Gresham House plc, (LON:GHE), the specialist alternative asset manager, has announced another year of strong growth, both organically and through acquisition, with Assets Under Management (AUM) increasing by 42% to £4.0 billion, and significant increases to revenue and adjusted operating profit. The Group has momentum in fundraising and plans for further AUM growth across its divisions in 2021. The Board is also pleased to announce a 33% increase in the dividend to 6.0p (2019: 4.5p).
|As at/for the year to 31 Dec 2020||As at/for the year to 31 Dec 2019||Change(%)|
|Assets under management (£m)||3,970||2,797||+42|
|Cash and liquid assets (£m)||45.1||41.3||+9|
|Net core income (£m)||40.8||31.7||+29|
|Adjusted operating profit (£m)||12.1||10.3||+17|
|Net performance fees and gains on investments (£m)||1.0||1.5||-33|
|Comprehensive net income (£m)||0.8||-0.8||n/a|
|·||Strong AUM growth of 42% to £4.0 billion (2019: £2.8 billion), with organic growth of £1.0 billion (35%)|
|·||Robust net core income growth of 29% to £40.8 million (2019: £31.7 million) and growth in adjusted operating profit of 17% to £12.1 million (2019: £10.3 million)|
|·||Final dividend proposed to increase by 33% to 6.0 pence (2019: 4.5 pence)|
|·||Good progress in first year of five-year strategic plan GH25 to create shareholder value as part of identified strategic and financial Group objectives|
|·||International presence progressed by proposed acquisition of Appian Asset Management Limited, the EU-based regulated asset manager, subject to regulatory approval in 2021|
|·||Enhanced client base, with six of the ten largest UK Local Government Pension Schemes investing in funds managed by Gresham House|
|·||Continued investment in the team to scale AUM in identified areas of strong growth potential|
|·||The Group’s inaugural Sustainable Investment Report will be published week beginning 15th March 2021|
|·||Sustainable Investing Committee embedded in the business has supported the Group’s recognition in this area with top Principles for Responsible Investment scores and Green Economy Mark from the London Stock Exchange|
|·||Forestry division growth includes planting 9.0 million trees in 2020. Carbon dioxide sequestration across the forestry portfolio totalled approximately 35 million tonnes as at the end of December 2020. It is estimated that 1.5 million tonnes of CO² was absorbed in 2020.|
Commenting on the results, Tony Dalwood, Chief Executive of Gresham House, said:
“The growth within each of the asset classes at Gresham House reflects the quality of our investment teams and client demand for these specialist areas. We start the second year of the GH25 plan with positive momentum despite the ongoing macroeconomic and social challenges, and we continue to invest alongside our growth ambitions in order to deliver client targets and generate shareholder value from AUM growth”.
2020 has unquestionably been one of the most challenging years we have seen, with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting global populations and economies on an unprecedented scale. However, despite the difficulties and uncertainty we faced, I am pleased to report yet another busy and productive year for Gresham House, in which we have made strong progress against GH25, our five-year growth plan, and demonstrated the resilience of our business. This is directly attributable to the quality and drive of the people within this business.
We entered the pandemic in a good position, with a strong balance sheet supported by the resilient nature of our assets and have continued to grow and outperform the market. Our operations have remained largely unaffected and stable throughout, thanks to the early and decisive action taken by management to protect the business and the impressive response of our talented team, as they adapted swiftly to new ways of working. We continue to prioritise their safety, health, and wellbeing, encouraging a culture of ‘overcommunication’ with colleagues and clients, and close team collaboration.
I am pleased that the Company, Management Committee and Directors donated £100,000 in aggregate to the Trussell Trust, a charity that works to end the need for food banks in the UK, and NHS Charities Together, as we aimed to support communities in need. In addition, we set up a Give As You Earn Scheme for all employees and the Company will match donations made.
Activity in the period
I am delighted to see the remarkable 42% growth in AUM over the past year, bringing us to £4.0 billion of AUM, demonstrating the attractive nature of our strategies.
