January was a month of two halves for the UK market. It roared away in the first half, up 6%, before retreating and closing in the red, -0.8%.
The more domestically focused markets, The FTSE Small Cap and AIM All-share closed the month up 0.2% and +0.3% respectively. The excitement, relief and encouragement of COVID-19 vaccinations ramping up and a Brexit deal (albeit-light on detail) fuelled the early rise in the month before volatility crept up on the market after the actions in GameStop by the Reddit community.
The Fund utilised the market volatility and had a busy month, adding to five holdings, reducing a brace and initiating in a new position.
Early in the month, we further reduced our position in Rio Tinto. The miner rocketed up in the early half of the month, where we decided to trim our position and add to Unilever, L’Oréal and JD Sports Fashion. These consumer-centric businesses have been under continued pressure over the final months of 2020 and, despite persistent lockdowns and resultant subdued sales, we see these companies as best of breed and certainly the best placed to capitalise once restrictions ebb away. We were relieved that JD Sports agreed to acquire US retailer DTLR Villa, despite having its head-turned by Debenhams. With the demise of Topshop stores after its buyout by Asos, JD Sports is one of the last remaining quality shops left on the high street, and with over 50% of revenue coming from overseas and a quarter online/multichannel, it is a business we are very happy to buy and hold for the long-term.
In the healthcare space, we added to Roche as it dipped below 300 CHF and took some profits in one of our small-cap companies, Clinigen. The pharma services provider has performed well over 2020 and its ability to ensure the continuation of supply of essential medicines to healthcare professionals globally despite the coronavirus crisis allowed the CEO to guide full year 2021 revenue to be +3% up to £230 million. We trimmed profits and initiated a position in AstraZeneca. The darling of UK (and global) healthcare has been unloved by the stock market since its announcement to purchase US rare diseases specialist Alexion. Aside from their game-changing, mass-producible, Covid-19 vaccine, AstraZeneca focuses on developing medicines for cancer, as well as cardiovascular, kidney and respiratory diseases. This deal would give it a foothold in the lucrative rare diseases market. Alexion has a pipeline of eleven experimental drugs for rare diseases and its main product, Soliris, treats a rare blood disorder. We believe that when you look through the sentiment, and after its recent re-rating, AstraZeneca is a high-quality business, with strong fundamentals and a drugs pipeline with excellent prospects.