Interim Investor Letter – Jun 2021

This letter is not part of the fund prospectus or offering documentation of VT Holland Advisors Equity Fund. Opinions expressed below are only those of the manager and shared for the interest of readers only. Qualitative terms like ‘great’ and ‘compounding’ are used only to explain the managers investing approach. Readers are instructed to look at the full disclaimers and fund prospectus.

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Interim Investor Letter/Owners’ Manual – June 2021

 

Dear Investors and Friends,

This letter is a little different to those I usually send. On the eve of our UCITS fund launch I have used it as an opportunity to write a broader ‘owner’s manual’ that covers different subjects from those I normally address. Whilst I comment briefly on performance and my investment approach, I also want to discuss a few other areas that I think are important between investors and any manager they might entrust their money too. These include alignment of interests, communication and liquidity.

This letter will be the last one as Farnam Street Capital. As the Fund is converted into a UK UCITS structure its name is changing to VT Holland Advisors Equity Fund. Whilst I am making this change to make it clear to our regulator what the fund does (i.e. it is managed by Holland Advisors and invests mostly in equities) we will be sad to lose our ‘Farnam Street’ moniker. As many of you know I chose this original name after the street in which Warren Buffett lives to remind me each day of how to think, behave and invest just a little better. Whilst I hope that much of this is now in my DNA, just to be on the safe side a framed picture that I bought in Omaha a few years ago of the quote below hangs above my desk. It is the first thing I see each day on entering the office. Whatever our fund is called ‘Farnam Street’ will always run through my and its veins.

Price is what you pay, value is what you get, Warren Buffett

Recent Performance (year to date NAV + 54.5%)

From our last September year end to the end of May the Fund’s NAV rose 54.5% to a NAV of £196.9. This figure is after all running costs and any management fee charged. It is customary for managers to use letters like these to reflect on the period that has just passed. Whilst it has been pleasing to see a good recovery in the fund NAV in the last 8 months, I do not feel dwelling on such a period will serve either investors or the manager well:

  • Investors might be tempted to see recent returns as easily repeatable and thus be disappointed in the future when they are not
  • A manager reflecting too much on the ‘wisdom’ of the decisions made in a period of good performance is in danger of falling foul of the ‘pride comes before a fall’ rule

I have tried to keep my feet firmly on the ground and focus on the businesses the fund owns regardless of whether our NAV was -21.6% (year to Sept 2020) or +54.5%. The rationale I use in investing remains steadfast. I try to buy the shares of businesses I think are set to offer us attractive long term compounding potential.

Usually, such businesses make good or great returns on capital and have strong competitive positions. Unusually, they may be hated (or disliked at least) by Mr Market at the time I make our purchase. This last point is perhaps what distinguishes our fund from others that might label themselves as having a ‘franchise’ approach. I share many of the same philosophies as ‘franchise’ investors, but instead consider myself as having a ‘compounding’ approach. The difference is perhaps subtle and one I hope that Mr Munger and many readers will understand.

Admiring great companies, I think is a perfectly reasonable activity. However, over time I think superior returns will be made by investing in such companies when they are priced either for failure, or at least for a fade in their growth, when in fact the business model is actually primed for success. The last key ingredient that goes into our not-so-secret mix is the Owner Manager. Almost always I am looking to invest alongside a CEO/founder/family who are aligned with us. They will have likely demonstrated past powerful compounding by managing and growing the business successfully for a long period through a variety of business environments.

An Owner’s Manual

Normally my investment letters will discuss the investment approach I use to run the fund citing examples of companies we own. As the fund starts a new chapter however, I wanted to address some other issues. As potential new readers may be interested in my investment approach, I have however mentioned this first in brief, and referred to other documents that can then be read for more insight. I have then outlined my thoughts on other areas such as manager and investor alignment, communication and liquidity.

Investment approach

Our founder investors know that I spend a great deal of time thinking about our investment process and I often reflect on this in our bi-annual letters (many of which are available on our website). In doing so I hope to take investors on the investment journey with us to try to help them better understand the approach I and my colleagues at Holland Advisors are taking. If this can help investors learn from my mistakes so as to make a few less of their own, then all well and good. Additionally, we also write during the year and share work for free online with those that sign up on our website.

