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Edited Transcript of AZM.MI earnings conference call or presentation 7-May-20 10:59am GMT

Milan May 10, 2020 (Thomson StreetEvents) — Edited Transcript of Azimut Holding SpA earnings conference call or presentation Thursday, May 7, 2020 at 10:59:00am GMT

Azimut Holding S.p.A. – CEO, Head of Administration & Finance, CFO and Director

Azimut Holding S.p.A. – CEO & Director

Good afternoon. This is the Chorus Call conference operator. Welcome and thank you for joining the Azimut Holding First Quarter 2020 Results Conference Call. (Operator Instructions)

At this time, I would like to turn the conference over to Mr. Gabriele Blei, Chief Executive Officer of Azimut Holdings. Please go ahead, sir.

Gabriele Blei, Azimut Holding S.p.A. – CEO & Director [2]

Thank you very much, and good afternoon to everyone. Let’s start from Slide #4. We just wanted to summarize some of the key features that characterize the group. And let me start by saying that we want to extend, as a management team, our gratitude to all the staff and the employees, the financial advisers and the fund managers that have been working with an incredible passion throughout this very, very complicated period as well as our clients that had to work with us in a very digital manner, which is obvious, given the time we live in — not obvious to do it in such a short period of time. But the group has continued to operate throughout every single day so far. The business is extremely resilient. We have 90% of the stock of our asset is retail. And we have been able to consistently deliver net new money throughout the past months, with the Italian network being able to post significant flows in the first 4 months. Well, we’ll see this later on.

As far as the track record is concerned, we have systematically delivered the 3 business plan. More than ever, it’s important to stress that we do 5-year business plan instead of 3 because we have to have sufficient time to work and deliver on the targets that we set ourselves. Especially in a 5-year period of time, we are able to recover any major disruption that might occur. Diversification, we are much better off than in the past today simply because we have been pursuing our international expansion, which has enabled us to be able to work on every market on a 24/7 basis. And this has prompted a significant innovation in terms of product range. On top of that, we have been diversifying away from the traditional public investment, also recently in the private investment side, which will enable, and this is something we have discussed several times over the next — the last year, and will enable us to diversify the returns of clients and enable us to provide the extra return that would generate positive performance for clients over the medium term in a context of very low interest rate. Fourth and last point, solid economics. The business is mainly based on recurring fees. We don’t and we do not want to have a banking license. This has been a key feature throughout the history of the group because we do see the banking service as an add-on, which can be easily delivered through partnerships that we have in place. We have, therefore, avoided the limitations on how we manage our capital, and we have decided to go ahead with the payment of the EUR 1 per share dividend. And we retain a very flexible cost base which can be managed quite effectively and efficiently.

Turning to Slide #5, how do we see the resiliency in numbers? We wanted to show you a quick snapshot of the history, and we decided to take some of the very bad years. Although this crisis is probably much worse than the 1929 crisis and not comparable to the 2008, 2011 in terms of speed of the disruption and potential fallout in the coming quarters and years. As you can see, in the first quarter, the industry posted a net-negative outflows of almost EUR 14 billion. The bulk is coming from equity flexible and bond funds, with only cash funds being on a positive territory. On our side, we have delivered, with April included, EUR 1.2 billion year-to-date. And this compares with similar situations in 2008, where the industry posted a major outflows of EUR 135 billion, while we managed to be at basically breakeven. Same story during the European sovereign debt crisis. The industry suffered almost EUR 50 billion outflows. We had the benefit of EUR 1.1 billion in that year. In the first quarter, what we have been able to do, we onboarded 6,000 new clients, we hired 31 new financial advisers. And in a very short period of time, we have enabled the smart working across the network as well as across our staff. Nowadays, we are working with 90%, 95% of our people in the headquarter from home, and we are perfectly operational. The financial advisers, clearly starting from the lockdown, are not able to visit the clients in person, but they are able to onboard and execute any transaction, thanks to the digital system that has been rolled out in the past years and has been announced during the last couple of months.

