Sterling’s slide to help decide the winners and losers

​​Unilever’s clash with Tesco over the price of Marmite, ice-cream and other household products brings the issue of the pound’s decline and its possible impact into stark relief but the markets were already on a state of high alert.

Both the supermarket spat and early October’s split-second plummet in the pound to $1.18, its lowest level against the dollar since 1985,  raise the importance of currency movements to investors with exposure to the UK equity and bond markets, as even a rebound to $1.24 leaves the British currency some 17% below where it was before the EU referendum.

On a big-picture basis, this leaves investors with three issues to address, if they think the pound will continue to weaken (and the Bank of England is showing no inclination at all to defend it, via the traditional method of interest rate hikes):

  • First, they need to think about foreign fields rather than home comforts. This may seem counter-intuitive as the FTSE 100 barrels toward a new closing all-time high above 7,104 but if the pound drops it increases the value of assets held in overseas currencies, assuming their price stays the same.
  • Second, they need to take a look at their fixed-income exposure. Five-year forward inflation expectations have surged beyond 3.0% in the UK and the 10-year Gilt yield is still only 1.04%, even after a huge sell-off from lows near 0.50% in August. If inflation expectations keep rising then bond prices could keep falling, impacting the performance of actively-managed bond funds and bond trackers, like ETFs. Bond prices fall as yields rise and few investors may to want to hold a 10-year Gilt yielding 1.04% if they really think inflation will be north of 3% in five years’ time as this locks in a guaranteed 2%-a-year real-terms loss.

UK Gilts, as benchmarked by the 10-year issue, have sold off hard since summer

UK Gilts, as benchmarked by the 10-year issue, have sold off hard since summer

Source: Thomson Reuters Datastream.
NOTE: Past performance is not a guide to future performance and some investments need to be held for the long term.

  • Third, if they feel equities are a better option than bonds when it comes to coping with rising inflation expectations (since stocks’ can potentially generate faster growth and higher dividends, unlike bonds where the coupons are largely pre-set), investors need to find the right stocks or funds. In the view that “a bad stock in a good sector will tend to outperform a good stock in a bad sector”, looking at sector trends may be one way to cut down on the research needed to identify suitable individual picks or funds.

Sector detector

In theory, a weak pound favours exporters and sectors which have large amounts of overseas revenues or assets. The ideal combination is high sterling costs and high overseas revenues (top left) while the worst one is high sterling sales and high overseas costs (bottom right). 

UK Gilts, as benchmarked by the 10-year issue, have sold off hard since summer
Source: SHARES Magazine

The graphic above illustrates this, and the latest year-to-date performance data for the sectors which comprise the FTSE All-Share look to confirm this view:

The best and worst performing sectors in the FTSE All-Share in 2016

Rank Sector Performance
1 Industrial Mining & Metals 191.6%
2 Mining 82.9%
3 Technology Hardware 53.8%
4 Industrial Engineering 44.5%
5 Oil & Gas Producers 42.9%
6 Oil Equipment & Services 28.0%
7 Forestry & Paper 26.3%
8 General Industrials 26.1%
9 Personal Goods 26.1%
10 Construction & Materials 24.0%
     
30 Household Goods & Home Construction -1.4%
31 Banks -2.0%
32 Travel & Leisure -7.3%
33 Life Insurnace -7.5%
34 Food Producers -11.4%
35 Leisure Goods -11.5%
36 Real Estate Investment & Services -14.4%
37 General Retailers -16.2%
38 Fixed Line Telecoms -19.4%
39 Real Estate Investment Trusts -23.8%

Source: Thomson Reuters Datastream. Covers 1 January to 12 October 2016.

Trends in sector performance since the EU referendum vote on 23 June also suggest pound weakness favours certain sectors.

AJ Bell tracks data for 39 sectors within the FTSE All-Share and ranks them by performance, one to 39, each week. The biggest gainers and losers since 23 June are as follows, with the gainers advancing most rapidly up the performance league table (by rank) and the losers ceding the most placed (by rank).

The FTSE All-Share sectors with the best and worst momentum since 23 June

Sector Change in FTSE All-Share performance rankings since EU vote
Technology Hardware 23
Pharmaceuticals & Biotechnology 14
Forestry & Paper 13
Automotive & Parts 8
Oil Equipment & Services 8
   
Gas Water & Multi-Utilities -11
Industrial Transportation -11
Leisure Goods -11
Electricity -14
Household Goods & Home Construction -19

Source: Thomson Reuters Datastream. Covers 23 June to 12 October 2016.

This suggests these may, in some cases, be sectors to consider (or avoid) if the pound keeps falling.

It may therefore pay to look at which funds are exposed to which sectors, in terms of their key over and underweights, at least when it comes to actively managed funds and investment trusts. 

Best performing UK Large Cap Equity OEICs over the last five years

OEIC ISIN Fund size £ million Annualised five-year performance Twelve-month Yield Ongoing charge  Morningstar rating 
Old Mutual UK Dynamic R GBP (Inc) IE00BLP59769 £331.0 22.1% n/a 1.10% *****
Castlefield UK Bufettology Institutional (Inc) GB00BKJ9C676 £46.2 20.1% 0.36% 1.63% *****
Lindsell Train UK Equity (Inc) GB00B18B9V52 £2,887.5 18.0% 2.04% 0.75% *****
River and Mercantile UK Equity Long Term Recovery GB00B614J053 £78.2 17.2% 1.56% 1.16% ****
Legal & General UK Special Situations I (Acc) GB00B3DMY345 £253.2 17.0% 1.32% 0.94% *****

Source: Morningstar, for UK Large-Cap Equity category. Where more than one class of fund features only the best performer is listed.
NOTE: Past performance is not a guide to future performance and some investments need to be held for the long term.

