Investment Trusts Lower Fees

The simplification and reduction in fee structures across the sector has been a marked trend in 2014 thanks to the competitive pressures from clean share classes

Jeremy Beckwith 15 December, 2014 | 3:07PM
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The ripples from the implementation of RDR at the beginning of 2013 have brought investment trusts under the scrutiny of a broader audience of advisers and investors. Investment trust boards have begun to understand that there is an opportunity to make their funds more attractive for both existing and these new potential shareholders.

The simplification and reduction in fee structures across the sector has been a marked trend in 2014, as the competitive pressures from clean share classes have meant that investment trusts have shifted from being cheaper than open-ended funds to being more expensive, as advisers’ trail commissions are a diminishing feature of the marketplace. Examples of investment trusts reducing fees in 2014 include Perpetual Income and Growth (PLI), Schroder Income Growth (SCF) and Montanaro European Smaller Companies (MTE).

Greater attention to managing the discount to reduce share price volatility is evident. It is the volatility of the discount which has historically been one of the factors holding back adviser interest in investment trusts. Both Martin Currie Global Portfolio (MNP) and Jupiter Green (JGC) have adopted a zero-discount policy. There is a psychological effect that operates here as the very existence of such a policy acts to keep the discount lower and less volatile.

Income-focused trusts have been proactive with their dividend policies, with some moving to quarterly dividends to provide a more regular stream of income to their shareholders. Brunner has a 40-year record of consecutive dividend increases, and now delivers that through more frequent cash flow, which has great appeal for income-conscious, retail investors.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of an investment trust board seeking to become more relevant to the changing UK marketplace has been at British Assets (BSET) where the board have jettisoned a traditional equity mandate and investment manager in order to pursue a multi-asset income strategy targeting capital preservation and income growth — this has yet to be approved by shareholders as it is subject to a vote in February. A closed-end structure lends itself well for this given there is no need to deal with inflows/outflows and the ability to save some income in revenue reserves and use it to smooth dividend pay-outs in leaner years. This move is in response to the change in pension rules on annuities from April 2016, an asset with low volatility providing income that grows over time is likely to prove a very appealing substitute to an annuity.

New capital raising in investment trusts was concentrated in two areas, which often overlapped. In general, new issues came in less liquid asset classes, which are better suited to the closed-end structure. Areas such as infrastructure, distressed debt, environmental, solar and property led the way. Many of these fitted the second theme of income – sustainable yield is in increasingly short supply in financial markets, and new sources of investment income are in strong demand.

Across the industry, discounts have generally been fairly stable though they have been a little spooked in recent weeks by signs of weaker economic growth in Europe and China. They remain, though, at historically low levels and, somewhat unnervingly, at levels last seen in 2007 just before the world fell apart. The low level of discounts has meant relatively muted corporate activity – Edward Bramson’s assault on Electra was, and remains, somewhat surprising, given its superior long-term track record and small discount relative to the sector.

2014 saw the investment trust sector say goodbye to Jupiter Second Split, Prosperity Voskhod, CQS Rig Finance, Dexion Trading and BlackRock New Energy amongst others.

In 2015, we are likely to see a continuation in the trends identified above towards more scrutiny from boards to make their propositions relevant for today’s investors, a greater focus on fees and simplicity of fee structures, and better transparency and communication with investors. The change to annuity rules will see more investors seeking diversified sources of yield, many of whom may be self-directed rather than advised.

The FCA’s focus on the wealth management industry is likely lead to greater consistency of holdings across clients within the same firm. This is producing more heavily policed approved holding lists, which in turn demands greater liquidity for any individual trust to make it onto such lists. The pressures on smaller trusts, with assets of less than £100 million and arguably £200 million, from this change of emphasis amongst the wealth management industry is beginning to exercise the minds of boards, and a greater appreciation of the benefits of economies of scale is occurring, which may lead to merger activity.

On the regulatory front, attention should be paid to the success or otherwise of the AIC’s campaign to get ESMA to change their proposal that would currently make every investment trust a complex product for MiFID II purposes. Were this to go through it would mean that advisers would have to consider investment trusts as more risky investments than individual equities, and likely lead to far less investor interest in investment trusts.

The information contained within is for educational and informational purposes ONLY. It is not intended nor should it be considered an invitation or inducement to buy or sell a security or securities noted within nor should it be viewed as a communication intended to persuade or incite you to buy or sell security or securities noted within. Any commentary provided is the opinion of the author and should not be considered a personalised recommendation. The information contained within should not be a person's sole basis for making an investment decision. Please contact your financial professional before making an investment decision.

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Securities Mentioned in Article

Security NamePriceChange (%)Morningstar
Jupiter Green Ord262.00 GBX0.00Rating
Martin Currie Global Portfolio Ord387.00 GBX-1.53Rating
Montanaro European Smaller Ord190.00 GBX-2.76Rating
Schroder Income Growth Ord311.00 GBX1.97Rating

About Author

Jeremy Beckwith  is Director of Manager Research for Morningstar UK