World Environment Day 2023 (5 June) celebrating its 50th year turned its attention to one of the largest pollutants in the world, plastic.
Within the last decade, plastic production has increased rapidly, amounting to roughly 400 million tonnes per year, a figure which is foreseen to double by 2040 . Researchers estimate that 12 million tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans each year. These figures alone are shocking, not helped by the current turbulent social and economic backdrop globally, and pushback against ESG regulation proposals (particularly in the US).
However, through the actions of the United Nations, the tide might finally be turning on plastic pollution.
In March 2022, at the resumed fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly, the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee set out a historic resolution to end plastic pollution and forge an international legally binding agreement due by 2024, of which all 193 UN member states have signed in favour for.
Earlier this year, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report ahead of the second round of negotiations in Paris (29 May – 2 June). It set out the roadmap for solutions to beating plastic pollution and creating a circular economy, highlighting the need for governments, companies, and markets to come together to create deep rooted policy and regulation.
The roadmap has three simple, yet key targets needed to make the shift towards a circular economy.
Alongside the prospect of a renewed, thriving ecosystem, there is also a significant economic and societal opportunity. The roadmap proposes that by 2040, industries could save up to $1.3 trillion; currently a staggering $2.2 trillion goes towards virgin plastic production. Also supporting societal needs, it is projected that there will be 12 million new jobs, as a circular economy requires a larger human workforce, compared to the current linear economy.
Emma Taylor is Account Executive at Quill PR
Photo by tanvi sharma on Unsplash
A job in PR: I’ve been working at Quill PR for just over six months as an Account Executive – not where I would have imagined myself a year ago. I finished a degree in Fashion Branding and Communication at Birmingham City University in July 2022, the tail-end of the pandemic, when the continuous lockdowns and uncertainty left me searching for inspiration as to what to do in my post-graduate life. My course had touched on the topic of PR, and even though it was in the context of fashion, I knew a career in PR could be an interesting one; so, when the opportunity to work at Quill came up, I took it.
Not only am I new to the corporate world, but also to financial services, so I’ve to learn about the inner workings of a successful business, and about a completely new sector. My anxieties about this have eased over time as I’m surrounded by a team of experts always open to answering my basic questions and to guide me in the right direction. My first week in the office coincided with the announcement of Liz Truss’ Autumn mini budget- showing me just how quickly the markets can become volatile, seeing the full impact of macro events on the economy (something I hadn’t thought much about before).
What am I enjoying – or not enjoying?
Meeting and getting to know the clients and journalists that we work with has been a positive experience; all I’ve met so far have been lovely, and very welcoming (and patient while I’m still learning the ropes!). I’ve also enjoyed attending client events, my favourite being an F1 arcade session! It was a great opportunity to meet journalists and fund managers in a more relaxed environment.
However, meeting lots of new people in a relatively short time frame has been quite overwhelming for me; as someone who is naturally reserved, I’ve found it difficult to talk to new people. While it’s been a struggle with my confidence, I know that it will be something that I will get comfortable with over time.
Is it what I expected?
Honestly, I didn’t know all the role would entail, aside from fulfilling the admin, social media, and reporting duties. It’s been great to handle things like press enquiries and be trusted to carry them out for clients and having the support of the team if I need help or reassurance. From the start I’ve been able to be hands on, going to meetings to observe and learn about our clients and building relationships with journalists.
Is financial services fun?
Yes! I’ve never doubted that it was before I joined, but I was always slightly daunted by how vast and complicated the industry seemed. Even though there are still a lot of things that I haven’t got my head around, I feel more confident with my finance knowledge. I’m looking to doing a basic training course on financial services so I can better my understanding, and make my job somewhat easier!
What have I learnt?
You need to be organised in PR, as you can get requests in at any time, from the team, journalists, or clients. You need to be flexible when prioritising workload depending on incoming deadlines; when a client wanted a last-minute report for the following day, being flexible with my priorities at that time was crucial.
