Nick Greenwood: the three things to buy now

Merryn Somerset Webb talks to fund manager Nick Greenwood about why you should buy investment trusts over open-ended funds, and his three favourite areas to invest in now.

Merryn Somerset Webb talks to Nick Greenwood, of the Miton Global Opportunities Investment Trust, about the pros and cons of investment trusts in general, explains why you should buy them over open-ended funds, and his three favourite areas to invest in now.

If you missed any of Merryn's past interviews, you can see them all here.

Merryn: Hi, I'm Merryn Somerset Webb, editor-in-chief of MoneyWeek magazine. Welcome to another one of our interviews. Today, we're very lucky. We have with us Nick Greenwood, who's the manager of two funds. One is the Miton Global Opportunities Investment Trust. As you know, MoneyWeek is very keen on investment trusts, and this is a fund of investment trusts. So lots of interesting stuff coming out from that. He also runs a similar fund, which is open-ended, called the Miton Worldwide Opportunities Fund. So I think we'll put that one to the side for one minute. We will talk mainly about investment trusts. So let's talk about why you run a fund of investment trusts.

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Nick: The fund evolved over the years. It did actually start as a fairly ordinary fund of funds. But over the years, it's evolved into a special situations vehicle, focusing on the less well-known, overlooked corners of the trust market. There are some incredible inefficiencies. The typical fund at the moment is trading on a 29% discount.

Merryn: Let's just explain that. When we say it's trading on a 29% discount, we mean it's trading on a 29% discount to its net asset value, ie the actual value of all the things inside it.

Nick: Exactly. So the portfolio is a pound. I'm able to buy them in the open market at 71p.

Merryn: It's a bargain.

Nick: Yes. I'm buying overlooked assets at a very cheap level.

Merryn: But only a bargain if the price ever goes up to a pound, right? Otherwise, you're not bargaining at all.

Nick: Exactly. The day job is working out what the true value of the portfolio is. The closed-ended world is moving more towards being a natural home for alternatives, where the calculations are more subjective. German properties probably are the most extreme situation, where the methodology values a couple of investment trust portfolios as though they were rental properties, which is exactly what they are. But in Germany, most people rent. Therefore, most voters are tenants. You have a lot of landlord-unfriendly rules and regulations. If you were able to take that rental flat and convert it into the private market, sell it on as what we know as leasehold, there's an enormous difference in the price. So, typically, in Berlin, the rental average is something like €880 a square metre. You can sell those flats as private for over €4,000. The net asset value takes the rental figure but, of course, our view is these flats will be sold over the next few years into the private market at a big premium.

Merryn: Why will they be sold?

Nick: Because the managers have got permission to convert these from rental to private and then they will liquidate the portfolio over a period of time and hand the money back to the investors.

The important difference between an investment trust and an open-ended fund is the fund manager is protected from inflows and outflows, which means if a sector falls out of favour, he's not forced to go into the market and take very poor prices

Merryn: OK. So this is simply a play on changing regulations and changing...

Nick: Yes, it's moving away from the regulation, which gives you an extreme value. The investment trust world is used to treating stated net asset values as verbatim because historically they were mainly equity funds and you'd just run your Bloomberg and you know what the NAV is at the end of the day, taking the closing prices of all the equity holdings. Using that Berlin property as an example, the valuation process is subjective. Sometimes, you get a big difference between the stated NAV and what these assets would be worth in the real world. But the market still tends to follow the stated NAV, creating an enormous inefficiency. That's how I fill my days, looking for these sorts of things.

Merryn: And it's your top holding at the moment, this -

Nick: No, Taliesin is my second largest holding. Recently, India Capital Growth has become my top holding.

Merryn: OK. Now, we weren't going to talk about the trust first. We were going to talk about "why investment trusts" as opposed to specifics. So let's go back a little bit to why investment trust. The first reason there is you're saying this is where the value is. They're trading on big discounts because there are now people who invest in funds in general who are too big to look at the smaller trusts, which leaves inefficiencies in the market for people like you with much smaller amounts of money to pick up.