Turning to Slide #6, track record. Needless to repeat what we have delivered in terms of the past business plans with the last one concluded in 2019. As far as the commitment of ourselves and all the people that work within the company, we have showed in the 15-plus years of history that no one of us is expecting to cash out and run to the beach, especially because you cannot run to any beach these days. But most importantly, we want to remain invested in the company and continue to develop the business. In 2018, we invested EUR 100 million of our money plus — of which 50% was leveraged in investing in the share of the company. 1,200 people were involved and EUR 35 million was the cash that was invested by the management team. We announced at the beginning of this year that we would have tried to pursue a similar LBO transaction. We announced through Timone hat this would have been for EUR 60 million with similar leverage. So 2x leverage, EUR 30 million equity and EUR 30 million debt. From the first figures we have been communicated by Timone and the management team, we continue to be significantly involved through investment in the second LBO transaction. But the main point is that 1,000 colleagues who participate, of which 200 are the people that have entered start after 2018. So after the transaction — the first LBO transaction that was concluded, which is why we are doing this kind of transaction in order to be able to involve as many people as possible over the life of the company.

Turning to Slide #7, diversification. We have — why we’re better off than today is very easily summarized in this slide: because we have not just a diversification in terms of product range and product mix, but we have a geographical diversification that we could not have prior to 2011. And especially these days, in certain areas, we are with solid businesses, with proven track record and very consolidated brands that we’ll be able to develop even further. If we want to look at the positive side, we have been in net new money flow in the first quarter plus April as well. Italy is back on track and improving in terms of capability to raise money from our existing and new client base. On the negative side, eventually, what we can highlight is some outflows driven by institutional investors that, in any case, have lower margins, but clearly have an impact on the monthly flow as well as the devaluation of certain emerging market currencies that clearly have an impact on the assets under management base.

Slide #8, solid economics. We have continued to post recurring EBIT of — in excess of EUR 64 million. Even in Q1, we are above the average, in the region of EUR 66 million. And we have been — why it’s probably in de-leveraging the company’s balance sheet in periods of normal market, let me say, and taking advantage of the low rate environment and extending the maturity of our debt.

Turning to Slide #9. This is the follow-on of the solid economics. We are not a bank. We generate strong cash flow, and we continue to do so. And therefore, our dividend policy can be set to be sustainable. I’d like to underline how, by coincidence, we have been able to basically multiply [3 — by 3] the average of the dividend paid in the 3 business plans that we have delivered. In Q1, we also completed a buyback of EUR 44 million, which was previously announced in the market.

Turning to Slide #10, some key metrics of the first quarter results. Recurring fee margin is up 2 basis points, vis-à-vis the average of 2019, to 198 basis points. When we look at distribution costs, we have been able to contain that in terms of percentage of recurring fees, from 45% down to 43.7%. And looking at SG&A, we have basically at constant perimeter. So if we were to exclude the private market initiative and certain M&A, we are basically flat in terms of the SG&A line at EUR 50 million per quarter. Normalized recurring net profit, as we will see also later, at EUR 50 million, which compares well to the average of the second, third and fourth quarter 2019. We are excluding the first quarter simply because the first quarter has been a transition quarter that you might remind.

Looking at Slide #11, an update on the private market initiative in Italy. We are now at EUR 1.2 billion, with half of that in private credit funds. The remaining is mainly in private equity exposure. We were successfully able to close, during March 2020, the closing of Italia [cinquecento], which is the venture capital that we have discussed in the past. So even despite the complexity of the moment, our financial advisers have been able to collect the commitment in a smart working modality. 2020, the recent development. There is another further EUR 80 million commitment that we are collecting in Demos I, which is not yet consolidated in the flows. We’ll wait for the further closing of the funds to consolidate these figures. Eventually, if we can state, from an investment perspective, the advantage of this location in the market is, that we potentially have a potential good investment cycle in the medium to long term ahead of us when it comes to the investment that these private equity funds will do in Italy.

During the quarter, we have also obtained the approval and we have started the fundraising of the new infrastructure fund, which we mentioned in the past. It’s called Fondo Infrastrutture per la Crescita. It’s a social impact in real estate fund. Has a target of EUR 300 million this year, with a capacity ranging between EUR 800 million and EUR 900 million.

Last but not least, the company continues to develop the product range in the private market segment. We have a number of pipeline — of products in the pipeline as well as we are continuing to engage the regulators to obtain the approvals.

