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Can Monks emerge as the 'safer' Scottish Mortgage?

Can Monks emerge as the 'safer' Scottish Mortgage?

He's not yet one year in to his task of turning around the performance of Monks (MKS), Baillie Gifford's other global investment trust, but as Charles Plowden delivers his pitch to investors, themes familiar to longstanding investors in the group's more illustrious Scottish Mortgage (SMT) trust are evident.

Plowden took over Monks in April last year, as part of a Bailie Gifford bid to revitalise the underperforming investment trust, which has perennially been in the shadows of the top-performing Scottish Mortgage.

Over 10 years, Monks' shares are up by just 56.9%, placing it firmly in the bottom half of the Association of Investment Companies' Global sector. Over the same period, shares in Scottish Mortgage have risen 205.1%.

Speaking at Winterflood's annual investment trust conference, Plowden echoed arguments often made by James Anderson, longstanding manager of Scottish Mortgage.

He embraced 'asymmetry of returns', one of the key flanks in the arguments for growth investing, that while you can only ever lose as much as 100% on a stock, the potential gains are limitless.

'This means time spent on finding potential "multi-baggers" is much more productive than time spent on analysing downside risk,' he said.

'What we're encouraging across our investment hall is risk taking. Embracing uncertainty is a lot more important to future returns than playing it safe.'

Plowden has the record to back up this outlook. He also manages Baillie Gifford's institutional global alpha funds, while have made around 30 times their money on investing in Amazon (AMZN.O) since 2008.

Key differences

It's all sounding very Scottish Mortgage, but there are some key differences. Monks holds 18 of the same stocks as its much bigger peer, but is more diversified.

Monks holds 118 stocks versus Scottish Mortgage's 70, and the 18 cross-over companies make up around half as much of the Monks portfolio compared to the more concentrated collection of shares run by Anderson and Tom Slater.

Plowden's growth philosophy also encompasses a broader range of stocks than the approach employed by Scottish Mortgage.

As well as 'rapid growth' stocks like Google (GOOGL.O) and 'cyclical growth' stocks like Swedish bank Handelsbanken (SHBa.ST), Plowden also finds a place for 'growth stalwarts' like Prudential (PRU) and 'latent growth' companies like Irish builder CRH (CRH), as we reported in one of last year's Investment Trust Watch pieces.

This means the portfolio is home to some companies that wouldn't be perceived as growth stocks to some investors. 'Latent growth stocks don't look like growth stocks at all according to recent history,' said Plowden, but he argued those he had identified in this category could be on the cusp of a turnaround. 'We think the next 10 years for CRH will be radically different from the last,' he said.

'It brings to the portfolio a natural diversification and balance and makes us genuinely geographically neutral.'

The overhaul has left Monks looking more exciting than it was. But for Plowden, this is a necessity. The trust boasts an 'active share' of 92%, meaning it only has an 8% overlap with its benchmark, the FTSE World index, due to his fears over the risks posed to the large incumbent companies that dominate stock market indices but whose business may come under threat.

'We think you should be wary of the market cap-weighted indices,' he said. 'Very large parts of the existing corporate landscape are under threat. The pace of change and innovation is accelerating. It's particularly difficult for the lumbering giants, the incumbents.'

Exciting stuff! But perhaps not as exciting as the more concentrated growth story that has served Scottish Mortgage so well.

That may be no bad thing for some investors with markets as they are. As growth stocks get hit by the market turmoil, Monks may appeal to some as a less risky bet on their resurgence than its bigger peer. 

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