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Blog posts tagged in Australian Equities

In last week's piece we looked at how falling cash rates are fuelling the search for yield, as at current rates even wealthy retirees who have amassed $1 million in a superannuation face a very meagre retirement if they are looking to live off their income rather than eat into their capital. Whilst the 2.6% rate on term deposits in Australia looks grim, spare a thought for retirees in the US who are currently being offered 0.2% for the same term from Citibank, or German investors also receiving 0.2% from Deutsche Bank! In this week's piece we are going to look at why dividends are important, and the dividend sustainability and growth factors that we look for in a security.

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Last week the RBA cut their target cash rate to 2.25% in an effort to boost consumer and business confidence and arrest growth in the unemployment rate. Whilst this move was positive for equity investors – and saw the ASX hit a six and a half year high as well as the domestic housing market – it was a negative for savers, especially retirees living off the income generated by their term deposits. On Monday ANZ cut its one year TD rate to 2.6% and with the inflation rate for 2014 running at 2.5%, savers are receiving close to a zero percent real return (after inflation) on their term deposits.

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After over four years of relatively stable global oil prices the price of oil per barrel (the equivalent of 159 litres) has more than halved since June 2014. Whilst this has placed a significant amount of stress on oil producers and in particular companies such as Santos that are constructing large projects that require a high oil price to generate commercial returns, the dramatic fall, if sustained, will have positive impacts for investors. In this week's piece we are going to look at the beneficiaries of the decline in hydrocarbon prices.

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In forecasting the future, especially the future direction of the equity markets, one prediction is sure to come true: that all predictions will be wrong. In the final Tales of the Trenches for 2014, the Philo Listed Research team provides a view of how we expect the Australian equity markets to perform over the next twelve months. This does not involve peering into a crystal ball or gazing at tea leaves and chicken entrails, but rather is derived by analysing the ASX on a "bottom up" or stock by stock basis. Whilst recognising the limitations of all forecasts, in this week's piece we are going to run through our current view on the returns we expect Australian equity investors to enjoy over the next 12 months.

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Over the last twelve months, listed property has been the "quiet achiever" in most investors' portfolios. Whilst Australian equities have faced concerns about a rising and then falling AUD, falling commodity prices, global growth and a financial system inquiry, listed property has sailed under the radar and the index has posted a total return of +28% over the past 12 months bettering equities by 20%! In this note we will look at what is going on in listed property together with our positioning in the various property sectors.

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The "Dogs of the Dow" is an investment strategy that is based on buying the ten worst performing or highest yielding stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) at the beginning of the year. The strategy then sells these stocks at the end of the year and then buys the ten worst performers from the year that has just finished. Following energy titan Santos' 30% fall over the last five trading days (which wiped A$3.5 billion off its market capitalisation), in this week's piece we are going to look at the "dogs" of the ASX focusing in on large capitalisation Australian companies with falling share prices.

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Since late 2011 Australian investors have seen one year term deposit rates compress from 6% to 3.2%, as bank competition for deposits continued to decline. For investors funding their retirements from the income produced by their portfolios this is clearly a concern. As the inflation rate is currently 3%, Australian investors are now practically getting a zero real return from investing in term deposits. Whilst this looks bleak, spare a thought for European retirees who are currently receiving 0.1% for short term deposits and soon face the prospect of negative yields with European Central Bank money printing! One of the key goals of the Core Equity Portfolio is to provide a sustainable (and franked) dividend yield that is higher than the ASX 200, but we are often asked about the possibility of "juicing up" the yield of the portfolio. In this piece we are going to look at the results from simply investing in the highest yielding equities at three different points in time.

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Over the last eight days we have been digesting multi-billion dollar profit results for the major trading banks and listening to bank CEOs and CFOs commenting on their profit results. In aggregate the four major banks generated $28.6 billion in cash profits over the 2014 financial year, which represented an increase of 5% on the previous year. In this piece we are going to look at the common themes arising out of the results, differentiate between the banks and hand out our reporting season awards to the stocks that comprise a large weighting in most investors' Australian equity portfolios. The large overall size of bank profits reflects that their core business of transforming savings into lending as loans to borrowers remains a very profitable task. Indeed over the past decade (inclusive of the GFC) the big four banks have generated approximately $200 billion in profits after tax.

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Earlier this week Medibank Private released a 200 page prospectus for what will be the largest Federal Government privatisation since the T3 Telstra share float in 2006. Medibank will also be the largest government enterprise to be taken private since the $4.6 billion sale of Queensland rail freight company QR National in 2010. As tens of thousands of words have been written about Medibank this week in the media and by the investment banks, we are not going to add to the debate but rather look at previous privatisations and how they have performed.