Write everything down; so many things can be happening at once, you can’t remember everything! So, key notes when meeting with a journalist, taking minutes during a client meeting, and any information about clients.
To really engage with clients and journalists – remembering a favourite restaurant when arranging a meeting and information about themselves; it’s all about building relationships and trust.
I’m excited to continue my career with Quill – the continued support from the team has helped my transition into a job in PR to be a very comfortable and secure one.
Much has been reported in recent months of companies de-listing from the London Stock Exchange and de-camping to the US for better valuations of their businesses. And yet the UK has its champions and investors should perhaps consider the positives and buy more British.
One advantage for UK investors is that companies remaining listed in London are seen as cheap – and these are not companies which are doing badly – it is just that they are often under appreciated.
Alec Cutler, portfolio manager and head of multi-asset at Orbis Investments (pictured) says: “UK names keep popping up as being super cheap. We find that they’re good companies, they might need a tweak here or there, but they’re fantastic yet selling at very cheap prices. So they offer high dividend yields, high free cash flow yields, very solid book, and cheap book values.”
Examples, he highlights are Headlam, energy players Hunting, Drax and Balfour Beatty, the latter he says “one of the best positioned construction companies in the world, selling at a double-digit free cash flow yield, eight times earnings.
“The reason these companies are cheap is because of changes to pension reform in the UK. UK pension holdings in UK equities went from approximately 50% around 1997 to 4% today, a massive outflow of money. And the current prices reflect the fact that investors around the world just don’t know these names as well as they should, and as well as we think they will.”
Examples of a company which wants to forgo its London listing and one which might like to list here, are Okyo Pharma and Coinbase, respectively.
Gabriele Cerrone, founder and chairman of biotechnology company Okyo Pharma, which specialises in eye disease treatment, is taking his company out of the UK and his issue is not so much valuation as appreciation. Quoted in the Daily Mail he says UK investors are only interested in mining and oil giants – “What I learnt about trying to create a niche biotech company in the UK is that it is like trying to grow plants in the desert. It has been a complete waste of time and we never raised money from investment banks. There’s no biotech culture nor any liquidity in the United Kingdom at all.”
In its Notice of Intention to delist from the London Stock Exchange, Okyo said: ‘The Company has decided to request the voluntary cancellation of listing as the volume of trading of the Ordinary Shares on the Main Market is negligible and does not justify the associated costs.’
Meanwhile crypto exchange Coinbase may not be averse to the idea of a London listing given dissatisfaction with the clarity of crypto regulation in the US.
Brian Armstrong, co-founder and chief executive officer of Coinbase told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, when asked if he would have considered listing on the LSE rather than New York: “We started in the US so it was natural for us to list there but honestly given the UK has recently actually been quite positive on crypto, in a different world going back we may have considered it, to be honest at this point. I do think the US risks falling a little bit behind here if some of the regulators don’t engage further with the industry and create that clear regulatory environment that will remove some of these clouds.”
Then we have statistics from The Insolvency Service showing that the number of corporate insolvencies was 16% higher in March than in the same month last year. Yes, there is a cost of living crisis but when we do spend and where are we spending? Not on these businesses, it seems.
One has to consider where, as investors we are focusing. Who does crypto currency investing benefit and who benefits from biotech investing? No one is suggesting one invests in the latter for philanthropic reasons alone – there are returns to be made after all. But is investing in something that can’t be seen, rather than in something that develops treatment for inflammatory eye diseases, somewhat myopic.
Stephanie Spicer is head of content at Quill PR
There has been much focus, not least in the recent Budget, on older people (sorry to those over age 50 but that’s where the definition starts) returning to the workplace.
Workers over 50 who have left the workplace have done so for a variety of reasons; the lucky ones because they can afford to and the unlucky ones because they are ill or incapacitated.
And there are those who lost jobs and have found it difficult to find employment because of their age. Arguably, the latter category is the one that most needs addressing because there you have willing workers thwarted by a biased and intransigent attitude from employers.
