter: This trust is on a roll, but remains cheap as chips
By Kyle Caldwell (Money Observer) | Fri, 22nd September 2017 - 16:44
Bargain hunter: This trust is on a roll, but remains cheap as chips
These have been a stellar couple of years for shareholders in the Fidelity China Special Situations (FCSS) investment trust, which has enjoyed a resurgence under the management of Dale Nicholls, who took over in April 2014.
Nicholls had big shoes to fill as he replaced star fund manager Anthony Bolton at the helm. Bolton had steered the Fidelity Special Situations fund to annualised returns of around 19 % during his 28 years at the helm before stepping down in 2007.
He moved to Hong Kong to manage the newly launched Fidelity China Special Situations trust in 2010. But he struggled to repeat his success overseas, with FCSS' net asset value return showing a loss of 31.5% in 2011, according to broker Winterflood. Indeed, it was a challenging year for all stock-pickers in the region: the MCSI China index, the trusts benchmark, declined 17.6%.
By the time Bolton retired in April 2014 he had managed to steer FCSS back into the black, but in the three and a half years since Dale Nicholls took the reins, the trusts performance has improved markedly. FCSS has produced an NAV return of 87% on a three-year view, and is showing a return of 21% over the past year.
However, despite this strong showing, the trust is today sitting on a discount of 13.7% (as at the time of writing on 20 September) - an anomaly that has caught the eye of Killik, the stockbroker, which has issued a 'buy' recommendation.
In a note to clients Killik notes that "for long-term investors, the development of the Chinese middle class provides a strong backdrop for growth," and that FCSS offers an attractively priced entry point for investors to gain exposure.
Over the past 18 months or so Chinese stockmarkets have enjoyed a fine run of form. Killik puts this down to "clear signs of economic improvement over this period", going against predictions from various gloomy experts who had warned China would suffer from a so-called 'hard landing'.
But, as the more experienced investor knows all too well, those who back China should fasten their seatbelts and prepare for a bumpy ride - the stockmarket has past form for falling sharply in a short space of time. Therefore, those who invest in such a single-country investment trust or fund should be prepared to invest for the long term, at least five years.
"Periods of heightened market volatility are to be expected as China undergoes a challenging rebalancing of the economy. However, for long-term investors, the development of the Chinese middle class provides a strong backdrop for growth," says Killik.
"The portfolio continues to offer attractive high levels of prospective earnings growth, and with the share price having lagged the NAV return year-to-date, the current 14% discount is wider than the medium-term average and looks attractive."
The investment trust broker Winterflood has also recently thrown its weight behind FCSS. In a note at the end of July the broker said the discount at the time - which stood at 12% - was 'attractive', and as a result the trust had been added to the firms model portfolio.
"In our opinion, the high level of gearing, single-country mandate and small cap bias make Fidelity China Special Situations a high-risk, potentially higher-return vehicle, particularly at a time when the manager appears to be more cautious on valuations," said Winterflood.
"Having said this, the ability to take short positions provides an opportunity to benefit from overextended valuations and the use of gearing and small cap allocation makes good use of the closed-ended structure. In addition, while we tend to view single country funds as specialist vehicles, we note that if the manager is correct about China becoming a greater part of global indices, there could be a gr
I wonder how he feels now. There were teething problems but the stock picks seem to have been inspired and the succession planning/continuity has been very smooth. I have been in since the start and have enjoyed 125% growth and more with accumulation. Thanks Anthony .. it has been a very good ride and I am sure it will continue to be.
Ride-hailing app Uber may be driving for global domination but in China the company has met its match and may hit a brick wall, according to Fidelity fund manager Dale Nicholls.
Ubers big rival in China is Didi Kuaidi, which Nicholls is backing in his £864 million Fidelity China Special Situations (FCSS
Add to favourites ) investment trust, making it one of only two privately-owned, unlisted companies in the 140-strong portfolio.
Uber takes 25% commission from each taxi fare and claims to be profitable in the US and other developed markets. In China, however, the business is loss-making because it has to pay drivers bonuses bigger than the fares passengers pay.
Nicholls believed Ubers pursuit of market share in China was unrealistic as it ranked number two with a market share of around 15%, according to an Analysys International study last year, compared to Didi on over 80%.
We estimate Uber is losing $1.5 billion [£1.1 billion] in a China a year. Didi is losing less as it has greater market share, said Nicholls. He described Didi as a classic network business as it could reduce driver bonuses because it could send more business their way.
Something will have to give, added Nicholls. Uber shareholders will start to ask tough questions over how much theyre losing and how many Western companies [none] have won in the internet space [in China].
He suggested Uber China would have to adopt a niche strategy if it was to make its business profitable.
Nicholls comments contrast with the stance of US investment giant Fidelity, a separate business to Nicholls' employer Fidelity International, which invests in Uber and, according to the Crunchbase website, led a $1.4 billion fund raising effort in 2014 that at the time valued the San Francisco-based company at over $18 billion.
In the past year Uber has raised more than $13 billion from investors and creditors, including a $3.5 billion investment by Saudi Arabia, as it has sought to establish itself in China and India. It is now reportedly valued at $62.5 billion.
Didi, the result of a merger of two rivals backed by Chinas internet giants Tencent (0700.HK) and Alibaba (BABA.K), has responded by raising $4.5 billion from investors, including $1 billion from Apple in June.
Fidelity was an early backer of Alibaba with Nicholls predecessor Anthony Bolton investing 2.5% of China Special Situations in the e-commerce site before its record $25 billion flotation in New York two years ago.
That success gave Nicholls (pictured) a taste for finding more unquoted companies before they hit the market. Last Friday the trust won shareholder approval to double the maximum it can hold in unlisted stocks to 10% of gross assets.
While the opportunity to invest in Alibaba came via Fidelitys private equity team in China, Nicholls said he was looking to develop other sources for future investments.
Didi currently accounts for 1.7% of the investment trust under its formal name of Xiaoju Kuaizhi, with less than 1% in the funds other unquoted holding, Meituan-Dianping. This is Chinas largest group deals site which in January raised $3.3 billion from investors, including Tencent and fund manager Baillie Gifford.
Speaking to journalists before the trusts annual general meeting, Nicholls stressed he would not immediately deploy the new capacity in unquoted stocks, saying the 10% ceiling gave him flexibility to tap into high-growth companies. He said he recognised that the illiquidity of unlisted investments meant they had to generate higher returns.
Risk and return
Analysts say the increase in unquoted investments is justified but adds to the risk of what is already a high risk, highly geared (borrowed) fund which invests half its assets in more volatile smaller companies and can short or sell stocks it does not own.
Given the high gearing, the single country mandate and the bias towards sm
Read Edison's note on FIDELITY CHINA SPECIAL SITUATIONS, out this morning, by visiting https://www.research-tree.com/company/GB00B62Z3C74
"Fidelity China Special Situations (FCSS) is a specialist actively managed fund investing in Chinese equities. The manager focuses on sectors set to benefit from changing consumption trends and the rising middle class where long-term growth is expected to exceed GDP growth. Against a background of market decline and high volatility, FCSS has continued to outperform with NAV total returns ahead of the benchmark MSCI China Index as well as open and closed-ended peers over one, three and five years. The manager continues to find attractive investment opportunities and has recently increased gearing, reflecting a more positive outlook...."
Anyone who has read my posts over the years, and especially in recent times on GLEN, RIO, FCSS and RR ii boards, will know how opposed I am to buybacks generally. At last, the FT has spoken out against them also:
"Harvard Business Review called them stock price manipulation. The Economist called them an addiction to corporate cocaine. Reuters called them self-cannibalization. Now the Financial Times, in an article by John Plender, calls them an overwhelming conflict of interest.
Yet share buybacks not only continue on a gargantuan scalesome $3.4 trillion over the last ten years. They are increasing. Last year, the FT reported that U.S. companies unleashed a share buyback binge Now the market stands on the cusp of seeing a record of more than $1 trillion returned to shareholders in the form of dividends and stock repurchases this year. This is happening at a time when share prices remain close to record highs.
Stupid Institutional Decisions
If companies were buying their stock when its price was low and selling it when it was high, there might be a slender case for share buybacks. But as the FT points out, most do not do that. They buy high and sell low.