Evolution of approach – Those that have the time can read the past letters of the Farnam Street Capital Fund. In doing so, you will see an evolution of my investing approach. Whilst it is easy for me as an investment manager to articulate the process I use for investing monies today, it is important to admit that this approach has evolved. Like all forms of evolution it often comes from making mistakes and surviving them/learning from them and also from watching others do the same. I would highlight a recent piece on our website Holland Views: Reflections on a mental model on the evolution of our investing approach which I hope readers will find of interest. I would also highlight a piece on the website front page (How we invest and think). Whilst I wrote this some years ago now, it still captures the essence behind my investment approach today.

Alignment of interest

In all business endeavours a strong alignment of interests is something I look for. As I have stated above, I seek it in almost all of the investments I make in the fund. Thus, it seems only right that I should disclose the same to you as manager, any business I am involved with. At the time of the conversion into VT Holland Advisors Equity Fund in June 2021, my wife and I will be the largest beneficial owners of the fund with a holding of c.20-25% of the outstanding units.

Whilst this percentage will most likely reduce in the period ahead as new investors come into the fund my dedication to the fund and complete alignment with other unit holders’ interests will not. Charlie Munger once remarked in a meeting I attended that there were two types of investors, ‘asset managers’ and ‘asset gatherers’ I hope readers will understand the distinction between these two groups without the need for further explanation. I see myself as very much as an asset manager and any investor that chooses to be invested alongside me in the fund should know that this has been, and will continue to be my primary focus. With the fund now open to a much wider potential pool of capital, a few points on this issue are worth making:

  • A glance at our top holdings shows that the fund could easily be scaled up without almost any detrimental effect on performance at all
  • Indeed, there would be some benefits to greater scale. Part of the funds new cost structure is fixed and thus will reduce on a per unit basis as assets scale (I intentionally sought out a structure of this nature. As a unit holder I too would benefit from these greater scale economics, were we to grow in size)
  • However, if a point arises in the future where I as manager feel the scale of assets we manage, or are getting near to managing, might be detrimental to the performance we all as investors might experience by way of returns, then I might consider acting to look after existing investors interests
  • The change of fund structure required me to move away from the fee structure I had copied from the original Buffett partnerships (only a performance fee above a 5% hurdle) to one with a flat fee. I did this for a variety of reasons, not least being that the original structure is not acceptable to UK regulators and not popular in UCITS funds. Hopefully, however my sizable holding in the fund shows my strong alignment of interest.

Concentration and Liquidity

As a studier of great investors, both living and dead, I believe in contrarian investing and concentrated portfolios (to a point), or said differently:

’when it’s raining gold reach for a bucket not a thimble’ Warren Buffett

UCITS funds do have limits on their concentration limits. I will not go into them here, but they are known as the 5, 10 and 40 rule. Readers should know that I have opted for this new structure not just to appeal to the end customers who were interested in investing with me, but also because the concentration limits matched my own. Having now run an audited fund for almost 10 years, I have had chance to find the level of concentration that best suits my approach. Unscientifically, I would describe this as a concentrated enough portfolio to contribute to returns, but not so much so as to lose sleep over. Investors can see from the fund factsheets that I run a portfolio that is more concentrated that an average UCITS fund and they should expect this going forwards.

One of the other changes taking place as a result of our conversion to UCITS status is a move to daily liquidity from monthly liquidity. I chose to make the change to UCITS as it is the UK fund industry standard and I had received numerous unprompted requests from investors based in the UK. The platforms and wealth management houses that act as intermediaries generally ask for daily fund dealing. With our underlying investments are all publicly quoted we have no real problem with liquidity and so have complied with this request. However, as this is a one-off letter, on the subject of liquidity I would like to make a point to my fellow investors. It be would be to quote Oscar Wilde ‘I can resist anything but temptation’. Many of us have read stories of old ladies who bought houses in say 1960 and 50 years later sold them for 40 times what they paid for them. Next time you are looking at your investments and they are up or down a few percentage points I would urge you to remember such stories.