Slide #12. Just a quick snapshot of what we have been doing throughout this very complicated times to try to be as close as possible to the real economy, which basically falls within the Libera Impresa project, but probably goes a bit beyond what is the launch and management of private market funds. We have announced a crowd — an equity crowdfunding initiative, Azimut Sostieni Italia, which is aimed at bringing private capital directly to local commercial activities. The fundraising is ongoing, and we aim to support with up to EUR 8 million, small businesses in Italy. We have then announced a JV with Borsa del Credito. Borsa del Credito is a fintech company that was launched in 2015. They have been one of the leading operator in Italy in the peer-to-peer lending, developing an algorithm through which they are able to deliver credit to small Italian businesses in a very, very quick way, within less than 48 hours. And especially in this moment, it helps in having such a solution because of the social distancing that we are all subject to. We aim to have a target size for this project of up to EUR 100 million.

Last but not least, together with an enormous amount of private and public initiatives and companies that have been donating material and medical equipment, we have reacted quite aggressively, especially in the first phase of the outbreak of this COVID-19, by donating a lot of material which you find there. Also thanks to the contacts that we have been leveraging on from our international presence.

We just wanted also, on Slide 13, to remind maybe ourselves that this is not just some initiatives that Azimut has been undergoing because since many years, we have created a foundation, which has the main aim to fight against poverty, which will probably be a consequence of what we are living today. So Azimut donate 1% of the pretax profit every year, and the aim is to support families who are below the poverty threshold as well as territories under social distress. I don’t want to discuss now the many initiatives that our colleagues have been analyzing and successfully funding through this percentage of the pretax that we donate. But what I’m more inclined to do is that we have opened a bank account where donation and charity towards hospital will be pursued. And for every euro donated, Azimut will match a similar amount towards these goals. If you are interested, the foundation website contains all the details for such an initiative.

Turning to Slide 15. We show you a bit of a different picture because probably just talking about the drop in our weighted average performance is not as effective. But if we look at this chart, it shows you that if you had EUR 1 invested with us on the 1st of January 2019 and we fast forward this to the 29th of April, you — the result is that you end up having the same money. It’s not slightly in the positive territory, net of the fees that have been paid. And bear in mind because, obviously, the obvious comment could be, yes, but why should I bother paying a fee if you deliver me 0? That can be correct, but consider it — we are living in a disruption moment, which not even the 1929 crisis has been so severe. We do remind you that the percentage of government bonds in our portfolios is much lower than what we can find in the portfolios of other financial institutions in Italy. And clearly, we do not have any banking risk.

Turning to Slide 16. The comparison, vis-à-vis the average of the industry. I wouldn’t bother commenting too much. We continue to be ahead of what the industry is delivering.

Slide 17. This is an example of the product innovation that has been pursued during these times, also to deliver what we have been quite pushy in stating several times during 2019. Clients have to revisit their asset allocation. They cannot have such a big pool of liquidity sitting on bank accounts. We cannot remain with the traditional asset allocation that we have lived in, in a low rate environment, which will probably stay for quite some time. So what we have created are 2 long-term opportunity fund: 1 in the equity space and 1 in the credit space with the bridge mechanism. And this basically translates in a PIPE, which stands for Private Investment in Public Equities. So we will collect money, invest over the life of this period and also in private investment, both in the equity and credit space, benefiting from the higher returns or the higher potential returns that these asset classes have delivered over their history.

I will leave the floor to Alessandro for the usual comments on the reclassified income statements and net financial position.

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Alessandro Zambotti, Azimut Holding S.p.A. – CEO, Head of Administration & Finance, CFO and Director [3]

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So thank you, Gabriele. So on Slide 19. As usual, we represent the consolidated reclassified income statement. I would like to start with the normalized consolidated net profit, EUR 59 million for the first quarter 2020. As you can see, we use a normalized level of net profit as then we maybe discuss better later. But in the quarter, we are impacted by the negative valuation of our portfolio of assets. Therefore, we took out this [utter realized] effect that we are impacted on. Comparing the result with the first quarter 2019, we have a negative variation, fully explained by the variation of the variable fees. As you can see, we had EUR 57 million in 2019. And also in this quarter, we have only EUR 9.5 million. Therefore, the variation is mainly there and also neutralized at the same time, with the increase of the recurring fees and the insurance revenue.

Back to the main line of the income statement, you can see that the total revenue decreased by EUR 19 million, but we already mentioned the reason why. And also focusing on the recurring fees, you can see that comparing to the 2019, we increased by EUR 23 million. This variation could be considered less if we, let me say, normalize also the repricing at the level of the 2019 quarter. But even if we consider the adjusted results, we still have a variation positive of EUR 8 million. And this result — I mean, this positive variation, despite the negative effect of the market on our assets under management by 5% if we consider the full 2019 and by 12% if we consider the last quarter of the 2019 in terms of total assets under management.

