In brief we have had a trading update from Rank Group (RNK) which features in the CIS Portfolio. This was of the in line variety so therefore should be reassuring. The market seems to agree and has marked them up in a better market today. While I note that Edison are suggesting a small earnings upgrade on the back of this. So it seems fine, despite the re-rating it has enjoyed and with a CIS of 87 looks like it will remain in the portfolio for now.
Finally a stock that was previously held A.G.Barr (BAG) before they suffered on a weather related profits setback in the summer has reported a better end to the year. So seems like this quality business may be back on track. It does however still look quite expensive on 17 to 18x and has a CIS of 68 which is OK but not outstanding.
Any way that's all for now as off to finish preparing for the podcast I mentioned yesterday. Will try and put something up about it if I get time later today, otherwise have a great weekend and look out for the month end updates.
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.
...as we have had a couple more updates from holdings in the portfolio. First up today we have had an Interim management statement for the 15 weeks to 11 October 2015 from Rank Group (RNK) which looks very good on the face of it. They have reported an 8% increase in like-for-like revenues for the period with total revenues increasing by 7%.
This seems to have been driven by 12% growth in total and LFL in the Grosvenor Casinos division. Mecca Bingo was ahead too but only by 1% total and 3% LFL. They say the growth in the Casinos division was driven by on line and London Casinos which augurs well for the roll out of their enhanced digital offering in Q1 2016. The growth in Mecca Bingo was apparently more balanced between venues and digital.
Steady as she goes here then as the full year revenue growth is forecast to be 8% and they seem broadly in line with that so far. Indeed on the outlook the Company said that the the Group's businesses continue to make progress in line with management's expectations and it remains confident in the Group's prospects for the year. Seems like a strong hold on a fullish looking 17x with a 2.4% yield and a CIS of 97 & a Stockopedia Rank of 96 - Bingo.
So it seems we are becoming a nation of gamblers as well as a nation of shop keepers, although personally I've never been in a Casino, apart from the Stock Market! Any way talking of shop keepers that brings me onto the other stock which reported today - the retailer W.H Smiths (SMWH). They reported full year results for the year to 31st August 2015. These are a bit of a conundrum because if you were starting out in business today you probably would not create it and it has been one of the most heavily shorted stocks in the UK market, although this is now at about 7% of the shares outstanding. Despite this as you can see from the chart at the end the shares continue to progress steadily.
As for the results these seem to be in line with forecasts with another 12 to 13% growth in the eps and dividends. This has again been driven by the travel business which saw 9% total revenue growth and 4% LFL. This helped to offset the on going decline in the high street stores which saw revenues decline by 4% in total and 3% LFL. They do however remain highly cash generative with £109m of free cash flow which has helped to fund the 13% increase in the dividend and another £50m share buy back programme. The high street stores also edge profits up on the back of more cost cutting.
So overall it seems like more of the same with shrinking high street stores delivering profits and cash flow on the back of on going cost cutting which helps to fund expansion in the travel business which benefits more from its captive audiences.
One has to wonder how much longer the cost cutting can go on and with recent publicity about retailers keeping VAT at airports and over charging at hospitals whether there could be regulatory intervention at some point on the travel side? Aside from that they shares also look fullish value on around 16.6x with a 2.8% yield for the year to August 2016. Despite this they still score well with a CIS of 98 and a Stockopedia Rank of 91, so on that basis they are likely to remain in the portfolio.
Finally in the portfolio I note that Maintel (MAI) has achieved the 800p level that I hoped they might achieve (where they now look over bought) when I reviewed their results.
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.
A quick update for you today as there has been a bit more news around in the last couple of days since my note on Clarkson. Yesterday we had updates from Imperial Tobacco (IMT) who put out a 9 Month Interim Management Statement confirming they were trading in line with expectations and continued to be on track to deliver their 10% dividend growth target for the year. This will put it on a yield of around 4.75% for this year and it continues to look like an attractive income stock as it scores 90 on the Compound Income Scores (CIS).
Meanwhile in Insurance we also had interim results yesterday from Admiral (ADM) which edged up its chunky dividend by 3% as UK car insurance profits increased and overseas start up losses reduced. Their comparison business did however see a decline into loss put down to lower profits from confused.com in the UK and increased investment in overseas sites. This ones offers an excellent 6% yield thanks to their shareholder friendly approach of paying speical dividends to return surplus capital not required by regulations or to fund the growth of the business. Consequently it does not look so good on traditional dividend cover and balance sheet metrics and therefore only scores 52 on the CIS but nevertheless I think it is a good operator in this area.
Today we have had a couple of updates from stocks which feature in the Compound Income Scores Portfolio. Firstly WH Smiths (SMWH) had a pre close trading update in which they said that they expect their full year results to be slightly ahead of the consensus of analysts' expectations, which is nice. This one continues to confound expectations as they manage the decline of the high street business and the travel side continues to go from strength to strength and continues to expand.
Finally Rank Group (RNK) had some final results today which look very strong as UK punters appetite for gambling seems to be showing no signs of diminishing. Thus they beat forecasts across the board with turnover +4% to £738.3m v £731.7m, earnings +18% to 14.6p v 14.3p and the all important dividend +24% to 5.6p v 5.25p for a 6.66% beat although it was achieved via a reduction in cover from 2.8x to 2.6x which is still fine.
They saw growth in both the casino and bingo venues as well as on line despite the the introduction of Remote Gaming Duty from 1 December 2014, so a good result all round. They also flagged strong cash flow which allowed them to pay down debt too. On the outlook the suggest these strong trends have continued into this year and that they expect to launch a new online platform early next year.
The shares, before any upgrades post these numbers currently stand on a fullish looking 17x with a 2.5% yield for the current year to June 2016 and they still score well on the CIS with a score of 91. So I wouldn't put you off as the business seems to be trading well and the shares have momentum (see chart below), but I'm kicking myself for not buying them personally when I looked at them under 200p. So I'm reluctant to chase them up here (anchoring in action ?) but given the score the CIS portfolio will continue to run them, place your bets.