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Growth selloff hits JPMorgan Japan Small Cap

JPMorgan Japan Small Cap Growth and Income reports that, for the 12 months ended 31 March 2022, it produced an NAV return of -24.6% and a return to shareholders of -23.3%. These compare to a return of -8.1% for the benchmark, the MSCI Japan Small Cap Index.

The chairman says that “This underperformance was the result of the portfolio’s focus on quality and growth stocks. As in other major markets, high growth stocks, especially in the technology sector, were hit especially hard as investors focused on rising interest rates, spiralling inflation and the tragic events in Ukraine and tended to ignore the fundamental operational performance of businesses. Japanese growth stocks were caught up in this sell-off, even though inflation in Japan remains very low and the Bank of Japan is unlikely to raise interest rates in the foreseeable future.”

The trust pays a regular dividend equal to 1% of the NAV on the last business day of the preceding financial quarter. Over the year ended 31st March 2022, quarterly dividends paid totalled 20.3p per share (2021: 21.9p).

Extract from the manager’s report

Stock selection was responsible for most of the underperformance during the 12 months under review, although sector selection also detracted from relative performance to a more modest extent.

At the stock level, several names made significant positive contributions to returns:

•   MEC manufactures advanced adhesion enhancer products used in printed circuit boards. The company is a global leader in this niche market. Its products improve adhesion between the wiring and insulating materials in semiconductors, which is key to manufacturers’ efforts to reduce the size of semiconductor units. With semiconductors in significant and growing demand, for use in a vast array of products including electric vehicles, smartphones, wearable tech and many household items, we expect MEC to enjoy continued solid revenue growth over coming years and we have maintained our off benchmark holding.

•   C. Uyemura is another niche market player and off benchmark position. The company produces specialist chemicals and plating machinery used in EVs, smartphones, and other home appliances. It is benefitting from structural changes in mobile telecommunications, as the sector transitions from 4G to 5G – the electronic parts used in 5G smartphone require higher quality and more extensive plating technology. C. Uyemura is well-positioned in high-end plating, with a dominant market share and few new competitors, as the market is too small for large players to enter aggressively.

•   Litalico provides employment support to people with disabilities. Japanese society is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of diversity and inclusion, and companies are stepping up efforts to create welcoming workplaces for workers regardless of their gender, age, nationality, or disabilities. Litalico is Japan’s number one provider of support services for disabled people.

The favourable impact of these stocks on relative performance was more than offset by negative contributions from a number of holdings, including:

•   Our holding in Miura, which is a pioneer in the manufacture of compact, energy-efficient gas boilers. These boilers are much more environmentally friendly than coal-fired versions. Miura has a dominant share of the Japanese market, with a high proportion of profits from recurring revenues, and there is a long-term growth opportunity in China, where the market is six times larger, and 80% of boilers are still coal-fired. Miura’s expansion into China has stalled due to China’s severe lockdowns, but we continue to hold this name due to our confidence in the company’s long-term growth potential.

•   Another off benchmark position in SpiderPlus, which supplies digital drafting, photographic and other software services to the construction industry. These services deliver productivity gains by significantly reducing the amount of manual labour involved in such tasks. The company’s share price has corrected during the broad-based sell-off in growth stocks, rather than for stock specific reasons, and we continue to hold this name.

•   RAKSUL, which is Japan’s leading provider of specialist EC printing services for businesses. Compared to other printing EC players who operate printing facilities, Raksul employs a sharing economy model utilising idle capacity in regional printing facilities to realise value without having to carry the cost of any fixed asset required for printing themselves. This allows them to continue improving user experience and enjoy a higher margin and return. EC printing still only comprises less than 5% of Japan’s overall market for business printing services, suggesting significant growth potential given that penetration rates are around 30% in countries such as Germany. As in the case of SpiderPlus, Raksul’s share price has been dragged lower in the recent sell-off without any underlying fundamental justification, and we continue to hold.

With respect to sector allocation, as mentioned above, the kind of stocks we favour tend to be concentrated in those sectors which have been hardest hit in the recent market decline, while lower-value, lower-quality stocks in economically-sensitive sectors such as transport, banks and consumer goods, which we generally avoid, have done relatively well. Accordingly, the top detractor from performance at the sector level over the past year, by a significant margin, was our overweight in IT software & services. The portfolio’s underweightings in transportation and real estate also detracted more modestly. However, our overweight in semiconductors & semiconductor equipment, and our underweight in food, beverage & tobacco, made positive contributions to returns.

Gearing stood at 6.1% at the end of the financial year, down from 8.1% at the end of FY21. Given the significant decline in the company’s NAV, gearing negatively impacted returns over the year.

JSGI : Growth selloff hits JPMorgan Japan Small Cap

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