Pyrford International, founded in 1987, is an investment boutique that operates independently within Columbia Threadneedle Investments. Pyrford is a provider of global asset
management services for collective investment funds, investment management companies,
local and state bodies, pension schemes, endowments and foundations. Its investment
approach is rooted in capital preservation and its strategies include global absolute return,
global equity and international equity.
Suhail Arain is head of portfolio management for the Americas. He joined Pyrford in 2008 as a portfolio manager covering North American equities having previously worked at Scottish Widows as a global equities portfolio manager and research analyst. He has more than 25 years’ experience in the asset management industry with a particular emphasis on US and
Arain graduated from King’s College, London with a degree in law and completed a masters in finance from London Business School. He also holds the CFA designation and has held positions at KPMG, Hambros Merchant Bank, Prudential and ABP Investments.
Pyrford is owned by Columbia Threadneedle. Do you operate independently?
We operate independently of Columbia Threadneedle so nothing has changed for us in terms
of our investment process or our clients.
Of the $8.92 bn in assets under management, what proportion is equities?
Around 70 percent.
Does the team split sectors and geographies?
Our investment team is split into regional geographies – we have a European, an Asian and
an Americas desk. Each geographic desk looks across all sectors for opportunities that meet
our quality and value requirements.
Which screens do you use?
We screen out small-cap names and companies with more onerous interest payments. We
exclude companies with less than three times cashflow to interest cover. We rank the
remaining companies based on dividend yield, return on equity and P/E ratio.
What is your active share?
More than 90 percent.
How would you describe your investment style?
Quality, which is why we look at leverage and return on equity, and value – primarily
dividend yield and P/E.
What’s your minimum market cap and average length of holding?
Minimum market cap is $2 bn in Europe and the Americas, $1 bn in Asia. Typically, our
average holding period is eight years.
What’s your sector allocation?
We are bottom-up stock pickers and focus on fundamental analysis so our sector allocations
are a result of stock selection. We have a global stock selection committee meeting each
month that all portfolio managers attend so we are aware of our sector weightings. We’re not
going to end up with everyone holding only energy stocks, for example.
How is ESG integrated into the investment process?
Before ESG was a buzzword, we focused on high-quality companies. We always visit
management prior to buying a stock and, once we are holders, we like to meet management
annually so governance and ensuring management is kept accountable has always been a core
part of our process.
Good companies make good investments. If we had concerns about the ethics of a business,
we wouldn’t invest. Several years ago, we introduced an ESG template that is incorporated
into our investment process. When we present a stock, we must also present an ESG template
that looks at Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3 emissions, governance, board composition and
any controversial issues, for example. This is a new part of the investment process that is now
formalized as part of the process.
Any sectors you won’t invest in?
We invest across all sectors unless a client prohibits us from doing so.
Do you prefer dividends or buybacks?
We are a dividend shop, so dividends are important, as is the sustainability of the dividend
yield over the long term. We do our own independent research and produce a ‘stock sheet’
where we record data from the annual report of a company. We want to find out how
sustainable the dividend yield and profitability are. If we are buying a new stock, we go back
at least 10 years. Our quantitative analysis looks for asset turnover and/or margin
What we don’t like to see is companies improving their operations by taking on more and
more debt as that’s only sustainable short term before things start to unravel. Before we buy,
we meet management two or three times and then see management every year. We don’t
mind companies buying back stock, as long as there are consistent policies in place.
Can you tell us about some of your holdings and why you invested?
Texas Instruments: An analog semiconductor company. The analog market is quite
concentrated. There are only two or three players, which means returns are very high. The life
cycle of the product is long, more than 10 years. There are barriers to entry as they don’t
teach analog design at universities. You only learn analog design at companies such as Texas
Instruments or Analog Devices. It is not leading-edge technology – it’s trailing-edge
technology – so capital expenditure is quite low. There is high free cash flow generation and
profitability, plus dividends and buybacks.