Equally absurd is the argument that money is cheap to borrow, so why not buy shares. As the FT says, Borrowing cheaply to buy expensively is a nonsense.
Similarly, the argument that buying shares is the best use of the companys money because it cant see any good investment opportunities doesnt make any sense. This amounts, as the FT writes, to buying into a company that has run out of growth.
A Massive Extraction Of Value
What is actually going on is a massive extraction of value from firms to their shareholders. As the FT notes, firms are boosting earnings per share by shrinking the equity. This enables firms to meet the stock markets expectations in terms of earning and thus tends to boost the stock price for the benefit of shareholders, including the top executives.
Tim Bush, head of governance and financial analysis at Pirc, the U.K. shareholder advisory group, argues that the link of pay to earnings per share growth may create an incentive to undertake buybacks that destroy economic value The result is that impressions of real earnings growth are distorted The conflict of interest here is overwhelming Too often managers are egged on by short-termist activist investors.
There is a marked lack of transparency and accountability in what is now a huge item of corporate spending and a serious mis-allocation of capital, writes the FT. The cost of acquiring the shares does not appear in the profit and loss account as a distribution. There is no requirement to disclose any decline in the value of shares in the accounts.
The Dumbest Idea In The World
Why are firms taking decisions that destroy economic value? Behind it all of course is what Jack Welch has called the dumbest idea in the world, namely, the notion that the purpose of a firm is to maximize shareholder value as reflected in the stock price.
The root cause isnt obvious because it is not a group of individuals or institutions who can be blamed. Its an Idea. And the Idea, almost unnoticed, has come to dominate the way business works. The Idea is taught in business schools; is presumed appropriate in daily financial news reporting; is accepted as a go-to tool for any executive of a large public company; is the modus operandi of activist hedge funds; is endorsed by regulators, institutional investors, analysts and politicians; and is seen by just about everyone as simple common sense. Unfortunately, the idea doesnt work, even on its own narrow terms.
The Role Of Institutional Investors
The big question, writes the FT, is why institutional investors do not blow the whistle on what all too often turns out to be an exercise in value destruction. It is high time institutional investors took a firmer grip, writes the FT. In the U.K. that would mean vot
According to iii it is a discount of 16.22% currently.
"Factsheet" is the header that you require to obtain this information.
If you are not sure that it is a good idea then you have probably answered your own question.
Depends on your objectives, timescale, existing portfolio, attitude to risk, etc etc.
I sold out of this at a tidy (but lessened) profit a short while back and have been buying LLOY.
Indeed, and what are these boards for if not for that. As I posted my response it helped me realise that my feeling about an FCSS buyback was more an instinctual thing - I haven't run any of the maths behind it that you suggested, for example, and they may well be technically correct in a buyback.
Even if that is the case, I feel if a fund is doing that, especially what is essentially a higher risk growth fund, then it is an indicator that the fund isn't performing as it should, nor expected to in the shorter term and/or or the gap between the NAV and the share price is so huge that it is telling its own story.
All the best with your investments and to all those invested in China either via FCSS or any other way. Its very difficult to make the return you would expect from such a success story, not least because people keep talking about a 'downturn' or a 'slowdown' and sentiment has become by far the strongest head wind.
In fact Chinese growth remains phenomenal, despite being measured from a much bigger base now year on year and the consumer-led part of the economy is screaming forward still, while base infrastructure has slowed a lot, understandably.
A good example is the US auto makers last results - all reporting massive increases in sales in China in 2015. No better example of a consumer-led economy booming, to be frank, you can pretty much measure that part of the economy by the auto sector alone.
I just wish I could find a better way to play the Chinese growth story. Its been a lot more difficult than I ever imagined when I first started trying to get a piece of it back around 2003.
"This does not feel bad thing to me. I guess that also impacts the bonus of fund manager?"
I dunno what the bonus scheme is for FCSS (as I said). Woodford certainly hasn't qualified for a bonus in WPCT this year and looks extremely unlikely to do so next year - but then that is a newly floated 'patient fund' so perhaps unsurprising. (see that board for some excellent up-to-date analysis, including his bonus structure).