Around £1.0 billion of this growth has been organic, which has been achieved through very strong fundraising success in a tough market across our strategies in housing, forestry, sustainable infrastructure and new energy – all vital to the UK Government’s plans for a green economic recovery in the UK post the pandemic. In Strategic Equity, we have also held up well against a difficult broader economic backdrop and grown our assets further, alongside winning the £150 million mandate for Strategic Equity Capital plc (SEC). Fundraising highlights across the year include the British Strategic Investment Fund (BSIF) hitting its £300 million target, the Gresham House Energy Storage Fund (GRID) raising £150 million, exceeding its target, the Baronsmead VCTs raising £57 million as well as the successful fund raise for Gresham House Forest Fund I LP.
We have also made good progress with acquisition-based growth, with the integration of TradeRisks, the fund management and debt advisory services group, boosting our Housing division and the recently announced acquisition of Appian Asset Management, which is subject to Central Bank of Ireland approval, ensuring a strengthened presence in Ireland to target growth in the post-Brexit world. TradeRisks has again shown the capability of this management team to add value through integration and execute on potential synergies.
Our performance has also been recognised by the industry and the market, as we appeared on twelve shortlists and won five awards including ‘Boutique of the Year’ in the Investment Week Specialist Fund Awards 2020 and, for a third year running, ‘Best Alternative Investment Manager’ in the WealthBriefing European Awards. I am particularly proud that we have continued to invest in the business, having recruited 21 new joiners in a tough, uncertain market.
It has been pleasing to see the progress we have made with embedding sustainability in every aspect of our business, as we achieved industry leading scores for our first submission to the Principles for Responsible Investment and were also awarded the Green Economy Mark by the London Stock Exchange. We have expanded the range of sustainability focused investment strategies with new opportunities including carbon credit and affordable housing investment platforms. Rebecca Craddock-Taylor, our Sustainable Investment Director who joined us in July 2020 is leading this process as we get ready to publish our inaugural Sustainable Investment Report. The culture within the Group is strong and positive with evidence of this coming through our employee survey.
The growth that we have seen this year is noteworthy given the tough external backdrop. Net core income has increased by 29% to reach £40.8 million (2019: £31.7 million), while adjusted operating profit was £12.1 million, growing by 17% (2019: £10.3 million). Net comprehensive income is up to a profit of £0.8 million (2019: £0.8 million loss). Our robust balance sheet and the strong cash and net liquid asset positions have also provided us with the flexibility to continue the pursuit of our growth ambitions.
We intend to increase the dividend for this year to 6.0 pence, an increase of 33% (2019: 4.5 pence), with the Board cognisant of striking a balance between continuing to invest in the business for growth and providing a progressive dividend policy. The dividend increase for the year reflects the positive long-term outlook we anticipate for the company.
We continue to welcome new shareholders to the register as we broaden our supportive shareholder base and it is pleasing to see the quality of that base, a reflection of the capital markets supporting our growth and management teams. As our market capitalisation has grown beyond the £250 million threshold, we have come a long way since the £12 million capitalisation at the time of the Management Buy-In a little over five years ago. Importantly, the senior management team has shown that it can generate organic growth alongside adding value by acquisitions.
Richard Chadwick, our Senior Independent Director and Chairman of the Audit Committee, has served on the Board since June 2008. His knowledge of the Company’s history prior to the advent of the current management team has been very useful and his continuity on the Audit Committee has been valuable during a period of considerable change. However, after nearly 13 years on the Board it is time to plan for his succession. I have therefore agreed with him that he should serve one more year, which will give us time to recruit a new Chairman of the Audit Committee and facilitate an orderly handover of his responsibilities; he will then retire at the conclusion of next year’s AGM. In accordance with our Articles and the provisions of the QCA Corporate Governance Code, Richard will therefore stand for re-election at this year’s AGM.
