Soporific Webinars, Property Market, Portfolio Performance, and It Helps to be Older.

I attended three on-line company meetings yesterday – AGMs and results presentations. I have to admit that I fell asleep watching one of them which shows how soporific many of these events are. It does not help when the presenters read from a script that they have rehearsed beforehand which causes them to drone on. There is much less spontaneity than in a physical meeting.

The other common failure is that they show presentation slides at the same time that are not easily readable. That would be OK if the slides just contained bullet points in large type or graphics that reinforced the points the speaker was making but they frequently contain masses of small font text that are barely readable on a small laptop screen.  If hybrid meetings are going to be the norm in future, then more attention needs to be paid to how to do them well.

One of the presentations was by Equals CEO Ian Strafford-Taylor who had gone to his office in the City on the day. Surprisingly he said he had not managed to get a seat on the tube and there were queues at sandwich shops. So it seems life might actually be returning to City offices.

Perhaps it was coincidence but the share price of Schroder REIT (SREI) rose by 2.6% on the day and has been rising steadily since it bottomed out last July. The trust holds a mixed portfolio of commercial property. This morning the trust gave an update on rent collection which said “The Company has collected 88% of rents due on the 25 March 2021 for the quarter ending June 2021, after allowing for agreed rent deferrals.  This is ahead of the equivalent date in the previous quarter.  The breakdown of collection rates between sectors is 98% for industrial, 96% for office, 83% relating to ancillary uses and 51% relating for retail and leisure.  The Company remains in active dialogue with tenants for all rents due to be paid and expects to recover a significant portion of the outstanding amount”.

Clearly the retail sector is still one in difficulties, but the discount to NAV of SREI shares as reported by the AIC is 26% so I think there is value there if one has the patience to wait some time.

I don’t know how readers portfolios are faring of late but mine seems to be zooming up in valuation – up over 60% since the low point of the start of the pandemic in March 2020 (that’s ignoring dividends received and cash movements). There is clearly a lot of enthusiasm among retail investors for stock market investment. Is the market becoming irrational and over-valued? I would not like to say. But as a dedicated trend follower I have had some difficulty in keeping up (I tend to buy more when share prices are rising and vice versa).

It was interesting to see a report from Interactive Investor (II) who published the chart below of the performance of their clients in the first quarter of the year. Clearly there is a benefit in being old when it comes to stock market investing!

They report “all age categories trailed the FTSE World Index, which was up 4.09%, while the FTSE All Share did even better after a poor 2020, up 5.19%”. They also say though that “the average interactive investor customer portfolio – in median terms – is up 32.09% over the year to end March 2021, ahead of the FTSE All Share”.

They explain these results by saying “The outperformance of the 65 plus age group could be in part due to lower cash weightings in a rising market, and their low exposure (in median average terms) to tech stocks like Apple, Tesla or Amazon, which had a shaky Q1. No tech stocks appeared in the top 10 holdings by value (in median average terms), amongst the over 65s”.

In a quarter in which the FCA warned that some younger investors are taking on board too much risk this does not seem to be an overall trend amongst Interactive Investor customers. They have a high weighting in investment trusts but less in individual technology stocks.

But as Alliance Trust (ATST) reported at their AGM yesterday, I have underperformed global stock market indices because I don’t have big holdings in the mega technology stocks such as Tesla or Apple. They are held by some investment trusts I hold but they tend to be under-weight in them like ATST. I am not unhappy to be under-weight in very large tech stocks which certainly look to be in bubble territory to me.

I hold the stocks mentioned above.

Roger Lawson (Twitter:  )

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Property Shares Spooked by Land Securities and Pets at Home Accounts Attacked

Land Securities Group (LAND) published their annual results yesterday. I don’t hold the stock but what they said seems to have spooked the whole property sector.

The company is a large holder of both retail and office property. For retail property, only 38% of rents due were collected within 10 days of the due date in March. For offices it was better at 89% but that is still down from the prior year at the same time. What possibly really scared people was that the company said they estimated that only 10% of its office space was actually occupied. There has clearly been a big trend to move staff to working from home, particularly from central London locations.

If companies realise they can operate with much less office space, the demand longer term may drop unless the office space can be repurposed. Every cloud has a silver lining so perhaps this would be one way to solve the housing shortage in London – just convert the unused office space to apartments. Or perhaps convert it to “competitive socialising” venues as Ten Entertainment (TEG) described their bowling alleys in their results this morning.

Will people revert to working in the office if the epidemic is over? This is the key question because property investment is a long-term game so it would be rash to make decisions on investing in property on short-term demand. I suggest home working will only have limited appeal for both staff and management. Not many staff have space for a “office” at home and keeping kids and pets at bay while working is not easy. It also makes staff motivation and management more difficult. But if the virus epidemic continues for a long time then there will be many fewer people wanting to commute into central London. Offices may move to locations to which people can drive, as happened in the 1960s and 70s.

On the subject of pets, the company Pets at Home Group (PETS) came under attack yesterday from Bonitas Research. They published a report that suggests the accounts of PETS were distorted by incorrect disclosures of loans to joint ventures. You can find the report on the web.

I don’t currently hold PETS shares, but I used to do so. I sold in November 2019. One reason I sold, other than thinking the profit I had made was very adequate, was that the accounts were particularly difficult to understand. The multiple joint ventures (mostly veterinary practices) which seemed to lose money was one concern. Making forecasts of future earnings and cash flow was difficult as clearly the strategy was to take over many of those ventures or wind them up.

Whether the claims by Bonitas are correct (they go so far as to say that the company lied about undisclosed trading loans) I would not like to say as it would require more research than I have time to spend. PETS has yet to publish a response to these allegations, at the time of writing.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: )

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