Nick: Yes. The important difference between an investment trust and an open-ended fund is the fund manager is protected from inflows and outflows, which means if a sector falls out of favour, he's not forced to go into the market and take very poor prices. We've had quite a high profile example recently with property open-ended funds, which is a prime example of what happens if you own liquid assets in an open-ended fund where investors can walk at 24 hours' notice, but the poor fund manager can't do the same in the underlying portfolio. You get this fatal mismatch.

Merryn: Yes. He can't sell them fast enough to get the money to shareholders so suddenly you end up having to close the funds, right?

Nick: Exactly. An investment trust doesn't have that problem. Your entry is in the market. You can sell those shares in the market. But because there aren't inflows and outflows into the fund itself, the fund manager can sit on those assets and he's not turned into forced seller and value destroyed. So investment trusts I view as superior investment vehicles but they're just not user-friendly.

Merryn: So they're superior investment vehicles for us, for the retail investor because it's much longer term capital. We know that the fund manager has the ability to invest properly for the long term. And he can also, to a degree, ignore how much everyone gets at it if he underperforms for a couple of years because the capital just stays there. So as long as his directors are nice to him, he's good.

Nick: Yes. And directors are often nice to the fund managers.

Merryn: Really? I think it's a director's job to chivvy the fund managers along, not to be too nice to them. It's been a long time problem in the investment trust market, right? Directors being just a little bit too nice.

Nick: Historic, yes. It's changing, compared to experiences ten or 15 years ago where, very often, it was quite a cosy club. Directors are more challenging.

Merryn: I always think one of the great advantages of investment trusts is that they do have the directors there, whose job is to protect the shareholders. And an awful lot of funds in particular, open-ended funds are not really run for the people who hold the units. They're run for the people who hold the units, they're run for the company that manages the fund and that's where the money goes. But with an investment trust, you can look at the directors and say, "Hang on, guys. It's your job to protect the shareholders, not to protect the fund manager". It seems to me to be one of the great things about an investment trust.

Nick: Yes. And I think it's probably truer today because in a more litigious world, directors are more vulnerable. So they take on the responsibility of the director of the investment trust. You are vulnerable. You are at risk. And therefore, you are going to have a much less cosy relationship with the fund manager than you would have had ten or 15 years ago.

Merryn: And for disclosure purposes, I should say that I'm a director of two investment trusts. That's just a discloser for readers. But I think the readers know already.

Nick: But the downside was that superior investment vehicles are not particularly user-friendly. And this is what's causing all the disruption in the pricing at the moment because, historically, the old private clients' stockbrokers used to be the buyers of investment trusts and the IFA world used to buy the open-ended funds. What's happened is that maybe 100 companies that were the member firms of the London Stock Exchange, the old Shepherds and Chases and the Greens and Grants of this world, have all been merged into these vast chains and they're looking to increasingly standardise portfolios.

Merryn: Which makes sense because that's a lower cost way of doing things like that.

Nick: Exactly. There's a regulatory push and a commercial push to standardise portfolios. But that makes life difficult for the investment trust movement because these companies now individually might have been running a billion and they're now part of a vast empire running 25 billion. And if you're trying to standardise across a whole range of portfolios, you need to buy a lot of stock in the market at any one time.

Merryn: So if an investment trust has only got a total market capitalisation of, say, between 70 and 100 million, if you wanted to put all the portfolios in there, buy the whole thing.

