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Casting the net wider: Monks’ diversified portfolio of growth stocks.

Ian McGugan

Monks seeks profit and resilience from its diversified growth stocks portfolio.

Illustration by Matt Murphy

Please remember that the value of an investment can fall and you may not get back the amount invested. This article originally featured in Baillie Gifford’s Spring 2022 issue of Trust magazine.

Anyone who thinks growth investing consists of simply loading up on a few mega-cap tech giants will be shocked by some of the companies in Monks’ portfolio.

A Swedish oat milk producer? An American specialist in surgically implanted contact lenses? A female-friendly dating app? These businesses don’t fit the digits-and-data growth stereotype, but they too hold potential for big profits, according to Monks manager Spencer Adair.

“What we’re trying to achieve is a portfolio of the best global growth ideas from every corner of the world,” he says. “We want to identify them early, hold them for a long time and let the miracle of compounding work its magic.”

The key, he says, is recognising that a few big digital platforms no longer hold a monopoly on hyper-growth. The range of companies capable of double-digit growth rates has broadened in recent years, and Adair has cast his net wider to capture as many of them as possible.

This is reflected in the Trust’s soaring commitment to upstart businesses. In 2015, Monks devoted about 26 per cent of its portfolio to what the Trust then called ‘rapid-growth’ companies – young enterprises with a chance to change the world and expand at dizzying rates. Today these holdings, now called ‘disruptors’, make up 50 per cent of its holdings.

Simultaneously, Monks has broadened its view of what can drive warp-speed expansion. Like many growth portfolios, its holdings used to reflect two megatrends. One was the power of online tech giants to disrupt traditional media and retailing. The other was the potential for surging consumption in emerging markets to propel favoured brands to new heights.

The problem is that both these trends are growing mature. They are unlikely to repeat the eye-popping results of their earlier years. To find new sources of growth, Monks has veered in a different direction – away from titans of the internet age such as Alibaba, Amazon and Facebook, and towards what Adair calls “earlier-stage, less certain, much more disparate, much less correlated growth drivers”.

At the end of 2021, the disruptors segment of Monks’ portfolio spanned more than 30 of these growth drivers, or themes. Some are no great surprise – the shift to electric cars, for instance. But others are lower profile. They include attempts to combat dementia, improve education and speed the shift to a more plant-based diet.

Monks has broadened its view of what can drive warp-speed expansion

Among the more than 60 stocks that Monks classifies as disruptors are STAAR Surgical, which is seeking to replace laser eye surgery with implantable contact lenses, and Denali Therapeutics, which is working on drugs against Alzheimer’s. Online education pioneer Chegg, plant-based milk producer Oatly and Elon Musk’s SpaceX aerospace venture also appear in the portfolio, as does Bumble.com, a dating app in which women call the shots.

“These are totally different industries and totally different companies with totally different challenges and totally different business models,” Adair says. “The thing they have in common is that we see a rapid growth rate that can be sustained for a long time.”

Adair contends that the heavy emphasis on upstart businesses actually reduces risk. By spreading the portfolio’s bets among a more diverse group of companies, he expects to reduce the possibility of any single setback dealing a blow to overall results. “We’ve made that section of the portfolio substantially less risky despite having more invested in it,” he says.

 

The half of the portfolio invested outside the disruptors area provides additional resilience. The bulk of these holdings are in what Monks now calls ‘compounders’ – established, dependable companies with the potential to expand profits at 10 per cent a year for the next couple of decades. The rest are ‘capital allocators’: companies whose management invests in out-of-favour areas, readying themselves for a comeback when the business cycle swings back their way.

“You can’t be certain any one company will succeed,” Adair says. “So we try to spread our growth drivers as widely as possible – among different industries, different technologies, different regions – so that in the long run we have multiple factors that can drive our success.”

Adair’s strategy for Monks will be tested in the years and decades to come. In the meantime, any manager whose portfolio spans both oat milk and space rockets can speak with authority on how variety brings opportunity, and with it, more chances of success.

 

This article first appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of Trust, Baillie Gifford’s bi-annual investment trust magazine. To register for a free copy, delivered to your door or to your inbox please visit bailliegifford.com/trust

 

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Author

Ian McGugan

Ian McGugan is a business reporter for The Globe and Mail and was founding editor of MoneySense, a Canadian personal finance magazine. He lives in Toronto.

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