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The Latest

UK banks move into Virgin territory

By Blog, Portfolio

The stock in focus this month is CYBG (CYB). CYBG is a full service UK bank previously owned by NAB. After years of underperformance CYB was demerged in 2016.

It operates under the brands Clydesdale Bank, Yorkshire Bank and more recently B Brands. Despite serving nearly three million customers and having a branch network of over 200 branches and business banking centres, CYB struggled to grow its footprint nationally and has been largely confined to Scotland and the north and midlands of England.

This led to a major strategy shake-up. In June 2018 CYB purchased Virgin Money, an iconic brand with strong credit card and mass mortgage product capability in different geographical markets. The combination with CYB’s retail and SME customer base made strong strategic sense.

The complementary nature of the business means that substantial cost savings are targeted with expectations of annual net cost savings of 200 million pounds by 2022, enabling the Bank to significantly reduce their cost to income ratio.

The other exciting opportunity for management is to lever the other aspects of the Virgin group to enhance the experience for Bank customers and to begin to build an ecosystem which incorporates the other Virgin brands that UK consumers are using including Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Media.

However, in the short term there are macro factors impacting the UK economy, specifically regarding Brexit and the political and economic uncertainty this is creating.

After talking to CYB and other UK focused firms, most businesses in the UK are in a holding pattern until this situation is resolved. With the new PM in place, this resolution, while still unknown, is closer to happening.

While any solution will probably lead to short term volatility, the long runway for the process means that authorities and policy makers are prepared to provide the support the system needs to overcome these short term issues. We therefore see this as an opportunity to purchase businesses at a good level for the longer term.

Quick Snapshot

  • CYB will change its name and branding to Virgin Money from late 2019.
  • The newly combined entity will have 9 billion pounds of deposits and 7 billion pounds of lending.
  • The flagship product, the Virgin Money personal account, will launch in the third quarter of this financial year.

Are Term Deposits Defensive?

By Blog, Uncategorized

By Leon De Wet – Elston Portfolio Manager

At first glance the answer may seem obvious, but is it? That depends on what an investor is looking to protect against. There is no doubt that term deposits offer capital stability and given the government deposit guarantee, are virtually risk-free. So, through the lens of protecting the capital value of one’s investment, they are undoubtedly defensive.

Should the question however be framed in the context of providing income, the answer is quite different. According to data from the Reserve Bank of Australia, over the past 10 years the average rate on a 1-year retail term deposit has more than halved from 3.70% to 1.80% at the end of June 2019. For a retiree seeking a stable income stream, term deposits have not been defensive.

In contrast, the dividend yield on the S&P ASX200 Index at 4.55% (before franking credits), is broadly in-line with the average yield over the past 10 years and near the middle of the 4.0-5.0% dividend yield range. In essence, over the past decade the interest derived from term deposits has been more unpredictable, and lower, than the dividends derived from a broadly diversified portfolio of Australian companies.

This does not imply that term deposits should be avoided. They may well be justified in a diversified portfolio. Careful consideration however needs to be given to the role they are intended to serve, and the possible unintended consequences of being defensive, particularly in the context of longevity risk.

Are grocery shop owners off their trolley?

By Blog, Uncategorized

With the rise of e-commerce, you might be tempted to think that the traditional grocery shop is on the way out. But is it? While certainly facing a competitive threat, bricks and mortar grocery stores also have a couple of important advantages over the pure online retailer.

  1. Margins – grocery retailing is fundamentally a low margin business making cost control critically important. Running an online business is however typically costlier, mainly due to increased distribution costs and depreciation of the capital investment needed in IT systems and logistics.
  2. Fractionalisation of costs – physical stores tend to incur a greater proportion of fixed costs, primarily due to the rents paid. This means that brick & mortar grocers can increase their profit by more from every additional dollar of revenue generated than online grocers which incur a greater proportion of variable costs.

To help overcome these challenges a pure online grocer can of course levy an annual subscription and/or add a delivery fee, but in doing so it is likely to eliminate a pool of potential customers. Given that the delivery economics however work best if drivers spend the bulk of their time bringing groceries into homes from trucks rather than driving kilometers between homes, the loss of potential customers is clearly something best avoided.

Franking Matters

By Blog, Uncategorized

In a low rate environment, the income or cash flow that an investment provides is important, particularly if you rely on this income to fund your living expenses. While comparing options, you must of course consider their investment horizon and the associated capital risk of the underlying investments over this period. But equally, you must not forget the potential for that income to grow over time.

To illustrate the vastly different potential outcomes over the long term, consider the analysis below from AMP Capital, when contrasting the results in 2016 from having invested $100,000 in December 1979 in either:

i) a one-year term deposit or ii) the Australian share market.

The term deposit would still be worth $100,000 and paid roughly $2,450 in interest, while the shares would have grown to $1.12 million in value and paid $51,323 in dividends before franking credits.

Are you eligible for the franking credit rebate?

Given the dividend imputation system in Australia, which effectively allows companies to pass on a tax credit to their shareholders for tax already paid, the effective after-tax dividend income received by investors may in fact have been more than outlined above. This would certainly be the case for an SMSF investor in pension phase whose income is tax exempt, and as such can take full advantage of the franking credit rebate to supplement their income.

The proviso is that if the investor is entitled to $5,000 or more of franking credits, they must have held the shares for at least 45 days (not counting days of purchase or sale, so in effect 47 days) to be eligible to receive the refund.

