Q1 2019 Quarterly Commentary (GBP)

MARKET BACKDROP 

During the first quarter, financial markets had a positive trend, as reflected by the prices of the securities within our fund.  Positive developments on trade wars, as well as the fact that a no-deal Brexit scenario seems to be extremely unlikely, have provided support to the markets and spreads for our securities tightened. However, we still feel our securities are very cheap and should benefit going forward from the strong credit fundamentals of the companies in which we are invested. Moreover, the spread tightening that we have experienced this year is only part of the recovery of the spread widening of last year.  There have been concerns regarding a potential slowdown in growth, but at the same time central banks have turned much more dovish than expected.  This last factor is good for credit and maybe less so for equity. There was extremely strong demand for new issues during the quarter. The new issues came at very attractive levels, as most of them were priced between 400bps to 615 bps above government rates. This included a Coventry 6.875% which is callable in 5 and half years. This new issue was very interesting as Coventry tendered their old AT1 coco 2 points above market levels and issued the new bond at approximately 200 basis points above their old bond. This was a very positive technical factor for the AT1 market and it seems to demonstrate that the UK regulator looks at a number of different factors when considering the refinancing of AT1 cocos. Spreads are still more than significantly wider than a year ago. Therefore, we believe that our securities remain extremely cheap. We will continue to capture the highly predictable income from the companies we are invested in. We also believe that we shall benefit from a recovery in prices during the year and we have already seen a small part of this during the first quarter. This might not necessarily happen in a straight line. Given the cheapness of our securities, we believe that there should be further spread tightening during the rest of this year.

PERFORMANCE

The price of the fund increased by 4.86% during the quarter, versus the Barclays Sterling Aggregate Corporate Total Return Index, which gained 4.57%.

Performance of fund for the period

There are two important sources of return for the fund. The first, which is significant and always positive, is the income from the underlying bonds. As expected, during the quarter all the coupons were paid and received. Income is the most important component of the fund, with a current yield-to-maturity of 5.61%. We received 1.49% in accrued income during the period. The second component of return for the fund is realised/unrealised capital gains or losses. In general, as the fund follows a fundamental buy-and-hold strategy, this component is largely the result of prices being marked up and down. During the period, this had a positive contribution of 3.48%.

Performance contributors

The top three sterling performers included HSBC 4.75%, HSBC 5.875% and Rabobank 6.5%. The performance contributors during the quarter have started recovering a bit from the spread widening of last year. The aggregate positive contribution of the top 20 contributors was more than 2.96%. Despite the positive contribution of these securities during the quarter, we still believe their valuations are extremely appealing and that they trade well below fair value

Performance detractors

These are mostly undated floating rates notes that are either legacy Tier 1 or Tier 2 securities and that have lagged the risk-on move in markets due to lower rates. We own these securities to protect the fund against higher rates and see material delta as these securities are becoming increasingly inefficient for banks and insurers as losing capital eligibility and hence will need to be taken out. The aggregate negative contribution of the Bottom 20 detractors was less than 6 bps.

POSITIONING 

The fund invests predominantly in investment-grade issuers, but we are prepared to go down a company’s capital structure to find the best combination of yield, value and capital preservation. One feature of the fund is the substantial holding in financials, at 86.03%. Therefore, for some time we have positioned the fund to benefit from the continued improvement of credit metrics within European financials. In addition, regulations are forcing financials to build up capital and strengthen their balance sheets. All of this is supportive from a credit perspective. Subordinated debt holders of financials should benefit the most from this. Moreover, with spreads of these securities currently above 400 basis points, valuations are extremely cheap. To put this into context, this is approximately four times the spread that one was capturing for the Tier 1 securities of HSBC issued before the global financial crisis in 2007. This is despite the fact that, as mentioned above, financials have become much stronger from a credit quality standpoint. 

Investment Grade issuers: The spreads the fund captures are more than what one would get for European high-yield corporates, with the additional benefit that the average rating of the issuers held within the fund is BBB.

High income: Income is a significant component of returns, with a yield-to-maturity of 5.61% compared with 2.61% for the benchmark.

Lower interest-rates risk: With more than 55% of the securities being either fixed-to-floaters or already floaters, the fund is very well positioned for an environment of somewhat higher rates. Fixed-to-floating bonds are bonds where the coupon is fixed until the first call date within five to ten years, and then is re-fixed on a floating-rate note basis.

Our holdings in non-financial companies enable us to increase the diversification within our funds and benefit from strong credit stories.

OUTLOOK

We invest in the bonds of strong issuers, and therefore we believe the fund will not only keep on capturing the steady income of close to 5.5% per annum, but our base case is for spreads to continue to tighten significantly during the rest of the year. During Q1, from a credit standpoint, the issuers we hold have behaved as expected.  We have not changed anything in terms of the positioning of the fund including the sub-sectors, types of securities, capital structures, and issuers. The continuation of the multi-year process of capital strengthening for European financials, makes us feel very confident regarding the strong, and improving, credit fundamentals of our issuers. Furthermore, spreads are still significantly wider than a year ago, and this makes us feel that valuations of our securities are extremely cheap. Regarding legacy capital securities, regulatory changes should lead to bonds being taken out and hence we see upside risk from early calls and tenders. As issuers need to manage their excess capital position and there is increasing pressure from regulators to clean-up capital structures, issuers are incentivized to redeem capital securities that are increasingly inefficient. We expect this to be a positive driver for future performance. We continue to believe that yields on GBP-denominated securities that we own at close to, or above, 5.5% remain very attractive, particularly when they concern investment-grade-rated securities. With a yield to maturity of 5.61%, income will be a strong driver of performance going forward. We also expect to continue benefiting from some capital gains and, therefore, feel that we are in a strong position regarding future performance.

 

 

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