It remains to be seen whether the Chancellor’s magnanimous gesture in abolishing the lifetime pension allowance to remove the tax hurdle for consultants staying in the NHS encourages any who have left to return.
For the sake of the economy, it might be an idea to focus on other early retirees and those who really can’t afford not to be working.
Catherine Mann, policymaker at the Bank of England in an interview on Blomberg TV warned that she is worried about whether the UK economy can grow without sparking inflation, a legacy of Britain’s decision to exit the European Union and thousands of people over age 50 dropping out of the labour market since the pandemic.
Quoted also in The Times Mann said: “I worry that a couple of years down the line, we’re going to see people trying to come back into the labour force, and that’s going to be much more difficult.
“I worry about the supply side of the UK economy. It really is striking how slow growth is in the UK -much slower than what we observed for the US or for the euro area. Brexit is a factor on the supply side and on pricing power.”
The Government acknowledges, in its Spring Budget statement, that the falling participation in the workplace is a key economic challenge. It has mapped out how it hopes to tackle those who are ill, those perhaps disabled and who are concerned they may lose essential benefits and those who are ‘inactive’, whether they have chosen to be or not.
It remains the common case however that whatever the acknowledgement of the issue and whatever carrots and initiatives are thrown at the problem the employer elephant in the room is the one who doesn’t want to employ older workers.
The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) says that of more than 1,000 managers working in UK businesses and public services surveyed, just 42% would be open to hiring people aged between 50 and 64 to a large extent. For workers over 65, only 3 in 10 were open to hiring and 1 in 5 said their organisation was not open to the idea of hiring those over 65 at all.
So, time to tackle the disconnect between those in the ‘third age’ who want to work and employer perception. After all, fit and healthy people in their 60s may well live for another 30 plus years – that’s a lot of knowledgeable human capital to write off.
There is also age discrimination legislation – let’s employ that more as well.
Stephanie Spicer is head of content at Quill PR
Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash
Mental health has routinely struggled to gain the consideration it deserves and since 2020, the pandemic has only exacerbated the situation for people of all ages, in schools, colleges and in the workplace.
When writing on the economy many national newspapers are claiming the phrase ‘winter of discontent’ and there are parallels to when the phrase was used to describe the winter of 1978/79 when the UK was beset by cold weather and striking workers. And here we are this winter facing – well, slightly warmer weather than we have had – but still strikes and threatened strikes.
It seems especially cruel that these strikes, these grievances on the part of many workers – some financial, some practical in how lack of resources impact on how they can do their jobs – has forced them to, in turn, impact the first Christmas and New Year when we should have been free to travel and associate, after the restrictions of the pandemic.
It is well accepted that COVID-19 had an impact on the mental health of many. One might hope as we steer a course away from the worst ravages of the pandemic (notwithstanding those with long-COVID symptoms and grieving the loss of loved ones) that some equilibrium will return in how we work and how we play.
While a pandemic, a cost-of-living crisis and a war in Europe may all have meant many folk have found themselves struggling, there have always been mental health problems for individuals – at home and in the workplace and for myriad other reasons.
For employers, mental well-being in the workplace is being talked about more. The inference of course is that ‘mental health’ is a problem and that running alongside it is ‘mental healthy’. This, ie, the acknowledgement of mental health problems is a good thing but that doesn’t mean it is easy to recognise or deal with it. The business cost of poor mental health amongst employees is increasing and in 2022 the cost for UK employers rose to £56 billion, according to Deloitte.
So without putting it down to a financial cost issue alone (although if it works to get it addressed, so be it) it needs to be recognised that ‘mental health problems are no longer ones we pretend do not exist or are conditions to be ashamed of or scared of. They are to be talked about.
For the employer there has to be a discussion of what resources to put in place for employees. Most employers with human resources departments will have these covered, which is not to say it is easy for the average line manager to spot a team member struggling – or even for that team member to.
