Monthly Commentary

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May 2020

Market Review

Global equity markets continued to advance in May with the MSCI All Country World gaining 6.6%, while the S&P 500 and DJ Euro Stoxx 600 increased by 7% and 7.3% respectively (all in sterling terms). The gains in May built on April’s initial recovery were fuelled by optimism that the worst of the pandemic had passed, together with the hope that policymakers had done enough to ward off an economic depression. Easing of lockdown measures at a faster-than-expected rate across many countries and positive vaccine news enabled the strong equity market performance to continue into early June. There are now over 100 vaccine candidates under development with eight in clinical studies. Several pharmaceutical companies are now guiding towards an end of 2020 timeframe to have limited doses ready for front-line workers. The VIX Index, the market’s fear gauge, continued to normalise and fell 19% to 27.5 at the end of May. Oil experienced another dramatic month, as Brent increased 34% to $37 a barrel, almost doubling from the April low.

While forward-looking economic data has begun to show signs of improvement, we continue to receive confirmation of the extent of the damage that has been caused by COVID-19. In many cases, the data represents levels never witnessed before. Unemployment rates have increased, but by varying degrees dependent upon the availability and level of government-subsidised furlough schemes. The EU unemployment rate rose to 6.6% in April, only modestly above the 6.4% rate in March, as more than 40 million people across Europe have enrolled in furlough schemes. In the US by contrast, the unemployment rate has surged to 14.7%, from 4.4% in March, as over 20 million people lost their jobs in April. The May non-farm payroll report delivered a major positive surprise with 2.5 million jobs added (versus -7.5 million expected) which took the unemployment rate back down to 13.3%. Future unemployment trends are likely to be a key barometer in determining the shape of the recovery.   

As lockdown restrictions are lifted, ‘mobility’ data has become a crucial leading indicator for gauging economic activity. Apple’s mobility trends report shows that in early June request for driving directions (within its map app) have returned to pre-COVID-19 levels in both the US and Germany. It highlights that the UK and Italy are on the path to recovery but remain 28% and 14% respectively below their January baselines. Promising mobility data is providing further confidence in the degree of economic revival, but its readthrough to economic activity and consumer spending should be viewed in the context of a US consumer savings rate that spiked to 33% from a 6-9% range over the past five years. 

Fiscal policy support from governments remains forthcoming as the European Commission proposed a €750bn Recovery Fund. This represents a milestone event as it would mark the first time that the EU has issued common debt. A further round of fiscal stimulus in the US is also being negotiated and could take the form of an extension to the CARES act in the region of an additional $1trn. State and particularly local government budgets remain under extreme pressure but the scale and co-ordination of the policy response to COVID-19 continues to act as a backstop to financial markets.

Technology Review

The technology sector rallied further during May, the Dow Jones Global Technology Index continued to outperform the broader market, gaining 8.6% in sterling terms. The internet subsector was particularly strong (NASDAQ Internet Index returning 13.1% during the month) on the back of continued strength in ecommerce datapoints despite reopening activity.

Software results have been strong considering the macro backdrop, with many companies reporting solid demand trends into April and May. Numerous companies have commented that they have been pleasantly surprised by the efficiency of working from home, which also benefits company cost structures, and several (eg Facebook, Square, Twitter) are planning to significantly increase their use of remote working beyond the crisis. RingCentral reported results above expectations and raised guidance. COVID-19 has placed a spotlight on the limitations of legacy on-premise communication systems, especially within some of the company’s key verticals (education, healthcare and financial services). We expect to see an ongoing tailwind for unified communications, video chat and even virtual reality (VR) longer term.

