The purity factor
The heart of a sound thematic investment philosophy is a pure-play approach. Since the investment themes you choose should only be ones that you truly believe in, you will want to gain the highest possible exposure to those themes, while respecting the need for diversification and liquidity.
To achieve that exposure, you should ensure that each company in the investment universe generates more than 50% of its revenue from the provision of solutions and services directly related to your chosen investment theme. This approach naturally leads you away from large conglomerates that may be engaged in many different business areas and directs your investments more toward smaller companies that are focused on and often exclusively dedicated to your selected investment theme. A pure-play approach helps you to focus on the specific dynamics of the theme and often results in a diversified portfolio of companies that typically are not owned in core holdings, in index funds, or ETFs.
Going beneath the surface
Since investment themes often cut across traditional sectors and may be global in nature, it can be wise to take a “benchmark-agnostic” unconstrained approach to stock selection and portfolio construction.
This approach leaves you free to search for companies inside your chosen theme that stand out in terms of innovation, technology, business model, strong ESG attributes, or management quality. The aim is to seek to identify standout companies that are poised to win over the next five to ten years by upsetting legacy industry incumbents with disruptive innovations.
Themes shaping tomorrow
Thematic investing cuts through traditional investment classifications of country, region, sector, size, and style. It instead focuses on areas of secular growth in the world that are driven by powerful structural forces of change, such as the advance of technology, demographic shifts, and environmental challenges. Under the thematic approach, you typically start by identifying a specific investment theme and then building a diversified portfolio of stocks that are highly exposed and well positioned to benefit from that theme over the next five to ten years.
How can the power of a thematic approach be applied to equity investing?
Take a long view
One investment lesson from recent history is that predicting the near-term outlook for the stock market with any degree of conviction or consistency is very difficult, if not impossible. For example, in December 2019, US and European markets largely shrugged off what they thought was a local public health problem affecting only China. Just a few months later, though, that consensus swung in the opposite direction, and equity markets fell by more than 30% on the realization that this was just the beginning of a devastating global pandemic.
Many investors who attempted to predict these short-term market movements were caught flat-footed and suffered losses. Alpha1 generation by large hedge funds and other money managers in 2020 was reported to be the worst since 2011. The lesson? Trying to “time the market” is a dangerous game to play.
Structural forces of change
Somewhat counterintuitively, our judgements about long-term questions are often more reliable than near-term predictions and frequently can be trusted with greater confidence. Thematic investing poses long-term questions such as: Do you expect digitalization – the increasing penetration of the economy by technology – to continue? Do you believe that the issue of climate change will become even more pressing in the next decade and for the next generation? Do you expect that demographic changes will gradually shift the world’s geopolitical landscape?
These are the types of questions that underpin thematic equity strategies – questions that focus on long-term structural trends and powerful forces of change. Investors seeking opportunities that transcend economic cycles and market volatility are well advised to consider thematic investments if they have a genuine appetite for long-term investments.