There are many sources of advice from charities and employer/employee institutions.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has much to offer on wellbeing at work and understanding ‘the links between work, health and wellbeing, and the role of stakeholders in adopting an organisational approach to employee wellbeing.
And the Health and Safety Executive in its Management Standards highlights key areas of work design ‘that, if not properly managed, are associated with poor health, lower productivity and increased accident and sickness absence rates’:
The HSE also provides guidance for employees in how to look after themselves at work.
‘Our research confirms that a culture of fear and silence around mental health is costly to employers,’ says the charity Mind.
Often, Shakespeare is misquoted out of context. But when he had Richard II speaking of “the winter of our discontent” – the follow through was that it was “made glorious summer” (by an end to war). The time ahead was (broadly) looking good.
May we wassail and hope for that end to war – and to all battles – and as a country and as individuals ensure there is support and contentment for all.
Sarah Gibbons-Cook is director and Stephanie Spicer, head of content at Quill
Photo by Mat Napo on Unsplash
Inflation at 10.7%1 is focusing investors on how to protect their investment portfolio. Consensus among Alliance Trust stock pickers is that it’s all about the company pricing power of the underlying stocks within your portfolio.
Bill Kanko, founder and president of Black Creek Investment Management says: “Over the long-term, investing in equities is a reasonable inflation hedge as revenue, cash flows and earnings adjust to the environment of higher input costs. Over shorter periods, this is not necessarily the case given rising inflation tends to be associated with declining stock prices.
“High growth stocks with little or no present earnings and cash flows are much more sensitive to the higher interest rate environment as central banks raise rates to counteract inflation. Companies that are reasonably valued and have current cash flows and earnings should be less affected by rising interest rates.
“In an inflationary environment where real bond yields are higher, investor interest will broaden out beyond the winners of the past decade (i.e., high growth companies) to other areas of the market, including ones that are more economically sensitive.
“In the short-term, stock price movements will react to the impacts of higher inflation and interest rates. However, we take a long-term approach to investing and believe that the winning businesses that we seek should fare better in this environment relative to the broad market.”
Rajiv Jain (pictured above) chairman and chief investment officer at GQG Partners says that during inflationary periods, he attempts to optimize the construction of his portfolios in two ways.
“First, from a sector perspective, we will look to increase our exposure to names that traditionally exhibit strong pricing power, as long as those stocks continue to be reasonably valued. In addition, certain business models such as Visa Inc. have revenue that is partially driven by the dollar amount of transaction volume, which may act as an inflation hedge.
“Second, we may increase our exposure to select countries where the management teams are experienced navigating inflationary environments, particularly in India and Brazil.”
Jupiter’s head of strategy for value equities, Ben Whitmore cautions that while equities have proven a hedge against inflation over time, they react poorly to begin with to unanticipated inflation or a change from low to high levels of inflation. This can be seen in the 1970s and now to a degree.
“Real assets (commodities, property) have historically proven a good hedge against inflation. Furthermore, companies that can raise their prices in line with inflation have also proven a useful hedge. The portfolio can also be protected by the starting valuation. High inflation leads to high interest rates and this tends to favour companies where the value of the business is more determined by near term cash flows rather than businesses that are valued off cash flows a long way in the future. Low valuations tend to triumph as a result over high valuations.”
Jonathan Mills, co portfolio manager at Metropolis Capital agrees: “As part of our quality analysis, we assess whether each company in the portfolio is able to at least offset increases in input costs by raising their own prices. We believe that they are all able to do so, largely because of very strong customer loyalty and lock-in.”
George Fraisse, founder and principal at Sustainable Growth Advisers agrees that a key characteristic he looks for in companies is strong pricing power.
“We want companies that sell products or services that will allow them to protect their profit margins over the long-term,” he says. “Accordingly, our companies should be able to maintain their predictable and sustainable growth better over periods of higher inflation. We avoid commodity oriented companies which are reliant upon more cyclical demand to support the pricing of their products.”
