US-based fund managers eye British homebuilders, banks before Brexit vote

By: | Published: June 22, 2016 10:34 PM

Market volatility heading into Thursday's British vote on whether to remain in the European Union is creating opportunities to buy homebuilders, banks and consumer companies linked to the domestic economy in Britain, contrarian fund managers from several well-known firms say.

Market volatility heading into Thursday’s British vote on whether to remain in the European Union is creating opportunities to buy homebuilders, banks and consumer companies linked to the domestic economy in Britain, contrarian fund managers from several well-known firms say.

Their argument: That domestic companies should hold up better than the market expects even if voters elect to leave the European Union, partly because they tend to have strong balance sheets and could weather the costs of a transition. Domestic-focused British companies would also see less of an impact by any declines in the value of the sterling.

“Obviously, the stock market could be worse in the short-term with a ‘leave’ vote, but we don’t see demand for services being impacted significantly,” said Connor Muldoon, a portfolio manager at Causeway Capital Management, which manages $40 billion in total assets. Muldoon’s funds owns banks such as Lloyd’s Banking Group PLC that are large mortgage lenders and which are down for the year to date.

Domestic companies have been the most hurt in the run-up to the referendum. The FTSE 250 index, made up of companies on the London Stock Exchange that tend to be more dependent on domestic spending, is down 2.5 percent in the year to date, while the larger, more globally focused companies in the FTSE 100 are up slightly for the year.

Vince Montemaggiore, who manages the $5.3 billion Fidelity Overseas Fund, said that he remains overweight on companies “with a defensible moat” that focus on the British domestic economy, while remaining underweight on Europe as a whole.

Consumer company Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC, the parent of brands ranging from Durex condoms to Lysol disinfectant spray, was among his top holdings in his April quarterly disclosures, according to Morningstar data.

“I do like the odds but we have to wait as the world figures out what the future is going to look like in Europe,” he said.

Jim Tringas, a portfolio manager at Wells Fargo Asset Management who co-manages the $226 million Global Opportunities Fund and the $941 million Special Small Cap Value fund, said that he added to Britain-focused real estate stocks over the last week as the market swooned.

“We’ve been finding opportunities to buy very strong franchises that were down significantly because of the macro factor,” he said.

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