As we commence 2021 still in lockdown, we continue to prioritise our employees’ safety and wellbeing. We will continue to invest in the business, as we scale our platform, ensuring that we are resourced to match our ambitions. We are confident the year ahead will take us further on our journey to achieve our GH25 objectives.
Although COVID-19 continues to disrupt our daily lives, we approach the year ahead with optimism, and are excited about our growth trajectory, as our product offering and sustainable investment focus continue to provide attractive returns over the long-term whilst delivering shareholder value.
Gresham House operates in areas with strong opportunities for growth from increased allocation to alternative assets, underpinned by significant demand for sustainable investment, placing us in a position of long-term strength. We have witnessed the resilience of our business in 2020 and are confident that we will continue to grow in the coming year.
10 March 2021
Chief Executive’s Report
In March 2020, we set out GH25, our ambitious strategic plan to generate shareholder value over the next five years, at that stage unaware of the full extent of the pandemic that would follow, resulting in a tumultuous period economically, socially and politically. I am pleased to say that the quality of our business has been highlighted in so many ways including the adaptability of our people to address these challenges. The subsequent actions and change in routine to achieve our clients’ objectives have been something to be proud of, and importantly, momentum in profit growth alongside strategic development has continued.
Over this period, we have grown our AUM by 42% to £4.0 billion, in line with our ambitious plans. Of this growth, £1.0 billion (35%) was organic, through strong fundraising performances across both the Real Assets and Strategic Equity divisions, increasing the depth of the Group’s institutional client base. We have also grown through selective acquisitions, including Appian Asset Management, subject to approval from the Central Bank of Ireland, and TradeRisks, a fund management business and specialist provider of debt structuring and advisory services to the housing and social infrastructure sectors. With the acquisition of Appian, we have accelerated our international expansion plans with the addition of a regulated EU-based platform post-Brexit. TradeRisks considerably enhances our Housing platform with the addition of a highly experienced team to help us build scale in this important area. We believe these are further examples of our approach to create shareholder value through complementary additions to the Gresham House platform, where target returns, business development plans and synergies are clear.
Throughout what has been both a difficult and highly disruptive period, to the market and to the business environment, we have remained cognisant that our companies, and our industry, are defined by the people who work within them. Our key assets are our people, and the effect that the COVID-19 situation continues to have on individuals and families financially, psychologically and socially, has been at the forefront of our minds. We have maintained a focus on team safety, through remote working and staggered working times in the office, and closely monitored the physical and mental health of the Gresham House family. I am proud of our team’s dedication and response plus our ability to continue business as usual during such a difficult time. We continue to remain vigilant to the threat posed by the pandemic whilst focused on our client and shareholder objectives.
We have seen structural growth in the asset classes in which Gresham House invests, in terms of continued growth in institutional investor allocation to alternatives and growth in demand for ESG investment opportunities. A survey of institutional investors by CoreData found that 40% will increase their allocations to alternative investment strategies over the next three to five years. Equally, Mercer’s 2020 survey of the European pension industry shows 88% of institutional investors now plan to integrate ESG into their investment policy.
As a consequence, we see a strong outlook for organic growth within the business, underpinned by structural growth in the demand for new energy, forestry, sustainable infrastructure, housing, early-stage technology companies and those targeting entrepreneurial growth. As we look to the year ahead, we do so with cautious optimism and the knowledge that we are well-positioned to benefit from structural growth in demand for our investments from clients across the spectrum of institutional, Family Office, High Net Worth and retail.
We believe the GH25 framework objectives will generate substantial shareholder value, resulting in Gresham House becoming an “asset to covet” for all stakeholders, shareholders, employees and clients. GH25 aims to double shareholder value over the five years to 2025. With sustainability at the heart of our strategy to generate long-term shareholder value, we aim to grow AUM to over £6.0 billion, increase operating margins to 40% and maintain target Returns on Invested Capital (ROIC) of 15% or above.
At the end of the first year of our strategic plan, we have increased AUM by £1.2 billion both organically and via acquisition, making solid progress towards our goal. This has included capturing synergies from the TradeRisks acquisition, which significantly enhances our ability to scale our housing platform, and we anticipate further synergies with the proposed acquisition of Appian Asset Management in Ireland.
We continue to invest substantially in the business, across all our platforms in areas where we see long-term sustainable opportunities to grow and subsequently benefit from the operational gearing.
We are also on track to maintain ROIC of 15% through the use of our balance sheet in the medium term. This has also been demonstrated in the performance of historic acquisitions. In 2020, this was further evidenced by balance sheet investments in battery storage projects through the wholly-owned subsidiary Gresham House Devco Limited, and its subsequent sales to Gresham House Energy Storage Fund plc (LON:GRID).
We have continued to see superior returns from funds managed, with resilient performance in the LF Gresham House UK Micro Cap and LF Gresham House UK Multi Cap Income funds over 2020. In addition, forestry as an asset class continues to show very strong performance, with our forestry funds generating an average return of 15% in the last 12 months. We pride ourselves on our ability to manage funds which provide investors with diversification benefits during periods of market volatility.
Gresham House is a specialist in several niche investment areas and our market share in these continues to grow. We now have the largest battery storage investment trust in the UK in GRID, and we are the largest commercial forestry asset manager in the UK. These asset classes evidence how we can provide sustainable solutions to clients whilst growing the client base through capable investment, asset management and distribution talent.
Importantly, we are increasing our international footprint with the proposed acquisition of Appian Asset Management in Ireland and working on capturing a substantial carbon credit-based forestry opportunity in New Zealand. The acquisition of Appian expands our capabilities to develop existing strategies in Ireland, and further across Europe, with a particular focus on sustainable infrastructure, social housing, specialist equities and forestry.
We continue to enhance the Gresham House brand, with industry recognition and our broader profile in the media, including national broadcast media, and across social media, delivering our messages to the market directly and succinctly through showcasing our growing capabilities.
In 2020, we were pleased that our commitment to embedding ESG and sustainable investing across the Group was recognised by the London Stock Exchange, which awarded us the coveted Green Economy Mark in July. The Green Economy Mark is only awarded to listed companies that derive more than 50% of annual revenues from environmental solutions. We also received our first scores from the UN-supported Principles for Responsible Investment, with an A+ rating for Strategy & Governance, the highest possible score. Our investment strategies scored an A+ in Infrastructure, A in Public Equity and an A in Private Equity.
We have continued to invest in our leadership in this critical area with the hire of Rebecca Craddock-Taylor as Sustainable Investment Director, who has been working to develop and embed existing sustainable investment policies across both the Real Assets and Strategic Equity divisions. In 2020, we codified our approach to sustainable investment with the establishment of a Sustainable Investing Committee under Rebecca’s leadership. This committee comprises senior representatives across the company and ensures delivery against the sustainable investment policies that are embedded across each stage of the investment lifecycle. It also sets the culture for sustainability at Gresham House from the top.
We lead by example and sustainability now forms part of every employee’s objectives so that it permeates every aspect of the business. In 2020, we hosted our first webinar on our approach to sustainable investment, providing examples of the application to real assets including forestry, new energy and sustainable infrastructure. We will also launch our first Sustainable Investment Report shortly and host further webinars in this area, which lies at the heart of what we do.
Assets under management
Our GH25 ambition to double shareholder value is driven by our ability to grow AUM. The table below provides more detail on our progress in the year, growing AUM by 42% to £4.0 billion:
|AUM as at 31 Dec 2019|
|Net Fund Flows 1|
|Funds won/ acquired|
|AUM as at 31 Dec 2020|
|Strategic Public Equity||283||35||42||148||508||225||80%|
|Private Equity 2||425||37||5||(55)||412||(13)||(3)%|
|New Energy and Sustainable Infrastructure||663||267||2||–||932||269||41%|
1 Includes funds raised, redemptions and distributions.
2 The LMS contract was terminated in May 2020.
Organic growth in AUM of 35% in the year was c.£1.0 billion, driven by net fundraising across the Group, fund performance and winning a new fund mandate.
