Monthly Commentary

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December 2019

Market Review

Global equity markets continued to rally in December, although returns were offset by sterling strength which gained 2.5% against the dollar following a convincing victory by the Conservatives in the UK general election. The MSCI All Country World rose 0.8% while the S&P 500 returned 0.3% respectively in sterling terms.

After a volatile end to 2018, which culminated in the S&P 500’s worst December since 1931, global equities surged in 2019, buoyed by the Fed’s volte-face from rate hikes to rate cuts and the resumption of balance sheet expansion. The strong finish to 2019 resulted in a full-year gain of 19.2% for the MSCI All Country World Index, while the S&P 500 gained 23.9%, both in sterling terms. Although growth outperformed value during 2019, there was a significant rotation away from growth and momentum stocks into value and cyclical stocks during the last third of the calendar year.

Global PMI releases remained subdued through 2019 but stabilised in December. The China Caixin Manufacturing PMI increased moderately to 51.8 in November, while the Flash IHS Markit Eurozone Manufacturing PMI for December remained weak at 45.9 but was up modestly from September lows. In the US, the ISM reported that its Manufacturing Index declined to 48.1 in November (49.2 expected), while the Non-Manufacturing Index fell to 53.6 (54.5 expected). The US labour market remains resilient so far, however. The November employment report was better than anticipated: non-farm payrolls climbed 266,000 (182,000 expected), above the upwardly revised readings for September to October, while the unemployment rate declined to 3.5%, matching the lowest jobless rate since 1969.

Given their assessment of the data, the Federal Open Market Committee left the federal funds rate unchanged at 1.5-1.75% at its December meeting (having lowered it by 0.25% at the last three consecutive meetings). The Fed’s forward-looking dot plots suggest an extended pause in rate changes. Monetary policy is already very accommodative given the Fed’s ongoing liquidity injections into the money markets via repo operations and the purchase of treasury bills at a pace of $60bn per month (into 2Q20 or longer). Fed Chair Jerome Powell said that this should not be viewed as QE, but several commentators have dubbed these actions ‘stealth QE’, given the expansion in the Fed’s balance sheet. The US Dollar Index declined 1.9% in December, with concomitant commodity and emerging market strength, the CRB Commodity Index, gaining 5.1% and the MSCI Emerging Markets gaining 7.4%.

Stocks were also buoyed in December by thawing US/China relations; a phase one trade deal was agreed, helping avoid planned 15 December tariffs. The US treasury confirmed that the tariff on $250bn of Chinese imports will remain at 25%, but the tariff rate on $120bn of Chinese imports will be cut from 15% to 7.5%, while China will commit to purchasing $40-50bn of US agricultural goods over two years. President Trump added that phase two discussions will begin immediately but the trade dispute is far from over. NEC Director Kudlow outlined how talks will now focus on forced technology transfers and IP rights which are more intractable issues. The US also threatened to tax $2.4bn of French imports up to 100% after France passed a digital tax law that falls disproportionately on US tech companies.

Technology Review

The technology sector rallied in December and continued to outperform, the Dow Jones World Technology Index advancing 2.6% in sterling terms. For 2019, the same index delivered total returns of 38.8% in sterling terms, substantially ahead of the broader market. During the month, trade-sensitive subsectors fared best – the SOX Semiconductor Index gained 8% in December, with stocks exposed to the Apple or Huawei supply chains delivering stronger performance still. Growth areas underperformed, evidenced by the Bloomberg Americas Software Index which rose 1.8% (both in dollar terms).

There were some notable off-season reports during December which in aggregate added to the positive tone. In semiconductors, Micron* produced results that beat expectations for both revenues and earnings. Management offered bullish commentary on improvements in DRAM and NAND pricing and predicted that their next quarter, ending in February 2020, will be the bottom of the cycle for gross margins and earnings. In software, Adobe delivered a strong earnings report as Digital Media annualised recurring revenue (ARR) reached $8.4bn, growing 23% y/y. The Digital Experience segment rebounded positively following execution issues last quarter. Constructive management commentary, alongside the announcement that they are close to appointing a new leader for the business, suggests Digital Experience may have strong momentum going into 2020. In contrast, Oracle* posted another mixed quarter as they missed on revenues and margins but beat on EPS, aided by a $5bn share buyback. Despite the company’s protestation, its cloud transition remains (perpetually, it seems) in the “early stages”.