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Assessing future prospects for the major banks is currently one of the biggest issues facing all Australian equity fund managers. Aside from employing over 200,000 Australians and touching every sector of the Australian economy, the four major banks plus the two regionals comprise 32% of the ASX100 and four of the five largest stocks listed on the ASX with a combined market value of A$400 billion. After several years of delivering strong profit and dividend growth, primarily due to the tailwind of declining bad debt charges, all bank share prices have been sold off aggressively (down -6%) over the past month. This fall can be attributed to investor concerns that the banks will face higher capital requirements post the upcoming Murray Financial System Inquiry, as well selling from foreign investors due to a sharp fall in the AUD. In this piece we are going to look at the causes of this correction and some thoughts for the future.

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When the Hawke government came into power in 1983 one of their first decisions was to float the Australian dollar, assuming that this action would cause the AUD to fall and improve our international competitiveness. Before 1983, the value of the AUD was set each day by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) and the Federal Government. Since then large movements in the Australian dollar are often presented in the press as a vote of confidence in Australia as a nation. A falling Australian dollar is often viewed as a negative event, raising the cost of online purchases, imported flat screen TVs and skiing holidays in Colorado.

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Every few months the financial press publish articles lauding the best performing equity fund managers over the previous 12 month period; generally accompanied by a picture of the manager looking responsible in an expensive suit and a post-match account of which stocks they held that caused them to outperform their peers and win on the day. Underlying these articles is the assumption that all equity funds are managed using the same principles and that a manager's outperformance is solely due to their skill. In reality the underlying investment philosophy or style is normally a major factor in determining performance. Last week's piece looked at the four basic investment styles (index, growth, value and quality) and in this second piece we are going to look at the market conditions under which each style tends to outperform.

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Investors looking for a professionally managed Australian equity portfolio face a vast array of options. At last count Morningstar tracks 120 different institutional fund managers delivering Australian Equity portfolios and this number expands further when you include model portfolios and stock lists offered by stock-brokers, asset consultants and investment newsletters. The individual stocks in this enormous range of portfolios are selected and then blended into Australian equity portfolios based on a range of investment philosophies or investment styles. In this piece we are going to look at the different investment styles used to manage equity portfolios and the foundations upon which these styles are built.

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During the months of February and August the majority of Australian listed companies reveal their profit results and generally provide guidance as to how they expect their businesses to perform in the upcoming year. Whilst we regularly meet with companies between reporting periods to gauge how their businesses are performing, during semi-annual reporting season companies fully open up their car bonnets to let investors have a detailed look at the company's financials. Until this happens, investors don't know for certain whether they are going to find burning oil and hissing snakes or see that the company's growth engine is running to expectations.

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Normally when a company announces a significant acquisition or major new investment it is trumpeted as a company-changing event that will dramatically boost earnings or change market perceptions of a company, both of which should be beneficial for shareholders. Whilst the valuation or market capitalisation of a company listed on the ASX can vary dramatically with market sentiment, in reality a company's business normally changes quite slowly and often the company-changing investment can actually be negative. In this piece we are going to look at recent company changing events that were both positive and negative for shareholders, along with a potentially company-changing event for a company we own in the Core Equity Portfolio; Origin Energy's APLNG project.

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Whilst the downward trend in commodity prices since 2010 is often interpreted as a sign the commodity boom is over, the overall increase in the volume of minerals being exported gets very little attention in the financial press. Obviously a company's revenues and profits are determined by quantity sold multiplied by price, not just by price alone. Philo Capital view that we are moving into stage three of the mining boom, which will be dominated by the high volume low cost producers. Over the last week Australian listed resource and energy companies have all reported their production results. In an environment of falling prices, the companies that are able to deliver higher volumes from their assets at lower costs will be the winners. In this piece we are going to look at the winners and laggards and the themes coming out of the production reports released over the past seven days.

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In every investment magazine and the business section of every weekend paper you will see a list of hot stock picks from fund managers, inevitably these picks won't represent the fund manager's top new ideas, but rather five large positions in the funds that they manage. You will never see the fund manager's recently uncovered gems in print, as the managers will be busily building these positions in their portfolios and certainly don't want other investors driving up the price! In the interests of disclosure I have been guilty of doing this myself. In this piece, I am not going to run through our top investment ideas, but rather take a step back and look at what actually makes a company attractive investment.

Tagged in: Australian Equities
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Casual readers of the financial press may have the impression that 2014 has seen a large degree of variation in the returns delivered to investors by Australian equities. Contrary to the headlines which have reported the end of the mining boom, budget crises and faltering domestic economy, if you look at the Australian market by industry sectors, 2014 has actually seen a historically low level of dispersion. As we are currently at just over the half-way mark of 2014, in this piece we are going to look at what is going on in Australian equities in this very benign start to 2014.