Residential property: can it fund your retirement?

By Blog, Uncategorized

If your family is like many Australian families, when you get together for Christmas this year, you might find that the conversation turns to property. As a nation, we have a love affair with residential property, and booming capital city prices of late have done little to change this. We might feel good when the value of the family home goes up, but does this mean we should be relying on residential properties to fund our retirement?

There is no doubt that many people have done well by investing in the Sydney and Melbourne markets. However, capital growth does not pay the bills in retirement. It is income and cash flow that become important, when work income stops.

What does the data say?

Data provided by the Core Logic RP Data Home Value index shows that the average gross yield for capital city properties is just 3.25%. In Sydney, it is lower than the national average at 3.08%, and in Melbourne it is a paltry 2.9%.

This means that $1 million spent on a rental property in Melbourne would be expected to generate $29,000 a year. From this, investors would need to pay costs such as rates, insurances, agent’s fee, body corporate, maintenance and land taxes (depending on the state). This could easily account for $10,000 or more a year, meaning that the net yield is below 2%.

On this basis, a retiree looking to fund a comfortable lifestyle (considered to cost about $60,000 pa) would need to have over $3 million invested in property. By comparison, a $3 million investment in a diversified Australian share portfolio is expected to produce $152,700 of gross income (before any fees and charges).

Income is only part of the equation though. Surely recent capital growth in property would compensate for the low income? Residential property has performed well, although the exceptional rates of growth have been confined to small pockets of the country. Nationally, the average growth rate for the 12 months to 31 October was 6.6%.

While this is a very solid return, by comparison, the top 50 companies on the Australian Stock Exchange grew in value by 10.1%.

Is your money accessible?

While growth is good, retirees often need access to money in excess of their regular income needs. If all your money is tied up in a property, the entire property needs to be sold, as it’s not possible to sell off a bedroom. The sale of a property can also take some time and comes with significant costs. If a gain is made on the sale, there would also be capital gains tax to consider.

It pays to diversify

For many investors, a sensible investment in property can form part of a well-diversified strategy for creating wealth. But to focus only on this investment to the exclusion of all else is foolhardy. Investors need to ensure that they assess each investment on its true merits, rather than making emotional decisions.


Bitcoin – Bubble or a Brave New World?

By Blog, Uncategorized

In recent times, we have seen the rise of so called ‘crypto-currencies’ such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, which have put themselves forward as alternatives to traditional stores of value and currencies. As these and other crypto-currencies gain in profile and popularity and are accepted as a form of payment, it is timely to look at the methodology behind these ‘assets’ and ask – are they a fad or something more?

What is Bitcoin and how does it work?

At its core, Bitcoin is a form of decentralized digital payment system. In a traditional payment system, a clearing house, such as a central bank or financial institution, contains a centralized ledger that tracks asset movement between individuals and institutions within the financial system. Before one individual can transact with another, the assets must effectively pass through this clearing institution. With a ‘distributed ledger’, the record is held and verified by many different institutions and parties throughout the system. This eliminates the need for a central registry to record and certify asset ownership before that ownership can transfer from one party to another and ultimately enables peer-to-peer transactions using a public record, called a ‘blockchain’.

Understanding the security issues

Using blockchain technology, every transaction is verified back to its source, so for example, if A wants to transfer bitcoin to B, the transaction is presented online and represented as a ‘block’. This block is then referred to every party in the network and then compared to the ledger. If the transaction is valid, it is approved and the block is added to the chain, with the bitcoin moving from A to B. In theory, this means that B can securely transact with A, confident that they are truly the possessor of the bitcoin, without having to go through a centralized third party, such as a bank.

Another positive worth mentioning is that because of the distributed nature of the ledger, if one node gets hacked or destroyed, the rest of the nodes still contain the accurate ledger. Of course, this is only true to the extent that the network is isolated. There have been issues with security when bitcoin and other crypto-currencies have interacted with a traditional monetary system, such as exchanges.

Despite this potential weakness, these exchanges have been vital when it comes to increasing the popularity of cyber currencies. However, the vast majority of transactions remain speculative in nature, where traders are buying bitcoin in the hope of selling them at a higher price, rather than using them as a store of value. The value of bitcoin has been extremely volatile, and there’s still a long way to go before they can be considered a traditional asset.

Is there a future for cyber currency?

Notwithstanding its various shortfalls, there are a number of situations where some form of cyber currency and transactions using blockchain technology may have application. Payments in third world countries where there is a lack of a robust banking system and a dearth of cash available is one such application. In the not too distant future, cyber currencies may also provide a viable alternative for people looking for a more instantaneous international transfer of assets, compared to the current slow and expensive international payment system.

While the development and progress of these cyber currencies is interesting from a financial and technological point of view, it is still early days. There is more than a hint of a bubble around them, particularly with some of the newer ‘initial coin offerings’. This is probably best summed up by a recent new cyber currency to be offered to investors – UET, which stands for ‘Useless Ethereum Token’. On their website they state, “Is this a joke, is this a scam? No, it is real and 100% transparent – you are literally giving your money to someone on the internet and getting completely useless tokens in return!”. UET raised over $US5,000 in its first 12 hours. While this may not be a large amount on money, this kind of behavior may suggest that it is a bubble after all.