Moving forward to also the insurance revenue are increased by EUR 3 million. This also — this increase — we can see this increase also considered in the last quarter of 2019 because despite the fact that maybe you remember EUR 22 million — from the EUR 22 million we have EUR 7.5 million of performance fee. Therefore, if we took out this effect, we still have a positive variation.

Moving forward at the level of the operating cost. Distribution costs are almost in line with 2019 and decreased by EUR 4 million if we look to the first quarter 2019. On Personnel and SG&A costs, we increased by EUR 4 million. This is mainly this is mainly explained by the increase of the business in Italy and outside Italy. But again, also here, probably is mainly — is more important to focus on the last quarter 2019, where we had a total cost of EUR 53 million. Therefore, we can see how our business is moving in a flat way. So I mean, the efficient part of our job is producing some results.

At the level of the operating profit. Again, here, we have obviously a negative variation. But again, if we take out the effect of the variable fees, comparing the 2019 and consider also the repricing adjusting on 2018, we still have a positive generating profit. Therefore, we confirm our solidity, as already mentioned by Gabriele.

I would say that the last point makes sense to focus on are the EUR 14 million that you can see that are negative. This, as I said at the beginning, EUR 14.7 million are no realized loss, therefore, this is something that probably we could recover in the future, in the following quarter. EUR 2 million are positive and act as a realized gain because we performed some — between trade during the quarter, therefore, we had the possibility to get a positive impact. And EUR 1.5 million are related to the valuation of the fair value option.

Moving forward. So moving to Slide 20. Here, we show the net financial position. At the level of our debt, there are no variation, nothing happened, let me say, during the quarter. We increased our cash and cash equivalents by EUR 32 million. Therefore, the net financial position moved up to EUR 108 million, with a variation of EUR 36 million. This variation, just to mention, let’s say, the main element that characterized this movement are linked to the buyback, EUR 45 million, EUR 6.5 million of M&A and then if we add the result of the quarter plus the no realized effect, almost we got the valuation displayed.

I’m going to leave back to Gabriele.

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Gabriele Blei, Azimut Holding S.p.A. – CEO & Director [4]

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Thank you very much, Ale. So what happened? We don’t have the crystal ball, and I expect that you will all be much — very much focused on guidance and objectives for the business, which is extremely difficult to provide, so we will try to articulate some of the answers in order to provide you our point of view.

Having said that, if you look at some of the difficult periods in which the business had to adapt and react, we see, with the exception of the net flows in 2019 versus 2018, the capability of the group to deliver double-digit growth across all the metrics, if not more. Clearly, the 2019 has the repricing and the performance fee element in the revenue component, which has delivered the highest profit in history for the business, which can and will be replicated as we will go forward.

If we look at Slide 23, outlook. The first quarter shows the solidity of the business model. It’s diversified more than ever and can sustain the main challenges that we will have to face. Nowadays, we are 100% digital, and we only work in this way with our client base. We delivered net new client onboarding and net new money figures in the quarter. We have a geographical and product diversification, which is helping ourselves in managing expectations of clients and in allocating the money in the most optimal way to extract long-term returns. Flows are encouraging from our perspective, consider we do not as we probably — as other players in the market are benefiting from, we are not pushing and focused on admin or brokerage flows. We are mainly focused on trying to deliver managed flows as well as reallocating the mix of the clients. So far this year, the Italian FA network has raised EUR 900 million; financial performance is robust, EUR 50 million of recurring net profit; and we have been holding up well in terms of fee margin despite, as we were mentioning, the strong drop in negative market performance, which is down 5% in terms on — of average AUM and 12.9% Q-on-Q in terms of total assets.

Areas of focus for 2020. We continue to insist on the regain of efficiency in the domestic market, especially on the distribution side. We are working — we are doing our homework in the kitchen. We will be able to discuss some of these initiatives over the coming quarters. But so far, we remain undercovered to fix and try to see if the actions that we are taking are going to deliver the numbers in the first quarters that will follow. We are accelerating the digital transformation and rethinking the traditional way of working. This is something that probably many companies are reassessing. There’s no way back. We have to think on ways to implement and insist on the smart working and we have to consider that the digital transformation will — that was happening, but what’s happening at a slow pace, if it’s going to be increased, we’ll eventually deliver a more efficient system and eventually, lower cost. We will focus — we will continue to focus on the private market division in Italy as well as in the U.S. where we’re counting and selecting targets in which to invest.