Best performing UK equity investment companies over the last five years

Investment company EPIC Market cap (£ million) Annualised five-year performance * Dividend Yield Ongoing charges **  Discount to NAV Gearing Morningstar rating
JP Morgan Mid Cap JMF 225.5 22.1% 2.8% 0.91% -8.8% 1% ***
Crystal Amber CRS 177.8 19.0% 2.7% 2.60% -7.4% 0% ***
Henderson Opportunities HOT 66.4 18.8% 2.2% 1.96% -17.8% 13% ***
Invesco Perpetual Select IVPU 158.5 17.2% 3.6% 1.58% -0.6% 11% *****
Mercantile MRC 1,536.7 15.9% 2.6% 0.50% -10.4% 0% ***

Source: Morningstar, The Association of Investment Companies, for the UK All Cap category.
* Share price. ** Includes performance fee
NOTE: Past performance is not a guide to future performance and some investments need to be held for the long term.

This is less of a consideration with passively-managed Exchange-Traded Funds, although it is worth investors thinking about just exactly what exposure this passive approach could bring them. 

Best performing UK Large-Cap Blend Equity ETFs over the past five years

ETF EPIC Market cap £ million Annualised five-year performance Dividend yield Fund Ongoing Charge Morningstar rating Replication method
Lyxor UCITS ETF FTSE All Share LFAS 12.2 9.76% 0.00% 0.40% *** Synthetic
db x-trackers FTSE All-Share UCITS ETF (DR) 1D XASX 86.7 9.69% 3.90% 0.40% *** Physical 
Lyxor UCITS ETF FTSE 100 C-GBP L100 640.5 9.12% 0.00% 0.15% *** Synthetic
Source FTSE 100 UCITS ETF S100 31.2 9.07% 0.00% 0.20% *** Synthetic
db x-trackers FTSE 100 UCITS ETF (DR) Inc 1D XUKX 186.2 8.95% 3.03 0.30% *** Physical 

Source: Source: Morningstar, for UK Large-Cap Blend Equity category. Where more than one class of fund features only the best performer is listed.
NOTE: Past performance is not a guide to future performance and some investments need to be held for the long term

The table below highlight which sectors are the most – and least – important in the FTSE 100, when it comes to market capitalisation.

FTSE 100 split by market capitalisation

  FTSE 100 split by market capitalisation
Consumer Staples 20%
Financials 19%
Oil & Gas 12%
Consumer Discretionary 11%
Health Care 11%
Industrial goods & services 9%
Mining 6%
Telecoms 5%
Utilities 4%
Technology 1%
Real estate 1%

Source: Digital Look, Thomson Reuters Datastream

The next two tables outline individual industry sectors’ forecast contribution to profits and dividend payments for 2016 and 2017, to provide a further gauge of which sectors really matter and which ones do not, when it comes to moving the market.

FTSE 100 split by pre-tax profit contribution to index total

  2016 E 2017 E
Financials 26% 24%
Consumer Staples 20% 17%
Oil & Gas 8% 15%
Consumer Discretionary 14% 11%
Industrial goods & services 10% 8%
Health Care 9% 8%
Mining 2% 7%
Telecoms 5% 4%
Utilities 5% 4%
Real estate 1% 1%
Technology 1% 0%

Source: Digital Look, consensus analysts’ forecasts

FTSE 100 split by dividend contribution to index total

  2016 E 2017 E
Oil & Gas 19% 23%
Financials 22% 21%
Consumer Staples 14% 15%
Health Care 10% 10%
Consumer Discretionary 9% 9%
Telecoms 6% 7%
Industrial goods & services 6% 6%
Utilities 5% 5%
Mining 7% 3%
Real estate 1% 1%
Technology 0% 0%

Source: Digital Look, consensus analysts’ forecasts

Currency conundrum

There are two final considerations.

  • Not all sectors have stuck to the currency script, so this makes it clear using forex movements alone as the basis for a short-term investment strategy is a bad idea. Gas, Water & Multi-Utilities have done badly even though the bulk of National Grid’s assets are in the USA – this sector has done badly because of fears interest rates and bond yields may rise around the world. Electronics & Electrical Equipment, another dollar earner, has done relatively badly. 
  • The pound could rally, in which case all of the considerations above need to be seen in reverse. Admittedly, the chart looks terrible with little evidence support all the way down to the $1.05 mark seen in the early 1980s, but sterling did rebound sharply in 1993-94 after its 1992 ejection from the Exchange Rate Mechanism so it would be unwise to assume the currency keeps crashing. The UK runs a budget, trade and current account deficit, a situation which Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has stressed means we are dependent on “the kindness of strangers” – in other words, overseas investors willing to fund our debts by owning them, in the form of bonds. A collapse in the currency could deter investors from wishing to hold sterling assets and, in a worse case scenario, leave Britain exposed when it comes to funding itself. This is why the traditional response to falls in the currency is a series of interest rate hikes, to offer enhanced returns that compensate would-be buyers for the currency risk they are taking, even if this is clearly not the path the Bank of England wishes to take for now.

The pound reached $1.05 in the mid-1980s

The pound reached $1.05 in the mid-1980s 

Source: Thomson Reuters Datastream.
NOTE: Past performance is not a guide to future performance and some investments need to be held for the long term.

Russ Mould, AJ Bell Investment Director