Nick: Probably several times over. The industry has said it's a quarter of a million but if you think of the size of these vehicles, even a quarter of a million pound investment trust will be difficult to buy and allocate. So the bar steadily rises. 400 million is the figure I look at. And if you say there are around 450 investment trusts, 360-370 are below that bar. The problem is these are listed vehicles. The natural buyers are moving on and therefore they have to find new buyers. And that may well happen in time. But if you're listed and you have no natural buyers and a few sellers, your share price will keep falling. And liquidity is worse than it used to be. The market makers are not putting up as much capital behind markets. And this is how you end up with being able to buy stocks at 71p in the pound when the vehicles are actually doing nothing wrong; it's just that their client base has moved on.

Merryn: But, but, but what changes that dynamic? You ended up with something that cost you 70p in the pound. Those natural buyers are not going to come back in the market. There's a limit to how much money we readers can buy. So when does that price go up again?

Nick: Normally, sadly, the most common exit from my fund is the end of the underlying fund. If you're buying something that's already trading on a 30% discount, they are in the last chance saloon. We've had examples this week. If something else goes wrong or just exhaustion then the trust will very often go into an orderly windup. Probably half of my exits come that way. If you can actually find something that finds a new client base or a new manager or a new reason to exist in the audience, you can get a powerful combination of a rising on NAV and a narrowing discount. If you do the sums of buying something at a 30% discount and it moves to a 10% and you get a 10% move in the NAV, you can get a spectacular move.

Merryn: Yes. We saw this recently. There was a little trust, Aurora, which was a disaster under its previous manager. It was taken in by Gary Channon and Phoenix. Immediately, the discount closed and now it's trading at premium. So everyone got an immediate 35% uplift there, including many of my readers, by the way.

Nick: Yes. That's one of our core holdings. That one actually trades at a premium but we're just purely backing the managers. The situation there: they've got a good long-term record but most of their funds are in obscure offshore locations and they really wanted a vehicle that their fan club that could only buy UK vanilla vehicles could access. So the trust is very small and that allows them to grow the trust. Therefore, there's more demand than there is supply because the trust is very small in the first place. Hence, we're trading at a premium. The other important point is that they run very concentrated portfolios the ability to be closed-ended. Again, going back to the inflows and outflows, if you're going to have a ten-stock portfolio, you really don't want to be hit by redemptions and having to go across and sell a very short range of underlying stocks.

Merryn: Now we're on Aurora, let's move on to the subject of fees. Aurora has a performance-only structure. In the past, everyone was bandying around numbers showing how investment trusts have generally outperformed open-ended funds over time. And people have argued about why that is: is it because managers are so good at dealing with their leverage or is it actually just because in the end the fees would be lower, the overall cost is being lowered because they haven't gone through the IFA system, the commission system etc? But now that that's all changed, post-RDR, which takes a while to flow through, we are beginning to see a situation where the investment trusts don't look so cheap, compared to the unit trusts. We worry or I worry, anyway that over time, if that outperformance won't continue if it's entirely based on the fees. So where are fee structures going in the investment trust world? And to what extent does it matter?

Nick: I think historically there was a fact that investment trusts were cheap. I don't think that's been particularly true in recent years. Some of the older generational trusts were cheap. What's tended to happen is that fees were under more pressure and therefore the rest of the world has come down to that level. But a lot of the newer alternative funds have quite generous fees and actually are quite expensive. But I don't think it's possible to make sweeping generalisations.

Merryn: Oh, go on.

Nick: I think that a very good, solid, old-style generalist trust, its performance was reasonable because fees were low. But then they were effectively doing the job of an ETF. They weren't that actively managed. And the difference in those days, going back to the ancient days of a large trust having an expense ratio of eight basis points...

Merryn: I know. When readers wrote to tell me about that, I was amazed. I was writing about Alliance Trust a couple of years ago and I got all these letters from readers saying, "Did you know their fee used to be eight basis points?"' That's 0.08%.

Nick: Well, they had very, very austere officers in Dundee with a lot of brown lino, and the fund was very big and you didn't have that many highly paid staff, and when you divided the costs, it came to virtually nothing compared to the size of the fund. But that all changed. But that's another story.

