EMIS Bid and Comments on Capital Gains Tax

Last week was certainly a depressing one for stock market investors. My portfolio was down substantially even taking into account the last-minute announcement on Friday of an agreed takeover bid for EMIS Group (EMIS).

This is a cash offer of 1,925p which is a premium of almost 50% to the recent trading price so is surely likely to be accepted. EMIS is one of my longer-term holdings – first purchased at 485p in 2011, but it has been somewhat disappointing. Overall total return has been 12.7% per annum including the latest bid premium but with a strong position in the supply of medical solutions they should surely have been making big profits in the recent pandemic and in the support of the NHS where large amounts of money are being spent. I think the big problem has been having the Government as a major customer who tend to dictate the pricing.

I did buy a few more shares recently at 1,272p but failed to have the courage of my convictions and should have bought more. Like many investors no doubt, I have gone on a buying strike and am selling as the market trends down rather than buying.

My capital gains tax charge for last year is only moderate but with holdings in Ideagen and EMIS soon to be realised I will be paying a big bill this year. Capital gains tax should be indexed now that inflation is reaching 10%. I will be paying tax on fictitious, not real, gains.

Perhaps ShareSoc should be taking up that issue.

Will the market improve over the summer? I doubt it until there is better news on the economic front. We appear to be heading into a worldwide recession prompted by higher commodity prices. There may be some share bargains appear in the next few weeks but I personally won’t be rushing back into the market.

Meanwhile I am at least out of hospital but have written to the Chairman of the local NHS Trust to complain about the dysfunctional management and waste of resources. There is lots of money being spent on the NHS but the patient experience is still crap.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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Barton Biggs and Hedge Hogging, plus NHS Dysfunction

I managed to finish reading the book Hedge Hogging last week during my 7 days in hospital. Here is a longer review.

The author Barton Biggs spent 30 years at Morgan Stanley building up their investment management business. In 2003 he formed his own hedge fund named Traxis Partners which was wound up after his death in 2012. But this is no out of date history of past financial events as much of what it covers is topical and relevant to today’s stock markets.

It’s partly a journal of events in his life but with extensive diversions into the big issues most investors face particularly the psychological difficulties that you can face. Topics such as short-selling, private equity, emerging markets, market bubbles and investment cycles are covered – we certainly seem to be in a down cycle at present rather than a temporary correction. As an investment strategist over 30 years he obviously experienced a variety of market conditions. He covers the two main investment approaches – based on growth and value but in essence was agnostic.

He has some interesting comments on Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher – the latter he met more than once. He explains the success of the Yale Endowment Fund under David Swensen and explains to an audience of tech stock fanatics that “the human emotions of fear and greed that drive the stock market to excess have not changed over the course of human history and remain as valid today as in the past. Busts are busts, booms are still booms, and bubbles always burst, but this was boring stuff, and the crowd stirred restlessly. The glitterati understandably had no interest in hearing about busts or bursting bubbles. On to the next IPO and salacious stock idea”.

A good paragraph that gives you an impression of his writing style is the following: “If you hang around the investment business long enough eventually you experience some mysterious, almost supernatural events because the stock market is a capricious beast, almost a force of nature like the sea or the arctic. It can be bountiful and loving in its embrace but also hard and cruel and sadistic. Making your living from the stock market is a strange, hazardous, yet beguiling occupation. It’s a little like being a ship’s captain back in the time of wind and sail. As the master of a whaler out of Nantucket in those days of yore, in good fair, you blissfully rode the ocean’s friendly currents. Then suddenly without warning, the sea would turn and you would find yourself driven helplessly toward some distant rocky shore by one of its fierce, irrational storms. Men and women who live at the mercy of the whims of the sea and weather are a superstitious lot”.

He ends with a review of the biography of John Maynard Keynes by Robert Skidelsky which I have lined up as my next book to read. In all Hedge Hogging is a fascinating look at the world of hedge funds but there are many lessons to be learned from it for ordinary investors.

Lastly let me say about a few words about my stay in an NHS hospital, which was not for the first time. The popularity of the NHS is falling and quite rightly. It is a dysfunctional organisation that does not compare well with the systems in other countries (bar the USA).

I cannot complain about the treatment I had but the big problem is the culture. Treating patients as children to be organised and disciplined, not as people. It was also very wasteful, keeping me in bed when I was only “walking wounded” as the army might say when I could have been treated at home for most of the time at less cost. How do you reform the culture of an organisation? With great difficulty is the answer. Easier to start from scratch.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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FT Article on the NHS

There is a very good article in the Financial Times today concerned with the panic over privatising the NHS. I added this comment on-line: ” I write this from my NHS hospital bed. There can be wonderful service from the NHS but it can also be very bad – waiting lists for surgery or cancer treatments are examples. I would hate to have to rely on the NHS solely for medical treatment as most people do. Over 30 years I have learned that the NHS is slow to reform and adopt new technology. It’s a bureaucracy and not run like a business with customers. The NHS still treats you in what they consider is best and most efficient for them. There is little response to customer demands or views. That is what needs changing with more financial incentives”.