Remote security vendor Okta delivered a solid quarter, with billings +42% y/y, 10% ahead of consensus estimates, but did not raise full year guidance due to macroeconomic uncertainty. Data analytics plays Alteryx and Splunk had solid results. Splunk’s annual recurring revenue (ARR) grew 52% y/y and cloud revenue surged 81% y/y; management withdrew full year guidance but reiterated Splunk’s FY23 $1bn free cash flow target. There had been concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on software companies with high exposure to large-scale digital transformation initiatives, travel and hospitality verticals and small and medium business (SMB) customers, but results from ServiceNow, Twilio and HubSpot were better than expected. In contrast to several of their peers, Salesforce gave conservative full year guidance, baking in a second wave of COVID-19 infections (a W-shaped recovery) despite giving positive commentary about demand trends in April and May. We have taken profits in several software names due to elevated valuations which, in some cases, look at odds with potential uncertainty in 2H20 when furlough schemes and income support are likely withdrawn.

In video gaming, Activision Blizzard reported stellar quarterly results driven by strength in their Call of Duty franchise, as well as several weeks of increased demand due to stay-at-home restrictions. June quarter guidance was well above expectations and management raised FY EPS guidance by more than Q1 beat, despite their typical conservatism. Take-Two Interactive Software reported even more impressive results and next quarter guidance, driven by Grand Theft Auto and NBA 2K, but the stock sold off as management initiated conservative full-year guidance. None of the publishers have factored in any stay-at-home benefit beyond the June quarter. While we expect a fairly rapid normalisation of demand once restrictions have been eased, we expect a less pronounced but enduring tailwind from new and lapsed players returning to the gaming ecosystem.

In payments, PayPal Holdings rallied despite a weaker than expected March quarter, due to the strength of net account adds in April and May, driven by non-Amazon e-commerce strength across many categories. PayPal Holdings noted that strong e-commerce trends have continued in areas where stay-at-home restrictions have been eased and new sign-ups are engaging at a higher rate than previous cohorts. PayPal Holdings also indicated an opportunity to re-evaluate their longer-term margin structure given these tailwinds, which bodes well for future earnings growth.

In the semiconductor sector, NVIDIA reported strong results with gaming revenues up 27% y/y and data centre revenues jumping a massive 80% y/y, benefiting from stay-at-home demand. Management gave healthy guidance for the July quarter, which will benefit from the ramp of the newly unveiled Ampere GA100 GPU data centre chip, featuring 20x the performance of the Volta GPU predecessor. This product cycle should help offset any potential weakness in cloud capex spending in the second half of the year. Semiconductor companies have been reporting solid work-from-home/cloud demand, but there are concerns about elevated component inventory levels at several large consumer electronics customers and a report from Nikkei at the end of the month revealed that Huawei has built up a two-year reserve of the most important US chips to shield from further restrictions from Washington. The sector is at the epicentre of the trade war between the US and China, which reignited when the Trump administration announced more severe restrictions on the company. New rules from the Commerce Department require any company selling chips to Huawei or an affiliate to obtain a licence if the design and production process uses US intellectual property, equipment or software (we had reduced our exposure to US-based semiconductor software design companies Synopsis and Cadence earlier in the month). Within three days, TSMC stopped taking new orders from Huawei, its largest customer and said that it will invest $12bn in a fabrication plant in Arizona. The situation escalated further when China approved legislation to tighten its control over Hong Kong, prompting President Trump to eliminate special treatment for the city, as well as several other measures, but he did not impose additional tariffs or backtrack from the phase one trade deal.

Within internet, Spotify Technology rallied after signing Joe Rogan to a multi-year exclusive podcast deal (worth $100m), an event which could be analogous to Netflix’s ‘House of Cards moment’, driving subscriber growth and diversifying the business beyond music. Uber reacted positively to better than feared results, with management calling the bottom in its ride-share business (noting improvement in recent weeks) and outlining cost cutting measures being taken to protect profitability. Uber Ride bookings declined by 80% in April, but the impact was partially offset by Uber Eats, which increased by 90% to reach a $25bn run rate. Food delivery rival Grubhub reported better than expected results, with management noting that daily active grubs (DAGs) surged >100% in some markets outside New York City during April. Uber has reportedly made an offer to acquire Grubhub, which would provide significant scale benefits, as well as revenue and cost synergies, but there has been regulatory push back given that the combined entity would have c55% share of the US third-party food delivery industry. House Antitrust Subcommittee Chair David Ciccilline called the proposed deal “a new low in pandemic profiteering”.