Would that old lady have held on to her house if every single day the neighbour had leant across the garden fence and said ‘I will pay you double what you paid for it’ or ‘treble’, ‘four times’ etc. Maybe not?

Easy low-cost trading of shares and funds is a great tool for the modern investor, but like any sharp tool, it can also be dangerous if mis-used in the wrong way. I observe only that sometimes a little friction in the buying or selling process can help the end customer (after all that is why we have a 14 day cooling off period if we buy a new fridge freezer online). Little old me is not going to change the always-on financial system that we now live in and of course I will run my fund to make sure we have suitable liquidity to always match what is required for the fund’s investors. But whilst I have this platform, I would just urge the wider world of investors to think a little harder before pressing those ‘buy’ and ‘sell’ buttons’ too often.

In that vein if you are someone that is inclined to ‘trade’ funds often, then I am unlikely to be the right money manager for you. If on the other hand you are focused on carefully trying to grow your wealth with an eye on opportunity but also one on the preservation of capital too and you consider yourself a patient long term investor, well, you might find have found a manager of like mind.

Communication and Fair Disclosure

Any one that choses to invest alongside me should expect the fund to make the normal disclosures that any UCITS fund would. Namely that of regular fact sheets and all other required documentations filed diligently. We will also continue to communicate with six monthly letters written in as an open and frank way as we are allowed. In addition to this, Holland Advisors may, as it has done for many years previously, publish free research on its website (and sent to those that sign up to receive it) that shares some of its insights with the wider investing world.

In the course of my investing career so far, I have come across a very wide-range of investors, ranging from those with seemingly very higher levels of information and investment skills to those who might be labelled less professional in name but astute due to the fact that they might have run their own business. Some it seems just have a better native grasp of business than others who are too close to a narrow investment function.

The fund’s founder investors contained few experienced investors but more than a few experienced business people. Anyone looking at the past returns of the fund will see that it had some volatile periods. What you cannot see is how much my phone rang during those periods. It didn’t. These ‘not experienced investors/experienced business people’ in short have been calm, patient, perfect business partners and I thank them immensely for their support and patience. They have asked good, pertinent questions, but they have not demanded reams of irrelevant data or questionnaires to be filled in by me. If 20 years from now I could have a fund that was made up of future investors just like them I would take it every time. If you are wealth manager who looks after the assets of entrepreneurs just like these and perchance are looking for a like-minded investor, well maybe, just maybe you have found him…

Alternatively, if you work at a large financial institution and enjoy sending lots of long forms and questionnaires to fund managers for them to fill out, well I would like to save you the trouble. Please send them to someone else. I once chatted to someone who had sight of Buffett’s diary. It was almost completely empty for the whole week. And the next one. I am proud to tell you that most weeks so is mine. Maybe in many other professions that might speak to idleness, but not in investing. Of course, there are company meetings and conference calls, but there needs to be time to think too, time to develop ideas and pull on the odd thread or two.

I will sign off by sharing an experience I had at an investing conference in California 10 years ago. I had listened to a really impressive investor speak and was thrilled to be able to join him and small group of people for coffee in the breakout afterwards. As I patiently waited for an opportunity to ask a few questions, I observed the bizarre array of unimportant issues that the others around me were asking him. Like me, this was their one opportunity to learn from a guru and yet all they asked about was risk management or portfolio diversification or how to look at currency risk. The manager was a great stock picker and yet not a single question was about the stocks he owned or analysis he used to select them. I learnt a lot that day. To me the only way to truly learn about an investment manager is to understand the investment process he uses and how that relates to the stocks over time he/she then owns.

This letter is a one-off Owner’s Manual and so I have not discussed any examples of companies I invest in but my company website is full of them. By often sharing the thoughts on markets, investment process and investment ideas that I and my team have, I think I am giving the greatest insight into my thinking I possibly can, warts and all. If that helps you as a potential fellow investor to find what you are looking for, great. If it also makes you see that this is not a suitable place for you then it has also served a purpose. What I do think is right, however is that all investors, irrespective of their size or status should receive the same information.

Thank you for reading.

