Polar Capital: A Good Time To Warm Up
Polar Capital (LON:POLR) is an asset manager, managing a selection of investment trusts (like the Polar Capital Technology Trust, PCT; and the Polar Capital Global Financials Trust, PCFT). They also manage a number of unit trusts and hedge funds, with their Assets Under Management (AUM) up to $13.6bn as of the end of June this year.
Why I Like Asset ManagersI like asset managers for a number of reasons:
- Firstly, their business model tends to be asset-like, but highly profitable.
- Secondly, as a result of this they are often serial dividend payers and growers, and
- Thirdly, they also tend to hold net cash on their balance sheets, a good buffer to have against periodic stock market and economic downturns.
They Should Benefit from Financial Repression
We remain mired in a strange economic scenario, where global economic growth is struggling and requires a very helping hand from central banks around the world, in the form of Zero Interest Rate Policies (ZIRPs) and Quantitative Easing (QE) programs. While these ultra-low interest rates have been manna from heaven from borrowers, they have been dreadful news for savers, with UK deposit savings rates falling year on year (Figure 1).
1. UK Deposit Rates Hit a New Historic Low
And yet, scarred no doubt by 2 stock market crashes since the year 2000, the average UK household has preferred to keep a large amount of savings in the form of cash, rather than any other higher-yielding investments like stocks and shares. This is a global trend; In the US and Germany, for example, cash held on deposit by households continues to hit new highs at over 0.4% of GDP (red line and right-hand scale on Figure 2), in spite of the five-year old stock market rally and the US S&P 500 index recently breaching the 2000 level.
2. US Savers Keep Record Amounts in Cash
As these ultra-low interest rates on cash deposits remain, there will be added pressure over time on households to find better yields elsewhere, in other asset classes like stocks and bonds.
Right Now, Stocks Yield the Most
The Hunt for Yield should push investors towards stocks, given the already-depressed yields now available on government bonds; note that you now have to pay the German government in effect for them to keep your money for 1 year (Figure 3)! While the FTSE 100 index is due to pay out 3.7% this year...
3. Stocks Yield More than Bonds or Cash
So for asset managers like Polar Capital (LON:POLR) who specialise in stock-based funds or higher-yielding specialist areas like emerging market bonds, this should ensure positive inflows over the medium-term.
Polar Capital: High Dividends, Backed By High Profitability and Cash on Balance Sheet
Running Polar Capital by the numbers reveals a number of strengths that attract me to the stock. Firstly, the dividend yield is high at 7.3% on a prospective basis (Figure 4), although Stockopedia registers an even higher 7.9% yield number. these compare very favourably to yields available elsewhere in the higher-yielding Asset Management sector. Moreover, this dividend has grown steadily from 4.5p for March 2010 to a forecast 30.8p for the fiscal year ending March 2015.
4. US + UK Asset Managers' Dividend Yields
You might be concerned that Polar Capital's dividend cover ratio is only 1.1x, but there are a couple of further positives that should allay these dividend payment fears.
Profitability, as measured by last year's Return on Equity, are also generally high across the Asset Management sector, with Polar Capital posting a very respectable 23% ROE (Figure 5):
5. US + UK Asset Managers' Return on Equity
Finally, net cash on balance sheets is high across UK asset managers, averaging over 14% across the sector ex Polar Capital, while Polar Capital itself has an even better 24.6% level of net cash on balance sheet as a percentage of current market capitalisation, better than any other major asset manager bar Man (LON:EMG) (Figure 6):
6. UK Asset Managers' Net Cash on Balance Sheet as % of Current Market Cap.
Basic Valuation Also Looks Attractive
Aside from the high dividend yield, bear in mind that the forecast P/E (once cash on balance sheet is substracted) comes out very cheaply at under 9x for March 2015 and an Enterprise Value/EBIT ratio of only 7.3x, while book value growth has been impressive since 2010 too.
So What's The Catch? Slowing AUM Growth, Stock Market Risk
a. End-June: First Outflow in 15 QuartersThe latest statement on assets under management as of 30 June revealed that AUM had only grown 3% in the quarter since the end of March, in effect suffering a net outflow for the first time in 15 quarters. This marks a pause in their impressive growth rate, which had seen AUM grow from just $2.5bn in March 2010 to $13.2bn by March of this year (Figure 7):
7. Polar Capital's Impressive AUM Growth Track Record
b. High Stock Market Beta: Great When Stocks Rise, But Painful in a Bear MarketClearly, while asset managers tend to see growth in AUM and thus rising profits in a bull market, they are also very sensitive to a bear market, when they tend to under-perform benchmark stock indices like the FTSE 100, as was the case back in 2008 and 2011, when both US asset managers (black line) and UK asset managers (yellow line) suffered greatly (Figure 8):
8. High Market Beta Means Pain During Bear Markets for Asset Managers
With all this in mind, I still find Polar Capital (LON:POLR) very tempting at the current share price of a tad under 430p, resulting in a single-digit ex-cash P/E valuation, particularly given that one is paid to wait by the generous dividend yield.
Remember that with 32% of Polar's shares held by directors and employees, their interests are very much aligned with other shareholders!
But of course, Do Your Own Research as ever!
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