Equity markets in the UK generally had a poor December as they fretted about the first US rate rise in years and FTSE 100, with its heavy weightings in oil and commodity stocks, produced a total return of -1.71%, on the back of on going price weakness in those sectors. While continuing the trend from recent months the more domestically exposed and diversified Mid 250 and Small Cap Indices continued to edge ahead with positive total returns of +0.23% and +1.49% respectively.
Given the large weighting of FTSE 100 in the FTSE All Share & FTSE 350 indices, this caused them to have negative total returns of -1.27% and -1.37% respectively, although there were positive total returns across the board for the quarter. For 2015 as a whole this meant positive total returns in the main, with FTSE Fledgeling, Mid 250 and Small Cap indices leading the way, while if you have been in a FTSE tracker you will be likely to have seen a negative total return as FTSE 100 produced -1.32% for the year, as shown in the table below.
Monthly Timing Indicators for UK Indices
Last time I looked at these the main indices were in a bearish trend below their 10 month moving averages while the Mid and Small Cap indices were just about hanging onto bullish trends. These patterns were maintained given the performance of the various indices discussed above. Consequently the broader and larger FTSE All Share , FTSE 350 & FTSE 100 Indices remain in their bearish trends some 2 to 3% below their moving averages, a trend which has been in place since the end of August 2015 and suggests a note of caution as we enter 2016. However against that the Mid 250 and Small Cap indices remain in bullish territory around 2% above their moving averages. So it will be interesting to see if this can be maintained, especially as some of the smallest stocks, represented by the Fledgling index, seemed to succumb to some profit taking in December or perhaps this was becasue there are lots of rubbish resource stocks down there?
It seems to me that, as ever, markets are climbing a wall of worry as the old saying goes. There are always things to worry about like interest rates, economic growth rates, Chinese slow down, US valuations, deflation, inflation etc. etc. Against that the UK market does look quite good value, although some of that apparent cheapness is probably accounted for by the large weightings in commodity stocks which have been de-rated as commodity prices have collapsed this year. The other element of cheapness which may also be a bit misleading is the yield as the main indices are again dominated by a few large stocks in this respect, with the likes of Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Glaxo SmithKline for example, all making up a large proportion of the income and all of these plus the miners have a question mark over the sustainability of their dividends. Indeed researchers have pointed out that the overall level of cover in the market has come down to levels not seen since 2008/9, which does call into question the prospects for dividend sustainability and the prospects for growth if economic growth should disappoint.
As individual investors though we have an advantage over institutions as we do not have to own the index, unless you want to as part of a low cost index tracking approach. Thus although there can be concerns surrounding individual shares and sectors it is possible to avoid these and construct a winning portfolio despite difficulties elsewhere. However, clearly if we get into an protracted bear market with a serious decline of 20% or more then it is likely that most stocks and portfolios would get dragged down by that to varying degrees. So having said all that this brings me nicely onto to have a look at how the Compound Income Scores portfolio has performed in the mixed market conditions since it was started in April 2015.
Compound Income Scores Portfolio
As mentioned above and as regular readers may recall, this was set up in April last year to test the efficacy of the Compound Income Scores. It was also designed to be a fairly mechanical or automated process to select from top scoring stocks to avoid human biases as much as possible as research has suggested that quantitative models tend to be a ceiling on performance which human intervention then detracts from. Having said that no process can be completely automated as I am still required to run the screens and implement the resulting trades, but I try and make sure that I don't allow any biases to creep in during that process. This is also why I have allowed the CIS Portfolio to go where it finds good quality growing dividends rather than enforcing a sector neutral approach, but this can lead to some sector concentration which needs to be controlled and monitored. As a result having nothing in energy and basic materials has probably helped, as has exposure to Consumer cyclicals and industrials but would leave the current portfolio exposed in the event of an economic downturn.
