Investment trust tips 2014/15 step out on an encouraging run

Our tips have been buffeted by recurring worries about interest rate rises, disappointing earnings growth and geopolitical turmoil. However, the strengthening US dollar has benefited investment trusts with sizeable exposures to dollar-denominated areas.

These include both our global selections, Scottish Mortgage and RIT Capital Partners, as well as two adventurous choices, Pantheon International Participations and Allianz (formerly RCM) Technology Trust.

The adventurous global choice, Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust, has more than a third of its portfolio in North American equities and a fifth in China, so it has benefited from recent gains in the dollar and renminbi.

View our conservative and adventurous investment trust portfolios' holdings and trading chronology here.

long-term potential

It has also been boosted by the Alibaba flotation. The trust has more than quadrupled its money since supporting the company's first fundraising two years ago.

Scottish Mortgage has been one of the most successful tips to date in share price terms. However, part of its gain has come from its move to a premium rating. This is arguably justified by the exceptionally strong five- and 10-year returns achieved under James Anderson's management.

Nonetheless, investors must remember that this is a high-conviction trust willing to pay high prices and deploy double-digit gearing for exceptional long-term potential.

Its managers warn: 'It is only suitable for those with a long-term perspective who are not looking for an index-like investment. There will be periods of underperformance.'

RIT Capital is our safer global selection for cautious investors. Its chairman, Lord Rothschild, puts a high priority on capital preservation and remains cautious. His team continues to search for investment opportunities at attractive valuations that are likely to benefit from structural tailwinds.

But he warns: 'Almost every asset class is highly priced by historical standards, at a time when the precarious geopolitical situations in the Middle East and Russia could undermine the fragile economic recovery that central bank policy has helped bring about.'

asia pacific exposure

Pacific Assets Trust, selected for cautious investors wanting exposure to Asia Pacific equities, has been the other top performer. Pacific Assets' success has been powered by its 30 per cent-plus exposure to India.

David Gait and his colleagues at First State are encouraged by prime minister Narendra Modi's efforts to galvanise India's economy. They believe attractive investment opportunities are still on offer in the Subcontinent.

Our adventurous selection for the region, Aberdeen Asian Smaller Companies Trust, has also had an encouraging run, as has the specialist member of the adventurous portfolio, Allianz Technology Trust.

The two European selections have faced more of a headwind, but have both done well in their sector, despite starkly different investment styles, objectives and views on the economy.

Our adventurous tip, Henderson European Focus, has a high-conviction portfolio of 50-60 shares. Manager John Bennett says: 'The macro situation in Europe stinks and is getting stinkier.'

He warns that 'the existential crisis with the euro has not gone away'. However, he advises investors not to run scared, as there are a lot of 'global champions' listed in Europe that do not depend on the domestic economy.

global core

These companies formed the trust's 'staple holdings' up to mid 2012, when Bennett embarked on a successful dalliance with more-domestically oriented companies.

The former have been restored to their pre-eminent position over the past six months, in part through a continuing emphasis on big pharma firms, such as Roche, Novartis and Novo Nordisk. That said, Bennett remains ready to include offbeat opportunities.

'The great thing about the awful macro narrative is that it provides bottom-up bargains,' he says.

Baillie Gifford Shin Nippon has made a disappointing start to the year, chiefly because its internet-related holdings have relinquished some of their long-term gains. However, manager John MacDougall retains faith in them, so there have been minimal changes to the portfolio.

However, investors in this adventurous selection might be concerned that the average forward price/earnings ratio of 18 times on Shin Nippon's portfolio is well above average.

Schroder UK Growth Trust, one of our experts' selections, has also fallen back. It was selected by the team at Numis Securities, which is disappointed by the September resignation of its manager, Julie Dean.

The team is therefore replacing it with SVG Capital, a private equity fund of funds that has been extensively reshaped since near collapse in 2009. The fund's new strategy offers exposure to leading buyout houses in the US and Europe. Charles Cade, head of research at Numis, says the 20 per cent-plus discount to NAV offers a buying opportunity.

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