Expecting the Unexpected

August is a time for reading and reflection.  This year has turned out very differently from what we had expected.  So much of our everyday reality has changed because of Covid-19.  It has been a great challenge to adapt in our personal and professional lives and it has brought concern, adversity and distress to many. However, it is also striking how resilient our societies and economies have been in the face of the unprecedented measures taken to contain the spread of the virus and how quickly and effectively global science and technology has been able to progress towards diagnosis, treatment and protection. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated many of the changes and disruptions of the past ten years, none more so than the shift from offline to online in most areas of economic and social activity.  Some companies have prospered while others have faltered. 

Our focus on quality and value for the long-term has allowed us to identify many of the companies whose businesses have benefitted from this acceleration of changes because of the strength and resilience of their businesses and balance sheets.  That is why our World Stars Global Equity strategy is now up 8.4% for the year in US dollars. 

The second quarter has borne the full impact of the measures taken to contain the pandemic on economies and companies. Corporate results over the past couple of weeks have shown how disparate the performance of companies can be.  A number of our companies in two of the key areas we invest in, digital and online, health care and life sciences, have reported record results.  Others in consumer products and industrials have shown resilience in absorbing the impact, adjusting their costs and using their balance sheets to take advantage of opportunities and to make acquisitions. 

We discuss a number of companies in our comments below but one to highlight is Facebook, which has been subject to significant scrutiny and advertising boycotts due to its content policy. As we had expected (!), Facebook has continued to adapt its policy and is proactively enforcing the standards it has established across its global platforms.  Contrary to the expectations of most brokerage analysts and journalists, second quarter results showed increases in monthly active users and engagement, along with record sales and margins. As a platform, Facebook now has more than 3 billion monthly active users, of which only 20% are in the US and in Europe.  It reinforces our focus on fundamental research into companies and the long-term prospects for their businesses, avoiding distractions from short-term alarmism.

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