In conversation with Lord Lee, Leon Boros and David Stredder

I watched this ShareSoc webinar and thought I would summarise the investment answers given. No huge revelations were revealed but numerous interesting snippets did emerge from the questions. The three guests were described by the host as “esteemed investors” and all have a connection with ShareSoc.

Annotation: Lord Lee (LL), Leon Boros (LB), David Stredder (DS)
[my thoughts in square brackets]

How as your 2020?

LL – Biggest mistake “being seduced by the high yield of Aviva (AV.)”.
Almost double digits”. But “semi-political pressure” saw the dividend passed. Investment was “quite expensive, quite bruising” and “cancelled net [portfolio] profits from 2019”.

LL – Big lesson – just like the banking crises of the 1970s and 2008, if you believe Armageddon is not coming and we’ll get through, “then you buy steadily and heavily”. Topped up Hyve, SVT and Appreciate(?) during the panic, all up 50%-plus since.

LL – “remain fully invested

LL – At low point was down 33% on paper. [Did not disclose a full-year portfolio performance]

LB – Sold most Covid-impacted shares before the very worst of the market downturn [I think] – 25% of portfolio.

LB – Had a big position in Best of the Best (BOTB) at the start of the year, bought strongly in late 2019 at 320p. [BOTB is a big lockdown winner, so implying portfolio coped fine]

LB – Helped by “not panicking” because of “confidence in companies” held.

LB – Biggest mistake – selling Games Workshop (GAW) at £40 after factory closure. Bought back at £100. “Painful mistake”.

LB – Mistake now could be “underestimating the impact of a vaccine”. Vaccine has “important significance on equity markets”. Vaccine “goes a long way to helping the situation”.

LB – [Did not disclose a full-year portfolio performance]

DS – “Absolutely awful 2020

DS – Caught Covid following a skiing holiday [presumably in Feb/Mar]. 16 days in hospital. Had 40% of portfolio in spread bets for tax purposes, but during the crash the broker [I think Spreadex] could not reach DS [presumably for margin calls] in hospital. So broker sold all spread bets at the low --> “40% of my portfolio disappeared

DS – Now “just thankful to be alive” and feels“investing is not everything”.
Managed to finish 2020 down 8%. Holds 50-60 companies.

Thoughts on 2021?

LL – wants to “find companies that offer value and growth long term”

LL – Optimistic for 2021. Lockdown has made companies more efficient [fewer staff, home working etc], which ought to help bottom-line growth. M&A activity may be rising.

LB – TINA (There Is No Alternative) continues to play out. Low rates --> favourable for quality/growth/‘bond proxies’ and environment “still good” for such stocks. If indications of rising inflation appear, then good for value shares.

LL – “such a tragedy so many people do not invest” and have money in the bank earning nothing. Instead could have Legal & General (LGEN) shares earning a 6% yield. A “curious and unfortunate mismatch”. Has 10% of portfolio in LGEN, M&G and AV. = overall yield of 7%.

DS – “people will want to spend post lockdown”. ScS (SCS) [furniture retailer] a “big position

LL – “one thing above all to look for” --> low-debt/positive cash balance correlates with [company] success. Examples: James Halstead, FW Thorpe and Nichols… “Helps pays dividends”. Current holdings Concurrent Technology (CNC) and Anpario (ANP) both “nicely cash positive”.

LB – does not focus as much as LL on the balance sheet. Preferred measure free cash flow.

Thoughts on AGMs?

LL – historically used to be a great AGM attendee. “Get a feel for the board”. Chat with the board post-meeting, where directors are quite willing to talk. Does not attend many AGMs now but still keeps in close contact with directors. Negative to AGMs and close director contact is selling – sometimes harder to lose faith in the company given the director “relationship”. On balance prefers to develop relationships and accept the selling issue.

LB – pick up non-verbal signals in company meetings, and how the directors interact, e.g. CEO pressuring the FD from divulging too much. Finds AGMs less useful. “Power rests with execs”. Fever-Tree (FEVR) AGM frustrating. Chairman answered all the questions, not executives. “Did you say something Leon?” “Yes, I was quite rude”.

DS – ask the non-execs up for re-election how they know the company etc. Often such questions will be unexpected and can be revealing… e.g. golf friend of the chairman.

LL – Old joke: “What is the difference between a non-exec and a supermarket trolley?” The trolley has a mind of its own but you can get more food into the non-exec.”

LL – asks directors how optimistic they are on a scale of 1-10. He only invests in companies with significant director shareholdings. Monitors director buys and sells closely.

Should you top-slice?

LL – “never really worked for me

DS – “known as a top-slicer”. “Slice on the way up” if the position becomes too large and to “sleep at night”. Had twelve 10-baggers over time and even a 100-bagger. Bought Lo-Q (now Accesso Technology ACSO) at 7p which went to £29 and now at £4. Top-sliced 20-30 times.

