'My Pandemic Punts, Recovery Plays and Chancers'

Investor Views: Private investor Mark Aspel uses profits from his direct investments to buy cars and holidays, while also keep an eye on long-term retirement plans

Emma Simon 16 December, 2020 | 3:10PM
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Investor views

Mark Aspel has been an investor for over 30 years and hopes his investment portfolio will enable him to retire in his early 60s.

Mark currently works full-time but his aim is to reduce his working hours to spend more time at home and with his grandchildren.

Mark, who lives in Buckinghamshire with his wife, invests in a broad spread of assets, which includes six buy-to-let properties, a number of work pensions as well as his Sipp which is with AJ Bell YouInvest, and a stocks and shares Isa, which is held with a high street bank.

He says: “I currently pay around 5% of my salary into my current company pension, but there is no option to increase this. I started a Sipp in April 2019 to gain some useful income tax relief and because interest rates were so poor on bank and building society savings accounts.”

As well as saving for the longer term, Mark has also used gains made from his investments to help fund “treats” for the couple.

He says: “In 2009 we bought a new car after selling some of my shares for a decent profit and in 2019 my investments paid for a three-week trip to Australia.”

Stock Picking Success

In both his Isa and Sipp, Mark focuses on direct shareholdings rather than funds, is interested in researching companies and has previously had some success with his stock picking.

By investing in a diversified range of smaller and larger companies Mark says there is always the potential to invest in one that has the potential to deliver ‘life-changing’ gains.

Mark, who now works as a project manager, started investing 30 years ago, when he worked as a retail store manager. “There was a group of us who used to discuss share tips. It seemed to be easy to pick up on growth industries and businesses by general observation. For example six of us bought Psion as pocket computers seemed like a good investment at the time, which proved to be the case.”

Other investments from that period including taking stakes in the retailers New Look, Halfords (HFD) and Dixons – now Dixons Carphone (DC.) – as well as Barclays (BARC). Although many of these companies have had more turbulent periods recently, with New Look no longer publicly listed, Mark says he made substantial profits from these shares. He sold his Barclays shares, for example, in May 2009, just before the financial crash. The gains from this helped him buy a new car.

Short and Long Term View

While some shares are longer term holdings, Mark sells others in a matter of months. For example he held Dixons between July and November in 2009, selling for a profit of over £3,000.

Other gains have included Rare Earth Mine minerals, now Cadence Minerals (KNDC), which he sold in 2013 for a £4,000 profit and a £1,800 profit from Greatland Gold (GGP) which he sold in 2014. However, Mark points out that if he had kept his stake in this company it would be now worth significantly more.

In other years Mark says returns have been “a bit more up and down”. His investments took a back seat between 2015-2019 due to increased work commitments which left him less time to focus on his share portfolio.

More recently Mark has tried to focus on shares that may have lost value in the market falls earlier this year, but have the potential to deliver over the long term.

“I’m looking for businesses which should do well, despite earlier market turbulence. Plus I’ve also invested in a few out and out punts, although with lower levels of investment.

“I set myself three price point targets: four months ahead, 12 months ahead and three years ahead, depending on the risk.”

In some cases he has sold shares too early. “Sometimes I’ve hit these targets sooner and sold out. Other times the price has dropped by more than 30% so have cut my losses and sold, only for share prices to subsequently recover.”

Mark adds: “I’ve been actively investing this year so if we get ill and can’t work this hopefully will help support my family. It also helps keep my brain active and it’s a useful test to see whether I can earn enough to reduce by day-job hours.”

Punts, Plays and Chancers

Mark has split his investments this year into three broad categories: recovery plays, pandemic punts and ‘chancers’.

In the first group he has invested in Aston Martin (AML) which he initially bought at 56.7p before selling at 85p. The share dipped again so Mark said he bought back at 50p before selling again at just 52p, which Mark describes as disappointing given the earlier returns.

Mark has invested in a broad range of pharmaceutical companies as part of his ‘pandemic punts’. These have included Novacyt (NCYT) which he bought when shares were trading at £1.69 before selling out at £4 per share. He again bought back when the company was trading at 220p only to sell when the share price reached 398p.

But Mark admits that with hindsight he should have held on to these shares, which subsequently rose in value to £12.

Deciding when to sell can be difficult though. Mark also invested in N4 Pharma (N4P), buying shares at 4.78p. These rose in value to 12p, but then dipped again, with Mark selling at 6.02p to crystalise some of these gains.

Mark though has had more success with some of his ‘chancers’. For example he invested in Rockfire Resources (ROCK), buying shares when they were just 0.74p before selling them at 2.06p – giving him a £5,000 profit.

He has learned a few lessons about investing in recent years. When it comes to selling he says that he’s learned to look at techniques such as top-slicing if a target price is reached. But a lot of the lessons are to do with attitudes, he says: “I’ve learned to have fun researching companies and investing. A profit is a profit, sometimes it is just time to move on and not worry about future price increases. I do tend to cut losses on falls but try to remember the fundamentals of why I invested in the first place. If these are still good perhaps it makes sense to hold on.”

He adds: ”I’ve never learned why the stock market goes up sometimes, when all is doom and gloom and then the opposite happens when there is good news. But I have also found that it can help to donate some profit to charities too, it does make you feel better.”

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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About Author

Emma Simon

Emma Simon  is a financial journalist, specialising in investment and consumer issues, writing for Morningstar.co.uk