The popular investment trust is having a tougher time of late
Thursday 30 Jun 2022 Author: Steven Frazer

This year has been ugly for technology investors. The challenges facing equity markets have combined to form one of biggest headwinds to investment returns for decades, including inflation soaring to levels not seen in decades.

The feeling that things will get worse before they improve continues to dominate the investment mood, and some disappointing earnings updates and lukewarm guidance have seen the technology sector give back some of its considerable long-term outperformance of the wider markets.

It has also seen technology investment trust discounts widen.

Polar Capital Technology Trust (PCT) remains the largest tech specialist investment trust, worth around £2.6 billion. Investors will find many of the world’s largest and best-known tech companies prominent in the portfolio, including Google parent Microsoft (MSFT:NASDAQ), Apple (AAPL:NASDAQ) and Alphabet (GOOG:NASDAQ) as the trust’s three largest holdings.



Being what manager Ben Rogoff calls ‘benchmark aware’ means some very large technology stocks simply must be owned. This can sometimes lead to accusations of index hugging.



Only half of the Dow Jones Global Technology benchmark’s top 10 weightings feature in Polar Capital Technology’s own top 10, while four of the other five – Broadcom (AVGO:NASDAQ), Adobe (ADBE:NASDAQ), Intel (INTC:NASDAQ) and Cisco Systems (CSCO:NASDAQ) – don’t even feature in Polar’s top 15 positions, as of 9 June.

With a portfolio of typically around 100 to 120 stocks, Polar Capital Technology’s investment strategy is as much about finessing its stakes to larger or smaller than the benchmark as it is about picking long-run winners and losers, often referred to in fund management circles as being overweight (more than your benchmark) or underweight (less).

This has worked against the trust this year. As investors have retreated to the sector titans, such as those listed above, Polar Capital Technology’s underweight position in some of these mega caps has seen it underperform the Dow Jones Global Technology index in 2022.

Polar Capital Technology’s manager Ben Rogoff remains undeterred, stating that technology stocks are in a better place than last year.

The manager has reduced exposure to sectors such as e-commerce, payments and online advertising due to the difficulty of knowing what the real growth rates are in these sectors. 

Rogoff has shown a willingness to adapt the portfolio as circumstances change and new opportunities emerge. This has been illustrated in the past when Polar Capital Technology slashed exposure to Facebook-owner Meta Platforms (META:NASDAQ) as it became embroiled in a scandal over consumer privacy. Similarly, Microsoft has been increasingly backed by the trust as its cloud computing and artificial intelligence engine opportunity became clearer.

TRACK RECORD

In the 10 years to 31 May 2022, the trust’s net asset value increased by 497%, beating its Dow Jones Global Technology benchmark which grew by 490% in value. However, on a one, three and five-year basis, the trust’s net asset value has underperformed the benchmark.

Rogoff remains married to key technology themes, such as software as a service, industry automation, cloud infrastructure and security, connectivity and 5G, and the artificial intelligence tools needed to sift and analyse digital information.

Cybersecurity is a good example as nations and enterprises become increasingly concerned in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Rogoff has been meaningfully adding to the sector during recent market weakness, including bolstering stakes in specialists Cloudflare (NET:NYSE) and Crowdstrike (CRWD:NASDAQ).



‘Despite the wide range of macroeconomic and market outcomes from here, the recent compression in valuation multiples and deterioration in investor sentiment provide room for a potential rally in the near-term and may well represent a good entry point in the long-term,’ Rogoff said in his latest bulletin to investors on 31 May.

The fund manager takes heart from companies continuing to invest heavily in technology. ‘At the same time, (equity) valuations have become more attractive, reflecting steep drawdowns and a high level of investor pessimism with many stocks, in our view, beginning to price in a mild recession,’ he added.

This is illustrated by Polar Capital Technology’s discount to net asset value widening substantially. According to Trustnet, the shares at £19 are trading 14% below net asset value. This is much deeper than the trust’s five-year average discount of 4.6%, based on Trustnet data.

Rogoff remains chipper about the long-run prospects for select technology themes and we believe the trust is a good choice for investors wanting exposure to an actively managed portfolio in the tech space.



AN ALTERNATIVE ROUTE

For anyone seeking a passive investment as an alternative to Polar Capital Technology Trust, Shares couldn’t find a London-listed exchange-traded fund tracking the trust’s Dow Jones Global Technology benchmark index. However, investors might want to consider iShares S&P 500 Information Technology Sector UCITS ETF (IITU).



While this ETF only focuses on US-listed stocks rather than the whole world, the performance has been better than the Polar Capital trust since the former’s launch just under seven years ago.

Since inception on 23 November 2015, the sterling-denominated version of the iShares ETF has delivered a 301% total return (capital gains and dividends) versus 208% from the Polar Capital trust, according to FE Analytics.

DISCLAIMER: The author owns shares in Polar Capital Technology Trust

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