November was a strong month for our KiwiSaver funds with the Focused Growth, Growth and Conservative Funds returning 3.82%, 3.06% and 1.32% respectively. That brought calendar year to date returns up to 24.47%, 21.32% and 11.97% respectively.
The strongest international equities investment in November was the Worldwide Healthcare Trust (WWH) which was up 14.6% (in GBP). WWH had been somewhat of a laggard in recent times with the share price making little progress over the last 2 years. We believe the key reason for this has been the potential for tougher regulation in the U.S. healthcare sector. However, since mid-October WWH has soared more than 20% due to a number of factors. First, President Trump revealed new plans to try to bring down the cost of hospital visits. The announcement was greeted positively by investors as it was not as bad as some had feared. Second, healthcare stocks posted solid earnings for the quarter. Third, a wave of deals were announced in the biotech sector with heavyweights Merck, Sanofi and Roche all either completing acquisitions or extending in-market takeover offers.
The weakest international equities performance last month was from Ping An Insurance which fell -2.3% (in HKD). In late October Ping An released its Q3 earnings report. There were a number of positives in the report such as improved profitability in the company’s property and casualty business and better asset quality at (subsidiary) Ping An Bank. Operating earnings grew 16% but the market seemed concerned about the ‘quality’ of this number as it benefited from a lower tax rate. Also the New Business Value for Ping An’s all-important life insurance division underwhelmed as it only grew 4% year on year vs the market’s estimate of 10%.
We have been adding to our positions in Ping An as we believe the stock represents good value at these levels for those who are willing to be patient (like us!).
For the second month running Metlifecare was the standout performer amongst our property and infrastructure investments. The stock returned a remarkable +21.2% for the month, more than 16% above the local market index (NZSE 50G).
In October the company announced a $30m share buyback programme which, alongside a pick-up in the Auckland housing market, led to solid gains in October. But in late November the stock soared higher when the company announced it had been subject to a conditional takeover offer from a credible third party.
Investore Property Limited (IPL) was the weakest performing property and infrastructure investment in November falling -5.5%. The company reported a “nothing to see here” earnings result mid-month. However, a few days later IPL announced the conditional purchase of three large format retail properties and an associated $80m capital raise at a price of $1.75/share (of which we participated in). Prior to the announcement IPL shares were trading at $1.91. Capital raises often see the share price fall towards the new issue price as was the case with IPL.
As we have previously highlighted we now have the ability to hold Australasian stocks outside of our (albeit widely defined) property and infrastructure universe. The first of these investments is a recently established position in the A2 Milk Company (ATM). Despite this being a new investment, ATM is a company well known to our growing investment team.
Subsequent to ATM’s August FY19 result the share price came under pressure, falling 27% from ~$17 to a low of $12.30. In part, this can be explained by the market’s reaction to ATM’s announced strategy of investing heavily into both the direct offline China channel and expanding the U.S. fresh milk operation. As a result of this strategy the company forecast near term earnings margins to contract. The market didn’t like this and hence the aggressive sell off in the stock. We disagreed with the market reaction as we think that investing in order to strengthen distribution channels makes sense in the long term. The compelling valuation meant we established a position in the stock at ~ $12.80. At the time of writing the stock was trading at $15.20 (a gain of approximately 19%) due to some reassuring comments made at the AGM in regard to future earnings and margins.
For more on ATM see our Stock Spotlight section at the end of the Newsletter.