December turned out to be another winning month for the CIS Portfolio as it produced a total return of +2.4% which put it ahead of the FTSE All share by 3.7% on a relative basis. The biggest winners this month which helped to deliver this out performance were:
Utilitywise (UTW) + 16.8% - in response to a positive AGM statement and a further major supplier agreeing new payment terms.
32 Red (TTR) +14.2% - a further re-rating as they continued their winning streak.
Bellway (BWY) +8.3% - continued gains as a beneficiary of government backing for a strong housing market.
On the downside the losers were:
Next (NXT) -8.3% - fell on the back of other retailers warning about the effects of the incredibly mild weather so far this winter and some small down grades.
Paypoint (PAY) - 5% - fell further as the market digested the disappointment from their updated on the progress, or lack of it, on the disposal of the on line business.
Jupiter Fund Management (JUP) - Seems to reflect some profit taking on no news in a nervous market.
Since inception in early April 2015 the biggest gains from stocks still in the portfolio have come from 32Red & Rank Group which are both up by over 50% suggesting that the on line and traditional gambling markets have been a lucrative hunting ground for investors recently. While along the way the portfolio also realised a profit in excess of 50% on Alliance Pharma too. On the downside the biggest losses since inception on those stocks still held are -23.7% and -19.2% on Renishaw and Utilitywise respectively. While on realised losses the biggest loss were -46.2% and -15% on Plus500 and A.G.Barr respectively.
Summary & Conclusions
Another good month meant another positive quarter in both absolute and relative terms and this has left the portfolio up by 16% since inception in April 2015 which is more than 20% ahead of the FTSE All Share which produced -4.4% over the same time frame. It is also around £1,000 or 3% or so ahead of the original annually rebalanced portfolio suggesting that thus far the quarterly re-screening has be worth while and made up for the extra costs involved so far.
While my own portfolios have performed well this calendar year with total returns of around 15% it is noticeable to me that they have not kept pace with Scores portfolio since it was launched. This seems to be in line with the research that I mentioned at the start of this piece which suggests that quantitative investment models tend to outperform humans as they tend to bring their biases and weed out some top performers as they are unpalatable. I know myself that I missed out on Rank Group as I was too greedy or penny wise and pound poor when trying to finesse an entry point. I still even failed to buy it even when I put it in the CIS portfolio too! 32 Red was another one that got away from me as I had an aversion to it as it was on line gambling related, which seems to reinforce the point about humans stripping the winners from Quantitative models. Having said that though I should add that I have also been able to trade Utilitywise more successfully, held Bellway and EMIS and avoided losses in Plus 500. I also participated in the gains from Alliance Pharma and have had my own share of big winners outside of those stocks held by the CIS so I don't feel too hard done by being beaten by my model portfolio.
Personally I prefer to run a broader more diversified portfolio, which probably accounts for the lower returns, but it is thought provoking that such a relaxed and emotionally detached process has done so well, so far. Thus this year I'll certainly be paying closer attention to the Scores and the stocks which enter the portfolio and I'll be looking to improve my returns and the process further this year. So stay tuned for that and for this quarter's re-screening which will be up next. Happy New Year and good luck with your investing this year.
Well it is that time of year again, thanks giving in the USA and we have to thank them for giving us the horrible Black Friday import. I was amused to see this year that Asda (owned by Walmart) had decided not to do a Black Friday event this year.
Any way if you are not taken by all the fake offers and have some cash left to invest, I have updated the Compound Income Scores today should you want to go shopping for bargains in the stock market. They are on special offer as it is Black Friday - you can get them for free instead of er free - yes now that seems like one of those "genuine" Black Friday offers - perhaps I should be putting the price up as it is Black Friday like some of the other retailers out there.
Not much news around today but there was an announcement yesterday from Alliance Pharma (APH) which was previously held in the CIS portfolio. This was a significant acquisition by them (which is something they have been looking to do) and there was a placing to fund it, which has brought the shares back, so it might be worth delving into the detail of that as they say it should be earnings enhancing and it Scores 90 on the CIS again.
