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The overlooked value in the value universe

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Disclosure – Non-Independent Marketing Communication

This is a non-independent marketing communication commissioned by Downing Strategic Micro-Cap. The report has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research and is not subject to any prohibition on the dealing ahead of the dissemination of investment research. 

While markets have reawakened to the opportunity in value stocks, at the smaller end of the market capitalisation spectrum the managers of Downing Strategic Micro-Cap believe there is untapped potential…

The world of investing has been turned on its head over the last 18 months. Despite many declaring that the growth vs. value debate was over, decade-old orthodoxies about the indomitable strength of growth companies came apart as inflation plunged revenue forecasts downwards.

Companies previously trading at valuations of 40-50x earnings have seen dramatic deratings, and fund returns have tumbled as a result. But, while 2022 was not a vintage year for any group of fund managers, some investors fared better than others. 

While there is no straightforward categorisation of growth vs. value stocks, looking at the MSCI World indices provides some useful insight. Over the course of 2022, the MSCI World Value Index outperformed its Growth counterpart by some 23%. Although this outperformance has begun to close the gap between the two, their valuations remain significantly off their long-term means, suggesting that the value resurgence may not have run its course.

Regardless of outlook, this medium-term trend has demonstrated the value of maintaining some style factor diversification, and investors have taken heed – according to Morningstar, US ETF investors allocated more than three times as much to large-value funds than their growth peers in 2022.

Despite the relative favourability of value in 2022, one area of the value universe remains underappreciated. Small-cap value is often particularly underrepresented in portfolios. This is not especially new; despite smaller companies outperforming their larger peers over the long term, retail investors have tended to shy away from the sector. However, with key information inefficiencies at play, and the potential for M&A in an environment where larger companies struggle to produce organic growth, the sector is worth considering.

When contemplating a smaller companies investment, discernment is key. The sector can host the kind of growthy early-stage disruptors that flounder in a market when cash is less free-flowing. Some smaller businesses are also more exposed to a recession, with poor balance sheets meaning there is little cushioning against falling revenues. To identify which companies are genuinely underappreciated by the market, the managers of Downing Strategic Micro-Cap (DSM) apply a carefully considered lens.

The trust’s lead manager, Judith Mackenzie, and her co-manager, Nick Hawthorn, look for companies at the smallest end of the capitalisation spectrum, where little to no analyst coverage exists. They typically seek out businesses that have encountered a problem (real or overplayed) that can be rectified or overcome over time. The valuations these companies sit on will usually only reflect their downside potential, without realising the significant upside potential on the other side.

Judith and Nick are confident in the possibility of an upward rerating for their investee companies as they typically have healthy balance sheets and a clear strategic direction. Their resilience was already tested through the COVID-19 pandemic and, as many have recently refinanced, the managers believe that they are well-positioned for the rising rate, inflationary environment we find ourselves in.

The other aspect of micro-cap value investing that differentiates it from large-cap or even mid-cap value is that companies typically have a much smaller shareholder base, meaning that shareholders with a larger holding can  be influential in the kind of decision making which can fuel a rerating over time. Downing has deep experience in small-cap private equity and venture capital, meaning the managers and the business are equipped with the skills and knowledge to identify and effect change. With a 5-7 year investment horizon, Judith and Nick are willing to wait to see value come through.

Together, the trust’s focus on valuations and on the smallest listed companies in the UK means that it is highly differentiated from its AIC Smaller Companies sector peers – and from the equity exposure of most investors. As such, it offers clear diversification against the typical equity allocation in UK portfolios.

Find out more on the Downing Strategic Micro-Cap Investment Trust

Read January/February Downing Strategic Micro-Cap Investment Trust factsheet 

This article was written by Alice Rigby, Kepler Trust Intelligence

Risk warning: Opinions expressed represent the views of the fund manager at the time of publication, are subject to change, and should not be interpreted as investment advice. Please refer to the latest full Prospectus and KIID before investing; your attention is drawn to the risk, fees and taxation factors contained therein. 

Please note that past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results. Capital is at risk. Investments and the income derived from them can fall as well as rise and investors may not get back the full amount invested. Investments in this fund should be held for the long term and are higher risk compared to investments solely in larger, more established companies.  

Important notice: This content is intended for retail investors and their advisers and has been approved and issued as a financial promotion under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 by Downing LLP (“Downing”). This document is for information only and does not form part of a direct offer or invitation to purchase, subscribe for or dispose of securities and no reliance should be placed on it. This document contains information and analysis that is believed to be accurate at the time of publication but is subject to change without notice. Whilst care has been taken in compiling the content of this document, no representation or warranty, express or implied, is made by Downing LLP as to its accuracy or completeness, including for external sources (which may have been used) which have not been verified.  Downing does not offer investment or tax advice or make recommendations regarding investments. 

Downing is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (Firm Reference No. 545025). Registered in England No. OC341575. Registered Office: St Magnus House, 3 Lower Thames Street, London EC3R 6HD.


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