Martyn Jones

Encouraging sustainable leisure – introducing our latest theme

Martyn Jones

Our Liontrust Sustainable Investment process focuses on companies contributing towards a cleaner, healthier and safer future. The second pillar includes themes such as Enabling innovation within healthcare and Enabling healthier lifestyles, which relate to physical wellbeing through breakthrough medicines, better diets and fitness. For us, mental health is equally important if we are to enjoy this improving world and we believe the leisure industry has a key role to play in a more sustainable economy – helping people relax and enjoy a more fulfilling life.

 

Economic growth and subsequent poverty alleviation over recent decades have enabled more people to enjoy leisure time. As ecological economist Tim Jackson (who sits on our Advisory Committee) puts it in his book Prosperity without growth: In the advanced economies…material needs are broadly met and disposable incomes are increasingly dedicated to different ends: leisure, social interaction, experience… what really matters to us: family, friendship, sense of belonging, community, identity, social status, meaning and purpose in life.’

 

Leisure can facilitate these social interactions and help people find meaning and purpose, with activities as diverse as going to a concert, to the cinema, having dinner at a restaurant or playing a video game with an online community. These all have negative externalities but the social experience is an important factor in a more sustainable and pleasurable economy.

 

Many investors would still classify leisure stocks as ‘nice to haves’ rather than necessities, the classic definition of discretionary rather than staple in consumer land. Sustainable investors may also struggle with these companies as they are not providing a solution to one of our pressing issues such as the climate crisis or inequality. It is worth considering the work of Chilean economist Artur Manfred Max Neef, however, whose list of fundamental human needs, as depicted above, includes a leisure category.

 

Introducing our newest theme: Encouraging sustainable leisure

Leisure was previously a quiet part of Enabling healthier lifestyles but we see a strong case for a distinct Encouraging sustainable leisure theme, and this will be among those represented in Liontrust ESG Trust PLC (ESGT), whose IPO is planned for early July. We are not claiming music companies such as Spotify (our focus in this article) make people ‘healthier’ but, as stated, leisure is playing an increasingly important part in the economy and has a beneficial impact on mental well-being, particularly in the search for work-life balance.

From an investment perspective, leisure is difficult to analyse due to its broad scope, encompassing everything from traveling around the world to listening to music or reading at home – and, as the cost of these activities varies, so too does their sustainability profile. What is clear, however, is that in the UK alone, the leisure market is worth around £117 billion (accounting for 7% of GDP according to a Deloitte report from 2016) and the sector is attracting 50% more discretionary spend than retail and growing twice as fast.

Spending priorities are a good indicator of structural growth potential, particularly among younger generations, and millennials have a clear preference for experiences over buying things. We believe this trend may be amplified amid a general Covid-inspired reassessment of priorities, creating a growing experience-based economy and a shift away from traditional material consumption.

 

The experience economy 

 

With millennials overtaking boomers when it comes to aggregate income, consumer behaviour is at a crossroads and experiences are increasingly seen as more valuable than collecting assets. We want to tap into this structural growth and pricing power, identifying the businesses that can grow consistently for the long term and generate high returns on capital at the same time.

Companies exposed to Encouraging sustainable leisure: investing in the music revolution

Music has been an important component of leisure and culture for millennia; whatever successive generations think about their children’s tastes, listening to music is a positive pastime and key to the human experience.

We added Spotify to our portfolios in July 2020 but before expanding on our thesis, it is important to address controversies surrounding this business. With streaming now the main form of music distribution, many artists are directing their displeasure at their share of industry revenues towards these global platforms, when they previously took issue with record labels. While criticism about Spotify is understandable given its size and ubiquity, ­we believe the truth is more complex and this company, and the trends behind it, has actually done a lot of good on balance.

From a broad perspective, music’s move to digital streaming, doing away with the millions of tonnes of plastic used in CDs and vinyl and the devices used to play them, is an obvious positive. The environmental impacts are also much lower as streaming services are powered by renewable data servers operated by Amazon and Google. The social impacts of the streaming revolution are also significant: Spotify founder Daniel Ek recognised the unsustainable situation that pirating and file sharing was creating, with the music industry declining 40% in revenue terms between 2001 and 2015. Very few people were willing to pay £10 or more for a CD when they could download it for free. This inspired Ek to build a convenient streaming service that offered instant access to music while providing income to artists and labels.