Despite hopes that their response to COVID-19 would redeem them, regulators continue to put pressure on the likes of Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook. Alphabet faces a Department of Justice (DoJ) antitrust lawsuit, focused on the dominance of its advertising, search and android mobile operating system businesses. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos declined to attend when he was called to testify before Congress following a WSJ investigation that found employees used data on third-party sellers to launch competing products. Meanwhile, Senator Josh Hawley is pushing for a DoJ antitrust probe against the company. Facebook was criticised for acquiring Giphy, a relatively small company, leading to an FTC (Federal Trade Commission) investigation. President Trump also took a swing at social media companies after a disagreement with Twitter, which flagged a pair of his tweets with a fact-checking label, resulting in an Executive Order which aims to limit legal protections for social media companies that unfairly suppress free speech. We believe the success of this Executive Order is unlikely. We hold sizable absolute positions in these mega-cap internet names because we feel much of the risk has already been factored into the stock valuations (bar worst case outcomes), but we remain underweight all of them except Amazon which is not in our benchmark.

First-quarter earnings season has provided some clarity about the near-term outlook, although the shape of the recovery remains uncertain. We continue to assess the impact of COVID-19 (as well as civil unrest) on the economy and the market and adjust the portfolio accordingly. Given that all 50 US states have now partially reopened, we began rotating the portfolio out of stay-at-home plays where we expect to see a normalisation of demand and moved into companies that will benefit from more durable behavioural changes, as well as areas that stand to benefit the most from easing restrictions. We therefore took profits/reduced our exposure to Amazon, Netflix and Spotify Technology and exited Twitter prior to current political concerns as strong usage has not translated into sufficient monetisation.

We initiated positions in Shimano (bike/e-bike) and Match (online dating), which we believe will continue to benefit as lockdown restrictions are eased. Match recently said that Tinder subscriber trends stabilised in April while, somewhat counterintuitively, daily active users and daily swipes reached all-time highs in the depths of the crisis. We also added to areas that should benefit from stimulus spending like 5G infrastructure and areas that should outperform if there is a sharp recovery such as industrial automation/robotics and semiconductors (STMicroelectronics). We increased exposure to longer duration recovery plays such as Uber (ride sharing) and TripAdvisor (travel), where demand will be slower to recover but valuations became too depressed in our view. We continue to focus on balance sheet strength (ideally net cash) and liquidity.

Outlook

We have been reluctant to call the shape of the economic recovery given the wide range of possible outcomes for both the pandemic and economic trajectories. For COVID-19 itself, a second wave remains possible, as does the potential for a vaccine in the near term. The global economy has so far been well supported by policymakers but if confidence in their ability to deliver economic safe passage should slip then the fiscal and monetary bridge back to normalcy could easily fracture.

One challenge we face is that as economic growth reaccelerates from a government-induced slowdown, the recovery may look V-shaped as pent-up demand is unlocked and economic activity rebounds. It is more difficult to ascertain whether economic activity is returning to the same level as before COVID-19, or just rebounding quickly to a lower level. We have met (virtually) with a large number of technology companies during recent months and while many are noting ongoing strength in building their sales pipelines there remains a high degree of uncertainty as to the speed at which business might close and how the second half of the year will play out. Management teams who were around in 2008 (and even in 2000) have tended to be more cautious.

