Abrdn’s £1.8bn Murray International returns 8.6%

Murray International co-manager Samantha Fitzpatrick

Abrdn’s £1.8 billion Murray International Trust net asset value (NAV) has posted a total return — with net income reinvested — of +8.6% for 2023.

The aim of the fund is to achieve an “above average dividend yield, with long term growth in dividends and capital ahead of inflation, by investing principally in global equities.”

The fund’s full year dividend will be 11.5p, a rise of 2.7%, and the 19th year of dividend increase for the company.

The trust’s biggest investments included Broadcom Corporation of the US, Aeroporto del Sureste of Mexico, BE Semiconductor of the Netherlands, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, AbbVie of the US, TotalEnergies of France, Philip Morris International and CME Group of the US, Oversea-Chinese Bank of Singapore and Samsung Electronics of Korea.

Murray International co-manager Samantha Fitzpatrick said: “Over the full financial year, the 8.6% NAV total return was welcomed, marking a return to real growth given the moderating UK Retail Prices inflation rate of 5.2%.

“Whereas overall global equity index strength tended to be extremely concentrated in just a handful of large US technology stocks, the portfolio’s positive performance in total return terms was spread across numerous regions, sectors and businesses.

“For the second consecutive year, Latin America delivered by far the strongest regional index returns. This was partially reflected in portfolio returns with a +16% contribution to overall total return from the region.

“Whilst mining exposures to iron ore and lithium in Brazil and Chile struggled to make much progress in a world of falling commodity prices, consumer focused businesses such as Grupo Asur, Kimberly Clark de Mexico, Walmex and Banco Bradesco all performed strongly.

“The strongest regional portfolio performance was recorded from Europe with a +22% total return from the diversified asset exposure.

“A combination of strong earnings and dividend growth relative to muted expectations provided the impetus for above average returns from Swedish industrials Epiroc and Atlas Copco, German conglomerate Siemens, Italian electric utility Enel and BE Semiconductor in the Netherlands.

“Less impressive, yet still positive, total returns were also delivered by North American and Asian exposures.

“The majority of holdings in the United States contributed positively to total returns, with the portfolio’s largest holding, technology giant Broadcom, being the standout performer.”

Murray International co-manager Martin Connaghan

Murray International co-manager Martin Connaghan said: “From an overall investment perspective, the emphasis continues to favour diversified asset exposures in companies deemed to be beneficiaries of the evolving backdrop, maintaining a ‘barbell’ strategy of owning both growth and cyclical stocks.

“Selective growth companies, where yields tend to be lower, should continue to benefit from accelerating trends in industrial automation, semiconductor miniaturisation and digital communications.

“The greatest potential for positive cyclical momentum upside surprises can still be identified in Asia and other countries where substantial infrastructure spending and pent-up consumer demand exist.

“Corporate earnings may be under recessionary threat in many parts of the world, but upwards earnings and dividend revisions in Latin America and Asia will likely emerge as domestic interest rates decline. In such regions, sectors and businesses the portfolio remains meaningfully invested.”

Murray International co-manager Bruce Stout said: “Predicting dividend income over the financial year proved relatively straightforward notwithstanding the usual difficulties associated with accurately estimating dividends from cyclical businesses involved in energy, commodities and technology.

“Whilst positive cash flows on which dividends depend are arithmetically uncomplicated to identify, the “willingness to pay” remains very much in the hands of the pursekeeper. Thankfully the majority of holdings did not disappoint.

“Dividend increases from portfolio holdings generally matched conservative estimates, with 80% falling into this category. Over the period the net effect from positive surprises (Oversea-Chinese Bank Corp, Grupo Asur, Tryg Insurance) versus negative surprises (BE Semiconductor, Sociedad Quimica Y Minera) was negligible.

“Overall gross income accrued marginally increased year-on-year, with earnings per share growth of +1.7% reflecting fewer shares outstanding than the previous period.”