Comment: There’s value around for those who will look

Bill Jamieson
Bill Jamieson
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A COMMON complaint among investors is that their investment choices lack that one-off upward surprise that can lift performance out of the mediocre.

If you hug the cautious managed funds and stick with defensive, safety-first portfolios, the likelihood is a performance rarely better than the market average – and often a few percentage points worse.

This outcome is all the more likely if you include cash as one of your investment choices. And I would certainly strongly recommend cash as a core holding right now. The bond market looks toppy and vulnerable to a fall, and shares do not look cheap.

The FTSE All Share now trades on 16.3 times trailing earnings, and the FTSE 250 on 20 times – hardly bargain basement.

However, investment is a constant search for the under-valued and the overlooked and that inevitably takes us into unfamiliar territory. This is where the greatest gains can be made. But it exposes us to greater volatility and risk. Undervalued markets are undervalued for a reason.

Nevertheless, helped by TrustNet and wealth manager selections features on the Citywire website, I have donned my high-viz jacket with “Danger!” picked out in studs on the back and trekked through the lesser known by-ways for outlier funds and trusts. All bar one have regular savings plans enabling investors to build up holdings through monthly contributions as low as £30 a month.

A notable feature of the past two years has been the weakness of gold mining shares, while the bullion price has put in a strong performance.

Given the continued dependence of central banks on quantitative easing, I was persuaded by the choice of Alex Brandreth, research analyst at Brown Shipley, who expects gold to continue to do well in 2013 and who likes the Investec Global Gold fund, run by Daniel Sacks and Bradley George. The £160 million fund, which invests in the shares of gold mining companies, did not fare well in 2012, falling 17.4 per cent.

Says Brandreth: “Gold equities are at a substantial discount to the implied gold price and so represent an opportunity to participate in a gold bull run which usually ends with participation from the equity”. It operates a regular savings plan, minimum £100 a month.

Impax Asian Environmental Markets Investment Trust has long been out of favour, standing on a discount to net assets of 12.6 per cent and the yield is small – 1.7 per cent. The objective is capital growth through investment in companies specialising in cleaner or more efficient delivery of energy, water and waste in the Asia
Pacific Region.

The trust has recently started to come in from the cold, rising 19.5 per cent. Unfortunately there is no regular savings plan.

Any list of the out-of-fashion would not be complete without a holding in Japan. A useful way in is the JP Morgan Japanese Investment Trust, standing on a discount of 12.4 per cent, yielding 2.2 per cent. The £268m fund has borne the scars of Japan’s marked underperformance in recent years – up just four per cent last year and showing a decline of two per cent over the past five years. But Tokyo has heartened by a new prime minister and his ambitious stimulus package.

Not all defensive income-orientated funds have been in favour. The £88m Value and Income Investment Trust managed by OLIM, a subsidiary of Close Brothers, has not enjoyed favour due to its exposure to commercial property. The aim is to seek out long-term investment values in the higher-yielding, less-fashionable areas of commercial property and UK quoted equities, particularly in smaller companies.

The overall objective is to provide above average long-term growth in dividends and capital values without undue risk, but commercial property has proved very risky in recent years. Nevertheless, there is recovery potential and the shares are standing on a whopping discount of 29 per cent with a yield of 4.2 per cent.

In recent months, out-of-fashion Europe has been attracting support. Justin Oliver, investment director at Collins Stewart Wealth Management in Jersey, has opted for the European Opportunities fund run by Dale Robertson at the boutique investment firm, Edinburgh Partners.

Despite recent outperformance, European equities, says Oliver, continue to trade at multi-decade lows relative to the US equity market “and it is entirely possible that, moving forward, we are about to witness a marked leadership change. European equities will outperform US equities in 2013”.

Readers preferring an investment trust option might consider the Edinburgh Partners European Investment Trust also managed by Robertson standing on a discount of 14.6 per cent and yielding just over two per cent. There is a regular monthly purchase facility starting at £50 a month.

Finally, there is the £341 million Fidelity Special Values Investment Trust. This trust, yielding just over two per cent and standing on a discount to assets of 10.2 per cent, invests mainly in UK-listed companies with a portfolio bias towards medium-sized and smaller companies. The shares gained some momentum after underperforming the UK growth sector over three years. There is a regular savings plan from as low as £30 a month.