Generate fund performance - December 2022
Global equity markets contracted by -5.0% in December in USD terms, giving back some of the 7% gains from November, and providing a fitting end to a turbulent 2022. The world equity market fell -17.7% for the year in USD terms, which resulted in an -11.3% decline in NZD terms as strength of the USD offset some of the market's downturn. We're expecting another turbulent year ahead as the market continues to digest higher interest rates. Yet we remain confident that these challenging times are laying the necessary foundations for better returns for long-term investors later in 2023, and in the years ahead.
Horizon Pharmaceuticals was our strongest performer in December due to a takeover bid made by California-based company Amgen. The $116.50 offer price represents a 22% gain over the level at which we first invested in Horizon in July 2021, while the overall market fell -10% over this same time. We believe Horizon offers Amgen good value at this level, yet we will sell our shares over the coming months as the deal closes.
Several stocks showed small gains during December on limited news as the year closed. Gold miner Agnico Eagle gained 3% for month, while Pulte Homes, Meta, and Merck, all gained between 1% and 2% for the month.
Our weakest performer for the month was our new position in natural gas producer EQT, which we invested in across the end of November and beginning of December. This business offered excellent value at a price-to-earnings ratio of less than 5 when we started buying the stock in November, and we took advantage of even lower stock prices during December. Building our investment at these lower prices helped offset the -20% headline drop in the stock's price over the month.
Tech companies Uber, Amazon, Apple, and Alphabet were also weak over December, dropping between -12% to -15% each. The Fed's aggressive commentary unwound some of the market's exuberance from November and put pressure on the valuations of these fast-growing tech companies.
New Zealand & Australian equities
Share markets failed to deliver a Santa rally this year. The local share market was no exception, declining -0.7% in December as measured by the S&P / NZX 50 Index.
However, this modest decline meant that the NZ market was still one of the best performing markets that we follow globally, with the MSCI World index falling -6% in NZ dollars over the month.
The medical distribution company EBOS was the strongest performing company in the Australasian component of the funds, growing by 7.2% for the month. This performance was particularly impressive because it followed a double-digit return in November. The company hosted an investor day in November that didn't reveal any major surprises - some viewed this as positive news. EBOS was also added to the MSCI small cap index in November, adding further impetus to the stock's price. In late December, it seems that some hedge funds started to accumulate positions in EBOS to anticipate the stock potentially being added to the MSCI large cap index in March. We like the company's consistent growth track record and relatively defensive earnings. Consequently, we continue to be happy shareholders.
Spark was the strongest contributor to our portfolio returns in December (+4.9%) partially because it makes up a large portion of our portfolio. The company announced that Connexa will acquire 2-Degree's mobile network assets. Connexa was formed when Spark sold some of its mobile tower business. The transaction means Spark will end up owning a small share of a bigger pie but should be even more valuable to Spark as they find ways to improve the efficiency of these assets. Spark also confirmed that it would exit Spark Sport in the second half of 2023. While this has not been a huge drag on earnings, its exit will boost Sparks earnings by ~$20m per annum.
Oceania was the weakest performing holding in December (-6.2%). The entire sector came under pressure as Ryman's share price continued to decline, dropping by -19% in December due to concerns about Ryman balance sheet. We took the opportunity to start to cautiously buy Ryman shares because the company can resolve their balance sheet concerns by slowing the pace of their development. This pullback should reduce the $1.9 billion they have invested in developments, thereby stabilizing the market's pessimism. We continue to expect house prices to slip further. We believe this will reverse over time, but patience is required. News that the government is looking to boost funding of care beds is a positive sign for the healthcare sector over the long term.