Last updated: 08:20 / Thursday, 23 June 2016
Ian Ormiston in Uruguay

For Old Mutual, Genuineness is the Key Factor when Investing in European Small Caps

For Old Mutual, Genuineness is the Key Factor when Investing in European Small Caps
  • Ian Ormiston, Portfolio Manager at Old Mutual Europe (Ex UK) Smaller Companies Fund presented his strategy to more than 60 conference attendees
  • According to the Fund Manager, the key factor is that companies are genuinely small-cap companies, which is where the greatest opportunities lie
  • Ian Ormiston: “Europe is not a dynamic economy, but there are pockets of growth. Especially in small-cap companies”

During Old Mutual’s second conference in Punta del Este, Uruguay, Ian Ormiston, Fund Manager for Old Mutual Europe (Ex UK) Smaller Companies Fund, defined his strategy as "a sensible fund which invests in a sensible mix of businesses, consistently providing a series of fairly high returns when compared with other funds in their category or against the benchmark." A full bottom-up strategy, which invests in some 50 European small-cap companies, equally weighted at 2%, with sufficient market liquidity and which have pricing power and show growth potential.

For Ian Ormiston, the key factor is that companies are genuinely small cap companies: "For some fund managers, especially for those who have succeeded, the important thing is to achieve more assets, therefore small cap funds become small and medium cap funds. We want to buy companies that are genuinely small cap; the segment we seek is in the range of 1 billion to 1.5 billion. The reason is that it’s in this segment where the greatest opportunities lie, it’s the most imperfect segment in the market, and it’s where we will get the returns."

As for the market outlook for European equities, Ian says that through the media we only become aware of the problems, the crisis in Greece, the probability of Brexit, Austria’s shift towards the radical right, the repetition of elections in Spain, the massive influx of refugees, etc.; while all this commotion favors the creation of opportunities for finding companies with good fundamentals at good valuation levels. "Europe is a rich continent with slow growth, with a GDP growth between 1.5% and 2%. It is not a dynamic economy, but there are pockets of growth. Especially in small-cap companies which have provided good returns over time. "

When asked about the advantages of investing in small cap stocks versus the large cap within the European market, the fund manager mentioned three reasons: the first factor is the higher compounded growth in returns in this asset type, generally small cap sales grow 2% faster than sales of large caps. Secondly, the low coverage by analysts, European large caps have an average of 36 analysts covering each stock, while only 5 analysts cover each stock within the small caps segment. And finally, the third reason would be the high degree of family ownership in European businesses in comparison to that of the United States or United Kingdom. "We maintain a stock in the portfolio for a period of between five and seven years, as usually, a person who has founded their company remains in charge of the company for the next 30 or 40 years, so their interests are aligned with ours."

For the strategy, Ian Ormiston selects those small cap companies that have sufficient liquidity and which are relatively easy to operate. He also seeks companies with established sales growth, a good product, and a clear market. "We avoid those companies with business models resembling a lottery ticket. We look for companies which still have many years of growth ahead, with a potential upside of around 30%. We then meet with Management to test whether their strategy is credible, their growth is sustainable and their restructuring plan is believable."

Regarding ECB measures and their impact on the economy, Ian points out that the EU’s delay in taking action on monetary policy, as compared to the US or the UK, led to the growth in divergence of economic performance between EU Member states. But he admits that the situation has improved since Mario Draghi made his "Whatever it takes" speech in 2012. Although the new measures have no direct effect on European small caps companies, these measures will lower the cost of financing, encourage credit growth, and avoid further fragmentation of interest rates between core European countries and the periphery.

Finally, regarding "Brexit", he admits that two of the companies in which the fund invests specifically mentioned Brexit as one of the main reasons that have affected sales. "The uncertainty itself will have an impact. The UK is currently very much connected to Europe. If investors begin to worry about the UK’s possible exit, it could be very negative for Europe by fostering debate in Italy, Spain, Ireland and Greece, where the population also questions the future of the Euro ".