Last but not least, our international business, despite the FX movement, continues to grow and continues to post results in the profit side. And if we are to look at our net profit, the normalized rate of EUR 60 million, and if some of you will want to make an exercise of the expectation for full year 2020, you simply multiply this number by 4. Eventually, it very much depends on how markets will be in the coming quarters. But probably, this is the base case on which we will have to work over the next quarters. And if markets will be benign in terms of trend, we will be able to probably take advantage of that.

Last but not least, as I mentioned, Timone confirmed to us that the EUR 60 million has been committed, and we will be able to pursue the second LBO transaction. Probably Timone will exploit the optimal market conditions and situations as far as the entry price is concerned.

We’ll leave now the floor to Q&A, and we’re happy to answer.

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions) The first question is from Domenico Santoro of HSBC.

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Domenico Santoro, HSBC, Research Division – Analyst [2]

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On the call, just a couple of questions on my side. First of all, margin. I have seen in the quarter, margins holding up very well, but probably they are not taking into account yet the market performance even if the — the mix. So I was just wondering whether you can give us a more sort of short-term guidance for the second and going forward.

A question on your target. Of course, there is no confirmation of your target for the end of the year. My understanding is that you are working to maintain the EUR 50 million recurring net profit per quarter. My understanding is also there is an FX effect is going to help you, especially on the Brazilian real. So I was just wondering at this point, given there is no visibility on the performance fees for the end of the year, whether you can give us an idea what is the bridge, if you have any managerial actions on cost and other P&L lines in order to get close to that level even if you are not confirming of course, any number?

Then the negative one-off that you have in the quarter, my understanding is that there is some negative results also from the way you invest, you manage your liquidity. I was wondering whether there is any improvement in the quarter given the performance of the market has improved a bit. And reversal, if you can quantify. And then the distribution cost, you say that they are 42.5, I get a different number. Can you give us a bit of an idea where we should land over the next couple of quarters?

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Gabriele Blei, Azimut Holding S.p.A. – CEO & Director [3]

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Okay. Let’s start from the first question. Yes, margins have been holding up well. You are probably correct in saying we had only one, one plus some days — one month plus some days in the quarter of turbulence, which have been hitting our margins and our AUM base. It’s probably too early to say what should be the Q2 guidance in terms of margin. We are not seeing further deterioration in the mix. On the contrary, we’re seeing some positive flows into managed products. Clearly, the AUM base on which we will be calculating our fees, are, on an average basis, higher than in March, in April and May. So eventually, we might start from an assumption that we shouldn’t be expecting very different numbers. But I would say it’s a bit too early to confirm that, but the first indication could be of no further major deterioration in the margin. As far as the EUR 50 million target, yes, this is what we have announced back at the Investor Day, and we were living in very different times back then. We want to continue to deliver this figure and maintain this figure as our reference point. Remember, we — when we provided the last guidance, the idea was to increase that EUR 5 million over time. Thanks to a number of different initiatives, which I remind you, were including the growth of the business in Italy, the growth of the business internationally, the private market initiative as well as some cost efficiency actions that we could have put in place. All these aspects clearly remain valid and in place, and this is how we are conceiving our strategy and daily activity. We are obviously distracted by the volatility in the market whether it’s on the asset, on the FX. But the long-term target that we have set is to maintain and deliver positive performance to clients over the long term, retain and regain the capability to raise assets both in Italy and abroad and try to make the company more efficient. And this efficiency comes because we will implement cost reduction measures or because we will benefit from the digital transformation and some smart working implementation throughout the coming quarters. So what I’m trying to tell you is that our mission and commitment as a management team is not changed because of the — what is happening on the market. Clearly, it might take slightly more time, but the idea on how we wanted to deliver results and boost the company over the medium to long term remains the same.

The way we invest our liquidity. We have always stated that we prefer to invest our liquidity and our cash in the funds because we know how these are managed. In the past, it already occurred that we had quarters or years in which we had to have negative results on our P&L. We do still see that the benefit of investing our liquidity in our funds. We don’t see alternatives around the market. We’re living in a negative rate environment and it would be not the best investment decision to park the money at minus something in a current account. I would say more than 50% continues to be invested in the funds. We have done some reallocation within the funds because we have to take into account the different environment. But we expect that, as it already happened in the past, we will be able to more than recover what has occurred in this first quarter.

On the distribution cost side, what was the curiosity? Sorry, can you remind me?