It was a striking endorsement of the technology sector’s criticality that it was able to keep a modern global economy working relatively effectively during a lockdown induced by a global pandemic. To have tried to tackle COVID-19 with the technological infrastructure and tools available even 25 years ago would have been dramatically more challenging: no Amazon, Ocado, Zoom or Netflix. These services made lockdowns far more bearable, but in so doing they shone a light on the enormous power of the large technology companies. It is partly because the technology sector was able to keep the world running during the height of the COVID-19 crisis that it is already finding itself under increasing scrutiny. The sector’s longstanding positioning of itself as a neutral platform may be increasingly difficult to maintain. We expect a period of social and economic recalibration as the world emerges from the COVID-19 crisis, which could manifest in further civil unrest as issues surrounding inequality, intergenerational fairness and the rollback of globalization come more acutely into focus as the immediate threat of the pandemic wanes. We are only five months from the US presidential election and a wide range of outcomes are still possible.

While the portfolio continues to favour structural winners and beneficiaries of a post-COVID-19 recalibration, we are mindful of software valuations that are fully recovered to 2019 highs. As such, we have continued to pare our exposure, preferring to increase some of our more cyclical positions which should also benefit from a faster-than-expected return to normal. However, we continue to believe that many of the themes to which the portfolio has significant exposure will enjoy structural tailwinds as we emerge from the crisis.

Ben Rogoff

Disclaimer

Important Information: This document is provided for the sole use of the intended recipient and is not a financial promotion. It shall not and does not constitute an offer or solicitation of an offer to make an investment into any Fund or Company managed by Polar Capital. It may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Polar Capital and is not intended for private investors. This document is only made available to professional clients and eligible counterparties. The law restricts distribution of this document in certain jurisdictions; therefore, it is the responsibility of the reader to inform themselves about and observe any such restrictions. It is the responsibility of any person/s in possession of this document to inform themselves of, and to observe, all applicable laws and regulations of any relevant jurisdiction. Polar Capital Technology Trust plc is an investment company with investment trust status and as such its ordinary shares are excluded from the FCA’s (Financial Conduct Authority’s) restrictions which apply to non-mainstream investment products. The Company conducts its affairs and intends to continue to do so for the foreseeable future so that the exclusion continues to apply. It is not designed to contain information material to an investor’s decision to invest in Polar Capital Technology Trust plc, an Alternative Investment Fund under the Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive 2011/61/EU (“AIFMD”) managed by Polar Capital LLP the appointed Alternative Investment Manager. In relation to each member state of the EEA (each a “Member State”) which has implemented the AIFMD, this document may only be distributed and shares may only be offered or placed in a Member State to the extent that (1) the Fund is permitted to be marketed to professional investors in the relevant Member State in accordance with AIFMD; or (2) this document may otherwise be lawfully distributed and the shares may otherwise be lawfully offered or placed in that Member State (including at the initiative of the investor). As at the date of this document, the Fund has not been approved, notified or registered in accordance with the AIFMD for marketing to professional investors in any member state of the EEA. However, such approval may be sought or such notification or registration may be made in the future. Therefore this document is only transmitted to an investor in an EEA Member State at such investor’s own initiative. SUCH INFORMATION, INCLUDING RELEVANT RISK FACTORS, IS CONTAINED IN THE COMPANY’S OFFER DOCUMENT WHICH MUST BE READ BY ANY PROSPECTIVE INVESTOR.

Statements/Opinions/Views: All opinions and estimates constitute the best judgment of Polar Capital as of the date hereof, but are subject to change without notice, and do not necessarily represent the views of Polar Capital. This material does not constitute legal or accounting advice; readers should contact their legal and accounting professionals for such information. All sources are Polar Capital unless otherwise stated.

Third-party Data: Some information contained herein has been obtained from third party sources and has not been independently verified by Polar Capital. Neither Polar Capital nor any other party involved in or related to compiling, computing or creating the data makes any express or implied warranties or representations with respect to such data (or the results to be obtained by the use thereof), and all such parties hereby expressly disclaim all warranties of originality, accuracy, completeness, merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose with respect to any data contained herein. 