That's all for this week, be back next week with a month end update on the CIS portfolio and some other stuff no doubt. Have a nice day as they say in the USA and a great weekend whatever you are up to.
Further to the September / quarter end performance update here are the changes as a result of the latest quarterly screening. First up though a quick reminder of the screening criteria and a small tweak to these that I have been hinting at in recent weeks.
Firstly the normal criteria remain in place for new purchases which are:
1) Selecting new stocks from top scoring stocks
2) Maximum PE of 20x, minimum dividend yield of 2% and an earning yield in excess of 5%.
3) Minimum market cap. of £50m
Now for the tweak which I have decided to add which is to also look at price momentum and exclude from the purchase list any candidates which have negative 12 month price momentum. There are several reasons why I have decided to do this as follows. While I have momentum in the Scores to a certain extent with earnings momentum, which does correlate with price momentum, I have generally fought shy of using price momentum that much myself although I pay some attention to it. However as per this graphic from one of my recent posts:
I am also adapting my mode having implemented it and assessing the evidence. The thing that struck me, although this may have been a coincidence and I could be making a false connection, is that the two troublesome stocks in the portfolio in the first six months had negative 12 month price momentum when they were selected. The stocks concerned were Plus500 (PLUS) and Utilitywise (UTW) and on reflection both seemed to have had some background concerns and therefore despite the apparently attractive financial metrics they had both underperformed suggesting the the market was wary of them. It is also noticeable that most top scoring stock tend to also have strong price momentum so when a high scoring stock has underperformed I'm now going to let the mechanical process use it as a red flag and skip that stock. Plus the fact that price momentum itself seems to be a powerful factor despite my own reservations about using it, so it is good force the model to use it in this way as I'm trying to use the model to counter my own human biases.
That's it for the tweaks on the purchase side but I guess it does raise the question as to whether I should use price momentum on the sale side too to cut losers even if they still score well, but I have not applied that this time around to Utilitywise as there were already 4 natural sales using an 80 cut off point on the Scores. So it will be "interesting" to see how it goes from here to see if I should perhaps have applied this rule to sales as well.
Any way enough already what about the changes I can hear you thinking. Well on the sale front the natural sales using the 80 Score as a threshold were Alliance Pharma (APH) - which had been re-rated and didn't get any upgrades after results so I'm relaxed about that as I had sold my own holding any way. A.G.Barr (BAG) - had a poor update and big weather related downgrades so as a result it has to go, although personally as it was not an operational problem and the quality and dividend growth remain, I would probably have given it the benefit of the doubt if I held it. Finsbury Foods (FIF) was the next stock to go as it's score had collapsed like a soufflé to 28 on the back of the share price rise, big downgrades post their results and on going low scores in quality and financial security. So I'm sure Paul Hollywood & Mary Berry might have thought it over baked too, that's a British bake off reference in case you don't know who they are. I heard on the news today that sales of baking equipment are booming on the back of it so trying to think of a way to play that. Any way I digress, finally PLUS500 (PLUS) was still coming up as a sell and I only kept it last time because the cash bid was supposed to have completed by now. So since that has dragged on and been delayed by regulatory clearance taking longer than expected, I have decided to eject it this time given it did its job as a cash proxy in the market sell off this quarter any way and I guess the bid could still fail if clearance is not received.
That gave me around £6500 to reinvest which I split equally between four top scoring candidates after applying the criteria mentioned above and adding the 12 month performance filter which excluded Elementis (ELM). So the new stocks were the top scoring Sprue Aegis (SPRP) the fire alarm producer which has a strong following in the private investor community so I'm sure that will be a popular choice. Less popular maybe 32Red (TTR), an on line gaming company, which seems like a natural replacement for PLUS500 if you know what I mean. The portfolio has a retailer already and quite a lot of exposure to consumer cyclicals, but nevertheless I let it buy Next (NXT) as the weighting in FTSE stocks is quite low and the alternative would have been Computacener (CCC). I left this because the other purchase was RM Group (RM.) which adds another technology related stock to the portfolio, although this exposure is mostly software rather than hardware.