CT Fitzpatrick, founder and chief investment officer of Vulcan Value Partners says: “Companies that have pricing power can often pass through higher costs to their customers, creating some inflation protection for their shareholders. In addition, companies with pricing power may pull forward free cash flow, reducing equity duration, and offsetting the negative effects of higher interest rates, which typically accompany higher inflation.”
Stock selection is key he adds saying that most businesses don’t have pricing power. For those that do: “While rising inflation can have a near-term negative impact on stock price performance those companies with pricing power should not see a negative impact to estimates of intrinsic value.”
An example of a company with pricing power which Vulcan holds is Aerospace manufacture, TransDigm Group.
Sunil H Thakor, research analyst and co-portfolio manager of the Sands Capital Global Leaders and International Growth strategies highlights the sort of businesses that are largely immune or can even benefit from rising inflation.
“Many businesses that meet our criteria are asset-light—built on intangible, rather than tangible assets—and have limited sensitivity to global supply chain disruptions and fluctuating raw materials prices. We seek to own businesses with strong balance sheets and low debt, resulting in muted interest expenses.
“We also seek to own businesses that have market-leading positions, delivering must-have products and services. This often results in pricing power. The best pricing power, in our view, is ad valorem, where businesses capture a transaction fee; this results in a higher fee—and more revenue—as prices rise. Typically, these companies have costs that aren’t directly linked to revenue generation, so an inflationary environment is actually margin accretive.”
Stephanie Spicer is head of content at Quill PR
Quill is delighted to congratulate clients, AVI Global Trust, AVI Japan Opportunity Trust, Capital Gearing Trust and Odyssean Investment Trust for their wins in the Citywire Investment Trust Awards 2022.
Over 70 investment companies were up for one of just 19 prestigious awards.
Awards are given to the closed-end funds on the London Stock Exchange with the best three-year performance in their categories to the end of August.
Investment trusts are ranked on their ‘information ratios’, rewarding funds with the best risk-adjusted growth in net asset value (NAV) against their benchmark index. This is a method used by analysts to calculate how much underlying investment return a trust gets for each unit of risk it takes against a stock market index.
In four private equity, infrastructure and property sectors, where investment trusts’ assets are valued less frequently, the information ratio does not work so well so performance is simply measured as the best NAV growth in the three-year period.
The August cut-off point meant the period of measurement did not include the stock market slump in September, or the more recent post-Budget selloff, which will affect the latest returns of all funds.
But that is not to detract from these worthy wins.
AVI Global Trust won the Global Equities category, up against the likes of MIGO Opportunities Trust, Oryx International Growth and Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust.
AVI Japan Opportunity Trust won over Atlantis Japan Growth Fund and Schroder Japan Growth Fund in the Japanese Equities category.
Joe Bauernfreund, chief executive officer and chief investment officer of Asset Value Investors said: “I am delighted AVI Global Trust has been recognised as Best Global Equities Trust. Our focus has been on buying good quality businesses trading at attractive valuations, and combining this with active engagement to unlock value at our portfolio companies; enabling them to thrive. The Trust’s unique and differentiated strategy continues to deliver consistent returns and we remain confident in our portfolio’s long-term prospects.
“AVI Japan Opportunities Trust was launched just four years ago so winning the Best Japanese Equities Trust is a wonderful validation of its investment strategy. The focus on building a concentrated portfolio of quality small-cap, cash-rich companies, combined with constructive shareholder activism, has unlocked significant value at a number of our holdings. We continue to find compelling opportunities and remain excited by the future prospects of the Trust.”
Odyssean Investment Trust won the UK Smaller Companies category beating JPMorgan UK Smaller Companies Investment Trust, Miton UK Microcap and Schroder UK Mid Cap.
Stuart Widdowson, portfolio manager at Odyssean Capital said: “We are delighted to have won the Citywire UK Smaller Companies Investment Trust of 2022 award. And we are especially honoured given such esteemed competition. These are challenging times for all investors but also probably times of opportunity for committed investors with a long-term investment horizon.”
