CVC Credit Partners European Opportunities (CCPEOL) aims to achieve a blend of capital growth and income (target total returns of 8–12% pa, with c 5pp from income) by investing in high-yielding debt instruments such as senior secured loans and sub-investment grade bonds. The portfolio is biased towards large, liquid issuers (EUR 600m weighted average EBITDA) in Western Europe, although up to 40% may be allocated to non-European markets. The underlying investment vehicle holds a blend of investments in performing credit, where returns come mainly from income, with a credit opportunities portfolio made up of discounted assets that offer higher yields and the potential for capital growth. CCPEOL’s performance since launch in 2013 has been solid, although the broad-based sell-off in late 2018 has affected returns more recently. The fund has sterling (CCPG) and euro (CCPE) share classes, which have tended to trade close to NAV, and currently yields just over 5%.
EJF Investments (EJFI), launched in April 2017, seeks to earn attractive risk-adjusted returns by investing in opportunities created by regulatory and structural changes affecting the financial services industry. While it can invest in a broad range of financial products in the US and Europe, it is mostly focused on US securitisation risk retention investments and specialist lending. The manager continues to see many opportunities in these core target areas and may expand into European assets in EU risk retention, specialist lending and capital solutions.
European Assets Trust (EAT) aims to deliver long-term capital growth through a fundamental approach to investing in small and medium-sized companies in Europe (excluding the UK). The manager, Sam Cosh, also concentrates on the preservation of capital, which is reflected in the focus on quality companies and a disciplined approach to valuation. Over the past 10 years, the trust has delivered an annualised c 14% NAV total return. EAT has a high payout policy and its 6% dividend yield is the highest among peers. Dual listed in the Netherlands and the UK, EAT's shareholders have approved the migration of the company to the UK, effective in mid-March 2019. This may result in EAT's inclusion in the FTSE Small Cap and FTSE All-Shares indices, which could increase demand for the shares. Combined with the attractive dividend yield, there is scope for its current wider-than-average discount to NAV to narrow.
Volta Finance provides an opportunity to gain leveraged exposure to US and European cash-generative debt assets, in particular through collateralised loan obligations (CLOs). The fund is managed by AXA Investment Managers (AXA IM), a veteran in the structured finance market with a dedicated team that has 17 years of experience across two credit cycles and a proven track record. This expertise (together with Volta’s adaptable investment strategy) will be important when we approach the end of the credit cycle and future returns may vary significantly depending on the selected CLO collateral, managers and tranches.
European Assets Trust (EAT) aims to achieve capital growth through investing in listed small- and medium-sized companies in Europe, excluding the UK. It is also focused on capital preservation, seeking quality companies with strong business models and balance sheets that can sustain long-term earnings growth through economic cycles. The trust has delivered annualised NAV total returns of 11.2% over the past 10 years, while a high payout policy supports a generous yield, currently 6.2%. Leading indicators suggest that Europe’s recovery, which started later than many major economies, remains embedded. Notwithstanding higher equities valuations, the manager continues to find attractive investment ideas and is focused on companies’ structural growth characteristics.
Fidelity European Values (FEV) aims to achieve long-term capital and income growth from a portfolio of primarily continental European equities. Although well diversified, the portfolio became more concentrated during 2017, as the manager sold stocks that had performed well and reinvested in existing holdings. While retaining a positive net market gearing, the manager added 10 single-stock short positions to the portfolio in August 2017, reflecting the view that valuations had become stretched in many parts of the market. A lower 0.75% management fee on assets over GBP 400m takes effect from April 2018, while a reallocation of fees and expenses from revenue to capital will positively affect the level of future dividend payouts.
CVC Credit Partners European Opportunities (CCPEOL) seeks to achieve gross returns of 8-12% a year by investing in a portfolio of high-yielding debt investments with a bias towards Western Europe. The majority of the portfolio is in floating rate, senior secured loans, which, while rated below investment grade, rank higher in the capital structure than equities or bonds. The strategy blends performing credit, where returns come mainly from income, with more opportunistic investment in credits that are priced below par, offering a yield pick-up as well as capital growth potential. In spite of sustained strong issuance and refinancing, which puts downward pressure on yields, the managers see opportunities from accelerating disposals of non-core assets by banks, industry dislocations in areas such as retail, and expected periods of volatility around interest rate rises.
European Assets Trust (EAT) aims to generate long-term capital growth through investing in listed European small and mid-sized companies. It has a distribution policy to pay 6% of its prior year-end euro-denominated NAV, which supports an attractive yield, currently 5.4%, significantly higher compared with peers. This has helped support a share price premium to EAT’s cum income NAV. The EMIX Smaller Europe ex-UK index had another strong year in 2017, and equity valuations are now more challenging. Notwithstanding, the manager Sam Cosh observes that earnings recoveries are far from mature for many sectors and believes that EAT is well positioned to benefit as Europe’s recovery broadens out.
Over 2017 BiondVax crystallised its late-stage development plans for lead asset M-001, a potentially universal influenza vaccine. Following its discussions with the regulatory authorities and gaining access to new capital (European Investment Bank and share issues), the company confirmed on 27 December 2017 that it will initiate a pivotal Phase III trial on its own for a universal flu vaccine indication (likely to start in Q318). We have revised our assumptions substantially and increased our valuation to $200m (NIS689m) or $32.4/ADS (NIS2.80/share) from $165m previously.
TR European Growth Trust (TRG) invests in a diversified portfolio of small and mid-cap European (ex-UK) companies, with the aim of achieving capital growth. Its manager at Janus Henderson Investors seeks companies that are undervalued as a result of being misunderstood by the market. The portfolio is weighted towards the smaller end of the market cap spectrum, where companies are less well-researched. As recovery has taken hold in Europe, TRG’s recent performance has been exceptionally strong. It has beaten its benchmark, the EMIX Smaller Europe ex-UK index, in share price and NAV total return terms over the last five discrete years to 31 October, and cumulatively over one, three and six months, and one, three, five and 10 years. It also ranks first in its peer group over one, three and five years. TRG actively manages gearing in a range of up to 15% of net assets (13% at end-October 2017), does not tend to hedge currency exposure, and currently offers a dividend yield of 1.2%.
Witan Investment Trust (WTAN) invests globally and is one of the largest investment trusts, with net assets of c GBP 2.0bn. It adopts a primarily multi-manager investment approach, aiming to generate long-term capital growth and real growth in income. The trust has a solid investment track record; it has outperformed its blended composite benchmark over one, three, five and 10 years. Against an improving economic and political backdrop in Europe, WTAN has increased its exposure to the region. It has replaced Marathon’s pan-European mandate, appointing two new managers: CRUX Asset Management and S.W. Mitchell Capital. They both run actively managed, concentrated continental European portfolios, using the FTSE Europe ex-UK Index as a benchmark. WTAN has a distinguished dividend history; its annual payout has increased for the last 42 consecutive years.
CVC Credit Partners European Opportunities (CCPEOL) seeks returns of 8-12% a year by investing mainly in high yielding sub-investment grade loans. A focus on senior secured assets mitigates the higher risk from lower credit quality. The bias to floating rate credits means rising interest rates should be a benefit rather than a drag. The portfolio is split roughly 50/50 between performing credit, where returns come mainly in the form of income, and credit opportunities, where assets are priced below par and thus offer potential for capital appreciation and downside protection due to the discounted price. There are relatively few alternative ways for individual investors in Europe to access the senior loans market, since loans are not permitted investments in open-ended UCITS funds. Sterling and euro share classes are available, and a recent placing of treasury shares has increased the market cap of each class by £77.55m and €13.87m, respectively.