Quarterly Report March 2023
Portfolio and market
The Antaurus Europe Fund (AEF) was down -1.0% in March. This puts the closing price in March at €306.97. The annual return in 2023 is thus -0.1%. From its inception in 2006, the average annual net return is +7.0%.
This return was achieved with an average net gain of 11%. This meant that the AEF's market risk was substantially lower than that of an equity investment.
Performance and risk since start
Antaurus Europe Fund (NAV)
|Performance||AEF (%)||1 month||-0,99|
|Year to date||-0,06|
|3 years (annualized)||+7,75|
|5 years (annualized)||+7.22|
|Since start (annualized)||+7,03|
|Risk analysis||1 month||5 years||Since start||Gross position (Long + Short in %)||141||133||131|
|Net long (Long - Short in %)||11||25||40|
|Beta adjusted net long (%)||10||23||35|
|Positive months (%)||58||62|
|Maximum drawdown (%)||-8,8||-20,9|
|Best monthly return (%)||6,5||11,9|
|Worst monthly return (%)||-6,0||-8,6|
Stock prices in Europe experienced a strong first quarter. The broad DJ Euro Stoxx 600 rose 8%. The Swiss Stock Exchange and the AEX both rose 10%. Price increases were stronger for large companies than for small and medium-sized companies. At the AEF, stock selection (alpha) contributed slightly negatively to returns. Short positions in industrial companies contributed most negatively.
The best performing long positions were Aryzta (food), Accelleron (turbochargers) and KPN (telecommunications). The worst-performing long position was ASR (insurance).
Aryzta's share price rose 40% in the first quarter. Aryzta produces and distributes luxury, frozen bakery products that are baked off in supermarkets, gas stations, train stations, the hospitality industry and fast food chains such as McDonald's. Aryzta surprised with the decision to pay off an expensive loan in its entirety now using the cash flow generated. Furthermore, Aryzta achieved high sales growth with better-than-expected profitability. With its solid results, Aryzta managed to gradually regain investor confidence.
Accelleron's share price rose 13% over the first three months of 2023. Accelleron is a new investment in the AEF that entered the portfolio in the last quarter of 2022. It was until recently known as "ABB Turbocharging. In October, the company demerged from ABB ('Asea Brown Boveri') and received its own stock market listing. Accelleron published its first standalone annual results. The annual results showed that underlying revenue growth of 12% was well above the previously adjusted target of 6%.
KPN's share price rose 13%. The telecommunications company reported results for 2022 that were in line with expectations. The 2023 outlook for free cash flow and dividend generation was solid. Like last year, KPN announced to buy back 300 million euros worth of shares. KPN seems to appeal to investors because of its predictable free cash flow, which is paid out in full to shareholders.
With a 17% share price loss, ASR contributed most negatively in the first quarter. The share price fall occurred in March, when the turmoil in the banking world also dragged down insurers' share prices. We believe the problems at some banks cannot be projected onto insurers. In February, ASR published strong annual results. The acquisition of Aegon's Dutch insurance business is on track to be completed by summer. We expect this acquisition to create a lot of value for ASR shareholders.
Investment Case: Also Holding
Also Holding is a distributor of ICT products such as computers, printers and software packages. Also sells to both the business and retail channels such as MediaMarkt. Also operates in 28 European countries.
Also was founded in 1984 and has been listed on the Swiss Stock Exchange since 1986. The company has a market capitalization of about 2.5 billion euros. In 2011, Also merged with German distributor Actebis. The then owner of Actebis (Droege Group) is to this day Also's largest shareholder.
Sales of ICT products are done partly by the manufacturers themselves, but to a large extent also by distributors. Often manufacturers choose to serve large customers themselves, and to use distributors to reach the large group of smaller buyers. Often manufacturers choose two to four distributors per country to work with.
In most of the countries where Also operates, it is one of the market leaders. There are four major market players in the European market, along with a number of local, smaller distributors. We consider the likelihood of new entrants small, as a distributor needs scale to be relevant to manufacturers and to be competitive with competitive pricing to customers. Gross margins are low, so it's all about volumes.
It is a competitive market where there is a daily battle for patronage. The ability of distributors to distinguish themselves is limited. Customers are won over mainly through competitive pricing, a wide range of products and fast delivery times. To be financially successful as a distributor, it is important to excel in operational execution.