Merryn: How do you feel about how Aurora would really accept having these performance fees and these structures?

Nick: I quite like it but they haven't proved to be popular. The trust I ran used to have a performance fee. We dropped it and raised the general fee from 50 basis points to 65 basis points because that's what the market liked. I have no problem, as long as I understand the performance fees. Going back to Berlin property, Taliesin, which is our second largest holding, has an enormous performance fee. I think the fund manager took €11 million home last year.

Merryn: How is that structured?

Nick: I think it's something along the lines of, over-simplistically, the fund manager gets 20% of the outlift and we get 80. But I'd much rather a situation where I get 80% of something that's going up a lot rather than 100% of something that's going nowhere.

Merryn: I wouldn't mind that as long as when it's collapsing again, they give me back the 20%, what with me giving up all of my 80%. Here's the problem: if he gets to keep his 20% forever, your 80% is prone to disappear at any moment.

we've got plenty of cases where unrealised gains have generated quite large fees. And I think that's possibly why the investment community doesn't like the performance fees.

Nick: I think if the fund came back in that case, it would drop back. But we've got plenty of cases where unrealised gains have generated quite large fees. And I think that's possibly the problem why the investment community doesn't like the performance fees. If you look at Aurora's managers, you can look at the figures it's something like they returned 11% gross over the years but only 8% net.

Merryn: I've enormous respect for the investments style but the fees they've taken out of it, that's monumental stuff.

Nick: Yes. That's high. But if they have a difficult time, it will become a low cost fund. And that's possibly why people don't like it. And I think also the problem is a lot of end users obsess about the level of fees and they have to declare the level of fees. If you've got a Taliesin and an Aurora who've had very good years that have generated great returns for their shareholders, it's going to make the advisors look expensive on the data that they have to produce. So that's also a reason why.

Merryn: It's all about image.

Nick: Yes.

Merryn: OK. That's cleared that one up. What about the top fund? Let's go into your favourite investment trust then. We've done German property. Your top holding now, you tell me, is not German property. It's India.

Nick: India Capital Growth, Yes.

Merryn: Tell us about that one.

Nick: It's basically had a capital structure that the market didn't understand. It had a very heavy issue of warrants and therefore it's got a very large overhang. We like India.

Merryn: Hang on. You'd better explain what that means.

Nick: Overhang basically means that there are far more shares in the supply than people want. If supply is greater than demand, the share price needs to fall until the buyers are attracted. Hence, it trades on a wide discount. We're long-term holders. We would be very happy with a 5-6% holding in the longer term.

Merryn: What's the holding now?

People describe Modi as India's Thatcher. My view is he's more a supreme administrator. He's trying to make the existing systems work better. India is going from an economy that's been incredibly badly run to what we call "less worse".

Nick: It's eight. Post-Brexit, the NAV went up very nicely because the Indian market held up quite well and the pound sunk against the rupee. We reached the point where the warrants or the subscription shares came to the end. The undiluted NAV was £1. We had the right to buy more shares at 61p, as everyone else did. But that created 37 million new shares in a small and liquid trust. Therefore, with all of that supply, we've a lot of shareholders owning more than they would like in the short to medium term. The share price has not kept remotely up with the value of the underlying assets. People describe Modi as India's Thatcher. My view is he's more a supreme administrator. He's trying to make the existing systems work better. India is going from an economy that's been incredibly badly run to what we call "less worse".

Merryn: OK. So it's simply using existing systems in a slightly better way.

Nick: For example, moving a lot of the planning processes onto the internet to avoid all the bribery, corruption and bureaucracy. So the system will work better. You've got a stock market that looks vaguely similar to the UK market. They've inherited the system. So you can generally stock pick. The top 20 companies in India tend to be owned by the big multinationals and tend to be on very high ratings and often rather unexciting businesses. But you've got several thousands of companies in India and therefore, you can generally stock pick. The new managers at India Capital Growth, I think, are quite good.

