Three trusts for contrarians once the Brexit dust settles
In a world gone apparently mad after the UK vote to leave the EU in June, one might have thought contrarianism would be easy; one just has to stay sane.
But to stand against the tide, so to speak, one has to know whether it is going in or out; the current conditions of economic and, particularly, political uncertainty are unusually hard to read.
Although it seems likely that there will be some deleterious effect on the UK economy, as witnessed by the weakness in the FTSE 250 since the vote, whether Brexit will impact confidence in other countries and ripple round the world politically is uncertain.
But populism seems to be on the rise and we will soon have the Trump versus Clinton show. This does not seem like a propitious background for investors, especially since the global economy is still in doze mode after the financial crisis.
AFTER DUST SETTLES
However, it is often right to ignore politics; somehow we usually muddle through. Could this be different? It may just be a little bit scary.
An obvious pool for the contrarian to dredge at this point is the UK mid-cap sector; Schroder UK Mid Cap, for example, is 15 per cent off its 12-month high and the shares are trading at a discount to net asset value (NAV) of 18 per cent or so.
But if the UK is heading for recession - early signs that the construction sector has slowed down dramatically are not promising - then it may be too early to enter the fray here.
Once the dust has settled investors may like to look at Jupiter UK Growth. Although it is a small trust it is more large-company oriented; it lost something like 10 per cent of its NAV between the referendum and the end of June.
Its top five holdings at the end of May were: Lloyds (-24.7 per cent 23 June to 1 July), Dixons Carphone (-24 per cent), Barclays (-23.5 per cent), Legal & General (-19 per cent) and TalkTalk (+3.4 per cent). This looks pretty contrarian!
But particularly with the large exposure to banks we would be wary of buying here until we see how badly the UK economy is impacted by Brexit.
The fund manager, Steve Davies, not unnaturally sees it slightly differently; he thinks that even under some quite gloomy projections for 2017, Lloyds, for example, should still have earnings of around 4.5p and a dividend of 3p.
At the current price this is a price/earnings ratio of 12 times and a yield of 5.5 per cent. He thinks these fundamentals will be supportive.
Another obvious area is Europe, where markets have taken Brexit badly - although for sterling investors this has been cushioned somewhat by the weakness of sterling against the euro.
The pound fell by more than 9 per cent against the euro from end of May to end of June.
It is a difficult call as to whether Brexit is the first step to the breakup of the EU and hence the harbinger of doom for the eurozone and the euro; or whether, conversely, freed of the UK's restraining influence, and spurred on by the desire not to fall apart, the eurozone will pursue further integration to create the necessary institutions and fiscal policy to make a success of the single currency.
Although it is a fine political judgement, we think on balance the latter may be the case.
Among European trusts, Henderson European Focus has been a strong performer, which up until recently was trading at a premium to NAV; it is now on a discount of 11.1 per cent. We prefer, however, to look at income funds, which may produce the best relative returns.
European Assets - for so long at a premium but now at a 7 per cent discount - could be interesting, but its small company exposure may not be the place to be initially.
We prefer a large company trust such as JPMorgan European Income: this yields 3.9 per cent and has a large, well-diversified portfolio of international stocks.
Finally, with the possibility that developed world economies are going to be stuck in a political quagmire, perhaps it is time to look again at China.
Surveys indicate that manufacturing still seems to be contracting, but services are looking stronger, giving some indication of the much-hoped-for rebalancing.
Long-term investors may consider Fidelity China Special Situations which is at a discount of 18.7 per cent; but expect a volatile ride.
The author is founder of investment trust advisory service IpsoFacto, which offers a free two-month trial to new subscribers.