Holly Cook: Various European economies may be stuck in recession right now, but that doesn't mean there aren't interesting stock opportunities across the region. To talk about some of these opportunities, I am joined today by Nick Williams. He is manager of the Baring Europe Select Trust and that's rated Silver by our analysts here at Morningstar. Nick, thanks very much for joining me.
Nick Williams: Thank you for having me.
Cook: So before we go into your stock picks, which are TGS-Nopec, Banca Generali and Duerr, tell me briefly a little bit about your investment philosophy when you are looking for stocks across the European region.
Williams: The great opportunity that I have running the Select Trust is that I have a range of opportunities in the small- and mid-cap space in Europe. A wide range of choice, but also small- and mid-caps have a wide range of risks associated as well. So what we're trying to do is to identify companies that are going to grow more than the market anticipates, but have strong balance sheets and strong financial situations and a strategy that we like, which means that we can hold the shares for a long time.
Cook: Okay. So, let’s go into your first stock pick, that's a Norwegian company, TGS-Nopec (TGS). Tell me briefly what's your main reason for holding the stock?
Williams: Well, I like TGS because it's a world leader, because it's active in the exciting area of deepwater seismic surveys, because it's got net cash on the balance sheet, and it's got a management team who have made optimistic, but entirely credible, forecast for the coming year. We've held the shares for a long time, and they have performed exactly in line with our anticipations, and indeed well ahead of what most people have anticipated.
Cook: So, tell me what might be an associated risk with that stock? There must always be a risk with each stock pick.
Williams: I think there are always risks, and one of the processes that we use in our fund management is not putting all our eggs in one basket. But in the case of TGS-Nopec specifically, we think that the major risk is a significant slowdown in the use of deepwater drilling by the oil companies. Although, at the moment, I don't see that risk is entirely credible, and so we're still happy with the company.
Cook: Okay. So, let's move on to number two, that's Banca Generali (BGN). People might be surprised to hear an Italian bank on your list. Explain a little bit about the reasons behind that.
Williams: Well, I think that's exactly the reason why it's an interesting company. I think it's been ignored, because people see the word Banca and know it’s from Italy and start to worry. But what it is, in fact, is an asset manager that is growing very fast as the Italian public gets disenchanted with their retail high-street banks and decides to move their money to somewhere safer.
So, in a context where the Italian consumer has been moving away from their high-street banks, Banca Generali has been benefiting. So the company has been growing assets under management, but controlling costs. As we probably all know, asset management is quite a lucrative business when you get that combination of factors involved.
Cook: So, it sounds like this is interesting, because it's actually benefiting from the environment and financial services cross Europe. But what would be the associated risk with this company?
Williams: Well, I think the associated risk, from the point of view of the company itself, is that they see their own success and get carried away and over-invest, and so you start losing control of costs. Then, of course, there are the top-down risks to do with the European economy, but as I said earlier, I think that they're more likely to benefit than many of their competitors from these top-down risks.
Cook: Okay. Let's go into number three then. It's a German company, Duerr (DUE); a little bit difficult to pronounce without sounding gormless. Tell me a bit about that company.
Williams: Well, apart from the name, which I am afraid I struggle to pronounce as well, Duerr is a very interesting company, because it is growing strongly in the – as it follows the expansion of the automakers into emerging markets. It builds the paint shops at the end of car production lines, and that means that its growth is not correlated to the number of individual cars that are produced, but to the number of factories that are either renovated or built in the emerging world. They've benefited very much from being a world leader, and at the same time, as they've seen strong growth, they've also been improving their profitability, and that's a great combination when you look at their profit trends.
Cook: So, what would be the risk with this company then, is it an emerging market play?
Williams: It's partly a risk from emerging market slowdown, although, again, the car companies are very keen to keep investing in the emerging world. I think, more specifically, the risk is that the car companies start looking at their growth in market share and start encouraging some of their competitors to do a little better to try and ensure a dual-sourcing opportunity for those car companies. But at the moment, their technological lead is so great that I am quite happy with them.
Cook: So, all three of these stocks that you have mentioned have performed pretty strongly recently. I assume that you're picking them – the fact that you're picking them means that you expect that they've got further to go.
Williams: I am pretty confident on the outlook for all of them, based partly on the management's forecasts for this year, which have uniformly been pretty optimistic, and the trends that we're seeing so far in terms of, for example, for Banca Generali increasing growth in the assets under management, and from Duerr in terms of increasing order books. So, yes, although they've done very well, I think there’s further upside. The valuations don't reflect that upside and the management is fully in control of the risk of the situation.
Cook: Well, Nick Williams from Baring, thank you very much for joining me today.
Williams: Thank you.
Cook: For Morningstar, I’m Holly Cook. Thanks for watching.