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Megaprojects capture people's imaginations. From the ancient Pyramids of Giza, to the Great Wall of China to the more modern Panama Canal and 163 floor Burj Khalifa, mankind has always sought to push the limits of engineering and be the one to build the next 'biggest thing'. While Origin Energy's APLNG project might not carry the historic or aesthetic appeals of more famous megaprojects, it remains worthy of the moniker.

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Over the last two days Woodside Petroleum's management have been in Sydney conducting their annual investor briefing. In addition to having the opportunity to meet operational management, research has also had the chance to speak with the CEO and CFO about the future direction of the company. When a company like Woodside is delivering both record hydrocarbons production and solid returns for our investors, these meetings can be pretty affable affairs commending management for their efforts and discussing a few points about their operations and the competitive environment. However these meetings have been a little different, as Woodside is sitting on a pile of cash and is currently pondering what to do with it. We currently expect Woodside to have zero net debt by the end of 2014 which is very unusual for a company with a market capitalisation of $34 billion! In this note we are going to look at the questions that Woodside's board face with the billions of shareholders' funds burning a hole in their back pocket. Historically we have observed that far too many companies have frittered away their excess cash on questionable acquisitions designed to buy growth.

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Over the last fortnight the four major banks have reported earnings of almost $13 billion dollars which resulted in some commentary in the press about banks being too profitable. Similarly one of the minor political parties suggested last week that the way to solve Australia's deficit is to tax the miners more. Whilst the banks and miners generate large profits as companies, what is ignored in much of the debate is that these profits have to be shared amongst millions of individual shareholders; for example Westpac has 3.1 billion shares outstanding. In this piece we are going to look at measures of corporate profitability for large Australian listed companies.

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Over the last fortnight investors have been digesting multi-billion dollar profit results for the major trading banks, wading through voluminous investor discussion packs whilst listening to bank CEOs and CFOs report their profit results. Indeed Westpac offered investors over 200 detailed charts in their 137 page investor presentation!

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In forecasting the future, especially the future direction of the equity markets, one prediction is sure to come true: that all predictions will be wrong.  As part of the quarterly asset allocation process, the Philo Listed Research team provides a view of how we expect the Australian equity markets to perform over the coming year. This does not involve peering into a crystal ball or gazing at tea leaves or chicken entrails, but rather is derived from analysing the ASX on a "bottom up" or stock by stock basis.  Whilst recognising the limitations of all forecasts, in this week's piece we are going to run through our current view on the returns we expect the market to provide investors over the next 12 months.

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During the week portfolio stock BHP confirmed that they were looking at simplifying their portfolio and investigating a demerger of the company's aluminium, nickel and manganese businesses. Similarly former portfolio company United Group has been in the press discussing the sale of its painstakingly acquired property services business to private equity. In the last six months we have also seen Amcor demerge its Australian packaging assets (Orora) and Brambles demerged its document storage business Recall after an unsuccessful attempted trade sale.

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Managing a diversified equity portfolio is sometimes similar to being a farmer in that at any stage you are likely to be "harvesting" or selling good stocks that are now over-valued and "planting" or buying companies that appear undervalued.

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A key part of the investment process is that the Philo Research team meet with the management teams of the portfolio companies at least once every six months. Generally we seek to meet with management teams just after they have released their semi-annual profit results and at other times during the year when we have specific issues or concerns that we feel need to be addressed. The content and tone of these meetings varies widely depending on the nature of the company and how far the results that the management team has delivered deviates from our expectations. The Philo Research team have been very busy over the month meeting with management teams from huge (BHP) to small (Investa Office Fund).  In this piece we are looking to shed some light into the role that these meetings play in the investment process. As the portfolio has had no unpleasant surprises this month, these meetings were all pretty cordial.

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During the months of February and August the majority of Australian listed companies reveal their profit results and most provide guidance as to how they expect their businesses to perform in the upcoming year. As the financial noise reaches a crescendo during these months, in this note we are going to run through the key themes we have seen so far after 65% of companies have reported their results.

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During the months of February and August the majority of Australian listed companies reveal their profit results. Many companies also provide guidance as to how they expect to perform in the upcoming year. This can be a stressful time for a fund manager. When companies reveal unpleasant surprises the company’s stock price tends to get sold down hard. Alternatively, it can be very pleasant when the company benefits from factors that were behind the investment case for originally owning their shares. In this piece we are going to go through how Philo Research approaches each day during reporting season and relate our actions yesterday when portfolio companies Telstra, GPT, Transurban and Rio Tinto reported their results.