Andrew Hollingworth, Fund Manager

10th June 2021

The information in this document is based upon the opinions of Holland Advisors London Limited and should not be viewed as indicating any guarantee of returns from any of the firm’s investments or services. The document is not an offer or recommendation in a jurisdiction in which such an offer is not authorised or to any person to whom it is unlawful to make such an offer. The information in this Report has no regard to the specific investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific recipient and is published solely for informational purposes and is not to be construed as a solicitation or an offer to buy or sell any securities or related financial instruments. In the absence of detailed information about you, your circumstances or your investment portfolio, the information does not in any way constitute investment advice. Potential investors should refer to the relevant Prospectus and Key Information Investor Document for full information. If you have any doubt about any of the information presented, you should obtain financial advice. Past performance is not necessarily a guide to future performance, the value of an investments and any income from them can go down as well as up and can fluctuate in response to changes in currency exchange rates, your capital is at risk and you may not get back the original amount invested. Any opinions expressed in this Report are subject to change without notice. Portfolio holdings are subject to change and the information contained in this document regarding specific securities should not be construed as a recommendation or offer to buy or sell any securities referred to. The information provided is “as is” without any express or implied warranty of any kind including warranties of merchantability, non-infringement of intellectual property, or fitness for any purpose. Because some jurisdictions prohibit the exclusion or limitation of liability for consequential or incidental damages, the above limitation may not apply to you. Users are therefore warned not to rely exclusively on the comments or conclusions within the Report but to carry out their own due diligence before making their own decisions. Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (UK), registration number 538932. All rights reserved. No part of this Report may be reproduced or distributed in any manner without the written permission of Holland Advisors London Limited. Investment Manager: Holland Advisors London Limited (registered number 538932), registered office 7 York Road, Woking, Surrey, GU22 7XH.

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Privacy Notice

This is the privacy notice of Holland Advisors London Ltd our company number is 07431314. Our registered office is at 7 York Road, Woking, Surrey, GU22 7XH.

 

Introduction

This notice describes how we collect, store, transfer and use personal data. It tells you about your privacy rights and how the law protects you.

In the context of the law and this notice, ‘personal data’ is information that clearly identifies you as an individual or which could be used to identify you if combined with other information. Acting in any way on personal data is referred to as ‘processing’.

This notice applies to personal data collected through our website www.hollandadvisors.co.uk.

Except as set out below, we do not share, or sell, or disclose to a third party, any information collected through our website.

 

Data Protection Officer

We have appointed a data protection officer (‘DPO’) who is responsible for ensuring that our privacy policy is followed. If you have any questions about how we process your personal data, including any requests to exercise your legal rights, please contact our DPO, Claire Brunt at  claire@hollandadvisors.co.uk.

 

Personal data we process

1. How we obtain personal data

The information we process about you includes information:

  • you have directly provided to us
  • that we gather from third party databases and service providers
  • as a result of monitoring how you use our website or our services

2. Types of personal data we collect directly

When you use our website, you may provide personal data by submission of data by our Sign Up or Contact Us forms. This can be categorised into the following groups:

  • personal identifiers, such as your first and last names
  • contact information, such as your email address and your telephone number for communication
  • records of communication between us including messages sent through our website, email messages and telephone conversations
  • marketing preferences that tell us what types of marketing you would like to receive

3. Types of personal data we collect from your use of our services

By using our website and our services, we process:

  • technical information about the hardware and the software you use to access our website and use our services, including your Internet Protocol (IP) address, your browser type and version and your device’s operating system
  • usage information, including the frequency you use our services, the pages of our website that you visit, whether you receive messages from us and whether you reply to those messages
  • your preferences to receive marketing from us; how you wish to communicate with us; and responses and actions in relation to your use of our services.

4. Our use of aggregated information

We may aggregate anonymous information such as statistical or demographic data for any purpose. Anonymous information is that which does not identify you as an individual. Aggregated information may be derived from your personal data but is not considered as such in law because it does not reveal your identity.

For example, we may aggregate usage information to assess whether a feature of our website is useful.

However, if we combine or connect aggregated information with your personal data so that it can identify you in any way, we treat the combined information as personal data, and it will be used in accordance with this privacy notice.

