Collective investments such as unit trusts and investment trusts let you access investment opportunities and spread risk across dozens of different companies. Investors’ money is pooled together and run by a manager who buys and sells stocks and shares on their behalf to create a diverse portfolio.
While unit trusts and OEICs are structured as ‘open-ended’ funds, investment trusts are ‘closed-ended’. With open-ended funds, a fund manager creates units for new investors and cancels them when money is taken out. Therefore the fund grows larger as more people invest, and shrinks as they cash in. An investment trust, meanwhile, has a fixed number of shares which investors can buy and sell on the stock market. It is ‘closed-ended’ in the sense that when investors buy or sell the shares the Trust’s assets don’t change.
Access hard-to-reach markets
Investment trusts are sometimes overlooked, but they can have some important advantages. Having a fixed number of shares means there is no need to buy or sell assets to keep up with the changing demand of investors. This can allow a fund manager to be more fully invested as there is no need to keep some cash in reserve to meet redemptions.
It also means that investment trusts can be more appropriate vehicles to access more esoteric, ‘illiquid’ assets that cannot be traded easily, such as commercial property, infrastructure projects, frontier markets or private companies. Having a fixed pool of assets means that there is no need to engage in lengthy or expensive buying and selling to meet investor demand.
Another important feature of investment trusts is the option to borrow to invest, also known as ‘gearing’. This generally increases the volatility of a trust’s asset value – and share price – which can mean a boost to returns in a rising market. However, the opposite is generally the case in a falling market and, if not carefully managed, a Trust can become burdened with expensive borrowing arrangements.
There are plenty of examples of gearing being successfully implemented. Among the most notable is Scottish Mortgage, which invests in many of the world’s leading technology companies, including Amazon, Tesla and Facebook. It is geared and has appreciated considerably in the last ten years, making use of its structure to invest in both listed and unlisted companies; though past performance is not an indication of future returns.
Smooth out income
For income seekers, a further defining characteristic of investment trusts is the ability to retain income generated by its underlying assets. This can help smooth dividend payments to investors. For instance, in a recession when lots of dividend cuts take place a Trust can use reserves to maintain or even grow its payments.
This is appealing to investors who rely on the income their investments generate, and some Trusts have been able to keep paying a high level of income to investors despite Covid-related cuts, deferrals and cancellations of dividends in their underlying shareholdings.
Finally, investment trusts can sometimes offer opportunities to take advantage of depressed investor sentiment. As the share price is determined by supply and demand the market value of the Trust’s assets doesn’t necessarily equate to its valuation – it can trade at less than the sum of its parts (a discount) or more (a premium).
Savvy investors can potentially take advantage by buying into a pool of assets below their true worth if, for instance, they are investing in unfashionable areas. However, there are no guarantees any discount will narrow and investment performance is likely to be a more important factor in overall returns.
Investment Trusts on the Direct Investment Service Preferred List
Unlike some of our competitors, we include investment trusts on our list of preferred investment for new investment –Direct Investment Service Preferred List. This is in order to provide a breadth of choice and to acknowledge the advantages they can have.
The investment trusts currently on the list are:
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