It’s tricky to put a number on how much research I put in. However, part of the reason I only hold collective investments, rather than individual stocks, is that there is less to do. I figure Baillie Gifford can do a better job picking growth stocks than I can. And I’d rather pay someone else to do it because my time is better spent on increasing my earnings, so I can invest more.
It depends on the trust. I researched PSH for ages before buying because it is more complicated than most. I also spent a long time researching TRY and BPCR because I know less about property and fixed income than equities. It’s crucial to have a good understanding of what you’re investing in, so I’ll research a trust until I do and try to stick to the adage: “If in doubt, do-nowt.”
Here’s some of the main things I consider:
Cost: This is not my main concern because passive funds make up most of my portfolio, costing less than 0.15%. However, active funds are expensive. With AGT, for example, you’re paying fees on top of fees. It’s not unusual to pay 2% and a 20% performance fee, so keep an eye on it.
Size: I tend to avoid smaller trusts as I hate being stung by a wide bid-ask spread and not being able to exit a position sharpish. Anything smaller than £100m is relatively illiquid. Any lower than £50m and a trust is likely to wind down or merge with another. Generally, £200m is the mark at which institutions consider a trust investible.
Diversification: This is a big one for me. I’ll always have a thorough look at what a trust holds by reading its annual/interim reports. I do this with the bigger picture of my portfolio in mind. For example, I don’t want to leave myself overexposed to any management group, country, style, sector, and so on. I’m also looking for a high ‘active share’ – meaning the trust’s holdings differ from the index. Otherwise, you’re paying more for what you already own or could buy cheaper.
Management: This is also key. You’re paying these people to invest your money, so you best have trust and confidence in them. I’m asking the following sorts of questions… Do they have skin in the game? How big’s their research team? What’s their track record? Is there a succession plan? Are they getting ludicrous bonuses? Are they experts in their field (particularly if it’s a relatively esoteric trust or narrow remit such as environmental securities)?
Gearing: It’s important to note that trusts can borrow money. This will amplify losses and gains.
Discount/premium: It’s rare I’ll pay more than a trust’s NAV. Buying something for a double-digit premium is dangerous as it could swing to a 30-40% discount. This is what happened with the Schiehallion Fund in recent years. On the other side of the coin, a discount can offer a great opportunity if it narrows significantly. Who doesn’t like paying 50-60p for £1? It’s not a deal breaker but I like to examine a trust’s discount control mechanism too. Is it buying back shares and has it worked? I try to be mindful of discount traps as well. A trust can trade at a wider-than-usual discount for good reasons, Home Reit’s a good example. Increasingly, I try not to be too beholden to discounts – the performance of the assets is what will really drive returns.
Anyway, I’ll end the essay there and leave you with a list of some of the best sources of free news and information on investment trusts: