A professional investor tells us where he'd put his money. This week: Hugh Sergeant of River & Mercantile and Alliance Trust highlights three favourites
Being a value investor, seeking strong companies trading at a discount to their true worth, has been the biggest challenge of recent years. Value investing is a strategy that has been out of favour not only this year, but for more than a decade. During this period there have been occasional glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel, but rare occasions of sustained reward for adopting a value approach.
Nonetheless, we are sticking by our core principles and committing to traditional value and recovery factors. Stocks such as the three we highlight below are, we believe, showing attractive levels of medium-term profit and cash-flow growth. Key value factors are yet to emerge from a bear market, but the potential for healthy profits and cash flow to help generate strong returns over the medium to long term is significant.
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Capita: an outstanding outsourcing group
Capita (LSE: CPI) the UK's largest business process outsourcing company, has been one of the best performers out of the stocks we select for the Alliance Trust global equity portfolio.
It is benefiting from wide-ranging changes made by the CEO appointed in December 2017 that are now starting to come through. Cost reductions of £175m by 2020 are running ahead of schedule, and management says it is confident of ultimately earning more than 10% on operating margins.
The group has an estimated market share of between 25% and 30%, broadly split between the public and private sector. The share price has risen by around 50% since we first purchased the stock, but it nonetheless remains, in our opinion, very attractively valued.
While its share price has been hit by a short-term downturn in its core search business, Baidu's (Nasdaq: BIDU) current valuation remains an immense bargain. It is a mega-cap company, the so-called "Google of China", and it has undergone a period of significant reinvestment into areas such as video, artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles.
However, it is this reinvestment that has temporarily depressed profitability. Coupled with some investors' general fears about the Chinese economy, this has left Baidu trading at a very attractive valuation. We believe there is an exceptional medium-term buying opportunity here and we have increased our position in the stock in the past year.
Prada will come back into fashion
Prada (Hong Kong: 1913) is synonymous with high-end fashion, but has suffered on the stockmarket in recent years due to a slowdown in sales in a rapidly evolving consumer marketplace. A slowdown in China, a key market for luxury brands, has also dented Prada's fortunes and led to drastic falls in its share price over the last five years.
Nonetheless, it is a household name working hard to improve its position. We hold it in the belief that we will benefit from the company's improving outlook. Management has already begun to take action to address the underlying issues holding the brand back and we believe that a strong recovery is in the pipeline. Its valuation is at a discount in terms of both historic and peer group measures. The scope for share-price gains from these depressed levels remains significant and worth waiting patiently for.
Hugh is Head of the UK Equities team at River and Mercantile, and is a manager of the Alliance Trust investment trust
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