Merryn: When they call themselves Capital Growth and Income, that covers everything.

Nick: Yes.

Merryn: What do they mean?

Nick: The trust is India Capital Growth. Historically, the trust has been a bit of a disaster. Very often, the discount reflects the track record of the vehicle, not the team that are running it at the moment. India Capital Growth is a prime example of that. Launched about ten years ago, the first team lost half the money. They left. Another team was hired. They repeated the exercise, lost half the money again. Third team came in three or four years ago and found a portfolio full of microcaps run by mates of the second team, which took them a long time to sell. That whole process took the stock eventually from £1 at launch to 29p. At that point, the market has a very poor perception of this trust and views it as a bit of a disaster. But the guys probably took a year to clean up the portfolio. Over the last two or three years, it performed very well. It focuses on midcaps and therefore, they're genuine stock pickers and performed a lot better than the very big general funds.

Merryn: They're now fully invested in real companies at reasonable prices.

Nick: Exactly.

Merryn: And what's the share price now?

Nick: Share price is 69p. I think it might reach 70 NAV.

Merryn: And what price did you buy at?

We like India'smacro as well. It's an economy where the central bankers still have tools to use, unlike in the West, where we used all the ammo. The economy is growing.

Nick: We did buy some stock at 29. But the big purchase recently was at 61. It was the exercise of warrants. But it's an arbitrage between perception and reality. And we like the macro as well. It's an economy where the central bankers still have tools to use, unlike in the West, where we used all the ammo. The economy is growing. You're paying 17-18 times for the portfolio but typically, earnings are actually growing but 15-20%. So it's just a good old-fashioned profits are going up, stock-picking type situation that's very poorly perceived and trades way below its intrinsic value.

Merryn: OK. You're taking us all around the world. Where else can we go?

Nick: I think the point of the fund is it's massively diversified by asset class and geography. Up until Monday, one of the big themes was second hand life policies in the States.

Merryn: What do you mean, up until Monday?

Nick: The proposal put into place to liquidate the portfolio and sell the portfolio to someone else. It's one of the classic situations at the end of the trust, is very often the windup, which gave us a nice uplift, obviously, because the thing was trading at a reasonable discount up until Monday morning. That was another area. The biggest theme is private equity. If you include underlying gearing, that's probably 20% of the portfolio.

Merryn: What's the biggest holding?

Nick: The biggest one is the Pantheon I was going to say irredeemables but they're actually redeemables which are rising very strongly today. Most of my stocks are normally gloriously unchanged for weeks and months on end and then you get blips, outlining Pantheon redeemables today when the rest of the world have spotted it and tried to buy it and pushed the price up.

Merryn: Why have they suddenly spotted it? What makes the rest of the world go, "I want that fund Nick's got"?

Nick: Just trading on a large discount. You tell enough people about it, eventually you get spotted and people start to buy.

Merryn: This is one of the things that the value fund manager ends up having to do, go around the place, telling everybody else about the value so eventually they buy it as well and you can get out.

Nick: Yes. One of the tools in the box it doesn't work all the time but you can help things along is to explain to people what the value is. Obviously, you're going out, talking to your shareholders and you're talking to brokers. The shares of my trust are trading on the market so I have to go out and explain to investors what's in the portfolio. Sometimes I go out and buy one or two of the ideas directly.

But private equity is a sector where discounts are still very wide. They've been narrowing in recent days. Part of that is because of history. They all blew up in 2008 and a lot of people haven't got the confidence or the nerve to get back involved. Part of it is just coincidence. A lot of these funds have market values of 200, 300, 400 million, which is the dangerous area. It's the area where they're just coming off the buy lists of the big chains and they're just going into this period of actually having the discounts wide. I think with private equity, it's just a coincidence that the number of the funds are of that sort of size.

But the thing to look at is that there's 1.2 trillion I couldn't write that number down if you asked me of what we call dry capital looking for a home. The industry, globally, in the private equity world, has raised vast amounts of money from investors and now needs to invest that.

