Investment trust tips: fortune favours the brave

Our annual conservative and adventurous investment trust tips were updated during the slough of despond that followed the vote in favour of Brexit. As a result, our defensive tips in particular were exceptionally cautious.

This was most notable with our continued inclusion of RIT Capital Partners in the global category, the selection of Troy Income & Growth in the UK category and the choice of Capital Gearing as one of our two specialists. All were comparatively dull performers over the past quarter.

However, holders can rest assured that their managers are anxious to protect their shareholders from the many threats to recent stock market exuberance.

View our adventurous and conservative investment trust tips and their performance here

RISK REWARDED

Our adventurous selections generally performed substantially better.

Allianz Technology has capitalised on the renewed enthusiasm for technology shares, while our two private equity choices have benefited from tightening discounts across the private equity sector in response to HarbourVest's initial bid for the giant SVG Capital trust.

It is frustrating that the discount to net asset value (NAV) on Pantheon International's redeemable shares - our cautious selection - has contracted much less than the discount on its ordinary shares.

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As a result, the ordinary share price rose by 24 per cent over the quarter, whereas the redeemable shares gained around 15 per cent. Both share classes offer identical exposure to the same highly diversified and attractively mature private equity portfolio.

This discount differential can tighten sharply when the trust buys in some of the redeemables, which enhances the NAV of the ordinaries; and it could disappear if the two share classes were merged.

As a result, we think the redeemables have greater upside from current levels and should also prove more resilient if the recent enthusiasm for private equity starts to wane.

Our UK smaller company selections both produced exceptionally good NAV returns over the quarter.

EUROPEAN VALUE

Henderson Smaller Companies Trust has been rewarded with a tighter discount, but BlackRock Throgmorton's (THRG) discount is now much wider than the discount on sister trust BlackRock Smaller Companies (BRSC), although they have many of the same holdings and similar NAV records.

The main differences between them are that BRSC has lower costs, conventional gearing and higher exposure to the Alternative Investment Market, whereas THRG uses contracts for difference to go long or short on the market or individual holdings.

How to play the Alternative Investment Market

The latter could be very useful in a downturn, so it remains our defensive choice.

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Our Europe selections both benefited from the restoration of below-average discounts, but they have been lacklustre in NAV terms. John Bennett, who manages Henderson European Focus, says the past 12 months have been unusually tough.

This is because his decision to start trimming the portfolio's exposure to increasingly expensive-looking quality growth stocks proved premature, but also because the pharmaceuticals sector, which has been one of his major themes, has been derated.

Is it time to invest in biotech?

However, Bennett believes the European stock market is now tilting towards value stocks, which he has been finding in the mid-cap space, and he is confident pharmaceuticals still have much to offer - as long as they are very carefully selected.

Like Bennett, Sam Cosh manager of European Assets, achieved excellent NAV returns up to the fourth quarter of 2015. We are keeping it as our cautious selection, because we have confidence that Cosh and his team at F&C will very soon be back on song.

Is Europe a basket case or a buying opportunity?

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