Can we immunize the portfolio from Brexit or Bremain risk? Robert Swift – Head of Global Equity Strategies -8th June 2016-
Much has been written on the referendum on June 23rd when eligible UK citizens will be able to vote on whether to remain in, or begin to negotiate an exit from, the EU. You’ll be glad to know we won’t be making arguments for either choice in this article, and that this article will be brief.
It is a fascinating, and unprecedented, spectacle not least because the protagonists on either side transcend their traditional divisions. There has been much nonsense spouted, but by the Remain side in particular, and it is perhaps some of their insulting and patronising drivel that has caused the outcome to become closer than initially thought? We don’t trust polls but the bookies, who tend to be better predictors, have certainly shortened the odds on a Brexit. Consequently, if markets are sort of efficient, the closeness of the vote predicted by the bookies, should be discounted in the equity markets? Theoretically what only remains as a risk is if the vote is a resounding victory for one side or the other?
We’re not so sure and a narrow victory either way as well a resounding victory either way needs to be considered. While the numbers don't warrant a big reaction (Total value of ALL trade and services between the UK and the EU accounts for around 1% of global GDP. Nobody for one minute is suggesting this will disappear overnight) there may well be one since markets love to overreact. Since we can’t predict what will happen we need to try and reduce portfolio exposure to a deleterious outcome. We think we can do this without going to cash by selling all UK exposure.
Here is what we have done. We own 3 UK stocks of which only one may be exposed to a shock in the UK economy and changes in interest rates and legislation. Two of the companies we own are multinational businesses, Glaxo, and HSBC which happen to have their main listing in the UK. They could just as easily be listed in New York, Shanghai, or indeed Frankfurt. If Sterling falls on a vote to Brexit they should benefit. Their US$ earnings are substantial so they are also a hedge against Euro risk. On a decision to Remain, they are quite likely to be favoured if investors wish to take on equity risk in a relief rally. Given the UK’s very large twin deficits we don’t think a vote for Remain causes a permanent and painful increase in the value of Sterling. Any such relief rally in Sterling is likely to be short lived.
The ‘pure’ UK company is National Grid which owns regulated electric and gas transmission assets. It also owns assets in the USA which actually comprise about 1/3rd of its asset base but it is overwhelmingly considered a UK company and its shareholders are predominantly UK based.
We find the company attractive because it has a stable and strategically important business, and has a high and growing dividend yield. This is a much better investment option than a UK bond or gilt at current interest rates. National Grid is unlikely to be affected by a close vote or an overwhelming vote either way. The UK is running seriously close to full utilisation in energy; NG is investing, and is being encouraged to invest by the regulator. The dividend yield will become really attractive if the Bank of England has to cut interest rates on a Brexit vote, to boost the economy. On the other hand if there is capital flight and an increase in interest rates to protect the pound Sterling, funding for capex is more likely to be directed TO this company than removed given the UK’s imminent energy shortages.
We believe these kinds of companies are attractive regardless of the outcome on June 23rd. We will be watching and relaxed doing so!
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