Advanced Micro Devices rose sharply during the month (+17.1%), capping an incredible year for the stock (+148%, both in dollar terms). In mid-December, semiconductor industry sources suggested that Intel’s 10nm server processor roadmap could be experiencing further delays, which might push its launch into 2021. Intel have refuted these claims and maintain they will launch Ice Lake, their first 10nm server solution, by the end of 2020. Any further 10nm node delays would be incrementally more positive for Advanced Micro Devices and the competitive positioning of its 7nm EPYC Rome Server CPU ramp into 2020. 

Apple also enjoyed a fitting end (+9.9% during the month) to a remarkable calendar year, with the stock delivering total returns of 89% in local terms. Not only did this represent its strongest annual return since 2005, but it followed the company’s first profit warning in over a decade. During the year, the stock benefited from a massive rerating due to positive developments including stabilization of smartphone supply chain data, AirPod strength, a strong iPhone 11 launch and in anticipation of a 5G-related strength in 2020.


​2020 started with a geopolitical shock as an infamous Iranian general was killed by a US airstrike and tensions escalated in the Middle East. As highlighted previously, Iran remains a key risk and one that President Trump is alive to, declaring his intention to never allow the fundamentalist regime to acquire nuclear weapons. Thankfully, the Iranian response (a targeted attack on the largest US military base in Iraq avoiding any casualties) allowed the US to de-escalate the situation. While neither the US nor Israel will allow Iran to breach the enrichment terms of the nuclear deal indefinitely, for now the immediate risk of conflagration appears to have passed.

Global GDP increased by only 2.2% in 2019, and consensus expectations for 2020 are only modestly higher (The Economist Intelligence Unit suggests c2.4%). The US/China trade war remains the largest known threat to 2020 global growth – the IMF estimates the risk at c0.8% of GDP. There is upside risk to these growth expectations from several sources, however. First, an amelioration in trade relations beyond the phase one deal is certainly possible as President Trump looks to support the US economy into the November 2020 US presidential election. Second, Trump may also promise further fiscal expansion, and this is likely to be matched or surpassed by his Democratic presidential opponent. Fiscal expansion may not be confined to the US. UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid has spoken of a “new economic era” where stubbornly low rates are seen as “a signal to the government that there is more you can do to invest in the economy”. Fiscal stimulus could surprise to the upside if more countries adopt Javid’s line of thinking.

The global rates environment remains supportive of valuations as the Fed changed course during early 2019 and then expanded its balance sheet to support the repo market. As many as 20 central banks eased monetary policy during 2019, and this accommodative stance supports the valuation of long-duration assets such as high-growth technology equities. An area of risk to this view comes from the possibility of inflation picking up, which could put upward pressure on rates. We have (finally) seen wages moving up for lower-skilled workers in the US. The lowest-paid quartile of US works is now seeing wage growth of 4.5% y/y even as the wage growth of the highest-paid quartile has slowed to 3% y/y. Should inflation pick up – and more importantly inflation expectations become untethered from the current floor – then we would likely see upward pressure on rates and potential multiple compression.

Technology Outlook

At the end of a decade it is worth highlighting how far the sector has come since the bubble in 2000. Information technology represented 23% of the S&P 500 Index’s market capitalization at the end of 2019 in contrast to 33% at the peak of the technology bubble in 2000. The proportion of S&P 500 profit generated by the sector has increased from 14% to 19% over the period, even as its weighting has reduced by 10 percentage points.

Software remains our largest sector overweight, and we remain constructive on its outlook as we continue to see the digital transformation of the global economy as one of the dominant economic forces of our time. Flexera’s 2020 State of Tech Spend Report suggested that digital transformation remains the most important technology initiative, with 54% of respondents citing it as a top three priority for 2020. The sustainability of growth rates and improving profitability of software companies as they scale has driven strong long-term returns in the sector and the Trust. Valuations have moderated from summer excesses where software-as-a-service (SaaS) assets growing revenues >40% saw their average EV/forward sales multiple expand from c11x to c23x between December 2018 and August 2019. Multiples are now sitting at more reasonable levels with, for example, software assets growing revenue >40% are now trading at a forward EV/Sales multiple of 14.5x. If we remove the highest-growth (>40% revenue growth) assets from the valuation peer group then the SaaS group is now trading on an average multiple of 8.4x EV/forward revenues – right in the middle of the range of the past three years.

Semiconductors led the way in 2019 despite limited upward earnings revisions; the vast majority of returns were driven by multiple expansion as investors were prepared to look through what they hoped were trough earnings. We believe that some of the rerating was down to investors’ increasing comfort with the lower amplitude of revenue and EPS declines in a cyclical downturn for semiconductor companies. We believe this change is structural to some degree as a more consolidated supply environment and a much broader demand landscape offer a less volatile outlook. As one semiconductor capital equipment company’s CFO put it to us at a recent meeting: “Demand is much more stable when you are selling into a trillion edge devices rather than a few billion handsets.”

