What do we mean by a quality company?

As part of our investment philosophy we say that we invest in quality companies. We develop this further by saying we invest in companies with sound financials, strong franchises and responsible stewardship. What do we actually mean by this?

There is no such thing as a perfect company. 

All companies change over time and quality is about a journey; a direction of travel.

The diagram above tries to explain our approach to quality, suggesting that quality is made up of objective factors (e.g. working capital numbers or a company’s historical record), as well as subjective ones (e.g. owners/management integrity or attitude to risk).

The attributes listed within each circle are not necessarily the most important elements of quality, but simply indicate that there are many different aspects to quality.

The size of each circle, however, is significant and reflects the relative importance of each category to us. We have always emphasised that quality of stewardship is the most important ingredient of quality. Assessing stewardship quality is not always easy; it is subjective and exhibited in a number of ways, as indicated in the diagram above and related appendices. We rarely find responsible stewards directing companies with overstretched balance sheets or with deteriorating franchises for other than a short time period.

Quality should be regarded as fluid and multi-faceted

Our approach to quality is not driven by lists or box-ticking. We believe that quality is not set in stone but is a fluid concept. As an investment team, we are always seeking ways of reappraising what quality is, as part of the ongoing debate within the team about which companies we should invest in for clients.

The definition of quality is not the same for all members of the investment team. Individuals on the team emphasise different aspects or characteristics of quality, but all recognise its crucial role in the investment process. Consequently, all of us would consider a very significant proportion of our investment universe as totally uninvestible.

Why do we invest in quality?

We believe that by investing in quality companies we can control risk in businesses which we are not running ourselves and so preserve capital for clients. This is evidenced most clearly by the historic outperformance of our portfolios in extended down markets.

We believe our emphasis on quality is far from universal, although it does seem a more favoured approach now than it was 20 years ago. Many investors focus much more, sometimes exclusively, on quantitative data, often extrapolating recent trends as if they will continue forever. However, it is only common sense that those companies, which are able and willing to eschew short-term profit performance to build solid foundations for sustainable growth, and which look after the interests of all stakeholders, are likely to be long-term investment winners.

In the three appendices that follow, we provide some of the elements of quality we seek in our three ‘pillars’ of Stewardship, Franchises and Financials. When appraising quality, these indicators are by no means exhaustive and we are always looking for new ways of defining and measuring quality.

As an aside, insofar as we can, we try to manage the Stewart Investors business in accordance with the above principles. We also know that we have a very long way to go before becoming that mythical perfect company!

Appendix 1.

Quality Stewardship

Appendix 2.

Quality franchises

Appendix 3.

Quality financials

Important Information

This material is for general information purposes only. It does not constitute investment or financial advice and does not take into account any specific investment objectives, financial situation or needs. This is not an offer to provide asset management services, is not a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to buy, hold or sell any security or to execute any agreement for portfolio management or investment advisory services and this material has not been prepared in connection with any such offer. Before making any investment decision you should consider, with the assistance of a financial advisor, your individual investment needs, objectives and financial situation.

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To the extent this material contains any expression of opinion or forward-looking statements, such opinions and statements are based on assumptions, matters and sources believed to be true and reliable at the time of publication only. This material reflects the views of the individual writers only. Those views may change, may not prove to be valid and may not reflect the views of everyone at First Sentier Investors.

About First Sentier Investors

References to ‘we’, ‘us’ or ‘our’ are references to First Sentier Investors, a global asset management business which is ultimately owned by Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG). Our investment teams operate under the trading name of Stewart Investors which is part of the First Sentier Investors group.

We communicate and conduct business through different legal entities in different locations. This material is communicated in:

  • Australia and New Zealand by First Sentier Investors (Australia) IM Limited, authorised and regulated in Australia by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (AFSL 289017; ABN 89 114 194311)
  • European Economic Area by First Sentier Investors (Ireland) Limited, authorised and regulated in Ireland by the Central Bank of Ireland (CBI ref no. C182306; Registered office: 70 Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin 2, Ireland; Company no. 629188).
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  • Japan by First Sentier Investors (Japan) Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Service Agency (Director of Kanto Local Finance Bureau (Registered Financial Institutions) No.2611).
  • United Kingdom by First Sentier Investors (UK) Funds Limited, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA ref no. 143359;  Registered office: Finsbury Circus House, 15 Finsbury Circus, London EC2M 7EB; Company no. 2294743).
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To the extent permitted by law, MUFG and its subsidiaries are not liable for any loss or damage as a result of reliance on any statement or information contained in this document. Neither MUFG nor any of its subsidiaries guarantee the performance of any investment products referred to in this document or the repayment of capital. Any investments referred to are not deposits or other liabilities of MUFG or its subsidiaries, and are subject to investment risk, including loss of income and capital invested.