Holdings:  Portfolio data is “as at” the date indicated and should not be relied upon as a complete or current listing of the holdings (or top holdings) of the Company. The holdings may represent only a small percentage of the aggregate portfolio holdings, are subject to change without notice, and may not represent current or future portfolio composition. Information on particular holdings may be withheld if it is in the Company’s best interest to do so. It should not be assumed that recommendations made in future will be profitable or will equal performance of the securities in this document.  A list of all recommendations made within the immediately preceding 12 months is available upon request.  This document is not a recommendation to purchase or sell any particular security.  It is designed to provide updated information to professional investors to enable them to monitor the Company.

Benchmarks: The following benchmark index is used: Dow Jones Global Technology Index (Total Return). This benchmark is generally considered to be representative of the Technology Equity universe. This benchmark is a broad-based index which is used for comparative/illustrative purposes only and has been selected as it is well known and is easily recognizable by investors. Please refer to www.djindexes.com for further information on this index. Comparisons to benchmarks have limitations as benchmarks volatility and other material characteristics that may differ from the Company. Security holdings, industry weightings and asset allocation made for the Company may differ significantly from the benchmark. Accordingly, investment results and volatility of the Company may differ from those of the benchmark. The indices noted in this document are unmanaged, are unavailable for direct investment, and are not subject to management fees, transaction costs or other types of expenses that the Company may incur. The performance of the indices reflects reinvestment of dividends and, where applicable, capital gain distributions. Therefore, investors should carefully consider these limitations and differences when evaluating the comparative benchmark data performance. Information regarding indices is included merely to show general trends in the periods indicated, it is not intended to imply that the Company was similar to the indices in composition or risk.

Regulatory Status: Polar Capital LLP is a limited liability partnership number OC314700. It is authorised and regulated by the UK Financial Conduct Authority (“FCA”) and is registered as an investment adviser with the US Securities & Exchange Commission (“SEC”). A list of members is open to inspection at the registered office, 16 Palace Street, London, SW1E 5JD. FCA authorised and regulated Investment Managers are expected to write to investors in funds they manage with details of any side letters they have entered into. The FCA considers a side letter to be an arrangement known to the Investment Manager which can reasonably be expected to provide one investor with more materially favourable rights, than those afforded to other investors. These rights may, for example, include enhanced redemption rights, capacity commitments or the provision of portfolio transparency information which are not generally available. The Company and the Investment Manager are not aware of, or party to, any such arrangement whereby an investor has any preferential redemption rights. However, in exceptional circumstances, such as where an investor seeds a new fund or expresses a wish to invest in the Company over time, certain investors have been or may be provided with portfolio transparency information and/or capacity commitments which are not generally available. Investors who have any questions concerning side letters or related arrangements should contact the Polar Capital Desk at the Registrar on 0800 876 6889. The Company is prepared to instruct the custodian of the Company, upon request, to make available to investors portfolio custody position balance reports monthly in arrears.

Information Subject to Change: The information contained herein is subject to change, without notice, at the discretion of Polar Capital and Polar Capital does not undertake to revise or update this information in any way.

Forecasts: References to future returns are not promises or estimates of actual returns Polar Capital may achieve. Forecasts contained herein are for illustrative purposes only and does not constitute advice or a recommendation. Forecasts are based upon subjective estimates and assumptions about circumstances and events that have not and may not take place. 

Performance/Investment Process/Risk: Performance is shown net of fees and expenses and includes the reinvestment of dividends and capital gain distributions. Factors affecting the Company’s performance may include changes in market conditions (including currency risk) and interest rates and in response to other economic, political, or financial developments. The Company’s investment policy allows for it to enter into derivatives contracts. Leverage may be generated through the use of such financial instruments and investors must be aware that the use of derivatives may expose the Company to greater risks, including, but not limited to, unanticipated market developments and risks of illiquidity, and is not suitable for all investors. Those in possession of this document must read the Company’s Investment Policy and Annual Report for further information on the use of derivatives.  Past performance is not a guide to or indicative of future results. Future returns are not guaranteed and a loss of principal may occur. Investments are not insured by the FDIC (or any other state or federal agency), or guaranteed by any bank, and may lose value. No investment process or strategy is free of risk and there is no guarantee that the investment process or strategy described herein will be profitable.

Allocations: The strategy allocation percentages set forth in this document are estimates and actual percentages may vary from time-to-time. The types of investments presented herein will not always have the same comparable risks and returns. Please see the private placement memorandum or prospectus for a description of the investment allocations as well as the risks associated therewith. Please note that the Company may elect to invest assets in different investment sectors from those depicted herein, which may entail additional and/or different risks. Performance of the Company is dependent on the Investment Manager’s ability to identify and access appropriate investments, and balance assets to maximize return to the Company while minimizing its risk. The actual investments in the Company may or may not be the same or in the same proportion as those shown herein. 

Country Specific disclaimers: The Company has not been and will not be registered under the U.S. Investment Company Act of 1940, as amended (the "Investment Company Act") and the holders of its shares will not be entitled to the benefits of the Investment Company Act. In addition, the offer and sale of the Securities have not been, and will not be, registered under the U.S. Securities Act of 1933, as amended (the "Securities Act"). No Securities may be offered or sold or otherwise transacted within the United States or to, or for the account or benefit of U.S. Persons (as defined in Regulation S of the Securities Act). In connection with the transaction referred to in this document the shares of the Company will be offered and sold only outside the United States to, and for the account or benefit of non U.S. Persons in "offshore- transactions" within the meaning of, and in reliance on the exemption from registration provided by Regulation S under the Securities Act. No money, securities or other consideration is being solicited and, if sent in response to the information contained herein, will not be accepted. Any failure to comply with the above restrictions may constitute a violation of such securities laws.

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Important Legal Information

Launched in 1996, Polar Capital Technology Trust plc (“PCT”) has grown to become a leading European investor with a multi-cycle track record. Managed by a team of dedicated technology specialists, the PCT aims to maximise long-term capital growth by investing in a diversified portfolio of technology companies from around the world. The managers’ core belief in rigorous fundamental analysis, and being unconstrained by not following a benchmark, enables PCT to deliver global equity market outperformance through exposure to a universe of over 3,000 companies.

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The information contained within this website is issued by Polar Capital Technology Trust plc (‘Polar Capital Technology Trust’) and is provided for reference purposes only. Nothing herein is intended to be construed as an offer, invitation or inducement to engage in investment activity, or investment advice or recommendation, in relation to the shares of Polar Capital Technology Trust and should not be relied upon as such by any person. Prospective investors should take advice from their financial or other professional advisers before making any investment decision.

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The securities of Polar Capital Technology Trust referred to on this website (the "Securities") have not been and will not be registered under the US Securities Act of 1933, as amended (the "Securities Act") and may not be offered or sold in or into the United States or to, or for the account or benefit of, US persons (as defined in Regulation S under the Securities Act) absent registration under the Securities Act or pursuant to an applicable exemption from, or in a transaction not subject to, the registration requirements of the Securities Act and in compliance with any applicable securities laws of any state or other jurisdiction of the United States. Polar Capital Technology Trust will not be registered under the U.S. Investment Company Act of 1940, as amended, and investors in the Securities will not be entitled to the protections of that Act.

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Please remember that past performance of an investment is not necessarily a guide to future performance. The value of an investment and the income from it can fall as well as rise as a result of market and currency fluctuations and you may not get back the amount originally invested. The market value of the shares of Polar Capital Technology Trust may not reflect the underlying net asset value of the investments held by Polar Capital Technology Trust. Polar Capital Technology Trust is able to borrow to raise further funds for investment purposes if the fund manager and the board of directors consider that it may be commercially advantageous to do so. This is generally described as “gearing”. An investment trust which has made investments as a result of gearing may have a more volatile share price as a result; gearing can increase shareholder returns in rising markets but conversely can increase the extent to which the value of the funds attributable to shareholders decreases in falling markets. Tax assumptions may change if the law changes, and the value of tax relief (if any) will depend upon your individual circumstances. Investors should consult their own tax advisers in order to understand any applicable tax consequences.

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