AutoZone: A leading auto parts retailer in the US. Key to the business is having inventory
for cars when customers come into a store: around 60 percent of customers come in out of
necessity because their car has broken down and they need to fix it urgently. AutoZone either
has the part in store or in one of its mega-hubs and tries to get the part to you within two
There is also a strong service element. If customers don’t know how to fix their car,
AutoZone will help, even providing the tools in some instances. So like at Lowe’s and Home
Depot, the customer experience is great. The average age of a car in the US is more than 12
years, which is very good for AutoZone as, after five or six years, cars often need new parts.
Also, the current cost-of-living crisis favors the DIY element of fixing your own car.
Additionally, AutoZone is moving into the commercial market supplying professional
mechanics, who don’t want a car on the ramp awaiting parts, so managing inventory is key. In
the commercial market there are only a couple of large competitors and lots of smaller
operators so there’s the opportunity to take market share. It’s a fantastic company.
S&P Global: It has four main businesses. The first is credit ratings, which is a market
dominated by an effective duopoly with Moody’s; Fitch makes up the top three. Obviously,
all companies want an acceptable credit rating as it lowers their cost of capital and all fixed
income investors need to know the ratings.
The second business we like is the index business and S&P owns the S&P 500 and Dow Jones indices – two of the most-referenced indices in the world. Fund managers have to pay S&P to use that data for their performance measurement. It is written into many investment management contracts what the reference benchmark is so it’s an annuity business.
The third business, and one I think is overlooked, is Platts, a commodities business. It’s a
great business because S&P Global makes reference prices such as the West Texas
Intermediate (WTI) oil benchmark. There are thousands of commodities: rice, cheese, milk,
butter, copper, and so on. Once you become the benchmark (reference price), people have to
pay you to get the WTI price. It is referenced in many chemical company contracts, for
example. So S&P Global has a number of annuity type businesses where people have to pay
year in, year out to use its data.
The fourth is a newer business – the market data segment. Feeding data to fund managers to
get live prices for the S&P, Bloomberg, and so on. It is a very profitable and high-margin
business, and a great company.
Automatic Data Processing (ADP): The first thing we like about it is its client retention of
more than 90 percent. It is the leader in payroll software in the US, expanding internationally
and also provides human capital management software. Once ADP is ingrained as a provider,
it is quite difficult to leave and not many clients do, which is why retention is so high. It is in
a great position as it is one of the few companies that can navigate the increasing complexity
of payroll and taxes in different jurisdictions.
The growth part of the business is the professional employer organization segment. Smaller
companies can outsource their human resource function to ADP, releasing them from an
administrative burden. We’ve owned it since 2008 and its share price is up six or seven times.
ADP is a dividend aristocrat: it has increased its dividend for 25 consecutive years, putting it
into a select basket of US companies to have done so.
Can you tell us why meeting management is an important part of your investment
We run concentrated equity portfolios and don’t have any index positions. Every position we
hold is active. Given that we hold for eight years, we like to meet management to ensure
we’ve done our homework. We like to visit a company’s HQ so we can gauge the culture of a
Pyrford believes face-to-face interviews with management are crucial and a stock will not be
selected for investment prior to meeting with management. Portfolio managers also revisit management at least once a year as long as the stock remains in the portfolio. Company visits
provide us with firsthand knowledge of the company, its management and its operations.
They also give us invaluable input for our macro analysis and help point us toward
developing economic trends that have not been reported in officially released statistics.
What is your preferred method of meeting management?
In person – and we prefer one-on-ones as we tend to have specific questions. Levels of
knowledge among investors at group meetings vary and it isn’t always the best use of our
Are there any companies that stand out as particularly good at IR?
KLA, Texas Instruments, S&P Global, AutoZone, ADP and Lockheed Martin.
Why should companies meet you?
We are well prepared for meetings as we always do our homework and we have an eight-
year-plus holding period. We see investing in a company as a partnership – we are not a
hedge fund that wants to flip a stock for the quarterly earnings. We really want to build up a
rapport and understand the business at a deep level.
This interview appeared in IR Magazine.