Net fund inflows in the year reflected the resilient demand for the sustainable investment funds that we manage occurring across each division in the business. Notable fundraises include GRID raising £150 million, Gresham House Forest Fund I LP raising £108 million, BSIF securing additional commitments of £100 million as well as the Strategic Equity funds generating net inflows from the open-ended funds and Baronsmead VCTs. We were also able to diversify and deepen our client base and we now manage funds for six of the ten largest UK Local Government Pension Schemes in the UK.
Performance in the year generated £437 million in AUM, with the demand for Forestry increasing and valuations improving as a result.
We also added a further £277 million which includes winning the Strategic Equity Capital plc (SEC) mandate (£147 million) and ReSI plc (£184 million) through the acquisition of TradeRisks. Our busy year has been reflected in the growth in our AUM.
As expected, Real Assets remained robust during the pandemic, offering resilience and a safe haven in a time of heightened volatility in global equity markets.
Forestry continued to provide an excellent safe harbour for capital throughout the crisis. We have seen growth in the underlying value of all the forests that we manage and there has been significant interest from investors in the sector. As a consequence, we closed the Gresham House Forest Fund I LP fundraising at £108 million, securing a new institutional investor, driven by the potential for attractive long-term returns, our expertise in the sector and the robust underlying characteristics of the asset class. We are also looking further afield at carbon credits and forestry to support our international growth.
In New Energy, GRID raised over £150 million in the year, with its last equity raise being oversubscribed significantly, and we were able to supply 100MW of utility scale battery storage projects from our development pipeline. The proceeds of the fundraising will be used to finance a c.485MW pipeline of energy storage projects. We are pleased to be meeting a fundamental need within the UK energy network. Additional renewable generation capacity brings the need for more energy storage to achieve a cost-effective energy transition, and our new pipeline will help meet this need. As part of our commitment to New Energy, we are also investing in unsubsidised renewable energy assets and plan to launch a renewable energy fund for institutional clients in this important area.
We were delighted to reach a final close of £300 million for our British Strategic Investment Fund (BSIF) in 2020, the upper limit of our fundraising target, and received further backing from UK Local Government Pension Schemes who are committed to funding UK infrastructure. BSIF is focused on sustainable infrastructure areas and has already deployed capital into the renewable energy, battery storage, waste disposal, fibre broadband, vertical farming and key worker accommodation sectors and we look forward to launching a second fund in the coming year.
Following the acquisition of TradeRisks in March, we have further built out our Housing team with Residential Secure Income plc (ReSI) adding £184 million in AUM to the division. The team has also worked together on the launch of Gresham House Residential Secure Income LP (GH ReSI LP), which will target institutional investors and local government pension schemes looking to access the under-addressed UK shared ownership residential property market and aim to deliver a quantifiable social impact. The aim is to have a first close in the first half of 2021.
The pandemic has taken its toll on global equity markets in 2020, with high levels of volatility and market uncertainty, marked by a significant fall in valuations in March, followed by an unprecedented stimulus package from governments globally.
As a consequence, the economy has been supported to a significant degree, including a £330 billion UK Government financial package, restoring valuations, and combating negative sentiment. Throughout this crisis, we have supported our portfolio companies, particularly in the hard-hit sectors such as leisure and retail.
We have seen steady growth through net fund inflows into our open-ended vehicles, despite continued outflows for UK equities across the industry, and raised £57 million over the course of the year for the Baronsmead VCTs, reflecting strong ongoing demand for a dynamic, entrepreneurial approach to investing in the UK’s early-stage growth businesses, a key area for post-Brexit UK.
Gresham House was also appointed investment manager for SEC. Our appointment was made on the basis of the depth of expertise within the Gresham House platform, with talent such as Ken Wotton and Brendan Gulston, and a team with a superior 20-year track record of investing in small caps and creating shareholder value through constructive corporate engagement using a private equity approach to publicly quoted companies. This has also been demonstrated by the very strong five-year performance of Gresham House Strategic plc, managed by the strategic public equity team including Richard Staveley, and Laurence Hulse.