What appeals to us about Also is the change currently taking place in the role of the IT distributor. Previously, the IT distributor only handled the sale and distribution of hardware products such as computers. Since these were physical products, this required storage and transportation. For several years, however, distributors have also been focusing on the sale and administration of software subscriptions. Through an online platform ("Also Cloud Marketplace"), business customers can specify which software and how many licenses they want to purchase each month. On the monthly software consumption sold through its platform, Also receives a fee from the software manufacturer.
This development has a number of positive implications. Instead of having to compete daily for a new order for, say, a load of computers, Also now receives monthly "recurring" revenue as long as end customers continue to consume software. Moreover, there are limited costs involved. After all, there is no physical storage and transportation. Also fulfills a more important role toward a software manufacturer. Since there are already some four million European users on the Also platform, it is an important distribution platform for a software manufacturer and a source of information about software usage. This enables Also to command higher margins on software sales compared to hardware sales.
We expect Also to achieve attractive earnings growth of around 10% per year in the coming years, without having to deploy significant additional capital. We therefore expect the return on invested capital to increase further to over 20%. In our view, these prospects are insufficiently discounted in the current share price. One explanation may be that few potential investors are familiar with Also. The stock is currently followed on the stock exchange by only a handful of local Swiss banks. The company shares our view that the stock is undervalued. In August last year, Also announced to buy back its own shares for 100 million euros. AEF has been investing in Also since early 2022. The average purchase price is slightly above the current price.
Strategy and outlook
European stock markets enjoyed a strong start to the year. Falling energy prices are giving businesses and consumers air on the European continent. In the United States, the labor market remains strong and consumers continue to spend.
However, the global economy is currently experiencing limited growth. Expected economic growth in Europe and the United States is only slightly positive for 2023. The economy in China is expected to pick up after a substantial loosening of corona policy.
Meanwhile, as energy prices have fallen sharply since the fall, sky-high inflation rates are beginning to ease. However, core inflation remains stubbornly high. In Europe, core inflation rose to a new record high of 5.7%. Meanwhile, in the United States, core inflation fell slightly to 4.6% (from over 5% in the previous quarters).
That core inflation remains stubbornly high, central bankers also seem to be increasingly aware by now. The European Central Bank (ECB) has already raised policy rates twice this year from 2% to 3%. Moreover, the ECB has indicated that it will continue to raise interest rates for the time being to curb inflation. The U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) started raising interest rates a lot earlier than the ECB. After nine rate hikes, including two in 2023, the policy rate there is close to 5%.
Last quarter, it again became clear that there are parties that are ill-equipped to withstand a higher interest rate environment. There has been stress among (especially smaller) U.S. banks that have put some of their deposits away in bonds. Rising interest rates have caused these bonds to fall in value, leaving a number of banks with negative equity. One bank (SVB) was taken over as a result. At Swiss bank Credit Suisse, customers also withdrew their money en masse in one week. The Swiss government then forced Credit Suisse to be taken over by its competitor UBS. The stress among banks could negatively affect lending to consumers and businesses, which could have a negative impact on the economy.
Clearly, since early last year, financial markets have had to adjust to the end of the extreme monetary stimulus measures of the last decade. Last year we wrote that it is difficult to predict what further negative consequences higher interest rates will lead to, after a number of British pension funds ran into liquidity problems due to rapidly rising interest rates. Meanwhile, the contours of possible further consequences are becoming increasingly visible. Refinancing commercial real estate, which has benefited from extremely low interest rates in recent years, seems likely to become the next problem if interest rates remain at current levels (or should rise further).
The current economic situation is characterized by limited growth and a solid increase in wages. As a result, companies feel compelled to raise prices to protect their margins. This is fueling further inflation. The weakening economy did cause demand for raw materials and transportation to decrease. Prices for oil, aluminum and copper, for example, have fallen sharply, as have the prices of intercontinental transportation. Many companies will therefore start to benefit from lower purchase prices as of today. On balance, our current expectation is that the prospects for earnings growth at many companies in 2023 will be limited.
However, with price declines in 2022, equities appear reasonably valued. Sustained inflation resulting in higher interest rates is driving down investment by companies and governments. AEF's current net exposure of about 10% reflects our cautious stance.
Performance and risk since start
|Top 3 positions||Weight||Long|
|Fund size AuM (€m)||371|
|ISIN code||EN 0000 686848|
|Net long range||-50% to +75%|
|Administrator||Bolder Fund Services|
|Management Fee||1.8%, p.a.|
|Performance Fee||20%, quarterly|
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