FCSS is not newly floated and you would have expected it to hit its straps before now. Consumer-led growth in China remains in double-digits, but they haven't managed to match that. Perhaps it really isn'ty possible via stocks, plus the state of the volatile 'market' over there is hardly beneficial to such a fund either, resulting in recent false highs and now (probably) false lows, in my opinion.
I always believed, and said so here, that they should have used their ability to buy non-Chinese companies that had/have a large presence in China. It would have certainly smoothed out some of the risk and the early traps that Bolton walked into from a failure to understand the looser regulatory environment in HK, which he openly admitted to, if he had bought 'Chinese' stocks listed on the NYSE, for example.
Mind you, difficult to avoid traps that you aren't aware are there at all. I didn't know either (but then it aint my business to know), my belief in such a strategy was based on some obviously high performing US stocks benefitting from Chinese markets that it seemed to me FCSS were missing out on.
As for Woodford stating he would buyback in such a situation, we don't know, do we? As for issuing more shares, he already did that and still has invested all the cash available. That, to me, in a 'patient' fund, suggests an unseemly haste to get all the money in play, which was, after all, more than four times what he expected to raise in the first place. Now he says there are many more opportunities hot yet exploited.
The fund is well underwater, suggesting he spent too early, and he wants to issue more equity. I took a 16.5% profit from the fund a few days before he announced the first issue of extra equity, so pretty much maximised the premium in my favour (as it happened). The fund is now 10% down and he is planning on selling all his majors (as in FTSE 100 high divi payers) at a loss, to raise miore cash for the funds. A bit desperate? He might have got lucky, the FTSE has certainly moved in the right direction for him since he announced that.
But, it is another strategy change just a year in. I don't think it bodes well, frankly. Or maybe I am missing the genius. I just can't help wondering if the clever finance juggling is going to pay the shareholders eventually. I did have every intention of buying back in when the NAV and sp were more in line, but I'm less inclined now.
What is 'significant' premium for a fund enough to justify a buyback? That's the big question. If you are buying back shares for valid reasons, as I said in my post, then it is surely because you don't believe you can use that cash to out-perform the gap between NAV and fund price. That is a pretty poor state of affairs for any fund that is aimed at a high growth sector, whichever way you look at it.
I take it you're invested, nk? You don't usually post an opinion, just very helpful analyst comments. I find them very helpful anyway, and have had you on my favourites list as long as I can remember. If my comments about FCSS have upset you at all, remember that a) I was invested myself for years and by far the most active poster on this board trying to get a grip on why the fund wasn't performing and b) sometimes comments that upset us are a sign that the poster is speculating about something we're already not too comfortable with ourselves. Ie. don't shoot the messenger!
So, I must repeat, I have no idea what the FCSS bonus policy is and in no way accuse them of lining their own pockets at the expense of shareholder
"Not sure I agree with gearing the fund up if Dale is negative on growth and as he says will drag equities lower "
I they still buying back their own shares? That was more or less the final straw for me with FCSS. What is the point of raising money for a fund to invest in a certain part of the world and then buy your own shares? It seems pointless, doesn't it, yet there are at least two points I can think of that drive share buybacks.
1) Buy the shares and cancel them. This will have the effect of increasing the earnings per share figure in the yearly accounts. In The City and on Wall Street, many bonus payments are made on the EPS figure, no matter how it was achieved. I do not know if that is the case with FCSS.
2) In the US especially, where the buyback became very fashionable in recent years, the argument goes "money is so cheap, we can afford to borrow it to buy our own shares and boost the share price to give us a reasonable rate of return on that borrowing".
In my opinion, share buybacks are only a good thing when a company truly believes the market is undervaluing its own shares - by a long way. For a fund to re-buy its own shares, especially if it then goes out to borrow more money, they are surely saying, effectively, "this is the best use of cash for our shareholders because we don't think we can beat the deal through any investments that we can come up with". And that in a market that is growing at 6% plus, and faster during the fund's lifetime.
They may be right, the thesis of the fund investing in consumer-led Chinese stocks has always been very sound, I thought. Unfortunately, the results have never reflected that. probably because a lot of investors around the world have still been pouring money into miners in the hope that the infrastructure building in China is about to take off again, despite what the Chinese leadership has been telling us year after year.
