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The Swell 80/20 rule

Tuesday 03 October 2017

Industry insights

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Clients often ask us how we allocate our time to investing each day. We spend 80% of our time on existing portfolio investments, and 20% on  prospecting for new ideas. The reason we allocate so much time to existing investments is a function of our concentrated approach to investing and our focus on downside protection. When you own a concentrated portfolio, it is critically important that you understand your investments better than the market.

When the portfolio consists of some of the largest and most complex businesses in the world, the news flow can be substantial and staying one step ahead requires a lot of work. The biggest challenge we face is wading through mountains of information, selecting the important data and disseminating the information to the Swell investment team. Once we have shared the information, we go about analysing its impact on our investments.

To illustrate, consider Alphabet, one of our largest stock holdings. While the company is better known for its popular search engine, Google, it has made a substantial investment in driverless vehicles. We love companies with hidden value!

Delving into Waymo, Alphabet’s driverless vehicle investment, we can highlight three signposts we have used to assess the value of the business (which is only a very small component of Alphabet).

In the same way that human experience counts behind the wheel, so does miles driven by a computer. Computers learn from experience too. But how can we assess this technology? Fortunately, the US state of California issues autonomous vehicle disengagement reports identifying the number of times a human overrides an autonomous car’s computer. While it does not make for terribly exciting reading, it is an important part of our investment thesis and therefore needs to be monitored closely. Incidentally, Waymo has driven 2.3 million miles, significantly more than its nearest competitor.

Secondly, we evaluate both private and public market transactions within the driverless vehicle space. The industry structure is an expanding and complex web of inter-business partnerships and investments. A recent indicator of value was Intel’s purchase price of US$15B for Mobileye, a company providing vision based, advanced driver-assistance systems. We spent days reviewing Mobileye, its technology and its impact on Waymo.

Lastly, we need to stay abreast of the regulatory and legal skirmishes involving the sector. Currently, we are searching through details arising from the legal battle between Waymo and Uber in what appears to be a clear case of corporate espionage. Waymo is seeking US$1.5B in damages as a result. We also pay close attention to the US state and federal government legislation for new updates.

As you can imagine, applying such a thorough process to every business within our portfolio is time consuming. However, the benefit is that we tend to find pockets of value that the market misses or underestimates and we are able to act swiftly on this new information.

We hope this has provided some information on how we spend our time here at Swell.

Disclaimer:
The information provided in this document is of a general nature only, is not personal investment advice and has been prepared without taking into account your investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs (including financial and taxation issues). Investors should read and consider the investment in full and seek advice from their financial adviser or other professional adviser before deciding to invest.

About the Author
Lachlan Hughes, CFA

Lachlan Hughes, CFA

Chief Investment Officer

Lachlan is the CIO, with responsibility for all investment decisions of the Swell Global Portfolio. Previously Lachlan was a Senior Analyst with NovaPort Capital. During his tenure, the team achieved an annual return of 23.56% over the period from 2009 to 2013, outperforming the S&P/ASX Small Ordinaries Accumulation Index by 15.42% and earning the Lonsec Fund Manager of the Year (Rising Star) award in 2012. Prior to that, Lachlan was a corporate lawyer working with King & Wood Mallesons (Sydney), The Bank of New York (London) and Allco Finance Group.

Lachlan earned the right to use the CFA designation granted by the CFA Institute in 2010. His professional qualifications include a Bachelor of Commerce (Finance) and a Bachelor of Laws.

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