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Wellcome Trust returns 16.9% from buoyant equity markets

Buoyant equity markets in Europe and emerging economies underpinned a 16.9% investment return at the UK’s largest charity in the 12 months to the end of September.

The Wellcome Trust’s assets grew to £23.2bn (€26.4bn) during the period.

The 16.9% return compares with 18.8% for the previous year, when the depreciation of sterling boosted returns.

Public equities – 52.3% of the portfolio at end-September – made a 19.6% return, while within private equity (24.2% of the portfolio) large buyouts performed best with a 21.6% return.

At the end of the period Wellcome’s overall equity holdings were weighted towards technology companies, which made up 24%, and financials, 21%.

The trustees highlighted opportunities resulting from areas such as increased use of artificial intelligence and the growing importance of genomics in healthcare. It has a 37% stake, worth £457m, in Syncona, intended to develop into a life science investment company.

The trustees said: “Through our long-term outlook and our extensive investments in venture capital and emerging markets, we aim to capture some of the economic benefit of these trends.”

They added: “The large financial sector weighting in part reflects strong performance of existing positions on faster economic growth. Even after this rally, bank stocks remain cheap compared to pre-crisis levels, reflecting a tougher regulatory environment.”

Hedge funds made 9.6% over the 12 months to end-September: the Wellcome trustees said that with greater dispersion of performance between stocks and sectors, there had been more opportunities for hedge fund managers to add alpha. However, the trust’s exposure to hedge funds was reduced during the year.

Real estate – 8.7% of the total portfolio – returned 4.4% for the year to end-September. Property holdings had a significant bias towards UK assets.

“Continued uncertainty towards Brexit, exacerbated by the inconclusive results of the general election, have put a dampener on physical assets in the UK,” the trustees said. “However, these negative movements were more than counterbalanced by value accretion in Wellcome’s asset-backed operating businesses, in particular its performance student accommodation business, iQ.”

The trust’s annualised return over five years was 15%, and 9.1% a year over 10 years.

Earlier this year, the charity announced that Danny Truell, its investment chief of some 12 years, was to step down. He took on a non-executive position from 1 October, with Nick Moakes appointed chief investment officer. Peter Pereira Gray was named CEO.

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