Meanwhile, consumer-led stocks tend to get overlooked so don't end up with the over-inflated prices that many commodity producers reflected up until a year or two ago.
But, like I said, once FCSS started buying back shares, and whatsmore doing it badly, that was when I decided it was time to get out and stay out. I'm afraid FCSS was a big disappointment for me overall.
Good luck to those still holding, I hope they come good for you.
WOW, your thinking we will get down to the lows of 2012 & late 2011 which wipes all grow out!! over that time. On another note are you as bearish on India which I follow epic NII if you want to post a reply on that bb it would be appreciated.
Shareholders in Fidelity China Special Situations (FCSS) are set to pay a performance fee of over £2.7 million despite losing 16% of their money in the latest half-year period.
Interim results published by the investment trust last week show a provision of £2,738,000 has been made to pay its fund manager, Fidelity, for the six months to 30 September, lifting overall ongoing charges for the period to 1.7%.
Although this is down from just over 2% a year ago when Fidelity also earned a performance fee, it marks the first time in the trusts five-year history that the fund manager will receive the extra fee when investors have suffered losses......"
Hah! Look again, matey. Already pushed out to 57, 58 if you are under 40. Then it is going to be linked to just 10 years below the national retirement age, which is expected to rise again from 68 to 70 sooner rather than later.
I *signed* my private pension contract so that I could take it at 50 (I wanted 40, but 50 was the earliest) and that was what was agreed between myself and my private pension company. The government pushed out the age at which I can collect to 55 - after I had retired at 40. No one asked me if it was ok, no one needed an amended contract, but I certainly needed to adjust my financial planning.
Oh, and now they are discussing taking back any tax allowance previously given, the argument being that they are going to take it when you cash your pension anyway. If they do that, by what moral authority do HMG continue to name the age at which I can take my private pension money?
Just one more reason why I tend towards steering my daughter's money clear of any government schemes - especially longer-term ones.
vic1981, :"1. The trust offers exposure to China equities that are not available to western investors. Not so for Alibaba since the US listing. "
FCSS reserves the right to invest in any company that is heavily involved in China, no matter where it is listed, from memory, up to a possible 20% of fund value I think it was. An option I think it has used very poorly over its lifetime, by the way. Bolton wouldn't have been caught out so badly by Hong Kong accounting standards at the start if he had taken on a few US companies selling heavily to the Chinese market.
Hong Kong listed equities, by far the biggest component of FCSS, are available to western investors.
The 200 or so companies that make up the Alibaba group had 367 million active customers within China alone in the 12 months to Sept 30th 2015. That is far more than the whole population of the USA, by the way.
Delivering mobile phone services, internet infrastructure and platforms for online retailers isn't 'traditional consumer services', I suppose, but why would you limit yourself to that?
I certainly see your point of view, although as a non tax payer some of it does nor apply to me.
Also, I did invest in a mid cap european fund in the past that actually stopped trading after heavy initial losses.. I forget which one it was, but an extremely reputable firm, Shroders or Blackrock I think. I did get about 50% or perhaps more of my money back eventually from the liquidators in three sums over several years. I think the final payment might have been as much as seven years after it stopped trading.
I invested in the Shroder Asia Pacific fund, which didn't actually move into profit until after 10 years. And those years were some of the best of Chinese growth, which was what I was after. I remember putting 6 grand in a PEP in the 90s which doubled and then went back to £6k before doubling again. What happens if she hits 18 at the bottom of a market cycle? I too would be feeding such a fund in anticipation of British Uni fees.
I don't need to go into FCSS which I was also in more or less from the beginning, do I?
The point is, funds are no guarantee of safety either. There is an Aviva one that is a max of 40% stocks, the rest bonds and a little bit of Fx. which I did consider (from them or a similar fund with another provider) for a JISA.
I looked at Nationwide (I have one of my own current accounts and savings accounts and ISA there) but there was nothing suitable for my daughter. I didn't fully explain the circumstances, but, although a 'British citizen by birth' (Ie. I, a British subject, am her father), she was not born in Britain nor does she live there. It causes a lot of problems, including with Premium Bonds, another option I looked at.
