613 Billion euros. That is to APG’s total invested assets worldwide (position at the end of July 2021). The goal: a good pension in a livable world for the pension fund participants. The portfolio is obviously diversified. From investments in wind farms in Zeeland to Australian listed shares in stores. And from safe bonds to the somewhat more fluctuating trade in gold or soy. Who are the people behind these investments? What choices do they make? And why?
In this episode of the series The Investors: Frank Dekker, responsible for investments in the telecom and media sector at APG.
Telecom companies are installing fiber optic networks at lightning speed. This means more speed and more options when it comes to, for example, 5G, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. At the same time, the dynamics in the sector are increasing and telecom companies are attractive acquisition targets. Will KPN be taken over by foreign investors? Who will buy T-Mobile, which is currently in the shop window? What is the impact of such market movements on APG’s telecom investments?
Senior portfolio manager Frank Dekker has been following the sector for fifteen years and is responsible for the investments in telecom at APG. This includes KPN, which APG recently entered into a joint venture with. “Very promising,” is what Dekker says about this partnership, which will make it possible to accelerate the rollout of KPN’s fiber optic network. But perhaps Dekker is not entirely objective?
Dekker: “Good question. But not correct. As portfolio manager in telecom shares, I am completely shielded from the activities of the people that were involved in this deal. During the period of the deal and its preparation, I was not allowed to trade in KPN shares. Nor was I allowed to communicate with anyone internally about this. We are very strict about this. And we have to be. Anyway, I think the joint venture between KPN and APG is very promising. Because APG’s investment will enable KPN to complete the construction of the fiber optic network sooner. This will allow them to phase out their copper network faster, leading to significant cost savings. Moreover, this accelerated construction cuts potential competitors off from KPN.”
What does that competitive field look like in the Netherlands?
“Ziggo merged with UPC a few years ago and then merged with Vodafone. T-Mobile bought two price fighters, Tele2 and Simpel. And then we have market leader KPN. The Dutch telecom market is now very clear, with these three parties. The Netherlands has good networks for mobile phones and landlines. The prices for mobile services have dropped considerably in recent years.”
T-Mobile will be sold as soon as possible if it’s up to owner Deutsche Telekom. What does that mean for the Dutch telecom market?
“T-Mobile has a small, fixed network in the Netherlands. Deutsche Telekom would like to be number one or two in every market. In the Netherlands that is probably not going to happen, so that is why the company is going to be sold. KPN or Vodafone Ziggo are probably not allowed to take over this number three because of European competition rules. Whether competition in the Dutch telecom market will increase or decrease as a result of the sale of T-Mobile depends on the new owner. It's hard to say who that will be. Delta is known to invest heavily in fiber optic networks. In a partnership with T-Mobile, that company could provide additional competition on the Dutch telecom market. Right now, T-Mobile largely rents the fixed line from KPN for their customers who still use a landline phone.”
APG invests more than average in KPN. How much longer can that go on?
“Unfortunately, my role does not allow me to go into detail on that. We are looking at a period of three to five years. It is difficult to predict which sector will do better than others. That is why we mainly try to achieve an above-average return within a sector; for example, by choosing the companies that perform best in class and that show the best return-risk ratio. If we look at the Dutch market, Vodafone Ziggo is KPN’s main competitor. That company does not yet have fiber, and has yet to invest heavily in the necessary upgrade of their current cable network.”
In general, are telecom companies in the Netherlands really a good investment?
“Investors usually look at the dividend yield. But what you often see is that telecom companies with a high dividend yield are a bad investment. They are paying a relatively high dividend at the moment, but the question is whether that is sustainable. After all, they will have to invest heavily in their networks in the coming years. To us, the underlying cash flows for the coming years, where we try to estimate what the sales and margins will do, is much more important than dividends. We also look at the structure of the telecom market, how the competition will develop. And what the relationship is with the regulator and politics. The corona epidemic has once again shown how important good connectivity is; policymakers will therefore want to stimulate investments in this, for example through regulation. In conclusion, we are seeing a relatively healthy market structure in the Netherlands. The downside for telecom companies is that politicians want low prices for consumers. At the same time, I consider the chance of a price war to be fairly small.”