Conversely, we define “new world” businesses as those that are:
1) disrupting incumbent businesses through innovation and by creating products that are significantly better and/or cheaper than existing legacy products; and
2) likely to be able to produce high sustained relative growth rates in the long run by expanding into large addressable markets and sustaining their innovative cultures.
Listed equity markets are typically dominated by large, incumbent, mature businesses. Furthermore, these businesses (and the corresponding investments in their listed security) were often developed through effectively understanding and targeting the growing baby boomer cohort. Over time, consumer behaviour and corresponding investment decisions will be driven by a younger generation that are digital natives and are better educated and globally aware. We believe changes in behaviour and patterns of consumption will be fundamentally driven and structural.
In terms of U.S. retail spend, Gen X and older is 68% of this spend, with Millennials at 27% and the next generation, Gen Z, at 5%. However, by 2030 this is forecast to shift to Gen X and older at 52%, Millennials at 31% and Gen Z at 17% . Currently, Millennial and Gen Z represent only 31% of total spend and 37% of retail spend despite being 50% of the work force .
The sustainable nominal growth rates of most listed businesses over the next ten years are likely to be weak relative to the past five decades, particularly when compared with the high growth period before the GFC. In a high inflation environment with low rates of real economic growth, the earnings streams (in real terms) of these average quality businesses will be even more challenged.
Businesses that can sustain high real growth rates typically have the following attributes:
1) strong and sustainable value propositions;
2) innovative cultures that actively improve the features and quality of the existing products and create new products over time;
3) yet to fully monetise the value of their existing product offering; and
4) revenues that are small relative to the size of their total addressable market (“TAM”).
However, most businesses operate in a competitive industry structure and do not have the value proposition to sustainably increase (relative) prices to consumers. Consumers have been increasingly exposed to more frequent and larger discounting, including specific promotional periods. When product differentiation is low and choice is plentiful, the ability to increase relative prices is poor. We believe this is the typical operating environment most businesses face. It is only the few exceptional businesses that have strong pricing power.
Companies with strong pricing power typically have:
1) a perceived scarcity factor through strong branding and heritage;
2) controllable or limited product supply;
3) an exceptionally strong value proposition relative to competitors; and/or
4) limited competition in terms of alternative products (which typically denotes a technological or regulatory advantage).
Hyperion attempts to identify exceptional companies with a compelling value proposition and competitive advantage that offers strong pricing power. These companies are rare, as they tend to have natural monopolistic characteristics such as a network effects or a perceived scarcity factor, such as some global ultra-luxury brand names. For example, we estimate the price of Hermes’ flagship Birkin handbag has compounded at double-digit rates over the past 30 years in the second-hand market. Some rare disorders that are life threatening can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to treat, including some immunoglobulin products supplied by CSL. We estimate REA Group as the owner of realestate.com.au has increased its prices by high single-digit rates over the past ten years (with revenue growth significantly higher due to the migration of customers onto premium products).
Companies with strong pricing power can offset increases in input costs with higher prices for their services or products without affecting their value proposition. This means real earnings are preserved. Companies with commoditised products may not be able to pass through any meaningful amount of their higher input costs, resulting in declines in their real earnings.
Historically, some commodities and non-fiat currencies such as gold have been considered good inflation hedges. However, we believe software companies will be identified as more effective, modern inflation hedges going forward. These companies typically have software that is absorbed in the workflow of an organisation, which means there are high switching costs. Often the software is under-monetised relative to its value, as the focus has been growing its user base and capturing the addressable market opportunity rather than optimising pricing. Companies that have strong market positions and a loyal user base paying relatively low monthly subscription fees could substantially increase their prices. Globally, examples include flagship products from both Salesforce and Atlassian, who charge relatively low monthly subscriptions for access to their software. Domestically, examples include core products from both WiseTech Global (“WiseTech”) and Xero. For example, we understand WiseTech through its CargoWise One platform only charges a small amount at the point of value transfer (time of invoice) for each transaction. Based on the complex problems WiseTech helps solve for its customers and the limited cloud based available alternatives, we believe these fees could be increased substantially while retaining its customer base.
Software has moved from the edges of society and business to the core over the past decade. This trend has accelerated through COVID-19. However, software, as largely represented by the classification of Information Technology and to a lesser extent Communication Services, is still a relatively small percentage of the major equity benchmarks. This contrasts with Hyperion’s portfolios, where most of the stocks are innovative and modern businesses that use technology well.
We estimate software represents less than 30% of developed global equities and less than 8% of the Australian listed market. The Information Technology and Communication Services sectors currently have weights of 22% and 9%, respectively, in the MSCI World Index. Furthermore, Information Technology and Communication Services is 4.4% and 4.2%, respectively, of the S&P/ASX300 Index . We believe software is a good segment of the market to discover companies with strong pricing power.
Figure 2: MSCI World Index and S&P/ASX 300 Index sector weightings