It was confirmed the following day, that the BBC story that Rishi Sunak’s government would be rolling back some of its net zero commitments, including the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars being pushed back from the proposed 2030 to 2035, and a delay in phasing out gas boilers, was correct.
The leak and subsequent government announcement of a slowing of the pace to targets, comes on top of what, while the title of this article may seem hyperbolic, is not far from the truth after the summer many have experienced this year. Here in the UK, we were met with the typical British gloomy summer of wind and rain, whilst our European and American counterparts have been met with drastic extremes.
It was recorded that July was the hottest average month on record, with many parts of southern Europe reaching unbearable temperatures of 50 degrees. Accompanying these temperatures were raging wildfires, devastating large areas of Italy, Greece, Croatia, Canada, and Hawaii. These events should be ringing the alarm bells louder than ever on the effect that climate change is having; with the destruction of agriculture, homes, and threatened health of locals, with deteriorating air quality and insufficient infrastructure.
While the effects of climate change are more urgent than ever, it seems that in 2023 ESG funds are now facing the effects of global markets, and ESG may not be at the top of every fund’s lists.
Reuters reported in August that ESG investments have been out of favour with UK investors, with a staggering £1 billion in funding having been pulled since May because of continued interest rate rises and persistent inflation, leading investors to seek more stable grounds for returns.
Figures from global funds network Calastone show that the amount investors sold of their ESG funds snowballed to a total of £1.96 billion by the end of August. This has also been reflected by consumers, with The Telegraph reporting that the ‘number of people making decisions with a ‘’planet first’’ mindset nearly halved from 24pc to 13pc between June 2022 and April this year’.
Once the front runners of global change with the momentum of the Paris Agreement in 2015 behind us, seemingly, under Rishi Sunak’s government, matters of ESG in the UK have taken a back seat. While we need to ensure our own energy supplies in light of the Russian war on Ukraine, the new North Sea oil licenses that Sunak has approved have faced huge backlash from both members of his own party and environmental groups, urging him to look at renewable energy sources – with Sunak claiming that it is “entirely consistent with our plan to get to net zero”.
While Sunak was widely criticised for his move, London Mayor Sadiq Khan hasn’t fared much better at the other end of the spectrum of ESG matters. The controversial ultra low emission zone (ULEZ), aiming to improve the air quality in London, with vehicles not meeting emissions standards being charged £12.50 a day, or a fine, has seen Khan suffer a drop in popularity given that the charges are hitting those who are unable to either pay the charge or afford to get a car that is compliant.
Sunak says the government is still committed to reaching net zero by 2050 but in a “more proportionate way”, however it is increasingly evident that the UK is struggling to find the right balance between the needs of its people and achieving its net zero targets.
Emma Taylor is account executive at Quill PR
Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash
There are four problems zipping around currently that could be marshalled into a very good solution: how to encourage the young to invest; how to encourage investors to invest in start-up, small companies and UK plc generally, how to encourage pension schemes to do the same, and how to encourage companies to list on the London Stock Exchange and base operations here.
Each issue carries its own hurdles.
Investing is not top of many young people’s lists – spare cash is not that readily available – and yet the attraction of cryptocurrency offers excitement it seems and the potential for fast or vast profits. If cryptocurrency is attractive, this suggests the young are prepared to take some risks with their investing – so let’s try to educate them about things which could be deemed ‘exciting’ but are more tangible, i.e., small company, start-up, tech, entrepreneurial businesses looking for funding.
Pension funds have a lot of money to invest but for various reasons are not investing in less liquid and more risky assets and very often also not in the UK. Calls are being made to change this mindset although it has to be borne in mind that broadly this pension money sits under two sets of policy: defined benefit schemes, which guarantee the pension member their pension and defined contribution schemes – which don’t. For the latter each individual can choose their level of risk. If that individual has forty or fifty years to invest over, why should they not consider the potential growth options which stem from scale-up businesses?
That’s always supposing UK businesses see a future in the UK. Lots don’t because they see the opportunity for better valuations elsewhere and lots of companies that would like to come and list in London and present opportunities for investors don’t, because of regulatory restrictions. Citing the problems British fintech company Revolut has had in getting a full banking licence in the UK, Professor Stefan Allesch-Taylor, entrepreneur and Professor of Practice at King’s College London recently wrote: ‘Why do we care about the toings and froings between a multi-billion-pound UK fintech company and our regulators? Simply because other companies considering London as a home will be watching the process, whatever the outcome.’
Pictured above, Nicholas Lyons The Lord Mayor of London, head of the City of London Corporation (until his term ends and he returns to his role as chairman of Phoenix Group) in its report Powerful Pensions Unlocking Defined Contribution capital for UK tech growth March 2023 has written: ‘If we want to keep firms here in the UK, we need to make sure they can get the investment here in the UK.’ And he proposes this is facilitated by a Future Growth Fund: ‘Such a fund would enable investment via private equity into fintech, life sciences, biotech, and green technology. By channelling this investment, we can create growth and in turn support jobs and prosperity across the whole UK economy,’ he writes. He proposes the investment comes from the defined contribution pension schemes.
All the hurdles to these issues have the same root – that of risk. Regulators, businesses, investors have to work together to calculate that risk and then make a calculated risk, to benefit all.
Stephanie Spicer is head of content at Quill PR.
Photo courtesy of City of London Corporation
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 are generalisations about women and investing: they are too hesitant, too risk averse, they have too many other calls on their finances, are not paid equally … are they generalisations? Excuses? Actualities?
The Wisdom Council which worked with companies such as Scottish Widow, St James’ Place and Vitality to attempt to tackle the gender pensions gap claims Women have simply never considered investing – even when they are part of a pension scheme, they don’t think of themselves as investors (75% of those polled didn’t know they were investors, even though the recruitment criteria included involvement in a workplace pension).
