Understanding Why an Investment Looks Cheap

There are thousands of companies around the world trading at a discount for good reason says British Empire Trust's Joe Bauernfreund

Emma Wall 20 March, 2018 | 2:11PM

 

 

Emma Wall: Hello, and welcome to the Morningstar series, "Why Should I Invest With You?" I'm Emma Wall and I'm joined today by Joe Bauernfreund, manager of the British Empire Trust (BTEM).

Hi, Joe.

Joe Bauernfreund: Good morning.

Wall: So, you've been running the Trust for two-and-a-half years now and one of the things that you've done versus the previous process is to concentrate the holdings, bringing things down and consolidating. What was behind that decision?

Bauernfreund: Well, as you know, we are a slightly differentiated Trust in terms of our investment strategy. We are focusing solely on holding companies trading at discounts to net asset value. And it's an entirely benchmark-agnostic strategy. And in order to make our best ideas count, I felt that we had to restrict the size of the portfolio and really back those ideas that we have the greatest conviction in.

With a portfolio that's invested in holding companies that themselves are diversified there is a risk that on a look-through basis the portfolio begins to look like the market with so many underlying holdings. And by restricting the number of holdings and boosting the concentration we really have a high conviction differentiated portfolio that's got a good chance of outperforming broad benchmark indices.

Wall: And things could be "good value" for a number of reasons trading at discount to their net asset value. How do you avoid a value trap? So, I know you take quite a diligent approach in terms of the themes where you look through for potential investments.

Bauernfreund: Well, what we try and so is try and understand why the discount exists. Now, of the hundreds of companies, if not thousands of companies, around the world trading at discounts, many trade at these discounts for good reason. And as you suggest, the discount is there as a warning of a value trap. And typical examples include companies with poor standards of corporate governance, high balance sheet debt, poor-quality assets and the like.

In trying to understand why the discount exists, what we are trying to sift out are those particular opportunities where the discount is an anomaly, something that the market has missed, an inefficiency. And because of the nature of these holding companies very often the inefficiencies arise. And that's really what we are trying to identify and trying to capitalise on.

Now, the way we gain conviction that we are right, and we are not investing in value traps is by doing as much research as possible on the valuations of the underlying companies on trying to understand why the discount exists and also, trying to think about what kind of event or catalyst could arise in order to help narrow that discount.

Wall: And so, in a market such as this – I mean, it's been a pretty phenomenal start to the year in terms of market movement. Volatility has returned, which seemed to come as a shock to everyone, because it's been so sanguine for a couple of years. Do you look to a market like this with joyous anticipation because it throws up more of the examples of what you are saying? Or is it about sort of hunkering down and riding that volatility through?

Bauernfreund: Well, it's a difficult environment for us, because as everybody is commenting on, markets are at all-time highs or close to all-time highs. And naturally, that gives rise to some caution. We try not to think about that too much. We try to focus on the opportunities that we find within our universe.

And the interesting thing is that today we are able to find even at these late stages of a bull market cycle companies within our universe trading at very wide discounts to NAV with high-quality assets, good standards of corporate governance and pretty exciting and compelling events in the pipeline that will unlock some of that hidden value and narrow those discounts.

Wall: Joe, thank you very much.

Bauernfreund: Thank you.

Wall: This is Emma Wall for Morningstar. Thank you for watching.

The information contained within is for educational and informational purposes ONLY. It is not intended nor should it be considered an invitation or inducement to buy or sell a security or securities noted within nor should it be viewed as a communication intended to persuade or incite you to buy or sell security or securities noted within. Any commentary provided is the opinion of the author and should not be considered a personalised recommendation. The information contained within should not be a person's sole basis for making an investment decision. Please contact your financial professional before making an investment decision.

Securities Mentioned in Article

Security NamePriceChange (%)Morningstar
Rating
British Empire Ord698.60 GBX0.81

About Author

Emma Wall

Emma Wall  is Senior International Editor for Morningstar