Fund profile: Franklin UK Managers Focus

Franklin UK Managers Focus is arguably a unique concept in fund management.

It is run by four of Franklin Templeton's leading UK equity managers from the large cap, mid-cap, small-cap and multi-cap spaces, each of whom gets a quarter of the portfolio in which to place 10 of their 'best ideas' from their own funds.

These managers are Colin Morton for large companies, Paul Spencer for medium-sized companies, Richard Bullas for smaller companies and Ben Russon for multi-cap.

All four managers run leading funds in their sectors: Franklin UK Equity Income, Franklin UK Mid Cap, Franklin UK Smaller Companies and Franklin UK Opportunities, respectively.


Morton is probably the most experienced of the bunch: he now boasts the longest manager tenure of any fund in the UK equity income sector, having managed Franklin UK Equity Income since 1995, and he is a skilled larger company manager.

Over the past few years his carefully considered positions have helped to steer the fund toward some impressive first-quartile returns.

In the three years to 28 January the fund has returned 53 per cent, making it the ninth-best performer in the Investment Association's UK all companies sector, which contains over 270 funds, over the period.

For Morton's part, this success has partially been a function of what he hasn't owned as much as what he has owned (as is often the case in the FTSE 100 space).

The manager has been avoiding many of the big oil and gas firms, banks and food retailers for many years and so he has escaped some of the steeper FTSE 100 falls recently.

'In the oil and gas sector we've owned no Shell, which has helped immensely, while we have owned BG, which has done well.

On the mining side we got out of Glencore and Anglo American a long time ago, instead favouring Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, which we believe have stronger balance sheets and some competitive advantages that will hopefully help them withstand the current onslaught.'

On the big banks, Morton is unequivocal in his condemnation. He insists that it remains 'impossible' to fully know what banks do and don't hold on their balance sheets despite the stricter regulation imposed on them since the financial crisis of 2008.

Moreover, he adds that 'not a month seems to go by' that a fresh scandal isn't unearthed; RBS's surprise announcement on Wednesday (27 January) that it is putting aside a further £2 billion to cover misdeeds including the mis-selling of payment protection insurance arguably underlines this.


On how the fund's multi-cap, multi-manager investment approach works, Morton says that the fact he, Spencer, Bullas and Russon are a tight-knit bunch, all operating out of the same Leeds office and seated within close proximity to each other, makes it both easy and enjoyable.

'We all know what everyone else is up to here; there is always lots of chat about stock ideas among the managers and analysts and we all get on well. Despite the segmented portfolio, we understand that the stocks in this fund have to fit together and work together,' says Morton.

The fund's mandate stipulates that the weightings must be fixed, meaning the fund will at all times have a quarter in large cap, a quarter in mid cap, a quarter in smaller companies and a quarter in multi-cap ideas.

On the plus side this ensures that the fund will always have a fairly equal exposure to the entire UK market (the multi-cap element is the only variable), while on the downside it means that if any one area of the market is doing badly, the fund can't avoid it.

At around 40 holdings the portfolio is also highly concentrated, leaving little room for manoeuvre should one of the managers' 'best ideas' go awry.

In this respect Morton says that despite being relatively small in size at just over £170 million of assets under management, Franklin UK Managers' Focus is in some ways one of the UK equity team's most important funds.

'It really is like a shop window for the entire UK equity desk; we're each putting our 10 best ideas from our other funds in there, so it is almost like a bell-weather for the success of all of our other portfolios,' says Morton.

On how he thinks the fund might fare over the next three years, Morton is fairly certain that the team's success will not continue at the same level - adding that the 'perfect conditions' they have enjoyed over this period are already starting to turn.

However, he adds that investors looking for strong growth relative to the overall UK market should not be disappointed.

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