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The 100-year-old Australian investment company you’ve never heard of

It’s one of Australia’s oldest listed investment companies, yet few investors have heard of it.

While household Listed Investment Company (LIC) names such as Australian Foundation Investment Company and Argo Investments grab the limelight, low key is how Whitefield Ltd (ASX:WHF) prefers it.

Late last week, Whitefield took the time to celebrate its 100th birthday in a closing bell ceremony at the Australian Stock Exchange in Sydney.

Whitefield MD Angus Gluskie at the 100th birthday celebrations in Sydney. Picture: Supplied

The secrets to Whitefield’s longevity

Whitefield is a specialist LIC. It only invests in industrials stocks and excludes the resources sector from its portfolio. The company invests in about 160 companies in the ASX 200 industrials index.

The industrials exposure seeks to give investors a benefit from exposure to the long-term growth of the Australian economy, the historically lower volatility of companies operating in non-resource industries and has the incidental benefit of lowering exposure to fossil fuel producers and emitters.

Over the past 40 years, the company has returned close to 14% per annum, including the benefit of franking credits. 

So what are the keys to Whitefield’s longevity?

Managing Director Angus Gluskie puts it down to some simple principles:

“We believe there are three important contributors to durability: 1) having a sound investment strategy, that invests sensibly across a high diversity portfolio that targets consistent small increments of outperformance. 2) Alignment of interest between managers and shareholders. 3) A listed investment company structure, which encourages long term planning.”

Born in the ‘roaring ‘20s’

It’s ironic that the publicity-shy Whitefield was born during the roaring '20s’.

A.S. White was a young man then when, after the death of his father, he was put in charge of the financial operations of his family’s baking and milling business, the stock exchange listed Gartrell White.

By 1923, A.S. had built an accounting practice, created one of the nation’s first workers’ compensation insurers and listed a financing company.

In March of that year, he launched Whitefield as an investment company with a 5,000-pound public share issue. The company found an enthusiastic following and after several capital raisings, Whitefield’s issued capital swiftly increased to 300,000 pounds.

Initially, the company invested in mortgages, taking advantage of a resurgent housing market during the 1920s. But with the Great Depression, and then price controls on house prices and rents during World War Two, Whitefield pivoted to investing in companies that would benefit from growth in the broad industrial economy.

That’s how the investment strategy evolved towards owning a diversified portfolio of Australian shares for long term wealth creation. By the 1950s, Whitefield had 300 stocks in its portfolio.

While the investment strategy has broadly stayed the same since that time, Angus Gluskie says the tools of the investment trade have changed dramatically.

Whereas once, the company used manual mathematical calculations and handwritten records, now everything is computerised. That’s allowed the firm to use quantitative tools to assess stocks and develop proprietary assessments of quality, earnings, and growth.

Remaining a LIC is central to long-term success

Gluskie says the benefits of being an LIC far outweigh any negatives. While investors are free to sell Whitefield shares on the stock exchange, he says most see the company as a closed-end long term investment vehicle.

The stability of this investor money has allowed Whitefield to think about investments in decades rather than years or months.

I can attest to the stability of the investor base having met Margaret Dobbin at the ASX event, who’d been an investor in Whitefield since 1955.

It’s also no accident that there’s been little turnover in management since the company’s founding. Only five people have had the role of either Chair or CEO. The tenures of each, across the combined roles, has been between 30 and 50 years.

How does Whitefield stack up against other LICs?

With a market capitalisation of $603 million, Whitefield is a small-to-mid cap company in the LIC space. It's one of the few LICs that currently trades at a premium (2.1%) to its net tangible assets (NTA). Its share price versus NTA fluctuates more than some of the larger LICs, though less so than smaller peers.

Over the past one, three and five years, Whitefield has lagged many similar-sized or larger LICs due to the outperformance of commodities during these periods and Whitefield doesn't have any exposure to this sector.

Yet over the past decade, the company's investment portfolio performance (NTA growth of 8% p.a.) has been more than credible. Whitefield also offers a 100% fully franked dividend and the current net dividend yield of 4% compares favourably with other LICs.

And the company has maintained or increased its dividend in every year since the introduction of the dividend imputation system in the 1980s.

What does the future hold for Whitefield?

Whitefield has been a tremendous success story, though past performance is no guarantee of future performance.

Gluskie says the company’s history provides a guide for what works best for investor outcomes. Using investment experience, integrity, and innovation, Gluskie believes Whitefield can continue to thrive for another 100 years.

 

* Note that you can find detailed reports on LICs including Whitefield in Firstlinks' education centre.

James Gruber is an Assistant Editor for Firstlinks and Morningstar.com.au. This article is general information and does not consider the circumtances of any person.

 

8 Comments
Peter
April 13, 2023

Makes no sense to invest solely in industrials in Australia when we have the best resources in the world. BHP and Rios alike generates good returns as well as other resource companies... Resources are always in demand and the quality of our resources cannot be found elsewhere in the world.

I used to own WHF but have sold it and will just buy VAS.

G
March 27, 2023

Tracking the XNJ is OK but with the NTA issue and higher expenses why would you invest in WHY over VAS?

C
March 27, 2023

WHF being a LIC can retain some earnings to allow dividend smoothing. hence it has maintained or grown it's dividend every year for many years and has about another 7 years worth of dividends up it's sleeve that it can use to maintain dividends even during bad years.
whereas the dividends from VAS vary from year to year.
also VAS dividends are not fully franked.

C
March 27, 2023

it doesn't track the XNJ. the XNJ doesn't include financials, healthcare, consumer staples & discretionary, REITs communications and I.T. stocks, but WHF does.

C
March 24, 2023

The payout ratio has been well over 100% of earnings for the past 4 years. It's good that WHF has retained earnings to allow maintaining dividends but its not sustainable forever. Almost 30% in the big 4 banks means it's unlikely that EPS will catch up with dividends any time soon and makes it a pass for me at this stage.

michael
March 24, 2023

Worthy of the story, but why no mention of management fees & performance fees? It would complete the story.

C
March 24, 2023

Fees approx 0.4% p.a.
No performance fees

David
March 23, 2023

Another good thing about WHF is that its reporting cycle is different from almost all the other major LICs - very handy from a cash flow perspective to have regular dividends from WHF 3 months after AFI, ARG etc. if you're mainly living off LIC dividends.

 

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