Many people in the financial industry are still in lockdown in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. FSA checked in with Netherlands-based Jack Neele, who is lead manager of the $4.29bn Robeco Global Consumer Trends Equities Fund, which is available to accredited investors in Singapore, to see how he is coping.
1. What is your daily routine?
I am in the fortunate position that I have a separate home office, so working from home has gone pretty seamless. First of all, I can save the commute and during nice weather days we can have lunch in the garden. My wife is also at home as she’s pregnant, so it’s really nice to be able to spend more time together than usual.
After breakfast, I run Bloomberg, e-mail and other applications. Every morning I have a daily video conference with the investing team where we discuss market moves, company earnings and other relevant topics. During the day we now speak regularly with companies and analysts via conference calls or video calls.
2. How are you communicating with clients and colleagues?
With colleagues it’s mainly email or video calls. For clients we can do the same of course, but I’ve also recorded video messages and we’ve been organizing webinars, where clients can sign in and listen to a 30-minute update on the performance, positioning and outlook of the fund. During the worst period of the corona-crisis, when the volatility in the stock market was very high, we sent out weekly portfolio manager updates to keep clients up-to-date with what was happening in the markets. I think we’ve been in close contact with clients, especially during the times when they most needed guidance.
3. Besides, face-to-face meetings, what tasks can’t you do as well at home as you can in the office?
It’s more difficult to be in touch with colleagues from other departments, such as sales or support staff. At the office, you sometimes run into people and have a quick chat, but I find that when working from home, those moments tend to disappear. That is one of the negatives as it’s harder to remain in touch with other parts of the organization. That’s why I think even though working from home will certainly become part of my future routine, combining it with working from the office seems like an ideal combination.
4. During the extreme market volatility and uncertainty about the shape of the economic recovery, what are some recurring client concerns?
Clients are of course worried about their capital and whether this crisis will impact long-term returns. As earnings estimates are being cut for this year (2020), of course valuations – looking at 2020 earnings – seem very expensive and that can be a concern as well. So, we’re trying to guide clients to think about the longer term, as some trends such as e-commerce, video gaming, meal delivery, contactless payments, health and hygiene may even accelerate due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and so our investments will benefit.
5. Compare the full year 2020 forecast for portfolio performance today with the assessment in December 2019.
To be honest, that hasn’t changed as much. Our portfolio has done extremely well as we’re firmly into positive territory for the year-to-date performance. We’ve benefited from having exposure to the above mentioned trends, and the share prices of companies exposed to long-term growth markets have performed quite strongly. So, for the long term we remain equally confident in the outlook, despite the short-to-medium-term impact on the earnings of affected companies.
6. How do you keep balanced and healthy during this period of isolation?
In the first two months I probably added a couple of pounds as outdoor sports were no longer possible. I do go out on short hikes (up to one hour) with my wife on a near daily basis to keep fit. Luckily one of my favorite sports is tennis, so with the restrictions on sports like golf and tennis being lifted in the Netherlands last week, I am now playing tennis at least once or twice a week. Given that the physical distance on the court is quite wide, it’s a sport that’s well suited to social distancing. So hopefully I will lose the extra pound or two quite quickly.
The Robeco Global Consumer Trends Equities Fund vs benchmark and sector, three years