In the sweet spot!

A tried and tested investment ethos helps clients grow their portfolios and avoid investing calamities, writes William Meyer.

Corporate scandals like Steinhoff and Tongaat-Hulett have done irreparable harm to South Africa’s reputation as an investment destination, but while many sophisticated investors were duped into hanging on beyond the downturn, neither of these companies should have presented a compelling investment case.

This is according to Fenestra Asset Management CEO William Meyer, who says he avoided Tongaat-Hulett for a start because the company could never be in control of its own destiny. “There were lots of reasons to avoid Tongaat-Hulett, like a volatile sugar price and multiple sources of sugar. Why get involved in a business where lines on its income statement are beyond control of management?”

Meyer says even if Tongaat’s leadership hadn’t suffered from corporate greed, the best leadership team would struggle to create value in a business based on an agricultural commodity. “To make things worse, it all goes back to the fundamental principle of management being honest and aligned with the interests of shareholders and stakeholders. If they aren’t, you’re going to get fleeced.”

Disposition effect

Meyer points to investors not only holding on to Steinhoff shares as the share price imploded, but buying in even as the price slid. “Half of the damage could have been avoided if investors had sold out when the price began to collapse. The historical cost comes down to the disposition effect, where investors frequently sell great shares and keep bad ones. Investors who are reluctant to part with shares that are collapsing need to remember that what you paid for a share has nothing to do with its future value.”

Cutting your losses is a good habit to learn. “Work out what went wrong and move on. There are many opportunities out there. Losses can lead to highly emotional responses that prevent the investor from selling long after they should have let go.”

Meyer says investors should be able to have confidence that they are investing in a company for the right reasons and should compile a focused portfolio of reliable management teams.

“We not only avoided the disasters, but also the under-performers, like Aspen, BAT, Brait, Sasol and Woolworths. We have not held a single share of these companies in our clients’ individual portfolios, which is why our clients are now in the sweet spot, outstripping the market and our competitors by a healthy margin,” he says.

Investing: What about gold?

Meyer believes it is critical to have exposure to offshore equities to track global growth themes that are not available on the JSE. Again, his focus is on quality management teams. Even as US tech stocks face challenges in dealing with complicated US-China trade relations, for example, there are still opportunities.

“Apple CEO Tim Cook is said to be the greatest logistics supply-side manager in the world. It’s hard to imagine they don’t have a plan B and C. The share price is telling you that too – it continues to move up. It’s really important for South African investors to have international equity exposure to take advantage of these growth stories.

Financial whiz William Meyer describes Booking Holdings’ manager Glenn Fogel as ‘incredible’. The company’s earnings per share nearly doubled from $42.65 in 2016 to $83.26 in 2018.

Meyer also likes Booking Holdings, which he says is led by an “incredible” manager in Glenn Fogel. Booking has six primary brands in Booking.com, KAYAK, Priceline, Agoda, rentalcars.com and Open Table.

“The internet has really opened up travel for millions of people. Earnings per share nearly doubled from $42.65 in 2016 to $83.26 in 2018. Booking.com had more than $92.7-billion in gross bookings in 2018. This kind of growth story has not been available to domestic investors in South Africa.”

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Then, Meyer says, there are markets that are under-analysed, like Australia and New Zealand, in which Fenestra has special expertise.

“They’re not big on investors’ radar, but by focusing your attention you will find some gems. That’s why Fenestra has done so well – we’re very concentrated. The more investment decisions you make, the more likely you are to make a mistake.”

Fenestra Asset Management, which has been managing investments since 1990, offers a personal touch, which Meyer says reflects the company’s investment ethos. “We know our clients very well and we care deeply about their portfolio performance. They all have my personal cellphone number, so it’s a very personal, focused relationship.”

Meyer says if investors are not happy with their current portfolios and would like a second opinion, they should contact Fenestra for a free review of their portfolio.

Interested investors can email Fenestra at fam@mweb.co.za or call the company’s head office in Cape Town on 021 689 7855 to arrange a personal and confidential consultation. – Brendan Peacock, Financial Mail