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Domenico Santoro, HSBC, Research Division – Analyst [4]

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Yes. I actually get a different payout, I mean, working out your number, but higher than what you said — what you show in the presentation, but I mean you might calculate on a different base. Just wonder whether you can give us a bit of a guidance for next quarters on or end of the year? And then can you quantify how much of this — the one that you just mentioned results of your liquidity as it reversed back into positive place so far?

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Gabriele Blei, Azimut Holding S.p.A. – CEO & Director [5]

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Okay. On the distribution cost side, we expect EUR 92.9 million figure in the first quarter is the result of the rebate on the management fee. Clearly, the asset base has been lower than in the past, so you have an impact there. We do expect to continue to be able to recruit people. Although we did so in the first quarter, clearly, in the last, say, month, 1.5 months, the activity has been very much reduced. We have continue to keep contact with potential candidates, but these things happen because you can meet and discuss and actually bring over the successful recruitment of a candidate. So certainly, it can be lower in terms of recruitment in the second quarter, I would say, quite with the high visibility on that. So we don’t expect major swings on this line. As you may understand, the net new money has been improving, although at a slower pace than in, say, Q4 in the first quarter of 2020. So eventually, the incentive and the one-offs that we have to put at P&L level is somehow lower. Again, it very much depends on the activity that we will be able to recover and the speed of the recovery rather than the simple rebate of the 40% of the fixed management fee that we pay to our advisers. Having said that, the conclusion is — we don’t see major swings ahead of us. As you know, the first quarter is somehow heavier in certain lines. So the social security charges tend to be higher, and we have the convention every year. And so there are some one-offs there. But over the medium, say, trend, so year or so, we do expect a similar level of distribution cost on average assets.

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Operator [6]

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The next question is from Hubert Lam of Bank of America.

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Hubert Lam, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division – VP [7]

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I just got 3 questions. Firstly, on performance fees, can you remind us how many assets you have currently that are currently still under the old performance fee structure? And if you could please confirm that this will all be shifted in the new structure at the end of June? And also regarding performance fees, if the quarter would end today, how many performance fees we get for Q2? That’s the first question.

Second question is on costs, G&A costs. I think previously, you guided towards about $200 million for the year. You’re currently, just because of what you just mentioned about the private asset costs and M&A that you’re kind of running higher than that now. Should we still target $200 million for the full year, or was that going to be higher now?

And last question is on Brazil. We’ve noticed that over the last couple of months, you’ve seen some outflows coming from your Brazilian business. Maybe you can just talk a little bit about why that’s happening? And do you expect that to persist or to improve essentially?

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Gabriele Blei, Azimut Holding S.p.A. – CEO & Director [8]

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Okay. As far as the performance fee, switch all new system, the amount of funds. I have to tell you that we don’t have any update from the CSSF on this matter. So we continue to work with the assumption that we had previously communicated, and we wait and see.

On the SG&A line, the EUR 200 million target is something that we never fully committed to. It’s something probably that was assumed by most of you. And this is a level that we feel comfortable with. Clearly, this has to exclude — this has to include the fact that we did buy companies over the last quarter and we continue to invest in the business. So if we look at constant perimeter, the EUR 200 million is what we expect as probably the sustainable level. And this is something that we can confirm. Although if we are good enough at implementing certain actions, we might see this level somehow lower. As you remember, last year, most of you have been surprised by the capability that we had to contain costs despite the strong growth of the business as well as the profit of the business. The idea we have is, therefore, to work on this assumption, of the EUR 200 million at constant perimeter. And eventually, with the new initiatives that will kick in, we might see some small headwinds in this figure.

Brazil. Brazil is going through a very complicated moment. They were about to relaunch the economy, thanks to the reform package that the government was pursuing. And the — all the things that happened on the lockdowns, given that they are very skewed towards raw materials, so not just oil, but a number of different things, has created some dislocation in their economy. From what we hear from our colleagues down there, clearly, we had some outflows from institutional investors that are invested in our funds through third party channels. We do see, from our proprietary distribution networks, if — so if I have to distinguish this flow environment from the third party network, we do see positive flows throughout each month so far year-to-date. So once again, this probably tells us that by implementing a proprietary distribution system, working side-by-side with our production, constitute a much more resilient business model than if you depend on third-party distributors. We do see our fund managers having to manage certain very complicated positions, especially in terms of the credit side, especially corporate, but we are continuing to hold liquid funds to meet redemptions as they fall due. So we do not have major problems in the local operations. Consider that from a company level, our results at the Brazilian level posted a profit in the first quarter of the year, with an ongoing breakeven at the distribution side, whereas the production side continues to benefit from the generation of profit. Clearly, the FX — and not just the FX but also the negative market performance, have had an impact on the size of the assets under management that we manage down there.