If you look at the UK investment trusts, with a very mature portfolio if we look at Pantheon, its average age of its underlying investments are seven years this stuff is ready to sell into a market that's desperate. You've got the mother of all seller's markets. Again, it's a situation where the stated NAVs are fairly historic and those stated NAVs will have to rise 10-15% over the next 18 months as those assets are sold. Yet many of these things are trading on enormous discounts. There's a number of factors there.

Talking to people, it's a more difficult concept to get over to investors and you've got to drill down a little bit. But I think what we've seen recently is there's so much value there that we're starting to get hostile takeover bids. Obviously, you've seen Electra but SVG was attacked earlier this week. I think what that is is people are actually looking harder and delving and thinking, "Well, there must be value here. All these are trading at discounts." I think people are looking over the sector. We've seen some quite strong runs in some of our stock over the last two or three days.

Merryn: OK. Now, with a view to us helping you get out the news about the value in your portfolio, what do you think is the trust that you hold that is the cheapest, with the very most potential in it? If you had to go out tomorrow and buy one of your trusts and only one, which one would it be?

Nick: Obviously, we'll put a curse on the future. I would say Geiger Counter, which is a very small trust that focuses on effectively owning uranium and uranium miners. The discount varies but it's a penny stock. It trades at about 17 pence a share, the NAV is about 22-23p and those figures move around. Typically, it's a 20-odd percent discount, like other things. Uranium is quite odd because it went into its decline two or three years before the mining sector did because of the accident in Fukushima. And sentiment is absolutely dire. Price is quite low. But nobody is looking for new uranium mines. But the uranium is being used up quite fast.

Merryn: Where is the uranium? Where are the uranium mines in the world?

Nick: Half of it is in Kazakhstan. The rest is in Australia, the US and Canada. And it's an important point because Geiger Counter's mines are all in Australia and the States and Canada.

Merryn: So no political risk.

Nick: No political risk. For example, there are 100 nuclear reactors in the United States. We have had some upheaval in the Stans with the recent departure or death of one of the leaders. That isn't in the price. I'm not necessarily expecting that to change. But you would lose half of your global supply. At the moment, probably there's 20% less uranium being mined than needed by the nuclear industry.

Merryn: Who's stockpiling it?

Nick: At the moment, it's coming from Japan. They honoured their contracts. Japan will probably never come back to nuclear power properly because of the history. And, of course, it's not only the nuclear accident happening. There is a history further back, a bit like the Germans can never get around their fear of inflation.

Merryn: The Japanese will always have a worry about nuclear.

Let's say we end up in five years' time with 650-700 nuclear reactors, we're not even mining enough uranium for 450 and the supply will keep dropping every year. So we're going to get this massive spike up in the price at some point

Nick: Yes, exactly. But that's affected sentiment. The big users are places like China, India, the US.

Merryn: I suppose, if 20% more is being used everywhere every year than is being mined, where is that 20% coming from? Somebody has a stockpile.

Nick: It's coming from Japan. Japan bought a lot before the nuclear accident that they didn't need. So in the short term, there's uranium there.

Merryn: I see. But they will run out.

Nick: We're going from about say 450 nuclear reactors in the world when the ones under current construction are finished, that will be 600 and it may go to 1,000 if things like Hinkley Point, which is looking more likely this morning, go ahead. It would be on that list between 600 and 1,000, the ones that might make it but most won't. Let's say we end up in five years' time with 650-700 nuclear reactors, we're not even mining enough for 450 and the mining supply will keep dropping every year as things get exhausted. Nobody is going to actually look for a new uranium mine until it's $70 or $80 so we're going to get this massive spike up in the price at some point. I'm just surprised it hasn't happened already.

Merryn: This trust has been languishing for years and years and years, hasn't it? You're not the first person to tell me how wonderful it is, and I'm sure you're right. But will it last the course?

