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EM equities: positioning and opportunities

​Glen Finegan, Head of Emerging Market Equities, provides a detailed update on the Henderson Emerging Markets Strategy, covering recent market drivers, performance and activity, and his outlook for the asset class.

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Q1 fund performance

A sharp decline for the MSCI Emerging Markets Index in January was followed by a strong rally during February and March, leading to a gain for the asset class overall during the first quarter of 2016.

Against this backdrop the strategy outperformed a rising market. The investment in gold producer Newcrest Mining and significant exposure to companies listed in the unpopular Brazilian, Polish and South African markets helped. The strategy’s Egyptian and Nigerian holdings performed poorly and fell during the quarter.

Over the last year the strategy declined less than the benchmark. Our approach of owning high-quality companies with properly aligned controlling shareholders and strong track records of delivery aided relative performance.

Significant portfolio activity

We added to the strategy’s Brazilian positions during January’s market fall only to reduce these somewhat towards the end of the quarter following a rapid increase in valuation. We are confident the strategy owns high-quality businesses with strong franchises that will enjoy cyclical recovery when it comes. Predicting the timing of this is, however, impossible, meaning we remain extremely valuation sensitive.

Emerging consumption

We fully disposed of the strategy’s SABMiller position during the first quarter. The discount to Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI)’s takeover offer has narrowed considerably and the deal still has to clear a number of regulatory hurdles. In the unlikely event it should fail there would be substantial downside in this stock.

Our search for high-quality, reasonably-valued consumer companies in India resulted in the purchase of a new holding in leading cement producer Ultratech.

Cement consumption in some less developed markets shares the same fundamental driver as basic fast moving consumer goods, namely improving living standards. Indian cement sales are conducted mostly in cash and demand is largely driven by the need for improved housing. Housing in India is primarily financed by savings and construction is often as wholesome as adding a small room to an existing property. More than 90% of cement sold in India still comes in bags rather than in bulk, indicative of this being a consumer-driven market. Furthermore, per capita consumption of cement remains low, meaning there is scope for this to increase over time.

A unique feature of Ultratech is its network of over 50,000 dealers throughout India selling “Ultratech” branded cement. This network is far larger than any of its competitors and has enabled the company to reach an almost 40% market share in rural India.
Ultratech is one of the crown jewels in the Aditya Birla Group, accounting for approximately 10% of group revenues. Aditya Birla is a family-controlled industrial group led by Kumar Mangalam Birla. Since becoming Chairman in 2004, after the passing of his father, Kumar has shown an ability to take a long-term approach to building strong franchises in a number of industries, including cement. He is also recognised as a leading advocate for strong corporate governance in India.

With the backing of the Birla family, we believe Ultratech will continue to take a leading role in the consolidation of India’s fragmented and overly-indebted cement industry.

Private China

We have continued building a position in Fuyao Glass following a meeting with its Chief Financial Officer. Fuyao is China’s leading auto glass manufacturer and serves well-known carmakers in China and now also in the US and Europe. The company is a governance leader in China thanks to its far-sighted controlling shareholder who has insisted on global auditing standards since listing in 1993 and emphasised research and development investments to protect the long-term profitability of the franchise. We find the company’s current valuation undemanding given its opportunities for growth.

Strategy going forward

Weak rule of law combined with many undesirable political and business leaders mean there are parts of the emerging markets universe that are cheap for a reason. We are not deep value investors and aim to avoid being seduced by low-quality companies trading cheaply. Neither are we outright growth investors and we continue to avoid what we believe are overvalued but growing South Asian consumer businesses. Instead, as bottom-up stock pickers our focus is on combing unpopular markets for good-quality companies trading at reasonable valuations.

Glen Finegan , April 27

Article also available in : English EN | français FR

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