The shape and magnitude of the implied semiconductor demand recovery is harder to predict and will be to some extent dependent on the vector of trade negotiations. PMIs are hovering around 50, yet to break back into meaningful expansionary mode. With the Semiconductor Index (SOX) trading at 25.3x P/E at the end of 2019 versus 13.5x P/E twelve months earlier, we believe the market is pricing in a strong rebound in 2020. As such, we have taken profits in selective names – expecting a pause after the recent strength – despite remaining constructive on the longer-term outlook.

We expect a 5G super-cycle beginning in 2020, but most likely second half-weighted as Apple launch their 5G handsets. It is a mark of how far the semiconductor sector has developed that the industry will not live and die by the timing of this cycle alone. We do not expect smartphones to return to meaningful unit growth but remain optimistic that semiconductors will continue to permeate the global economy. Domestic Chinese semiconductor production remains a long-term challenge to the semiconductor industry (see what happened to pricing as China scaled subsidized production in the LED or solar panel industries) but currently remains at trailing edge geometries.

After a tricky 2019 on the back of regulatory noise, the internet sector has a mixed outlook for 2020. Internet companies will continue to face stiffer regulatory scrutiny in the run-up to the 2020 election, but a US presidential election, an Olympic year and a stable macro backdrop could be supportive to overall advertising spend. Google, Facebook and Amazon will make up most of the industry’s growth ex-China, and as yet have shown little sign of cannibalizing one another’s growth. We also expect strong growth in connected TV advertising as Netflix competitors launch ad-supported services and advertisers seek alternatives to linear TV – which is ironically becoming more expensive to advertise on even as it reaches fewer views due to the scarcity of branded mass-media advertising options available. The linear (i.e. non-connected) US TV advertising market is $70bn versus $5bn connected, whereas 20% (and growing) of TV content consumption is on connected TV.

2019 also saw public market investors deliver a dose of reality to loss-making internet platform businesses (Uber, GrubHub*, Lyft*, WeWork* etc). Many of these had spent aggressively, partly as a competitive strategy in and of itself rather than only as a means to reach profitability. There remain pockets of valuation exuberance in private markets – and lots of capital looking for disruption - but the days of capital as a strategy are hopefully in the past.  

Payments and fintech enjoyed another strong year of performance in 2019. In 2020 we will be closely monitoring the success the largest tech companies have in moving deeper into the payments and financial services space. Apple has launched a credit card, Google will launch checking accounts in 2020 and Facebook has a new payment service. We know that financial services are very, very sticky – on average we stay with our bank longer than our spouse – but Big Tech’s massive scale, deep pockets and captive users increase the probability of their success.


We take ESG very seriously. While ESG does not drive our process, many of the elements that go into it are factors we have considered for a long time. We have also made recent efforts at both a firm and team level to improve and quantify this. We have recently introduced a new ESG analysis/scoring framework based on MSCI scores and reports across Polar Capital which ranks each of our holdings (AAA to CCC) on each factor relative to similar technology companies.

We have always considered governance and have voted against board resolutions on many occasions, especially in Asia where governance tends to be weakest. We provide both formal and informal advice where we feel it is appropriate and on occasion have officially written to the boards of our holdings. We are actively engaged around executive pay and the use of stock option awards is something we discuss in most of our company meetings (this is an area we are very focused on given the financial, as well as the moral impact potentially associated with stock issuance). We also subscribe to ISS and incorporate their governance suggestions in our voting process. Judging the quality of a management team and seeing how they respond to negative theses on their companies can provide tremendous insight into the strength of the business case and quality of the leadership. We look for companies led by people we would want to work with ourselves, because if we would not why would the top industry talent want to join them? 

The challenges brought about by a changing climate, an aging population and many other issues can be mitigated to some degree via technological solutions. The 2019 IEA World Energy Outlook is unequivocal: “A sharp pick-up in efficiency improvements is the single most important element that brings the world towards a Sustainable Development Scenario”. From our perspective, while many technology companies have significant room to improve themselves, it is clear that the solutions to the problems facing us in the coming decade are likely to be driven by technology, as well as changing attitudes and behaviours. This combination has the potential to challenge the status quo across myriad industries. We are particularly excited by some of the progress made in artificial intelligence and machine learning over the past 18-24 months and see significant benefits accruing to companies applying these technologies across almost every industry during the next decade.

*not held in Fund

Ben Rogoff


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 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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General Risk Warning:

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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