But, as you say, what is the point of a 'savings' account that barely keeps up with inflation even at current levels? I can get 3 or 4% in an account in the country where she lives, but the exchange rate has shifted 20% toward the GBP since she was born. So hardly stable either.
Anyway, thanks for your views and I hope the JISA works out soundly for your daughter.
Eadwig and le vin est par - I'm afraid I disagree. I think JISAs are a great idea. Dividends on any capital over £100 that you or your partner give your child will be taxable as if the income were your own, once you or your partner are a taxpayer. Why pay extra income tax when the dividends and capital growth can be protected inside a JISA? Gifts from grandparents or other people are not affected by this rule.
Also, the fact the money is locked up until age 18 is a positive advantage in my view: as with pensions to age 55, it can't be raided for short-term purposes that may later be regretted, and will be left to grow compounded and tax-free for a long time. How many adults, with all the day-to-day pressures on their finances, have the luxury of investing for 18 years to build up a lump sum?
I think the issue of diversification is a red herring too: why leave long-term cash in a savings account rather than in an investment trust, just because you believe you can't achieve the chimera of a "balanced portfolio"? Future-proofing too is impossible: no one knows the future, but just investing in a single UK mid-cap investment trust for 18 years will be a huge improvement on cash in a building society account. There are also plenty of cheap trackers out there from the likes of Vanguard which attempt to replicate the UK indices, European ones, the S&P500, or indeed the whole world if you wish. Your child's capital will then suffer (and benefit from) all the vagaries of stock market gyrations, changes in currency rates, and the rise and decline of different regions just like everyone else's, but over the long-term her money will almost certainly do far better being invested in productive equity assets rather than sitting "safe" but largely dead in a savings account, barely tracking inflation.
My daughter is 7 months old: we've invested two large gifts from her grandparents in the JPMorgan JISA, due to its low costs, and will do the same next year. The lump sum has a decent chance of growing over the next 17-18 years to be enough to pay for her university tuition fees. It will a lovely 18th birthday present, and a very practical way for her grandparents, who will probably have passed away by then, to leave a remembrance of themselves. We're also putting smaller gifts from friends into a simple savings account with the Nationwide: 3% interest tax-free. Yes, dead money, but still a useful piggy bank for our daughter to raid for small expenditures as she grows older.
NCMR: "I was surprised to note that FCSS no longer holds Alibaba"
I hold Alibaba directly and it has been having a tough time, although had reasonable trading results recently. If FCSS timed it correctly they could have missed as much as a 20% drop and then re-bought in - a smart move. I'd be surprised if they don't become holders again given the nature of their strategy and growth of online sales.
I note the Baltic Dry Goods Index (global shipping) is at around 8 year lows. This is an indicator of world trade. Goods in and out of China, unsurprisingly, is the largest part of that. This may well be an indicator of a faster than expected slow down in China which would be bound to have a knock-on effect on all China related stocks. The index is currently suggesting global growth at 2% or less going forward.
Thanks for the reply and sorry for the late response, I only just saw your post. I'm very much in the same position as your friend and came to more or less the same conclusion. My daughter is just 2 years old next week, where as I am over 50, a heavy smoker and not the fittest person in the world.
It would take quite a money pot to build a worthwhile diversified portfolio, but how do you future-proof it for 16 years in today's increasingly volatile markets? If something happens to me, there is really no one who understands stocks to takeover management of such a portfolio.
I came to the conclusion that Junior ISAs are really a little additional tax fiddle for higher rate tax payers - which I am not - and therefore not suitable for her couple of grand and relatively small monthly contributions.
Trouble is, I still haven't found a place for her cash that will pay a little interest and it is very difficult to swap in and out of limited time introductory offers when the account is in someone elses name, even if they are your daughter. I guess that is the problem in such a low interest rate environment.
I looked into JISAs for a friend for her new born daughter earlier this year. The biggest neg was no access to the cash until the child is 18. In their case they only had some cheques gifted for the birth plus plans to make a (relatively small) monthly contribution. I suggested a regular saver initially in a plan to build a pot that could be invested at a later date.
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