People and culture
The Gresham House culture is fundamental to who we are as a business. We have cultivated a culture of dynamism based on empowering individual flair and entrepreneurial thinking. This enables us to design and implement innovative investment solutions capable of building a sustainable future for all our stakeholders.
Over the course of 2020 we have invested in our people to achieve our AUM growth ambitions, making hires across the business, attracting key fund managers such as Peter Bachmann for Sustainable Infrastructure, and hiring across distribution.
Employee engagement remains strong and our employee survey showed 94% of employees would recommend Gresham House as a good place to work to their network and friends. We are also making good progress with diversity at management level, with women holding 32% of our senior managerial roles. I would like to express my personal thanks to this great team for their dedication to our purpose and ambitions.
We are committed to diversity and inclusion, whilst making a positive change, and this is evident in actions not simply words. As part of this commitment, we are participating in the #100BLACKINTERNS initiative, which aims to offer Black students across the UK an opportunity to begin a career in investment management. The internships are paid and will last a minimum of six weeks over the summer of 2021.
We have also added to the Gresham House team in partnership with Leadership Through Sport & Business (LTSB), a social mobility charity that prepares and supports young people from disadvantaged backgrounds into meaningful roles in accounting and technology with major firms. They make sure those at risk of under-employment find careers equal to their ambition and ability.
At the year end, we employed 122 people, demonstrating the continued growth in the business since we started in 2014, with just a few individuals. Our goals are well aligned with that of our clients, with senior management owning a material 8% of the shares. We see increasing management and employee share ownership, through both our bonus share matching, with c.50% take up by employees, and share save schemes.
Our talented team continues to gain recognition from across the industry and we were named Alternative Investment Manager of the Year at the UK Pensions Awards, as well as European Alternative Investment Manager of the Year by Funds Europe, among other accolades. These awards are well deserved and a testament to the commitment, excellence and dedication that underpins our culture.
As the pandemic continues, there is no doubt that the market will continue to be challenging and we expect volatility in equity and bond markets alongside turbulence in the real economy as many stimulus packages cease and governments look to fund the enormous debts accumulated.
At present, market valuations in certain areas also show bubble-like characteristics. However, there are areas of the market and sectors where good value exists and others that feature structural growth dynamics including sustainability that make them attractive to alternative asset managers. The balance and long-term resilience of our business model and mix mitigates volatility in earnings due to extraneous factors, such as COVID-19.
We are now into the second year of our five-year plan, having gone through the ‘J curve’ of growth. This is an exciting journey and one that contains even more potential than seemed possible in 2015.
Over the course of 2021, we look forward to completing our acquisition of Appian Asset Management and its integration into our operations as we build the platform and further capitalise on our plans for international expansion.
We are also excited by the pipeline of fundraising we have planned for 2021 across all areas of our business.
In Housing, we look forward to launching GH ReSI LP and in Sustainable Infrastructure we have the ongoing deployment of BSIF, with a follow-on fund to come during the year. We will also be launching new funds in Forestry, including an international theme, and in New Energy with renewables and battery storage. Across equities, the strong investment performance should attract more investors to the specialist approaches within the Strategic Public Equity, VCT and Equity Funds areas.
Our focus is to deliver on stakeholder objectives in order to make Gresham House an asset to covet for clients, employees and shareholders. The opportunity with our existing asset classes is growing, and clients are seeking new investment solutions to achieve both their financial and sustainability ambitions. We have shown that we can grow the business organically and through acquisition, and the Gresham House brand is growing in a positive way.
I am fortunate to be working with a team of ambitious people who understand client and shareholder objectives. The aim is to keep raising the bar year on year, and this capable team keep rising to the challenge supported by structural growth in our markets from clients for specialist and differentiated products and solutions.
10 March 2021