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Operator [9]

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The next question is from Elena Perini of Banca IMI.

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Elena Perini, Banca IMI SpA, Research Division – Research Analyst [10]

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Yes. I have only one question, which is related to your focus on acceleration towards the digitalization and the smart working. I was wondering if you have already quantified the investments related to that focus, and if this could impact on your SG&A expenses for the current year.

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Gabriele Blei, Azimut Holding S.p.A. – CEO & Director [11]

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Okay. Well, to be honest, we have gone through the heavy investment cycle over the last couple of years because of something that we have discussed in the past in terms of transforming our IT and operational infrastructure towards a more advanced and competitive environment. I don’t want to become technical, but we have tried to improve the framework of the IT infrastructure that we have, and we will be soon starting to reengineer each component of the business. The heavy investment, as I was saying, were taken in 2018, 2019. We continue to invest in order to maintain up to date the IT and operational perspective of the business. We don’t expect at this stage to have to commit, say, significant amount of money further in order to switch into a more digital or smart working facility. What we have to embrace is much more, more than in the past. The capability of our financial advisers on the one side and our clients on the other side to leave the digital track — experience, which means that even from far, they can decide and plan their asset allocation. They can change it, they can invest and commit more money, they can open an account and they can have their reporting fully digitally. Clearly, this has an impact, as I was mentioning, in terms of efficiency because we will be reducing the man hour in the back and middle office. Over time, we expect this saving to be something that we can use to do other things. So from the best case, we will reduce the cost — sorry, from the worst case that we will reduce the cost, but we will spend this money on something else to, obviously, a scenario in which we will be saving this cost, and we will not be needing to reinvest the entire saving into something else. So the idea we have is to go ahead. The company has been working, and we continue to work from home, from those of us that are in the office, from the office. But we probably don’t need to have the same environment or approach when it comes to the way we have been working so far. I’m not sure, but I guess none of us is — how long this situation will last. And therefore, how much we will have the capability to revert back to what we were used to do.

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Operator [12]

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The next question comes from Angeliki Bairaktari of Autonomous Research.

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Angeliki Bairaktari, Autonomous Research LLP – Analyst [13]

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Just one question on my side, please. On the recruitment of financial advisers, is it fair to assume overall, over the next 3 quarters that the recruitment of financial advisers will be lower and so effectively, we end up 2020 with a lower number of hires versus 2019? And shouldn’t that then leads to a lower distribution cost as a percentage of the currencies for this year? And also, when it comes to the recruitment of financial advisers, could you please tell us how many flows came from recruited a phase in Italy last year?

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Gabriele Blei, Azimut Holding S.p.A. – CEO & Director [14]

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Okay. Let me start from the last part of the question. How much was coming from recruitment and how much was coming from existing advisers? Last year, you can have this in the 50-50 region. So 50% from recruitment and 50% from existing advisers of the 4 of the — sorry, of the EUR 2.7 billion or EUR 2.8 billion of the flows in from the Italian network.

As far as the recruitment is concerned, again, it falls in the crystal ball. I don’t have the crystal ball. I do not know how the markets will shape and how easier will be to recruit people. As I said, we are constantly working on this. We have 1,800 advisers across Italy. We have people focusing on the recruitment of advisers from competition. I guess, there are fewer and fewer advisers that these days are willing to move because when you move, you tend to have to visit your client and show the client’s portfolio. So in a situation in which market are negative, historically, we have always seen less activity of people moving from one company to the other. It may not be the case for the long term if probably market will resume to a more normalized level. And if we can revert back to what we used to do in terms of activity of the recruitment. Clearly, if we recruit less, the distribution cost will go in that direction. So it’s — there is an obvious impact on the distribution cost line. The magnitude of that, it very much depends on too many factors that, at this day, we cannot control.

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Angeliki Bairaktari, Autonomous Research LLP – Analyst [15]

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Understood. But just looking at your Slide #10, I guess it’s fair to assume that the distribution cost for the full year of 2020 will be lower than the 25.3% average that you had in 2019.