I must admit personally I'm a bit uneasy about buying 32Red but that is the point of this exercise. I'm also probably prejudiced against RM as it doesn't seem to have gone any where for years, although on closer inspection it does seem to be turning around under new management, so it might be one that is worth investigating further. Finally I mentioned the exposure to consumer cyclical earlier so I thought I'd include the charts below to add a bit more colour to this. While it was not surprising to see it tagged as small cap exposed I am a bit surprised to see it identified as growth, but since I'm targeting quality growing income maybe this shouldn't come as such a surprise.
So there you go, just remember that if you are attracted to any of the names I have mentioned, don't forget to do your own research as there are no guarantees although I'd say it has been good so far. Cheers good luck with your investing in these difficult times, have a great weekend whatever you are up to, enjoy the weather while it lasts and come on England in the Rugby!
With September having come and gone I'm sure investors will be glad to see the back of it as nearly all UK indices fell on the month. FTSE 100 again led the way down with its heavy weightings in commodity related stocks and produced a -2.86% total return while the All Share produce -2.73%. This reflected modest outperformance by mid and small cap names, but most of those also produced negative returns, with only the FTSE Fledgling index producing a positive return on the month with a total return of +0.12%.
For the Quarter it was a similar pattern with FTSE leading the way down with a -6.13% total return down to the Fledgling Index being the best performer again but that was still a -1.65% total return.
Market Timing Indicators
When I last looked at these at the end of August there were mixed signals from these moving average based indicators, with large cap indices indicating sell / cash, while mid and small cap indices were still above their 10 month moving averages and therefore in buy / invested territory.
After September's fall across the board all the indicators have now turned negative to suggest sell / cash although the small cap and Mid cap indices are only 1.1% and 1.6% below their moving averages. So a rally in October could turn those positive again whereas another fall would obviously leave them more in bearish territory. In contrast the large cap indices seem to be firmly into a bear trend as they are 6.3% to 7.4% below their moving averages, so it will take a big rally in October to turn these around in the short term.
So these trend following indicators are now suggesting a cautious approach may be best for now as the trend in the market may have turned negative now. I say may as these have given a number of negative signals which have then been rapidly reversed as the market traded sideways, but the recent sell off has been more decisive and may therefore mark a turn. However as we have passed St Ledgers day and we are approaching a seasonally stronger period I guess time will tell.
Mechanical Compound Income Scores Portfolio
Regular readers will know that this is a portfolio that I set up back in April this year based on top decile stocks in the Compound Income Scores. The portfolio which is skewed towards mid and small cap / AIM stocks has benefited from this in previous months and September saw a continuation of this trend. As a result the portfolio delivered a positive total return of +1.78% compared to the -2.73% for the FTSE All Share mentioned earlier, representing another 4.51% of outperformance this month.
This reflect the markedly different make up of the portfolio compared to the index and leaves it with a total return of
+8.24% since inception in April 2015, which compares with -8.05% from the All Share for outperformance of 16.28%.
Interestingly the annually re-balanced portfolio which has remained untouched since the start has produced +8.63% in the six months or so since inception reflecting the large commonality in stocks so far and slightly less in the way of frictional transaction costs.
However I'm not getting carried away with the success so far as, given the different make up of the portfolio, performance is likely to be volatile in both directions and it just so happens it has been in a positive direction so far. At least it is encouraging that the Scores have so far been able to identify attractive stocks even in a difficult market.