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Investors buy shares or small portions of a company with the notion that at some stage in the future others will view the intrinsic value of the company more highly than it is today. This increase in the value of a company can either come gradually via the share market or suddenly via another company launching a takeover. Currently in the Core Property Portfolio (CPP) we are fortunate to have both GPT and a consortium made up of Dexus (DXS) and the Canada Pension Plan (CPPIB) in a bidding war for our holding in Commonwealth Property Office Fund (CPA).

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Earlier this week Westfield Group (WDC) and Westfield Retail Trust (WRT) announced a proposal whereby their combined assets will be restructured along geographical lines.  Westfield's Australian/NZ businesses will be held in a newly formed entity to be known as Scentre Group and their US and UK assets, including Westfield World Trade Center in New York, Century City in Los Angeles and Westfield London will be retained in WDC - renamed as Westfield Corporation. The investment thesis behind this quite costly move is that the market will rate the two separate companies more highly as they will be more focused.

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The Listed Securities team at Philo Capital are constantly reviewing investments in the hunt to deliver investment returns. In this piece we are going to run through the steps taken in analysing Echo Entertainment (EGP) from a nascent idea to a concrete view on whether the security should be added to the portfolio. EGP is an Australian casino operator that includes The Star Casino in Sydney, Treasury Casino in Brisbane and Jupiter's on the Gold Coast.

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Currently investors are being deluged by new IPOs (initial public offerings), as the sponsoring investment banks and their predominantly private equity owners look to capitalise on the current strength of the Australian equity market and have these placements done before Christmas. As every day seems to bring a new thick IPO prospectus (and sometimes three!) and glowing broker research on the new company about to be floated, this week’s piece is going to look at the hot topic of the moment: IPOs!

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Probably the biggest question that any Australian equity fund manager faces is what weight in a portfolio to allocate to the banks. Over the past few years, the Australian banking sector has grown to represent 32% of the ASX100 on the back of record bank profits, weakness in other sectors and a chase for yield by investors globally as monetary policy settings across Europe, Japan and the US have pushed interest rates to multi-century lows. All of this has contributed to all 4 of the Australian banks now being in the top 15 banks globally by market capitalization.

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When you look at the collection of stocks in any portfolio; it is statistically improbable that all the stocks in any portfolio at one point in time will be outperforming the benchmark. In the Core Equity Portfolio we focus on buying quality companies stocks that we believe are undervalued by the market. Consequently we accept that some stocks we own may underperform for a time, before a catalyst occurs that causes the stock to re-rate upwards. Whilst investors should primarily focus on their overall portfolio return (+15.1% in 2013!), in this piece we are going to run through the securities that are performing well in 2013 and those that are lagging.

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As investors we allocate our capital to superior companies, with the expectation that we will be rewarded by higher dividends and capital returns when that capital is invested sucessfully.  Furthermore when assessing management teams, one of the key factors that we look at is their willingness to return excess capital to shareholders, rather than hold onto it. Often management finds this excess cash burning a hole in their pockets and listens to the siren calls of investment bankers pitching acquisition ideas to absorb cash on their "lazy" balance sheets.

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Over the last five years one of most unpleasant feelings for an analyst or fund manager is when a portfolio company posts a notice on the ASX of a "Trading Update". Since 2008 this has almost always been a downgrade of a company's expected profits which then results in a sharp price fall, gnashing of teeth and tears from the analyst responsible for the stock. In recent memory the only profit upgrade we have seen was CSL's lift in November last year, so when I see "Trading Update", I expect the worst.

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On a weekly basis Listed Securities fields offers from the stockbroking community for exciting new Initial Public Offerings (IPOs), and large placements from companies seeking to buy other assets or retire debt. As you can probably imagine these offers are couched in the most positive terms and are dressed up to lure investors to part with their capital. The investment banks don't offer us these opportunities from the kindness of their hearts, new security issues are an extremely lucrative fee earner; with the banks earning from 1-5% of the total amount raised! Over the last 18 months in our investible universe (excluding small capitalisation companies), A$30.3B has been raised in the 48 different issues that have been presented to us. Of these 48 issues our Approved Investment Committee has approved only seven. In this piece we are going to run through our hits, misses and fish rejected.

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Over the last 5 years we have seen the AUD/USD break significantly away from its post free float (1983) average of 0.75. This move has put significant pressure on a range of businesses from manufacturing, exporters, tourism to retailers. In May 2013 we have seen a steady erosion of the AUD/USD from 1.04 to 0.96. This move has benefited our investors as both our asset allocation (un-hedged International equities) and Australian equity portfolio construction decisions have been geared towards a falling AUD. This piece goes through the winners and losers from a declining AUD along with how we have positioned the Core Equity Portfolio.

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