We are pleased to report that the fund rose 28% in 2019, outperforming the MSCI World Net GBP Index by 5%1. From launch in September 2017 to the end of 2019, the fund gained 43% as compared to 21% for the average fund in the IA global sector2 and 24% for the MSCI World Net GBP Index1.
Share prices can be volatile in the short term, but we believe that returns for investors inevitably follow growth in underlying company earnings and cash flows over time. During 2019, the aggregated forward earnings expectations of companies in our portfolio rose by 18%, 12% greater than that of the MSCI World Index which rose by 6%3.
Software companies, particularly Microsoft, Adobe, Ansys and Veeva, were strong contributors to returns during 2019. Software remains a large weighting in the fund as we continue to believe that the market undervalues the long-term earnings power of these businesses. We exited our position in Veeva as our view of the competitive environment changed and valuation became more challenging.
Digital payments was another area of strength with Mastercard, Visa and PayPal all delivering healthy returns. We increased our weighting in Mastercard and Visa as we gained further confidence in durability of their business models with the majority of ‘fintech’ innovation continued to take place on top of, rather than around, their payment rails. The most notable example of which was perhaps Mastercard powering the Apple Card.
Adidas was another strong contributor, but we exited the position during the year as the valuation became less attractive. We also sold Smith and Nephew on the back of a strong run, while our assessment of management changed due to the earlier than expected departure of the CEO.
On the negative side, a new position in Verisk Analytics weighed as the shares de-rated. We remain happy with the core thesis and the performance of the business. Unilever was also a drag as the company experienced slower sales growth than expected in India.
During the year we reduced the cash weighting in the fund from 15% to 10% as we were able to find new ideas at sufficiently attractive prices.
Notable new positions include Boston Scientific, a medical device company whose management team and portfolio of minimally invasive products we rate highly and where we see an attractive valuation. We also built a small position in LVMH, attracted by the impossible-to-replicate nature of heritage luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, an exceptional management team and a reasonable valuation. We also added a new position in Dassault Systèmes, where its market leading products CATIA and SolidWorks are deeply embedded in the manufacturing industry, together with its 3DExperience platform strengthening competitive position.
We continue to invest in businesses whose earnings and cash flows, we believe, will grow 1) significantly over time, 2) largely irrespective of the economic environment and 3) to an extent that is underappreciated by the market. While markets may remain volatile in the short term, we remain optimistic about the pipeline of investment opportunities and the future growth prospects of the Fund.
1 Source: Bloomberg.
2 Source: Lipper.
3 Source: Internal calculation based on Bloomberg data.
Please remember that past performance is not a guide to future performance and that your capital is at risk. Please note also that references to portfolio companies do not constitute investment recommendations.