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Gabriele Blei, Azimut Holding S.p.A. – CEO & Director [16]

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If you have the certainty, you must have a certainty of how the next 3 quarters of the year will evolve in terms of market, in terms of commercial activity. And unfortunately, I cannot commit to such uncertainty. What I can expect is probably that if we recruit less, the impact on the distribution cost line is less. If you remember, from our Investor Day presentation, 50% of the distribution cost was linked to the rebate of the fixed management fee. And the remaining 50%, 20% of was the overheads and 30% was linked to the recruitment of financial advisers. So you can probably make your assumption on how this lower recruitment will hit our distribution cost line.

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Operator [17]

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The next question is from Federico Braga of UBS.

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Federico Braga, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division – Equity Research Analyst [18]

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I have 3 questions, if you don’t mind. The first one is on the insurance revenues in the quarter that were still pretty strong. So I was wondering if was any performance fee in the number, or it was — or the full number is actually recurring for the quarter?

The second question is a follow-up on the fee margin because actually, according to my calculation, fee margins declined quite sharply in the quarter, roughly 7 basis points to 173 basis points in the quarter as the average AUMs were actually high in the quarter. Given that the market sell-off happened at the end of the quarter. So I was wondering if you can comment a little bit more on fee margins and is the key driver of changes to this line is mainly related to AUM mix, or if there is something else.

And then the last question is on the normalized recurring net profit of EUR 50 million. Would you say that it’s fair to assume that at least for Q2, we could expect a lower number of EUR 50 million given that the lower AUMs will start to have an impact only from Q2 onwards?

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Gabriele Blei, Azimut Holding S.p.A. – CEO & Director [19]

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Okay. We will ask you to repeat the last question, but we’ll start answering some of your questions. On the insurance revenue, well, probably from what I’ve read you — from your comments that I’ve read before coming up, you’re very sure that the insurance revenue cannot be sustainable, but I leave it to you in stating certain things. Having said that, performance fees Q-on-Q — sorry, year-on-year first quarter ’19, first quarter 2020, is flat. We have had EUR 1 million of performance fee in both quarters.

Fee margin. Again, I really struggle to follow your reasoning and your elaboration on your comments and your margin trends. I honestly find it — find that our fee margin gross management fee. So the recurring fees, so excluding performance fees have been 198 basis points in Q1 2020; 199 basis points, Q4; 118 in Q3; 110, Q2 ’19; and 182, Q1 ’19. I really — beyond these numbers, I don’t know what numbers you’re looking at. Average AUM Q-on-Q is down 5%. We have a number of average AUM of EUR 55 billion or EUR 58 billion. Or if you look at the managed assets, EUR 43 billion, which compares to EUR 45 billion of Q4. So obviously, nobody is happy about this drop, including and mainly ourselves. But the negative effect that we had on the asset base have been quite well counterbalanced by a margin level that remained pretty resilient. As I was commenting before, we will see how this will evolve in Q2 as it depends very much on the size of the AUM on which we will have to calculate our recurrent fees.

The last question is not clear to me. Could you repeat it?

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Federico Braga, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division – Equity Research Analyst [20]

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I was wondering just if you think that it’s (inaudible). In Q2, we could see normalized recurring profit below the EUR 50 million figure given the lower AUM starting point. Or you still expect to meet the EUR 50 million figure also in Q2?

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Gabriele Blei, Azimut Holding S.p.A. – CEO & Director [21]

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Well, honestly, we — what we work goes beyond the quarters but goes into creating a sustainable long-term business model that is capable of delivering results that grow over time. So when we stated the EUR 50 million back at the Investor Day, we had the idea of bringing this EUR 50 million to levels that will not be flat over time. We are living in a phase in which if we already have the EUR 50 million even during these very complicated times is a successful achievement, we’re not satisfied and we will not be satisfied over the coming quarters. But it very much depends on the capability of our fund managers to deliver performance, on the markets to be not disruptive as we have been, on our networks wherever they are located to raise assets. As far as the Q2 is concerned, I will leave it to the Q2 forthcoming presentation to comment whether we have been able to achieve the EUR 50 million or not.

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Operator [22]

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Gentlemen, at this time, there are no more questions registered. Mr. Blei, would you like to make your closing remarks, sir?

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Gabriele Blei, Azimut Holding S.p.A. – CEO & Director [23]

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Stay safe, wherever you are. And happy to take any further questions with my colleagues at any time you wish. Bye-bye.

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