Nick: I have a fondness for it because we sold half the holding. I think the tidal wave was heading towards a nuclear power station the moment we sold it. We sold half a holding at £1.35. And I used to joke that now it was the same but just take the 1 off the front. But it's done that and halved again. I think it's just a case of I can't see where the supply is going to come from. We mentioned earlier the Kazakhstan situation. Half of this supply comes from Kazakhstan. If there is political change, there is upheaval nobody's going to say that there should be that would have an absolutely dramatic effect because we're already in shortage. There's ever more demand and there's ever less supply. And it's hated, and that's why it trades on a discount and it's why all the underlying stocks trade on a discount.

Merryn: Given that you've cursed it you'd better give us another. What would be your second choice?

Nick: I think my second choice is probably Taliesin still. People would find that odd.

Merryn: Really? Still? You've made a lot made a lot of money out of that.

Nick: Yes. We started buying at £7. It's now at £31. But I think the bull market in Berlin runs for years and years and years. It's almost without parallel. A city can go from an urban wilderness, as it was 25 years ago, to being a major European capital. And when you look at the prices, it's still 1/7 of London, is the rough price of Berlin.

Merryn: This is a Brexit buy?

Nick: It's worked very nicely as a result of Brexit and the pound heading lower, in the short term. So it's still cheap. I think demand will keep going because in Germany,people who are 40 and underare globaland are buying property. The 50-somethings, the 60-somethingscarry on rentingbecause that's the culture. There isa generational change,which is more extreme in Berlinbecause it is a sort of happeningplace. That's come froma very low level. But there are other things.

There is a thing, if Taliesin sells properties and handsmoney back to shareholders,of reinvesting that moneybecause if you thinkthat's selling at €4,000a square metreand they're valuing in their particular case at €2,400,you may as well just put the money back in.

But the other thingthat is not talked about muchis that,like in private clientstockbroking,the pots of moneywill have managed to become big,it's the same in the property world. There's beenconsolidation. Property managers and investors needvery big ticketsand thereforethe valuefor a portfoliois vastly morethan the valuefor an individual building. The NAVsare calculatedby what those buildings would fetchindividually,not as part of the portfolio. Sothere is another discount there.

We hada situation called Japan Residential,which was a similar company,only apartment blocksin Tokyo,where the NAVwas 54but Blackstone a perfectlylogical buyer paid 72p cashbecause it would have taken them yearsto build that much. Thereforethat is anothersituation withTaliesin.

Merryn: Are there any trusts in Japanese property at the moment that are interesting?

Nick: No.I don't think there are any,which is sad because

Merryn: It would be a good place to be.

Nick: There is one ProspectJapan would give you some access. That's a very specialist fund and at the moment their big bet is trying to get control of the two big banks in Fukushima. I don't know the size of it but Fukushima is probably on a par with Devon and Cornwall, it's had $100 billion pumped into it after the accident. So the economy there is ticking over fine. So the banks are in a better state. But the manager there has managed to buy in at 30% of book and I suspect his plan is that if the authorities don't particularly want a Western investor in the sensitive bank, they might buy him out. But the rest of the portfolio is pretty well focused at businesses a bit like we did in the '80s. Spinning mills and things like that that own vast tracts of Tokyo for a business that was industrial and not really being used. He's got a lot of companies, cheap property, overlooked property. And that's the only way.

Merryn: But there's quite a conversion challenge there.

Nick: Yes. But if you're only getting half of Japan property, you've got to take a view on two banks in Fukushima, which is about half the portfolio.

Merryn: Alright. We'll stick with Germany for now.

Nick: Yes.

Merryn: OK, Nick. I'd better let you go. We've been at this for a while. But thank you very much. Everybody: that's uranium, Germany and India, in a nutshell.

Nick: Yes.

Merryn: Thank you, Nick.

Nick: Not at all.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.