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Thinking big on small companies

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Certain beliefs about smaller companies persist: that they are domestic in focus, volatile and illiquid. Dan Whitestone argues that they offer a wealth of opportunities for long-term investors … 

Smaller companies have an impressive long-term record of outperforming their larger peers, with 4% annual compound outperformance over more than 63 years[1]. 

That is not luck. 

There are many reasons behind it, but the most important is that small and mid-cap companies have consistently demonstrated greater earnings growth. 

The small cap universe is home to many dynamic companies that are opening up new markets with exciting products and technologies, disrupting older markets and influencing consumer behaviour. 

The case for investing in smaller companies

The figures shown relate to past performance. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of current or future results. Index returns are illustrative only. Index performance returns do not reflect any management fees, transaction costs or expenses. Indices are unmanaged, and one cannot invest directly in an index. Smaller company investments are often associated with greater investment risk than those of larger company shares. 

*Large Cap performance represented by Barclays UK Equity Large Cap Index until December 2010. In January 2011, Barclays began to use FTSE All-Share Index to track the performance of UK large cap companies. 

[1] Source: Datastream, UK Equity Large Cap Total Return Index and Numis Smaller Companies Index + AIM ex. Investment Trusts Total Return Index as at 30 November 2018.

While the long-run attractions of UK small and mid-caps are clear, this is also an area where it pays to be active. The dispersion of returns in small and mid-caps is high. While many successful companies see their market value multiply several times over, there are others for whom things go wrong. And when they go wrong, they can go seriously wrong - companies can see their market values collapse and in some cases fall to zero, even after many years of success. 

At the same time, the UK small and mid-cap market has a lot of choice, with exposure to businesses that are operating globally, enabling us to build a truly diversified portfolio. It is also an inefficient and under-researched investment universe compared to large caps.

More recently small caps have been hit by the view that they are dependent on the UK economy at a time when uncertainty about the economy is high. We do not share this view. 

There are successful small and mid-caps which have the ability to manufacture their own growth and are not as reliant on the wider economy as might be believed. This is particularly true for differentiated companies with small shares in fragmented industries, perhaps where they are the consolidator, but also true when it comes to disruptive business models. 

Our view is that we are in an upswing of technological innovation and disruption, and small and mid-caps provide fertile hunting ground for these opportunities. There are many young innovative companies disrupting industries and taking market share from legacy incumbents. This makes investing in smaller companies attractive, as we can gain exposure to companies that can continue to grow regardless of the wider economy.

What makes a good smaller company? 

We focus on two types.

The first are differentiated long-term growth investments. These are companies with strong management teams, a protected market position, unique and compelling products with an attractive route to market, perhaps benefitting from structural growth, and that are well financed with clean accounting. 

The second type are those that are leading industry change, the “disruptors”. The transformation that we have witnessed across so many industries in the last 10 years is staggering. For example, the smartphone is little more than 11 years old but think of all the apps that have fundamentally changed consumer behaviour, from internet food shopping to ordering a taxi, a pizza or watching a TV box set. This has had a profound effect on a number of incumbent industries that have lost market share to new platforms. How many industries have seen revenues and profits pressurised by the need to invest and to adapt and change business models? 

We try to incorporate the thinking outlined above into shorting the disrupted victims of industry change. We also like to short the opposite of what we look for in differentiated successful growth companies - those businesses facing structural or cyclical industry pressures, with weak financials such as too much debt or poor cashflow. 

Our skill set is certainly not market timing, and we do not know if small and mid-caps will have a great year, a good year or a poor year in absolute terms or relative to larger companies or other asset classes. However, the longer-term prospects are sound. 

Regardless of the latest macropolitical debate, we aim to spend our time understanding, researching and connecting with small and medium-sized businesses, looking for the next wave of exciting emerging companies before the market realises their true potential. 

For more information on BlackRock Throgmorton Trust and how to access the potential opportunities presented by smaller companies, please visit

Risk Warnings
Capital at risk. The value of investments and the income from them can fall as well as rise and are not guaranteed. You may not get back the amount originally invested.

Changes in the rates of exchange between currencies may cause the value of investments to diminish or increase. Fluctuation may be particularly marked in the case of a higher volatility fund and the value of an investment may fall suddenly and substantially. Levels and basis of taxation may change from time to time. 

Trust Specific Risks
Liquidity risk: The Fund’s investments may have low liquidity which often causes the value of these investments to be less predictable. In extreme cases, the Fund may not be able to realise the investment at the latest market price or at a price considered fair.  

Complex derivative strategies: Derivatives may be used substantially for complex investment strategies. These include the creation of short positions where the Investment Manager artificially sells an investment it does not physically own. Derivatives can also be used to generate exposure to investments greater than the net asset value of the fund / investment trust. Investment Managers refer to this practice as obtaining market leverage or gearing. As a result, a small positive or negative movement in stock markets will have a larger impact on the value of these derivatives than owning the physical investments. The use of derivatives in this manner may have the effect of increasing the overall risk profile of the Funds. 

Financial Markets, Counterparties and Service Providers: The insolvency of any institutions providing services such as safekeeping of assets or acting as counterparty to derivatives or other instruments, may expose the Fund to financial loss.

Gearing risk: Investment strategies, such as borrowing, used by the Trust can result in even larger losses suffered when the value of the underlying investments fall.

Important Information
Issued by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. 

The Company is managed by BlackRock Fund Managers Limited (BFM) as the AIFM. BFM has delegated certain investment management and other ancillary services to BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Limited. The Company’s shares are traded on the London Stock Exchange and dealing may only be through a member of the Exchange. The Company will not invest more than 15% of its gross assets in other listed investment trusts. SEDOL™ is a trademark of the London Stock Exchange plc and is used under licence. 

Net Asset Value (NAV) performance is not the same as share price performance, and shareholders may realise returns that are lower or higher than NAV performance.

The BlackRock Smaller Companies Trust currently conducts its affairs so that its securities can be recommended by IFAs to ordinary retail investors in accordance with the Financial Conduct Authority’s rules in relation to non-mainstream investment products and intends to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The securities are excluded from the Financial Conduct Authority’s restrictions which apply to non-mainstream investment products because they are shares in an investment trust.

Any research in this material has been procured and may have been acted on by BlackRock for its own purpose. The results of such research are being made available only incidentally. The views expressed do not constitute investment or any other advice and are subject to change. They do not necessarily reflect the views of any company in the BlackRock Group or any part thereof and no assurances are made as to their accuracy. 

This material is for information purposes only and does not constitute an offer or invitation to anyone to invest in any BlackRock funds and has not been prepared in connection with any such offer. 

© 2019 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights reserved. 


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