Brexit bargains and dangerous dividends: we talk to BlackRock Throgmorton’s Dan Whitestone

Dan Whitestone, manager of the BlackRock Throgmorton investment trust, will be taking part in a panel discussion at the MoneyWeek Wealth Summit on 22 November. We caught up with him to find out where the best opportunities are right now – and to discuss the dreaded ‘B’ word. 

BlackRock’s Dan Whitestone

The BlackRock Throgmorton investment trust (LSE: THRG) has been among the best-performing investment trusts in the UK smaller companies sector, returning nearly 170% over the past five years (according to figures from the Association of Investment Companies).

BlackRock's Dan Whitestone, who has managed the trust since March 2015, will be taking part in a panel discussion at the MoneyWeek Wealth Summit on 22 November. We caught up with him to get an overview of where he reckons the best opportunities are right now and to discuss the dreaded B' word.

Q: Given that you run an investment trust focused on smaller UK companies, how if at all has Brexit affected your investment process?

As such we haven't made any changes to the positioning of the fund in the run up to Brexit. Long-term secular trends driven by changes in regulation, distribution, consumer behaviour, manufacturing and technology are key areas of focus for us, both from a long and short perspective, and trends such as these are far more significant to the financial health of many companies and industry profit pools than any Brexit outcome.

Q: How well prepared do you think smaller companies in general are for Brexit?

Generally, companies with strong management teams, high profit margins and well capitalised balance sheets are able to absorb additional Brexit-related preparatory costs, whereas others don't have the financial means necessary. Again a reason why we think it is better to own companies with strong financials for the long term. Sometimes being small can make you more nimble.

For us, rather than deliberating each week on what our domestic exposure should or shouldn't be, or what the correct mix is between small caps versus large caps, we think the real opportunity for long term wealth creation for our investors is to concentrate our efforts on building a portfolio of compelling global-facing growth companies, with differentiated business models and/or companies driving industry change. This is where we believe we have added the most value to our clients and where we believe we will continue to do so.

Q: Are there any specific areas where you feel Brexit concerns have created unjustifiably low valuations and good opportunities to buy?

In recent weeks we have seen an increase in M&A activity, and with the ongoing weakness in sterling and low interest rates allowing international companies to purchase UK companies at a low cost, we expect to see more bids by the end of the year. Consequently, this reaffirms our generally optimistic outlook on UK listed equities.

Q: What do you look for in a company as a "long" investment?

Second are those companies that are leading industry change, the "disruptors". By focusing on the underlying business fundamentals, we believe that we are able to find companies with strong business models that will be able to adapt and more importantly thrive, regardless of the wider macroeconomic environment.

Q: And given that it's been a bit of a banner year for "surprise" profit warnings, what red flags scream "avoid" or "short"?

cash flow

Generally we believe that the first and real victims of any global slowdown will be companies we think have weak financial structures (ie, low margins, too much debt and weak cash flow) and/or facing structural pressures.

Q: Earlier in the year you registered concern that some companies were paying excessive dividends do you think that's still the case?

We continue to believe that a number of companies are pressured by major shareholders to pay dividends that they can't afford, and this has starved many businesses of investment required to keep pace with change and grow. This has led some driving themselves into a brick wall, and the trust has benefitted from a number of these situations in the financial year.

Q: Your trust is able to go short as well as long what's been your most successful short position in recent years? (Or if you can't tell us specifics, are there any industries or sectors that you feel are particularly good hunting grounds for short opportunities?)

alpha

Q: You can also invest in some overseas companies are there any specific sectors or companies that particularly interest you in that area?

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