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Hepworth switches fund sectors to boost equity exposure

Hepworth switches fund sectors to boost equity exposure

Ecclesiastical Higher Income manager Robin Hepworth has switched IMA fund sectors in a bid to boost his exposure to global equities, Citywire can reveal.

Until the end of 2012, the £200 million fund was in the IMA UK Equity and Bond Income sector allowing it a maximum of 20% in equities, but from January 1, it  received the green light to move to the IMA mixed Investment 40-85% sector.

Citywire Selection star Hepworth, who remains bearish on UK stocks, told Citywire the move was likely to lead to a gradual increase in stocks from across emerging markets, and Asia in particular, although he is in no hurry to add in current strong markets.

He said: 'We will be able to take advantage of a higher overseas equity exposure as we have been limited to 20%. In terms of short term portfolio management, our income objective remains the same, and we will still have fixed interest content.

'One area that may change is the stock selection risk because overseas stocks may come with a little currency risk but we would argue that given our views on the weak UK economy, we will be reducing risk by diversifying to stronger growth areas of the world.'

Hepworth traditionally has a low turnover on his funds, but he said that he expected the overseas equity content to gradually rise in the coming months.

He has been finding selective value opportunities recently in Europe, adding European telco giants Telefonica and France Telecom.

'Telefonica has cut its dividend for 12 months and it is being hurt by Spain's problems, but only 25% of its revenues are derived from there and it has most of its business in Latin America. It is still generating a huge amount of free cash.'

'France Telecom is the market leader in pay TV and that is offsetting a decline in its fixed revenues. The Middle East is also providing it with good growth. Around 30% of its employees are due to retire in the next seven years which should help reduce its cost base. It yields 10% and is trading on just seven times [2013] earnings.

Elsewhere, Hepworth has just added China Metal, an early stage metal recycler listed in Hong Kong which he expects to gain market share in its sector.

The company, which recycles washing machines and other white goods is growing into a nascent and fragmented market in China, where it currently has just a 2% market share.

'It was already exceptionally cheap and we started buying at 7.9 HKD and it is already over 9HKD.'

Over five years to the end of December the fund has returned 44.3% compared to 16.9% by the LCI UK Balanced (50:50) index.

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