Capital Gearing Trust won the Global Multi-Asset award beating Invesco Select Balanced Risk Allocation Fund Share Portfolio, Personal Assets, RIT Capital Partners and Ruffer Investment Company.
Peter Spiller, chief investment officer at CGAM said: “In a pool of impressive peers, I’m honoured for Capital Gearing Trust to be recognised as Global Multi-Asset Fund of the Year. The delicate balance of capital preservation and wealth generation is a responsibility we don’t take lightly and I was pleased to accept this on behalf of the entire team.”
Sam Emery, managing director of Quill said: “I am delighted – as are the whole Quill team – for these clients and their excellent and well-deserved wins in this very respected awards event.”
Photo credit: Alex Tecson for Citywire
Quill PR is delighted to welcome to the team Emma Taylor as Account Executive. Emma has recently graduated from Birmingham City University, where she studied Fashion Branding and Communication. She brings to the team digital media, with experience in creative design across media. This is a first for Emma as this is her first full-time role since graduating in the summer and her first role in personal finance and investment – a sector she is keen to venture into.
At Quill Emma’s role is to provide background administrative support to the whole team and Quill clients with the ability to apply her creative design skills.
Emma says: ‘’I’m very happy to be starting off my career at Quill. Working for such an exceptional and highly regarded company is amazing. I’m excited to learn about the finance industry and to see where it takes me in the future!’’
Sam Emery, managing director of Quill added: “We first met Emma over a year ago when she assisted with a Quill event and stayed connected as she finished her degree. We were delighted that she wanted to break into public relations and to do so by joining Quill. She is already proving an invaluable member of the team, getting to grips fast with the industry and our clients.”
Quill PR celebrates the life of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and mourns the loss to her family and to the nation. Rest in peace Your Majesty. God save the King.
The death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II came as a shock to many who had seen her smiling brightly to her new Prime Minister and even to the old one, just two days previously. Her death was going to be sooner rather than later but nevertheless it made our nation stop and reflect on a momentous event: a very real and great loss.
Did we need to know our Monarch personally to feel this? We did not need to know her personally nor her us. Respectively we meant something to each other purely by our existing – Her Majesty as our Queen and us as her public.
Something we understand, given the business we are in, is that the Queen was the best PR person this country could ever have had. Some individuals she met will have inspired her in some way and she has inspired. And many more will have learnt more about the Queen and her life in this past week than they had previously known. The week of mourning has allowed this.
A period of mourning is important for many reasons: it is a show of acknowledgement of a loss, a respect for that person who has died and it is a time of safety for those grieving to be allowed to grieve and have that grief also acknowledged. It is rarely given the prominence we have seen it given in the last week for the Queen.
That is something that could change – that we understand that a time of mourning should be in place for all people as they experience the death of a loved one.
While the Royal Family has a further week of mourning, as a nation we go back to work and normal lives and move on. But as we do, now is a good time to take something else with us – one of the final things our Queen left us with – a reminder of how we can be a nation brought together (in the main) in unity (even republicans expressed condolences and respect for the Queen’s life and work).
So as the headlines return to news and comment about inflation and interest rates and the impact on investing and on stock markets fluctuating and sterling losing against other currencies and the cost-of-living crisis and decisions for some as to whether to heat or eat, all things that could unite us but could also divide, let’s focus on the unity.
The Sunday Times ran a story Economy braces for chill as the nation mourns, reporting that restaurants, bars and concert venues saw bookings cancelled following the death of the Queen and economists warned that the national holiday for the funeral will lower output by £2bn making GDP shrink for a second consecutive quarter – the technical definition of a recession.
After all, the important things are really all about the money – yes?
As we enter what for many will be a difficult winter, with talk of privations and crisis, unity should mean we reflect as to whether it is for some a crisis or just a difficult time and how, as a society, we need to help those for whom it really is a catastrophe.
Photo by Simon Hurry on Unsplash