Investment trusts - when big is better

The retail distribution review will be good for investment trusts - but not for all of them. With the tendency for independent financial advisers to ignore smaller trusts, it makes sense for some of them to merge.

When the idea thatcommission paid to investment advisers by unit trust companies was to be outlawed by the Retail Distribution Review(RDR) was first announced, the investment trust industry was thrilled. Why? Becauseindependent financial advisers(IFAs) tended to ignore investment trusts even if they had performance histories significantly better than their equivalent unit trusts on the basis that they didn't get paid for suggesting them to clients.

The hope was that when they didn't get paid for recommending unit trusts either they might become a little more even-handed. That looks like it will happen (surveys regularly show IFAs getting keener on investment trusts).

But it doesn't mean that the whole industry will benefit equally. There is bound to be a rush towards the very big, very liquid and very good trusts Neil Woodford's Edinburgh Investment Trust being the obvious one to point to here. But what of the small trusts?

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If they have under £100m under management they generally aren't very liquid ie, it isn't that easy to buy and sell them. They also tend to come with large discounts, something that can put both big and small investors off. With this in mind I am interested to see some movement at the Troy Income and Growth Trust.

I interviewed its manager Francis Brooke in the magazinea couple of months agoand we are fans both of Troy as a whole and of this trust it is up over 100% in the last three years against a rise of 50% in the FTSE All Share. But it is still a small trust.

Assets under management are currently around £80m - £20m short of the level that IFAs think they need a trust to be before they will put their clients into it. That's about to change. The Albany Investment Trust announced today that it is to reconstruct itself, giving investors the opportunity to roll their money into TIGT without incurring capital gains tax.

The Grampian Investment Trust (which Troy already runs) has announced the same. Albany currently has about £30m of net assets and Grampian has about £10m. Assuming the majority of shareholders accept the rollover and why shouldn't they given Brooke's excellent performance? this will push TIGT nicely over the £100m level.

This is pretty much good news all around. Current TIGT investors will be pleased at the rise in liquidity that comes with a rise in the size of the fund and by the fact that the fixed costs as a percentage of their holdings will fall, while Albany and Grampian shareholders will be getting out ofsmall funds trading at nasty discounts into a bigger one trading at par or a premium. TIGT has been the best performer in the income and growth sector in the last three years. Albany has been the worst. It all makes sense.

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.