While auto enrolment may mean more people have access to pension saving and investments a key part of the advantage is missing if there is no active investment involved – which it won’t be if these women actually invested in pensions don’t recognise themselves as investors.
The Wisdom Council’s Yes She Can campaign research showed that the average woman’s pension pot is one fifth of the average man’s pension and at current rates, it will take 100 to 250 years to address the gap. Additionally 49% of women had never invested and, of those, 85% didn’t think investing was ‘for people like them’.
The statistics run on. According to the Fawcett Society women took home on average £564 less per month than men in 2022 (£536 in 2021) and possible because of or exacerbated by the cost of living crisis 53% of women would use the additional money to turn on heating and lights more often, and 48% report that their mental health would improve. For many the prospects of improving things are not overwhelmingly positive as 35% of women want to work but are prevented by reasons including a lack of flexible working options and affordable childcare.
Fidelity has for years research and campaigned on women and money. Its most recent research shows that while women are passionate about tackling societal and environmental issues, with 57% wanting to take action against climate change, 40% want to improve poverty and homelessness and 34% would like to influence positive change towards animal welfare, many are unaware of ‘the positive impact they could have through their pensions and investments, with 68% unfamiliar with Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investing.
This is all somewhat depressing and rather makes us women look a bit silly.
But not really when one considers Fidelity research into the ‘gender pay rise gap’, which based on ONS data shows that taking the average salary for a 25 year old women was £25,066 and for men £37,817. Were those salaries to rise by 1% in real terms each year the average pay rise every five years would be £1,284 for women and £2,017 for men. Salaries at retirement would be £49,682 for women and £75,748 for men. The respective pensions at retirement, assuming an 8% salary contribution would be £276,403 and £419,006 – a difference of £142,603. That’s a lot less available to spend on heating, lighting or childcare, on climate change, improving poverty and homelessness and animal welfare.
And of course, these issues impact on all of us, on all our worlds, male or female. Which makes us all look a bit silly. And it leaves the investment industry with a job still to do to attract more investors.
Stephanie Spicer is head of content at Quill PR
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
At the 10th anniversary of the Olympic games in London, the recent Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and England’s Lionesses winning the UEFA European Women’s Championship, there has been much talk of legacy and the right goals.
Did the Olympics turn us into a nation of active beings? Will the Commonwealth Games? Will we pitch up to watch women’s football at league level? Will girls get to play football at school?
During the pandemic lockdown we were – most of us – very good at pounding out for our hour a day of exercise – some of us carried it on afterwards – but many who were active pre-lockdown never got back to the same level of activity once the restrictions were lifted.
Whatever the level of enthusiasm in the moment, it rarely profits us in the way we might hope. Considering the UEFA Women’s Euro, it may be a numbers game, as 17.4 million tuned in to watch the final with 5.9 million on digital streaming, attendance at Wembley was at 87,192 the largest for any European game, overall 480,000 attended the tournament, Sarina Wiegman’s team is unbeaten in 19 games, has scored 104 goals and conceded just 4.
Some of the numbers, however, are less than inspirational: the average salary for a Women’s Super League player is £47k a year while some of the top male players can earn £300k plus a week.
A class of their own, but not yet
What of the legacy from the Euro Cup tournament and the call for girls to be given the option to play football in PE? The Department for Education (DfE) is not apparently committing to making sure that girls have equal access to football in schools, even after the Lionesses’ win in the Euros.
‘Government guidance published by the DfE fails to guarantee that girls be offered the same football lessons as boys but says they should instead be offered ‘comparable activities’.
According to Sport England there are 313,600 fewer women than men who are regularly active, when asked, 13 million women said they’d like to do more sport and physical activity and four in 10 women are not active enough to ensure they get the full health benefits.
Women drop out of sports because they lack access, says the Women’s Sports Foundation, adding that girls have 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play high school sports than boys have. ‘Lack of physical education in schools and limited opportunities to play sports in both high school and college mean girls have to look elsewhere for sports –which may not exist or may cost more money. Often there is an additional lack of access to adequate playing facilities near their homes that makes it more difficult for girls to engage in sports,’ it says.
And why should they stay in sports? According to the Foundation: ‘Through sports, girls learn important life skills such as teamwork, leadership and confidence.’
Perhaps the legacy we should really hope for in society is that which relates to diversity in our schools, on the pitches and in the workplace.
As the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) says: ‘To reap the benefits of a diverse workforce it’s vital to have an inclusive environment where everyone feels able to participate and achieve their potential. While UK legislation – covering age, disability, race, religion, sex and sexual orientation among others – sets minimum standards, an effective inclusion and diversity strategy goes beyond legal compliance and seeks to add value to an organisation, contributing to employee wellbeing and engagement.’
One could fear that the legacy of the Euro cup will be purely financial – with little of the available financing reaching the masses – or the women’s game.
Not that it’s very easy to invest in football and certainly not women’s football. As one fund manager said: “All the women’s football clubs are currently loss making and are being subsidised by their male counterparts.”
Individuals can only buy shares in a football team if the shares are publicly traded and the club is not privately owned.
Or they could invest via funds like Lindsell Train Global Equity Fund which invests in PRADA SpA, Celtic plc and Juventus FC SpA or Lindsell Train UK Equity which invests in Celtic and Manchester United.
But the real investment is in encouraging our girls and our boys in playing football together and then on equal terms as they get older. The real legacy as a society, as investors, and as employers is to invest in the goals of our young people, the goals of our employees, and, where diversity and inclusion is concerned, not to score own goals.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash