Matthews lowers active bet size in UK Alpha fund

The future of one of Schroders’ flagship funds will rely on a larger number of smaller, active bets than under its predecessor, according to Philip Matthews.

Mr Matthews joined the group in October last year to take on the Schroder UK Alpha Plus fund left behind by Richard Buxton, who earlier in 2013 left to join rival Old Mutual Global Investors.

The manager said he had turned over roughly 60 per cent of the portfolio, which has led to the fund having more than 50 stocks, as opposed to about 30 under Mr Buxton.

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Mr Matthews said while he was taking more active bets in the fund, the size of those bets was smaller than was usually the case prior to his arrival.

Mr Buxton had often said with the UK Alpha Plus fund he was either first or fourth quartile – a result of his large, active bets that paid off handsomely if they went right but hit returns on the downside.

“The active weight within the portfolio has come down to levels I feel much more comfortable with,” Mr Matthews said.

“What I am saying is, in the long term, I do not think there is a trade-off between performance and having a more diversified portfolio.

“Historically, my portfolios were more diversified and were less volatile, which ended up producing very strong total returns.”

During his tenure on the Jupiter Growth & Income fund from June 2001 to April 2013, Mr Matthews produced a top-quartile return of 105.7 per cent compared with the average return of 69.9 per cent from peers in the IMA UK All Companies sector, according to data from FE Analytics.

The process the manager is using is the same valuation-led one he employed at Jupiter, but he said the stocks he was buying now were different because “markets have moved on”.

“When I left Jupiter at the beginning of 2013 I had more domestic cyclicals than I have now and that is a function of the movement we have seen in markets [since then],” he said.

He has also introduced tobacco stocks to the portfolio and that sector now makes up 6.5 per cent of the fund.

“This is a call on the relative defensiveness and relative valuation compared with what is happening for other things in the market, and at the beginning of the year [tobacco stocks] looked relatively attractive,” Mr Matthews said.

He has also taken some exposure away from the “very high weighting” to financial stocks, with life insurance companies “definitely coming down”.

“I have been making significant changes, primarily by taking out the domestic cyclicals, such as in travel and leisure and domestic banks,” he said.

“There was a strong skew towards domestic cyclicals, which have been a great place to be for the past two years.

“At the margin, I have been putting a bit more into [companies that have] reliability of earning streams, such as BT, pharmaceuticals such as AstraZeneca, and medical equipment manufacturer Smith & Nephew.”