Talking of attractive stocks 14 of the 20 holdings were up this month despite the market falls and the big winners were Utilitywise (UTW) which bounced back by 24% from the previous months sell off. While the illiquid Maintel (MAI) rose by 13% from the bottom of its recent trading range to the top on the back of some decent results. Others that also benefited from good results were EMIS the healthcare software group (+11.3%) and IG Group (IGG) the spread betting / stock broking firm (+5.4%). While the big winners in the quarter were Alliance Pharma (APH), Finsbury Foods (FIF) and Rank (RANK)
On the downside Diploma (DPLM) -8.3% and A.G. Barr (BAG) -6.8% fell on the back of lack lustre updates in September. While Renishaw (RSW) -7.8% continued to drift off from an expensive rating post results earlier in the quarter. These names were also the biggest fallers over the quarter too.
Summary & Conclusion
So a tricky September has left markets and headline indices looking damaged with trends potentially broken to the downside for now with the often difficult month of October still to come. It will be interesting to see if investors regain some confidence and come back in for so bargains to produce a traditional year end rally or if the markets are sending an early warning sign of economic trouble on the horizon - China slow down, US rate rise etc.
However as ever it remains a market of stocks and it is always possible to find some attractive stocks and make some money, but like King Canute this may not be possible if the tide has really changed. Any way that's all I have time for now, good luck with your investing in these difficult times. I'll do the quarterly re-screen of the portfolio today as planned and report back later with the changes.
Firstly, yesterday during the day we had a trading update from Character Group (CCT) the £100m Aim listed toy, game and gift group which has been one of the big winners so far in the portfolio since it was launched in April this year. New readers can read about the rationale behind the portfolio in this post. The update from Character was the reassuring in line type and confirmed their intention to continue with share buy backs as and when they see that as being appropriate.
Given the rise in the share price of around 45% since it was purchased the yield has now come down to around 2%, even on next years forecast dividend, which is at the lower end of what I like to see personally from my investments. Despite this though it still scores 98 and does only trade on around a 12x PE which seems cheap but may be appropriate for such a fickle and volatile industry.
Since it was just an in line update the shares saw some profit taking yesterday, which is understandable given the price looks quite extended (see chart below) in the context of the recent weak market. Thus it is a less obvious bargain now and future price trends are likely to be more influenced by their next update in December which should give a feel for their important Christmas trading period, but for now probably nothing to get excited about but it might be worth watching to see if it drifts off significantly ahead of the next update which could then perhaps provide some more excitement.
Meanwhile today we had a set of interims from Alliance Pharma (APH) the £150m Market Cap. Aim listed pharmaceutical Company. This included another trading is in line with management forecasts and we expect full year results to be in line with market expectations type of statement. This is reassuring , however the results seemed a bit underwhelming again as the revenue growth in the half seems to have been driven by the recent acquisition although this is something they do fairly regularly. This did however fail to translate into earnings as these were broadly flat at 1.65p v 1.68p last year. May be this should not be such a surprise though as this one has failed to grow its earnings at all since 2010.
Despite this they continue to raise the dividend as they run down a high level of cover and the interim was raised by 10% which compares with 12.5% growth forecast for the full year and the 10% they did on both dividends last year so 10% and 1.1p looks like the most likely outcome to me. At a price of 56p, down 3% this morning, this leaves the shares on a fullish looking 17x their flat earnings this year with a yield of just under 2% based on my 1.1p forecast which as I mentioned earlier is the low end of what I like to see personally. It is though just over 3x covered which is good but there is only so long this can go on if they continue to fail to grow their earnings.
On that basis I can't get excited about this one up here even though they say they have more debt capacity left for more acquisitions which it seems they need to just stand still. Thus I'm glad I took profits on my own holding and it looks like it might exit the CIS portfolio at the next quarterly review at the end of this month as it only scores 77 now, after rising by a surprising 50%+ since it was purchased.
So there you go there are my thoughts on these two and if you have them I'll leave you to decide if you want to throw the toys out of your portfolio and if the drugs don't work for you?