It looks like I may be here some time but I expect they will keep me alive as they have done for the last 30 years (I am a kidney transplant patient). It does enable me to finish reading Barton Biggs book Hedge Hogging which I mentioned in a previous blog post. This is a really good book that everyone involved in the financial world should read. I’ll try to do a more expansive review at a later date as it’s not easy to use a laptop in bed. It’s not just relevant to hedge fund managers!

Glad to see the market is in soporific mode with no big movements in my holdings. Trading from your sick bed is never a good idea as treatments can affect your brain or your emotions.

Roger Lawson

Collecting Your Personal Health Data – Should You Object?

There seems to be quite a furore developing over the plans by the NHS to make your personal medical data available for research to a wide range of organisations, including commercial companies. It is no doubt true that the NHS has an enormous amount of medical data on the UK population which is unrivalled anywhere else in the world except possibly in China.

That data which might be as simple as weight and blood pressure, through to blood tests and even DNA samples, could be exceedingly useful by using “big data” analysis techniques to identify possible causes of disease. It would of course include past diagnoses and treatments including medication.

But there have been a number of protests raised about the risk of loss of confidentiality and the fact that it might not be completely depersonalised (i.e. the data released might enable people to be identified). Even some of my neighbours on the App Nextdoor have been advising people to opt-out.

This is a complex area and I remember discussing it with my GP some years ago when it was first contemplated. He had concerns but I do not while I think such data could be enormously useful in diagnosis and the development of new treatments. The Investors Chronicle ran an informative article on the subject last week and covered some of the companies active in this area.

For example it mentioned Alphabet (parent of Google) partnering with hospital chain HCA Healthcare to develop algorithms using patient records. As I have recently been treated in an HCA facility (they own London Bridge Hospital) that might include me. The article pointed out that even your Apple Smartwatch will be recording some medical data such as heart rate exercise data.

A number of companies are developing partnerships with hospital groups to collect and analyse the data they have on patients. For example, AIM listed Sensyne Health (SENS) is doing so. They recently announced an agreement with the Colorado Center for Personalized Medicine which will extend their database by 7.3 million patients to over 18 million. They obviously plan to “monetise” that data by supplying it to other companies for research purposes. I do hold a few shares in Sensyne.

What are the concerns? Insurance companies would certainly like to know who might be bad risks by looking at patient data. They are unlikely to be able to do that, particularly as any data released will be depersonalised. But will it be impossible to identify people as some might enable linkages to be made? Perhaps not totally impossible but the risks seem low to me and personally I could not care less who knows my medical history. Others might disagree on that point but the benefits of having a good database of medical data to help with research, much of which is done by commercial companies, is surely invaluable.

There are opt-out provisions for those who have any concerns.

See https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/data-collections-and-data-sets/data-collections/general-practice-data-for-planning-and-research for more information.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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RNS Announcement Emails, Mello Presentation and NHS Politics

Many private investors like me have been using a service from Investegate to deliver new RNS announcements via email. But recently, and not for the first time, delivery of such announcements has been delayed, or they have not been delivered at all. This can be positively dangerous – for example I only realised that I had missed seeing one after the share price of a company I held rose sharply. Missing bad news can be even more traumatic.

After complaining to Investegate and getting no response I decided to change to another service. The London Stock Exchange offer a similar free service (see https://www.londonstockexchange.com under Email Alerts). It appears to work reliably so I recommend it.

Many readers will be aware of the Mello events that attract many private investors to company presentations and for networking. Mello London is a 2-day event in Chiswick on the 12th and 13th of November (see: https://melloevents.com/event/ ). I will be giving a talk on Business Perspective Investing based on my recently published book on the Tuesday at 12.55pm. So please come along and learn more about why financial analysis is not the most important aspect of selecting companies in which to invest.

I note that the NHS is likely to be a political football in the coming General Election. As a heavy user of the NHS for the last 30 years during which it has kept me alive, I consider this is a grave mistake. The NHS is not a perfect service and could do with some more money as the UK spends relatively less on healthcare in comparison with other countries. But the service has improved enormously over the last 30 years regardless of the political party or parties that were in power. One of the most damaging aspects has been constant change and reorganisation driven by political dictates and concerns to improve efficiency. It’s also been slow to adopt new technology such as IT software because it is so monolithic and bureaucratic a body. When it did commit to a major IT project for patient records and associated systems it wasted £10 billion or more on an ultimately abandoned project. More diversity and local decision making are needed in the NHS. But I see no chance of it being threatened by any trade deal with the USA or by our exit from the EU.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson )

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