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Stocks that can benefit from a weak pound

Written by: Adam Lewis
In the immediate aftermath of the shock Brexit vote not only did global stock markets plummet, but the value of the pound took a huge hit, falling to record lows.

However in the weeks following, while the FTSE 100 regained ground and moved higher than where it was post-Brexit, sterling continued to stay weak providing a significant challenge for UK-facing businesses. That is, those businesses which do little trading overseas and derive nearly all of their earnings from these shores.

The question is, given this environment, are there any UK-based stocks that can benefit from the pound being so weak? We spoke to two experts to find out.

Hugh Yarrow, the manager of the Evenlode Income fund, says he holds few business models in his portfolio which are affected by the rising price of input costs from abroad because of the weak pound. Two examples of companies in his fund that were affected are Halfords and the cosmetics and healthcare company PZ Cussons.

“The majority of Evenlode holdings are UK-based global businesses,” says Yarrow. The management teams of these companies are beginning to indicate the positive impact on earnings if currency rates remain at recent levels: most are set to benefit by between 5-10% for the full year. In some cases, the increase will be higher.”

A good example of one such business is the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. According to Yarrow, Glaxo expects currency to increase its underlying earnings by 19% this year, if rates remain at their current levels.

Adrian Lowcock, investment director at Architas, says not only do the pharmaceutical giants such as Glaxo and AstraZeneca – which have both rallied strongly since the Brexit vote – benefit from having large overseas earnings, they are also advantaged from having stable demand as healthcare costs are rarely cut during a recession as the one thing people always need is healthcare.

Another sector of the UK market which has benefited owing to its global earnings nature and having little exposure to the pound or the UK economy says Lowcock, is tobacco. Stocks in this space he highlights as doing well are Imperial Brands and British American Tobacco (BAT).

“It is not a sector sensitive to the cyclical nature of an economy,” says Lowcock. “Consumer staples are likely to be another beneficiary as these giant consumer goods businesses are global in nature and tend to benefit from rising global demand  as well as a weaker pound.”

Other exporters in Yarrow’s universe which should do well include industrials, such as the manufacturing and engineering companies Rotork, Spirax-Sarco, Renshaw, and Victrex.

“While the impact on competitiveness for this group of companies is incrementally positive, it is in many cases not huge,” says Yarrow. “Most have worked hard over the years on developing supply chains and production footprints that help offset global revenues with a global cost base.”

Lowcock agrees that a weak pound should be good news for the UK’s manufacturing sector, with any company exporting goods instantly becoming more competitive.

“Those companies which could easily switch their market focus from domestic to overseas markets could be surprises winners,” he says. “Domestic tourism should also get a big boost as it becomes cheaper to come to the UK and tourists take advantage of it.”

The challenge going forward, notes Lowcock, is looking for those companies that will significantly benefit from currency fluctuations in their bottom line.

“The weak pound will benefit UK commodity producers as commodity prices are all quoted in dollars. So miners, gold miners and oil majors may well benefit as a weak pound will effectively boost the value of the underlying commodity helping to boost profits and perhaps more importantly reduce losses.”

For those investors in UK funds who may be worried about their exposure to companies negatively impacted by the weak currency, Lowcock notes most fund managers who analyse companies will already be on top of the problem and will have repositioned their portfolios to get exposure to the types of companies that will benefit the most.

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