LB – like most people “buys well but sells badly”. “Not a great top-slicer”. Will top-slice if the position becomes too big. 20% of BOTB sold [a mistake in hindsight]. Tends to be binary --> if it is right to sell, then “sell the whole lot”. “Generally into holding with a little bit of slicing

Is there a market bubble?

LL – does not take the macro view or market view. Focuses on individual companies. “UK somewhat undervalued” and notes “takeover bids coming in”.

LB – US tech sector “looks a bubble”. Cites Tesla (TSLA). Big [UK] companies look good value --> creates a dilemma [given higher valuations of ‘quality’ companies].

How to differentiate between cutting losses and holding your nerve?

DS – “no longer confident with a company”. When you lose interest, sell.

LB – Price anchoring a mistake. Forget what you paid. Base decision on facts. “No formulaic approach – based on instinct and information”.

LL – buy at 50p or 54p – if you hold for 5 years, buying at 50p of 54p will not matter that much. You will either have got it right or wrong.

What is your maximum position size?

LB – largest four holdings represent 47% of portfolio, but are “incredibly financially robust”. Admitted Arcontech (ARC) showed slower growth than he would have liked last year.

DS – 8%, and only if he was really confident about the company.

LL – Treatt (TET) represents about one third of ISA. “Great business, ticks all the boxes”. Has been “wrong to trim in the past”.

Which broker platforms do you use?

DS – never traded online. Always on the phone to get large stakes. Costs a lot more but broker gets prices he could not get himself.

LL – never traded online. Likes personal contact. Costs more. Beneficiaries can get advice, too.

LB – uses Hargreaves Lansdowne (HL) --> “cheap and efficient… will not go bust”. Does not use certificates. Uses a small phone broker as well.

Both DS and LB bought BOTB that morning. LB said he could not get a price through HL [so presumably used his phone broker]

Thoughts on PrimaryBid?

LB – has used it. “Great idea”. Can’t be used with ISAs though.

Thoughts on IPOs

LL/DS/LB – generally avoid flotations from private equity

Thoughts on Taxation

LL – “very likely CGT will be raised”. “Real risk AIM shares are pregnant with IHT relief, which if removed could see 25%-30% falls immediately”. “Specialist funds would be selling

David, do you have a special Mello promotion?

DS – why yes, use MM2501VIP for a free ticket https://melloevents.com/mellomonday-25th-january-2021/

3 Likes

Great summary Maynard, I thought the session was really interesting. The thing that struck me was the spooky parallels I had experienced during the year, unfortunately mostly the negatives. I was caught with way too much AV. (still do) and sold GAW about the same time as Leon (I think). I was even skiing the week before David & Leon and stayed in the same chalet - luckily no Covid though, but a near miss.

Lord Lee’s holdings are all disclosed in the House of Lords register of members interests if anyone wants the full list.

I’m hoping to share some of their successes this year, not just their mistakes, though I don’t think there’s much portfolio overlap. (Indeed, just sold Bioventix, BVXP today).

I did feel there was a shared optimism, which is promising for the year ahead.

Good luck to all for 2021.

Roger

2 Likes

Thanks for an excellent summary of the chat. I was interested that none of them, apart from LB, used platforms which raises the question of how to find a broker who knows a lot about small caps. David Stredder made the rather sensible point that if one were to fall off the perch suddenly, then having a broker who knows about your portfolio would be of great help to the rest of the family who have to sort out things afterwards.

Thanks also to RogerG for the tip about how Lord Lee’s portfolio is listed in the House of Lord’s registry of members’ interests. Had a quick look and it seems pretty up to date and includes notes on the sale of his stakes in Christie Group (Feb 2020) and Gooch and Housego (Aug 2020).

Re: Lord Lee. I was interested to note that in July he reported a 4.72% stake in Air Partners. I was surprised by the size of his stake which must be worth around £2m. So far it does not seem to have been one of his best bets.

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Yes, the phone broking was interesting. I always disliked the phone to deal (back in the 90s) as I always felt the broker was smirking when I gave my order (‘you’re buying what?!’) :slight_smile: . I very much prefer to deal online and build stakes that way, even with multiple orders over days/weeks. But maybe I will change my mind when I start to issue notifiable RNSs like the three guest investors. I have no idea where you would start to find a small-cap broker. I suppose the likes of Charles Stanley could help?

I have not really followed Lord Lee’s portfolio too closely, but he did stress he liked smaller companies, with management owning large shareholdings and preferred to keep things simple. So getting involved in Aviva was surprising. Clearly he likes to mix his smaller companies with large-cap high-yielders. Here is his HoL members’ interest entry. Some old-style businesses there.

Maynard

Thanks for feedback and link to Lord Lee’s holdings. Regarding the scepticism to participating in private equity backed IPOs I thought the latest blog from Neil Collins, a former Daily Telegraph city editor, covered the subject well especially when it comes to the Doc Martens IPO.

(Putting the boot in | neilcollinsxxx)

Neil, a veteran City editor with a good nose for the stockmarket, used to write a weekly column for Saturday’s FT but was dropped more than a year ago. He still writes a free weekly blog on city/investment matters which is worth following.

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