The First State Diversified Growth Fund (DGF) returned -0.67% (net of fees and tax for the B GBP Accumulation share class) in the first quarter of 2018.

Performance overview

The First State Diversified Growth Fund (DGF) returned -0.67% (net of fees and tax for the B GBP Accumulation share class) in the first quarter of 2018, with the UK RPI increasing by 0.31% over the same period.

Since inception in June 2015, the Fund has delivered 5.3% p.a. (net of fees and taxes), which is 2.9% over UK RPI. This was delivered with monthly volatility of 6.2%. In comparison the equities-based FTSE 100 Index has returned 5.1% over the same period, but with a higher comparable volatility of 10.0%.

 

These figures refer to the past. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results. For investors based in countries with currencies other than the share class currency, the return may increase or decrease as a result of currency fluctuations.

Performance figures have been calculated since the launch date. Performance data is calculated on a net basis by deducting fees incurred at fund level (e.g. the management and administration fee) and other costs charged to the fund (e.g. transaction and custody costs), save that it does not take account of initial charges or switching fees (if any). Income reinvested is included on a net of tax basis. Source: Lipper IM / First State Investments (UK) Limited.

Figure 1: Asset allocation

Source: First State Investments as of 31 March 2018. Quarter end data since inception.

Current positioning

The Fund’s asset class exposures are shown in figure 1. This allocation outlines the aggregate position of our Neutral Asset Allocation (“NAA”) and Dynamic Asset Allocation (“DAA”). Our NAA is what we term the “beta” of the portfolio, and is based on our view of economic fundamentals over the coming five years. DAA is the “alpha” driver in the portfolio, which looks to exploit short-term market opportunities.

At the end of March 2018, the Fund’s equity exposure is the lowest since the inception of the Fund, with only selective exposures (mainly UK, Eurozone and Canada). This is a result of two key views across the portfolio: 1) we believe equity valuations are not attractive over a five-year horizon, and ii) our DAA prefers duration and foreign currency exposures over equities and commodities. As a result, our net equity exposure is only 4.9%.

Within fixed income, we hold exposures to emerging market debt, both local and hard currency, as we find valuations attractive, alongside inflation-linked bonds in the UK, US, and Australia. We hold no credit exposures, as outlined in our latest NAA review (which can be found on firststate.co.uk). The rest of the portfolio is held in shorter-dated government bonds, as we have shortened the duration profile late in 2017. We also hold a number of selective country exposures in fixed income, with interest rates in the Eurozone, Switzerland, and South Africa looking attractive.

Our objective is to deliver a real return of 4% (gross of fees) over five years, and given where we believe valuations in equities and bonds are, exposures to broad market risk premia – i.e. beta - is unlikely to deliver the required return. We therefore have a large part of our risk budget allocation to DAA.

 

Introduction to our Dynamic Asset Allocation

We view DAA, and the ability to consistently provide exposure to alpha return drivers when required, as an integral part of our investment process. In periods where the expected return from broad market allocations to equities and bonds is insufficient to reach the Fund’s return objective, we have the ability to increase the role of DAA.

We define DAA as those investments that collectively allocate to return drivers that are uncorrelated to broad market returns. In market environments where we believe we are being compensated for the risk to invest in equities and bonds, and we can generate real returns to meet our overall Fund return objective, we will allocate less of our risk budget to DAA.

However, in certain market environments – such as in 2018 – where valuations in many markets are particularly unattractive, it is paramount to be able to still generate returns for clients, and hence the important role of our ‘Investment Signals’, which form a key part of our DAA.

 

Investment signals

Fundamental to our investment philosophy, we believe that markets are not completely and globally efficient – local considerations such as liquidity requirements, regulatory constraints, mandatory hedging and even simple home biases allow dislocations to exist in the short-term. Moreover, risk premia are not necessarily at their long-term equilibrium values at all times.

We also believe that there are a number of fundamental drivers of returns that have consistently provided alpha opportunities if built, managed and executed in a systematic and rigorous way:

- Valuation: how expensive is an asset relative to its peer group? When aggregated within and across a range of asset classes this has the potential to be an effective way of increasing returns;

- Momentum: trading styles have persistence and as such it is possible to take advantage of certain trends in order to potentially generate additional returns;

- Carry: how much an asset pays the investor to hold it (i.e. the yield);

- Macroeconomics: the underlying fundamentals of asset class returns and qualitative macro assessment which exist and hence offer a possible return opportunity on a short-term time horizon;

- Market Structure: this relates to anything that applies to the structure of the underlying investment markets – namely positioning to take potential advantage of volatilities, correlations, liquidity, turbulence and market fragility.

 

We expect these allocations to provide additional returns and they should be uncorrelated to broad market movements.

When we attribute the Fund’s performance for 2018 year-to-date (figure 2), it shows the contribution from the DAA to be significant, with the (long-only) NAA detracting from performance (as we would expect in falling markets). The high allocation to DAA in the risk budget is important in times when we do not expect to be able to generate sufficient returns from the NAA.

Over the Fund’s investment horizon we would broadly expect two-thirds of our total returns to come from market returns – i.e. our NAA – with the remainder from our DAA. During periods with elevated valuations (such as now) it is important to be able to have the tools and the flexibility to implement non-market directional strategies to generate additional returns and also to protect capital – hence to maximise the probability of us meeting clients’ long-term investment objectives.