5. The bases on which we process information about you

The law requires us to determine under which of six defined bases we process different categories of your personal data, and to notify you of the basis for each category.

If a basis on which we process your personal data is no longer relevant then we shall immediately stop processing your data.

If the basis changes then if required by law we shall notify you of the change and of any new basis under which we have determined that we can continue to process your information.

6. Information we process with your consent

Through certain actions when there is no contractual relationship between us, such as when you browse our website or ask us to provide you more information about our business, you provide your consent to us to process information that may be personal data.

Wherever possible, we aim to obtain your explicit consent to process this information, for example, we ask you to agree to our use of non-essential cookies when you access our website.

We continue to process your information on this basis until you withdraw your consent or it can be reasonably assumed that your consent no longer exists.

You may withdraw your consent at any time by instructing us  claire@hollandadvisors.co.uk.

7. Information we process for the purposes of legitimate interests

We may process information on the basis there is a legitimate interest, either to you or to us, of doing so.

Where we process your information on this basis, we do after having given careful consideration to:

  • whether the same objective could be achieved through other means
  • whether processing (or not processing) might cause you harm
  • whether you would expect us to process your data, and whether you would, in the round, consider it reasonable to do so

For example, we may process your data on this basis for the purposes of:

  • improving our services
  • record-keeping for the proper and necessary administration of our business
  • responding to unsolicited communication from you to which we believe you would expect a response
  • preventing fraudulent use of our services
  • exercising our legal rights, including to detect and prevent fraud and to protect our intellectual property
  • insuring against or obtaining professional advice that is required to manage business risk
  • protecting your interests where we believe we have a duty to do so

 

How and when we process your personal data

8. Your personal data is not shared

We do not share or disclose to a third party, any information collected through our website.

 

Use of information we collect through automated systems

9. Cookies

Cookies are small text files that are placed on your computer’s hard drive by your web browser when you visit a website that uses them. They allow information gathered on one web page to be stored until it is needed for use at a later date.

They are commonly used to provide you with a personalised experience while you browse a website, for example, allowing your preferences to be remembered.

They can also provide core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility; record how you interact with the website so that the owner can understand how to improve the experience of other visitors.

Some cookies may last for a defined period of time, such as one visit (known as a session), one day or until you close your browser. Others last indefinitely until you delete them.

Your web browser should allow you to delete any cookie you choose. It should also allow you to prevent or limit their use. Your web browser may support a plug-in or add-on that helps you manage which cookies you wish to allow to operate.

The law requires you to give explicit consent for use of any cookies that are not strictly necessary for the operation of a website.

10. Personal identifiers from your browsing activity

Requests by your web browser to our servers for web pages and other content on our website are recorded.

We record information such as your geographical location, your Internet service provider and your IP address. We also record information about the software you are using to browse our website, such as the type of computer or device and the screen resolution.

We use this information in aggregate to assess the popularity of the webpages on our website and how we perform in providing content to you.

 

Other matters

11. Your rights

The law requires us to tell you about your rights and our obligations to you in regard to the processing and control of your personal data.

We do this now, by requesting that you read the information provided at  http://www.knowyourprivacyrights.org

12. Communicating with us

When you contact us, whether by telephone, through our website or by email, we collect the data you have given to us in order to reply with the information you need.

We record your request and our reply in order to increase the efficiency of our business. We may keep personally identifiable information associated with your message, such as your name and email address so as to be able to track our communications with you to provide a high quality service.

13. Complaining

If you are not happy with our privacy policy, or if you have any complaint, then you should tell us.

When we receive a complaint, we record the information you have given to us on the basis of consent. We use that information to resolve your complaint.

14. Retention period

Except as otherwise mentioned in this privacy notice, we keep your personal data only for as long as required by us to provide you with the services you have requested.

15. Compliance with the law

Our privacy policy complies with the law in the United Kingdom, specifically with the Data Protection Act 2018 (the ‘Act’) accordingly incorporating the EU General Data Protection Regulation (‘GDPR’) and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (‘PECR’).

16. Review of this privacy policy

We shall update this privacy notice from time to time as necessary.