Anthony Eaton, manager of the VT Downing Global Investors Fund, believes that changing demographic trends and a shift in economic power will be key long-term drivers of global stock market returns.
Eaton’s thematic approach is focused on tapping into the phenomenal growth in middle class spending power in developing economies. The global middle class population is currently around 3.3 billion and is projected to reach 5.3 billion within 10 years. Eaton invests in those companies that are catering for the needs and wants of this expanding homogenous group.
The VT Downing Global Investors Fund was launched in March 2020, just as countries were going into their first lockdowns and markets were hitting their nadir. Since then, the fund has grown to almost £40 million and it has returned 55.11% versus the 50.83% returned by the IA Global TR Index*.
* From launch on 24 March 2020 – 31 May 2021.
We caught up with Anthony for an update on the fund and what sectors/themes that he feels will benefit from a recovering global economy beyond Covid.
Why should investors look to global equities for returns?
I think that the various economic blocks around the world and activities within them are increasingly defined for investors by the growth of the middle class populations across them rather than by their geographies. Likewise expanding middle class demand, like gravity, pulls many industries in mutually dependent progression. It is getting harder to favour one area of activity over another when the big universal driver of all of these inter linked themes is the expanding middle class population. We view this as a singular homogenous phenomenon and invest in businesses supplying its needs and wants as a whole.
Is now a good time to be considering a global strategy such as the VT Downing Global Investors Fund?
Absolutely. The 30 year US treasury rate has risen by around 60% this year, with costs of energy, food, materials, microchips and, encouragingly, labour rates also rising. Collectively, these internationally priced inputs signal that a global economic recovery is building.
What are your key themes?
There are six key, and evolving themes, within the fund: healthcare, transition from carbon, 5G, digitalisation, consumer goods, food and raw materials. The common link that is the driver of all these markets is rising middle class demand.
Why should investors invest in you?
Our investment strategy is proven and robust. I have been running a similar type strategy on a previous fund and performance has been strong over a 15+ year period. That prior fund, managed using the same methodology, returned a 10.4% compound annual growth rate from 2005 when he became lead manager, until August 2019 when it was sold to Thornbridge.
How is the VT Downing Global Investors Fund different from other global equity funds?
For historic reasons, many funds are geography or sector specific and can become locked into rigid pathways. Our conviction is in the economic phenomenon underway. We make investments to engage with the needs and wants of the global middle class. That is the end target. The investments themselves are the means to get there. We are therefore unencumbered and free to range across opportunities within the global economy.
The VT Downing Global Investors Fund is a top down asset allocation fund with a broad portfolio of around 200 investments. To that extent, it is complimentary to, rather than necessarily better or worse than, high conviction, or bottom up, more concentrated (around 40 positions) funds. We would struggle to restrict ourselves to a short list given the scale and mutually reinforcing nature of the opportunities for capital deployment in an increasingly dynamic world economy.
Where are you looking for best ideas currently?
We believe markets are gaining confidence in a broad economic expansion and are beginning to look at businesses that will both enable and benefit from the huge leaps in productivity and efficiency brought on by the digitalisation and onlining of so much of economic activity, rather than disruptors in isolation as was the case throughout most of 2020.
What opportunities has the recent rotation in markets thrown up?
We believe rotation is a slightly misleading concept implying absolute change. Markets are more dynamic and subtle, continuously evolving in terms of where they allocate capital and what price they will pay for the various areas of activity. We don’t divide between ‘value’ and ‘growth’. There are elements of both in all scenarios.
Launched in March 2020, this fund has existed entirely through Covid.
What challenges has that posed and have you deviated from your normal process/strategy due to the pandemic?
Before Covid, the ability to meet management of businesses was restricted by the time involved for both sides. The onlining of so much of commercial life has massively expanded access to management teams and has probably improved the flows of knowledge available. So no change in investment process, but we suspect a huge boost to the quality of outcomes.
What is your outlook for markets?
The prices of the three primary inputs to the economic cycle - money, materials and labour - are off the floor, implying that demand is rising in the broadest sense. The fourth musketeer is productivity. Digitalisation and e-commerce are raising productivity massively. So we believe we are in the early stages of an economic cycle which is both well supplied with inputs, and armed with expanded capacity thanks to productivity growth.
Can you give an example of the types of companies in the portfolio?
We are exposed to many areas of business, all with the common denominator of catering to the growing global middle class. A common theme across all sectors is that we prefer the shovel makers to the disruptors. In the literal sense, all digging businesses require excavators. Similarly, all pharmaceutical businesses are served by testing laboratories, all hospitals consume diagnostics . All cosmetics and food companies buy in flavours, fragrances and texture/feel agents. All online activity needs microchips, e-commerce needs built infrastructure, and electric vehicles need motors and parts, and they all need logistics. The rapid emergence of brand new massive scale industries such as decarbonised energy make for a fascinating decade for companies with global reach and desirable products.
For more information about Anthony Eaton, Fund Manager of the VT Global Investors Fund please visit: downingglobalinvestors.com
Risk warning: Please note that past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results. Capital is at risk. Investments and the income derived from them can fall as well as rise and investors may not get back the full amount invested. Investments in this fund should be held for the long term and are higher risk compared to investments solely in larger, more established companies. Diversification may not be achieved and investments may be in the same sector. Opinions expressed represent the views of the Fund Manager at the time of publication, are subject to change, and should not be interpreted as investment advice. Please refer to the latest full Prospectus and KIID before investing; your attention is drawn to the risk, fees and taxation factors contained therein.
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