Q1 2019 portfolio review, Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Q1 2019: Are You Sitting Uncomfortably?

I last did a portfolio review at the end of 2018, so the end of the first quarter seems like a decent time for another catch-up and some more pithy observations.

Previously, I said that my trading activity was likely to be a lot less frantic this year than it was in 2018. That’s definitely proved to be the case so far.

For the most part, I have just been stacking up dividends to reinvest them in positions I am either in the process of building up or that look particularly good value.

As a brief aside, if you’re into dividend investing, a new section called Income Builder has just been added to the AIC website. Once you register, you can enter details of your holdings and it will show how much income they’ve paid in recent years on a month by month basis. There’s also a useful dividend diary to see what payments are coming soon. It’s fairly basic as portfolio trackers go, but it looks like a nicely designed tool nonetheless.

In January, I took advantage of an overly large discount at Acorn Income to make a small top-up. I’ll probably do a piece on this fund in the next month or so. It has an interesting capital structure that makes it a little different (and riskier) than other UK small-cap investment trusts.

I also invested in the latest offer for Baronsmead Venture Trust. That was unexpectedly livened up by its largest investment (Staffline, accounting for 5% of its assets) having its shares suspended shortly afterwards due to accounting concerns.

Often, such news proves fatal. Staffline, however, recently began trading again. What’s more, its shares have made up most of their previous losses. Thankfully, its problems turned out to be relatively minor.


ISA rejigging

In preparation for using my 2019/20 ISA allowance, I trimmed my non-ISA position in Caledonia Investments in March.

Caledonia’s discount has narrowed a little bit this year, possibly helped by the fact it shifted AIC sectors from Global to Flexible. While it looked like a straggler compared to the likes of Scottish Mortgage, it now appears to be a thoroughbred next to its new stablemates.

I’m still debating what to invest in with my 2019/20 ISA. I might plump for a combination of Gresham House Energy Storage Fund and Princess Private Equity — the former being an initial position, the latter a top-up where the discount has widened recently.

And I’m still considering adding to my (relatively small) position in Smithson with the cash I have received from dividends in the last few months. Its premium to net assets has narrowed to around 2%, down from a range of 5-10% it commanded the first few months after it joined the market.

All in all, therefore, nothing has happened to make me change any of my investing plans for 2019.

Those markets, eh?

You might recall the last quarter of 2018 was a tough time for global markets. At one point, the S&P 500 fell a whisker under 20% from its highs earlier in the year, although in sterling terms, global markets ended 2018 down just 4%.

However, the bounce-back in 2019 has been pretty spectacular. In sterling terms, global markets gained 9.8% in the first quarter.

And despite the ongoing chaos in Westminster, the FTSE All-Share put in a similar performance, returning 9.4%.

Pundits have been out in force trying to make sense of last year’s downward lurch. As usual, most of it is hot air. But I did come across an interesting explanation by Steve Eisman (who was played by Steve Carell in the movie version of Micheal Lewis’s The Big Short).

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Eisman appeared on a recent edition of the Brewin Dolphin podcast. He is an expert on the credit markets and sounded fairly sanguine about the health of that part of the global economy right now.

His thesis was the falls of late 2018 were very much overdone, given the relatively benign economic news of the time. But he reckoned that it indicated many investors were not at all comfortable with the risks they were taking with their equity holdings. Therefore, at the first sniff of trouble, they bolted for the door.

If he’s right then we can probably expect similar wobbles whenever there’s some bad news about the global economy. That could be good for those looking to top up their investments.

What’s been happening with investment trusts?

The market vacillations do seem to have halted the rash of new investment trust issues we saw in the latter half of 2018.

I think The Schiehallion Fund, Baillie Gifford’s unicorn hunter, is the only new issue that we’ve seen so far in 2019. It’s already scampered to a 15% premium.

There’s been a fair amount of activity from already listed trusts, especially in the renewable infrastructure sector.

A total of £1.6bn was raised by all trusts, with Greencoat UK Wind, Greencoat Renewables, Renewables Infrastructure Group and Tritax Big Box REIT accounting for half of that amount, and all of them raising in excess of £100m.

We also saw Primary Health Properties swallow MedicX. The combined company is valued at £1.5bn.

My performance in Q1 2019

My portfolio has performed pretty much in line with global markets over the last three months. Not that a quarter’s performance means anything of course.

For the record, my main portfolio is up 7.5% and my SIPP has risen 12.7%.

My portfolio held up a little better than the market in 2018, so I’m not that surprised to be lagging behind a little this year. Since the start of 2018, it’s up 5.3% while global markets are up 5.4%. My SIPP is up 19.8%. Again, that’s all in sterling terms and on a total return basis (i.e. including reinvested dividends).

Among my holdings, there hasn’t been much out of the ordinary to report.

JPMorgan Global Growth & Income has announced a manager change, so I’ll be looking at that in an article soon.

HICL Infrastructure has just changed its domicile from Guernsey to the UK. It’s largely an administrative change, so I don’t think it has much of an investment impact. This trust’s usual premium to net assets seems to be narrowing again, though. Perhaps it should be another potential top-up candidate for my 2019/20 ISA?

Elsewhere across my portfolio, discounts mostly either seem to be narrowing or premiums increasing.

Bluefield Solar Income Fund, for example, is on a record premium of nearly 17%! It does look like it is being conservative with its valuation assumptions while it’s finalising deals to extend to life of its assets, so I’m cutting it some slack.

Across the whole investment trust sector, the average discount has shrunk just a little, from 4.3% to 3.8%.

Looking ahead

As for future investments, I am yet to delve into the tech trusts I highlighted a few weeks back and still plan to investigate a few biotech funds as well. This is tinkering at the edges of my portfolio for the most part, rather than any radical change.

I am still in a state of cognitive dissonance when it comes to investment trust charges, torn between the idea that returns are the most important consideration and horror at the high level of underlying charges at the like of RIT Capital Partners.

Part of the reason for starting this blog was to write down my thoughts on subjects like this. I’m told it’s the best way of seeing if they stand up to scrutiny. I am certainly finding it a useful process in that regard, even if it’s a little uncomfortable at times!

Finally, I am aiming to pop along to the Mello Trusts event in May, in a strictly recreational capacity. So, I may see some of you there.

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