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Axa’s Thomas boosts US exposure of £3.3bn fund

Axa’s Thomas boosts US exposure of £3.3bn fund

Nigel Thomas, the veteran manager of the £3.3bn Axa Framlington UK Select Opportunities fund, has turned to companies with US earnings for growth.

Over the past 20 years, the fund, managed by Thomas throughout that time, has returned 502 per cent, compared with 220 per cent for the average fund in the IA UK All Companies sector.

He said a world of low interest rates and mediocre economic growth means finding stocks that are good value is “tough”.

Mr Thomas currently has about the same exposure to UK domestic earning companies as does the peer group as a whole.

But said he has now begun to buy companies with US earnings.

He said such a strategy has not been unusual in the months since the UK voted to leave the European Union as income fund managers saw the value of dollar earnings increase as sterling dropped in value.

But Mr Thomas said this is not why he is buying US shares now.

In the first instance he is not an income investor, and secondly he said he examines the results of a company on a constant currency basis, that is, stripping out the impact of currency movements, in order to see if a company is truly growing.

He has been buying more shares in Ashtead.

This is a FTSE 100 plant hire company with significant earnings from the US.

Mr Thomas said the key to the investment case for the shares is that the US economy is undergoing a structural change, with the proportion of the market that hires, rather than buys, plant, having doubled since 2000.

Ashtead shares have been strong performers over the past year, increasing from £12.34 to £17.46 on Friday (15 September).

The fund manager said the shares are not cheap by the measures some would use, but he thinks the level of growth justifies a higher price to earnings multiple.

He has also been buying the shares of BBA Aviation, a company that refuels and provides other services for the corporate and private jet market.

Mr Thomas said the majority of the earnings of this company are from the US.

He said: "Business confidence in the US is at a post financial crisis high. The economy is growing, this company benefits from those things, as corporate activity picks up and companies use the jet more often."

He has also invested in the shares of the world's largest producer of spirits and a key producer of beer Diageo, commenting that the company has been increasing its sales in the US, and has a plan to improve shareholder returns.  

When asked to comment on Mr Thomas' plans, Darius McDermott, managing director at Chelsea Financial Services, said: "Nigel Thomas has generated fantastic returns for our clients for more than 20 years, is very experienced, invested through most market cycles and is a genuinely nice man."

david.thorpe@ft.com