We would suggest Spotify’s business model is widely misunderstood: there are paid-for without ads and free ad-supported options, with the latter serving as an advertising funnel for paying users. In terms of revenues, around 95% comes from subscriptions, with an average €4.71 monthly fee. Over half of users listen for free and are ad-supported, and Spotify pays out around 99% of this directly to the labels.

Spotify retains around 27% of the subscription fee revenue, which is reinvested into improving and growing the platform and creating original podcast content; the rest is paid to the labels who own the music rights (82% of Spotify's library is owned by Universal, Warner and Sony). These have the relationships with artists and agree royalty terms independent of Spotify; the 73% of revenue comes with listener data (called Stream share) that labels use to divide up the money.

Predicted record highs in global music revenues

Spotify is taking the heat for the fact that artists receive around 10% of the earnings their art generates but this is because of prior agreements with labels. We believe Spotify's streaming technology has helped revive the industry and legally democratise music, and if you compare the 10% with effectively zero revenues under pirating, the situation is clearly better.

Music economics remain skewed to the owners of rights rather than the creators but this has been the situation for decades, and the question is whether Spotify is entirely responsible for pushing labels to pay artists more. We would argue that one company is not accountable for solving the ills of an industry but Spotify will no doubt face criticism as it becomes more dominant, and needs to play a role in making sure artists are fairly compensated.

Coming back to our thesis, Spotify is the world’s dominant audio platform with close to 300 million monthly active users in more than 70 countries, adding users at a faster pace than closest rivals Apple and Amazon and keeping them more engaged. While launched as a music streaming service, the company is moving into podcasts and its own content and we are excited to watch the business expand into audiobooks, live gigs and other areas as it takes advantage of its leading position.

Spotify collects comprehensive data from users and with so much for people to consume, the company is working hard to develop the ‘Spotify experience’ via curated and personalised content offerings. This creates an increasingly committed customer base, as users build playlists and get embedded in the product. With an improving experience, Spotify will continue to take market share in what is clearly a structural growth area, improving pricing power and expanding margins. We believe Spotify can comfortably scale up to 300 million paying users over the next decade and with a small monthly cost and a rough estimate of 700 million people globally willing to pay up to $1,000 for a smartphone, the addressable market for a device-agnostic platform is huge.

Work-life balance has become an increasingly debated topic and younger generations will have a very different working life from their parents. In this context, the words of Methodist minister Charles Spurgeon ring true and signal both how spending patterns will continue shifting and the structural growth this creates in many leisure companies: ‘It’s not how much we have, but how much we enjoy that makes happiness.’

The experiences of the last 12 months demonstrate how important the leisure industry is for maintaining mental health, and the changing ways in which individuals ‘consume’ suggest these investment opportunities will persist long after the pandemic has passed.

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Key Risks


Past performance is not a guide to future performance. Do remember that the value of an investment and the income generated from them can fall as well as rise and is not guaranteed, therefore, you may not get back the amount originally invested and potentially risk total loss of capital. The majority of the Liontrust Sustainable Future Funds have holdings which are denominated in currencies other than Sterling and may be affected by movements in exchange rates. Some of these funds invest in emerging markets which may involve a higher element of risk due to less well-regulated markets and political and economic instability. Consequently the value of an investment may rise or fall in line with the exchange rates. Liontrust UK Ethical Fund, Liontrust SF European Growth Fund and Liontrust SF UK Growth Fund invest geographically in a narrow range and has a concentrated portfolio of securities, there is an increased risk of volatility which may result in frequent rises and falls in the Fund’s share price. Liontrust SF Managed Fund, Liontrust SF Corporate Bond Fund, Liontrust SF Cautious Managed Fund, Liontrust SF Defensive Managed Fund and Liontrust Monthly Income Bond Fund invest in bonds and other fixed-interest securities - fluctuations in interest rates are likely to affect the value of these financial instruments. If long-term interest rates rise, the value of your shares is likely to fall. If you need to access your money quickly it is possible that, in difficult market conditions, it could be hard to sell holdings in corporate bond funds. This is because there is low trading activity in the markets for many of the bonds held by these funds. Mentioned above five funds can also invest in derivatives. Derivatives are used to protect against currencies, credit and interests rates move or for investment purposes. There is a risk that losses could be made on derivative positions or that the counterparties could fail to complete on transactions.

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The information and opinions provided should not be construed as advice for investment in any product or security mentioned, an offer to buy or sell units/shares of Funds mentioned, or a solicitation to purchase securities in any company or investment product. Always research your own investments and (if you are not a professional or a financial adviser) consult suitability with a regulated financial adviser before investing.

Thursday, June 17, 2021, 3:03 PM