For the third quarter of 2019, the Thornburg International Growth Fund returned negative 2.34% (I shares), trailing its benchmark, the MSCI All Country World ex-U.S. Growth Index (the index), which returned negative 0.85%. This brings the full year 2019 return to 14.13% for the fund, versus 16.21% for the index. We are disappointed to be trailing the benchmark, but as we have said in the past, to us successful investing is a marathon and not a sprint. Business value is compounded over long time horizons, not shorter ones, and we remain committed to working as hard as possible to deliver outperformance over the long term. Since inception through September 30, 2019, the Thornburg International Growth Fund has returned 133.5% cumulatively versus 49.9% for the MSCI All Country World ex-U.S. Growth Index.
While domestic equities delivered a modest gain this quarter, international equities posted their first quarterly decline this calendar year. August saw trade tensions intensify as China announced retaliatory tariffs in response to an earlier round of U.S. tariffs. The U.S. quickly followed suit with another 5% tariff increase on a wide tranche of products. Investors worried that matters were spiraling towards an irreconcilable outcome, but like what we saw earlier this year, both parties took a step back, and trade tensions de-escalated somewhat when the U.S. delayed some tariffs and China purchased U.S. agricultural products as a signal of goodwill. Trade talks are set to resume in October, and while a “mini-deal” may be possible, a broad-based agreement appears elusive.
Bond markets and the presence of inverted yield curves in the U.S. and Europe are signaling that recession risks are increasing. Leading indicators of trade and manufacturing activity fell in the U.S. and eurozone. Notably, the eurozone manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index fell to 45.6% in September, the lowest in seven years. In the U.S., the same indicator fell to the lowest level in a decade. The lackluster readings are likely related to the impact of global trade tensions, as increased uncertainty has discouraged business investment.
Against this backdrop of slowing growth, the European central bank cut interest rates another 10 basis points (bps) and will restart bond purchases of €20bn a month. The U.S. Federal Reserve also eased, cutting rates by a quarter point for the second time this year. These actions were taken positively by the markets, but in the face of a maturing global business cycle, it remains to be seen if global economies are simply in a period of slower growth, or on the verge of a recession.
Top performers for the quarter included U.K. pharmaceutical company Astra-Zeneca, U.K. online food delivery marketplace Just Eat, Japanese mergers and acquisitions advisory firm Nihon M&A Center, global payment solutions provider Worldpay and Swedish online retailer Boozt.
AstraZeneca shares rose as they reported a solid quarter that exhibited robust underlying growth in their key oncology franchises. Furthermore, there was a bevy of late stage trial data read outs over the summer, with nearly all of them positive.
Just Eat shares rallied as the company received an all-share merger offer from Netherlands-listed peer Takeaway.com. The terms of the merger valued Just Eat at a modest premium to the previous close.
Nihon announced financial results that saw quarterly sales grow strongly on a year-over-year basis as the number of deals closed was higher than expected. Margins rebounded as well, which had been somewhat depressed recently, sitting below historical company averages the past several quarters. Nihon M&A remains well positioned to address a large and under-penetrated market opportunity as many small- and medium- sized enterprises in Japan, oftentimes family- run businesses, lack successors and will need to transition ownership over time.
Worldpay saw its previously announced acquisition by Fidelity National Information Services (FIS) formally completed during the quarter. In addition, the newly combined company raised its guidance for merger synergies as the integration process has been progressing better than expected.
Boozt delivered quarterly results that were in-line in terms of revenues but better-than-expected profitability and margins. This led to a relief rally after the rather disappointing results of the prior quarter. The company now appears poised to meet or exceed full year guidance.
Bottom performers this quarter were U.K. software provider Blue Prism Group plc, Chinese educational services provider TAL Education Group, Chinese internet technology company Tencent Holdings, German kidney dialysis services and equipment provider Fresenius Medical Care and global luxury goods e-commerce platform Farfetch.
Blue Prism is a pioneer in the emerging Robotic Process Automation (RPA) industry. RPA is a high-ROI software solution that is used to free humans from repetitive tasks and reduce errors. In early June, the company reported lower-than-expected revenue growth as it made changes to its go-to-market strategy. Even with slightly lowered growth expectations, the company is still very well positioned to rapidly grow within a nascent industry and at current valuation levels; the upside potential is quite favorable.
TAL declined as quarterly results fell short of market expectations due to slower offline enrollment growth and a miss on margins due to higher promotional spending to acquire online students. We believe this spending is well placed, as the company should be able to retain and effectively monetize these students over time.
Tencent reported sales growth that fell short of market expectations due primarily to a slowdown in the broader Chinese advertising market.
Fresenius shares drifted lower as the U.S. president signed an executive order called Advancing American Kidney Health. Although the various proposals represent a variety of potential positive and negative impacts, some of the goals outlined by the policy that would be most unfavorable to Fresenius may not ever be achievable. We believe Fresenius’ business model can be resilient, but the stock has declined as regulatory risks have incrementally increased.
Farfetch reported a negative second quarter, with shares being impacted by multiple factors: 1) management cited that competition was hurting growth, 2) the company completed an acquisition that deviated from the strategy outlined during the IPO roadshow, and 3) an executive exited the company. The lackluster growth and shift in strategy have violated the original thesis and we have since exited the position.
A multitude of risks are converging on equity markets and economic growth has slowed in many parts of the global economy. The world’s two largest economies, the United States and China, seem unlikely to concede meaningful ground to one another in order to resolve the ongoing trade dispute. We may see some progress in the form of a more narrowly constructed agreement that addresses just a handful of issues, but that would be a best-case scenario over the near term. With the dispute dragging on, both countries are experiencing a worrying downtrend in leading economic indicators, such as trade and investment activity.
We see global growth troughing at low, but not negative, levels because of recent stimulus measures and various policy tools that policy makers have at their disposal to counter balance slowing growth. Investors expect the Fed to remain on the path towards further easing, although a hawkish contingent remains resistant. Hopes for fiscal stimulus out of Germany are increasing and the European Central Bank remains historically accommodative. China also has the capacity to enact further stimulus, although it appears their priority is to keep growth stable with modest amounts of piecemeal stimulus, rather than embarking on an outsized plan, like post the financial crisis. The path from here remains bumpy given continued trade risks and political risks, such as an unresolved Brexit and ongoing protests in Hong Kong. However, we are encouraged by generally resilient consumers that are benefiting from low unemployment, healthy labor markets and modestly rising wages.
We expect to see a wider dispersion of investing outcomes, with gains less broad-based in a slowing environment. These conditions should favor bottom-up stock selection and our process, which focuses on high-quality growth companies with secular-growth opportunities that can sustainably compound value over the long term through idiosyncratic factors, such as expanding market share, deepening economic moats, superior technology and best-in-class execution. The businesses we own in the portfolio today are well positioned for long-term growth, and we remain excited about their prospects.
We thank you for investing alongside us in the Thornburg International Growth Fund.
|Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.||4.2%|
|Tencent Holdings Ltd.||3.5%|
|Fidelity National Information Services, Inc.||2.7%|
|TAL Education Group||2.6%|
|Lonza Group AG||2.6%|
|Fomento Economico Mexicano S.A.B. de C.V.||2.6%|
Performance data shown represents past performance and is no guarantee of future results. Investment return and principal value will fluctuate so shares, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original cost. Current performance may be lower or higher than quoted. For performance current to the most recent month end, see the mutual funds performance page or call 877-215-1330. The maximum sales charge for the Fund’s A shares is 4.50%.