Last updated: 13:46 / Wednesday, 18 December 2013
By Investec Asset Management

Multi-Asset Views: Four Equity Investment Themes for 2014

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Multi-Asset Views: Four Equity Investment Themes for 2014
  • Positive environment for actively managed equity funds
  • Opportunity to add exposure to emerging market equities and debt into weakness
  • Paying up for quality and buying true contrarian stocks should continue to be rewarded
  • The outlook for the resource sector is better than implied by current investor pessimism

Philip Saunders, portfolio manager across the Investec Managed Solutions Range, gives four equity themes for 2014

1) Continue to avoid the mega-cap dinosaurs

Market indices around the world are dominated by companies that have seen better days. They look cheap and offer tempting dividend yields but often face serious strategic challenges. Some will prosper and some rejuvenate themselves but most are likely to continue to languish. Small caps, mid-caps and the smaller large caps are likely to go on out-performing. We prefer quality growth stocks, especially in the cyclical sectors, well-judged recovery stocks and small & mid cap stocks around the world. What does this mean for investors? In our view this is positive for actively managed equity funds that are prepared to diverge significantly from the weightings of the major market indices.

2) Increase exposure to emerging market equities and debt on weakness

Emerging markets have been disappointing in 2013 with slower growth and weakening currencies leading to sustained downgrades to forecasts of corporate earnings growth. This in turn has undermined equity valuations. Valuations are now attractive in both absolute terms and relative to developed markets but earnings forecasts continue to be reduced. Bond yields have backed up, partly in tandem with developed market yields, partly due to domestic problems. Some currencies have fallen to attractive levels. An emerging markets crisis, marked by currency collapses, capital flight, much higher interest rates and a recession, is highly unlikely but markets could continue to be dull in the short term. Nevertheless, a strategy of building long term equity exposure during the year is likely to be well-rewarded while further currency weakness could provide an attractive long term opportunity to invest in emerging markets. What does this mean for investors? In our view this is an opportunity to add exposure to emerging market equities and debt into weakness - but be prepared to be patient

3) Quality and ‘contrarian’ stocks should continue to out-perform

Many investors in 2013 made the mistake of assuming that ‘quality’ was synonymous with large-cap defensive sectors. Quality implies consistent business strategies, durable market opportunity, long term growth, well-managed finances and high returns on invested capital. These characteristics are to be found in all sectors, both cyclical and non-cyclical. Typically, quality stocks are not cheap but reassuringly expensive; nevertheless sustained long term growth ensures attractive investor returns. ‘Contrarian’ investing in out-of-favour stocks and sectors can also be highly rewarding but the investment world is full of value traps; stocks that appear cheap and pay generous dividends but whose businesses are in long-term decline.

Turn-around stocks are cheap because they are high risk but value realisation depends on business turn-around if investors are to regain confidence. The world is full of value investors but there are many fewer prepared to pay up for quality or with the courage to identify and back companies with real turn-around potential. What does this mean for investors? In our view, investors should be wary of lowly valued stocks with a high yield which are often cheap for a reason. Paying up for quality and buying true contrarian stocks should continue to be rewarded.

4) Resource equities are about value added, not commodity prices

Commodity prices continue to trade sideways, the performance of the energy sector has improved but mining shares, especially precious metal miners, have languished. The problem for energy companies has been replacing reserves at reasonable cost but for miners it has been scaling back over-ambitious expansion plans.

Reducing costs, improving license terms and returning cash to investors have been key across both sectors. Investors continue to shun mining stocks, despite compelling cashflow valuations. They favour integrated majors, many of which are strategically challenged, rather than the growth companies. This creates great opportunities for active stock-picking. What does this mean for investors? We think the outlook for the resource sector is better than implied by current investor pessimism, especially given the opportunity for adding value through stock selection.

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