 

Outlook

Equity market volatility in Q1 has been significant, with most major markets posting negative returns so far in the year – after a fantastic January. It’s hard to pinpoint a catalyst, with both potential trade conflicts, a renewed focus on the tech sector, and impressive moves in volatility-related products to blame. However, when valuations are as stretched as we believe they are, any number of things can have outsized influence. We believe market volatility will continue, and possibly spread to credit markets, which have been relatively stable so far. As we are defensively positioned, we continue to look for attractive investments, and volatility can provide opportunities.

Our NAA is reviewed at least every six months, and the next review is undertaken in April. Given where we currently see broad market valuations, we do not anticipate that we will be able to generate sufficient returns to meet the Fund’s objective from developed market equities and credit, although saying that, there are some emerging markets which look relatively attractive.

Figure 2: Quarter-end performance contribution to 31 March 2018

Source: First State Investments as of 31 March 2018.

For annual five year past performance please see tables above.

As such, we would expect the role of DAA to continue to play a key part in the risk we’re taking in the portfolio, and as a driver of the Fund’s total return going forward. We’ll be issuing an NAA review note early in May with the results of our review, and will share this with you to keep you updated on our thoughts.

 

Why First State?

Our investment strategy blends the qualitative views and experience of the team with the discipline and rigor of quantitative analysis resulting in a flexible approach to design and implementation of investment portfolios.

Investment decisions are taken with respect to the overall portfolio objective, unconstrained by conventional benchmarks or fixed asset allocation. Our flexibility to blend alpha and beta strategies is a key differentiator and essential to deliver on the investment objective over time.

Risk management is integral to our investment process. We continually seek to balance the trade-off between upside potential (meeting our investment objectives) and downside risk (capital loss), which we believe can generate consistent results.

 

Investment process

Within our investment process we have two building blocks. The first, which we call Neutral Asset Allocation (NAA), sets longer-term asset allocations. The second part, which we call Dynamic Asset Allocation (DAA), allows us to exploit shorter-term opportunities in markets.

The first step of our NAA process is to set the economic climate for each country. We use the economic climate assumptions within our set of proprietary stochastic simulation models to determine forward looking risk premia and expected returns. The process of determining the NAA uses these expected returns for the building blocks of the portfolio allocations incorporating the return objectives, constraints, and investment horizon of the portfolio.

Our DAA process, on the other hand, takes into account the shorter-term market dynamics to deliver additional returns and abate portfolio risks, such as tail events. This part of our investment process, which includes our investment signals and qualitative overlay, is formally reviewed each week and looks at (among other things) markets and fundamental data to take advantage of possible dislocations.

Important Information

This document has been prepared for informational purposes only and is only intended to provide a summary of the subject matter covered and does not purport to be comprehensive. The views expressed are the views of the writer at the time of issue and may change over time. It does not constitute investment advice and/or a recommendation and should not be used as the basis of any investment decision. This document is not an offer document and does not constitute an offer or invitation or investment recommendation to distribute or purchase securities, shares, units or other interests or to enter into an investment agreement. No person should rely on the content and/or act on the basis of any material contained in this document.

This document is confidential and must not be copied, reproduced, circulated or transmitted, in whole or in part, and in any form or by any means without our prior written consent. The information contained within this document has been obtained from sources that we believe to be reliable and accurate at the time of issue but no representation or warranty, express or implied, is made as to the fairness, accuracy, or completeness of the information. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any loss arising directly or indirectly from any use of this information.

References to “we” or “us” are references to First State Investments.

In the UK, issued by First State Investments (UK) Limited which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (registration number 143359). Registered office Finsbury Circus House, 15 Finsbury Circus, London, EC2M 7EB number 2294743. Outside the UK within the EEA, this document is issued by First State Investments International Limited which is authorised and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority (registered number 122512). Registered office: 23 St. Andrew Square, Edinburgh, EH2 1BB number SCO79063.

Certain funds referred to in this document are identified as sub-funds of First State Investments ICVC, an open ended investment company registered in England and Wales (“OEIC”). Further information is contained in the Prospectus and Key Investor Information Documents of the OEIC which are available free of charge by writing to: Client Services, First State Investments (UK) Limited, Finsbury Circus House, Finsbury Circus, London, EC2M 7EB or by telephoning 0800 587 4141 between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday or by visiting www.firststateinvestments.com. Telephone calls may be recorded. The distribution or purchase of shares in the funds, or entering into an investment agreement with First State Investments may be restricted in certain jurisdictions.

Representative and Paying Agent in Switzerland: The representative and paying agent in Switzerland is BNP Paribas Securities Services, Paris, succursale de Zurich, Selnaustrasse 16, 8002 Zurich, Switzerland. Place where the relevant documentation may be obtained: The prospectus, key investor information documents (KIIDs), the instrument of incorporation as well as the annual and semi-annual reports may be obtained free of charge from the representative in Switzerland.

First State Investments (UK) Limited and First State Investments International Limited are part of Colonial First State Asset Management (“CFSGAM”) which is the consolidated asset management division of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124. CFSGAM includes a number of entities in different jurisdictions, operating in Australia as CFSGAM and as First State Investments elsewhere. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (“Bank”) and its subsidiaries do not guarantee the performance of any investment or entity referred to in this document or the repayment of capital. Any investments referred to are not deposits or other liabilities of the Bank or its subsidiaries, and are subject to investment risk including loss of income and capital invested.

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