It takes time, money and commitment to take on the dogs of the investment company sector. Colin Kingsnorth has all three, which is perhaps why he’s picked fights with its two biggest canines. On the one hand, here is 3i, a perfectly decent business wrecked by the o’ervaulting ambition of the previous management under its chairman Sarah Hogg. She is old enough to remember it as the Industrial and Commercial Finance Corporation, a rather dull provider of long-term equity finance to small busineses – rather what’s needed today, in fact.

Its management had craved the excitement of big-ticket private equity, and got it, though not in a way the shareholders would appreciate. 3i piled into dot-com just in time for the millennium bust, and Baroness Hogg’s reign that followed culminated in the unedifying spectacle of an investment company forced into an emergency rights issue at a massive discount to net asset value (NAV). Even that did not mark any sort of turning point, and the discount widened to 40%. Last week the chief executive resigned.

Kingsnorth’s Laxey Partners is leading the charge to get something done, like breaking the business up, and the discount to NAV has already closed to 25% in anticipation of action. A break-up makes obvious sense, since 3i has long outlived its usefulness, and its managers have proved themselves incapable of making a decent return. Most shareholders would agree with Laxey’s sentiments, and enough may even vote for them at the meeting in July to force the board’s hand.

The second dog is Alliance Trust. Last year Laxey caused sufficient embarrassment for the board to change the habit of a lifetime and start buying in the shares for cancellation. Despite intensive buying which has mopped up £250 million-worth, the discount to NAV has hardly changed, and remains stubbornly the wrong side of 15%.

Laxey has now tabled another set of moaning motions,  demanding a higher dividend and a review to consider outsourcing the investment management, a suggestion close to heresy for the Dundee-based trust. It’s much less likely that Kingsnorth will succeed here; Alliance is doing a bit better, helped by the gain to NAV from buying in shares at a discount, while outsourcing would raise costs without necessarily improving performance. Raising the dividend to pay out gains as (taxable) dividends, as the new rules allow investment trusts to do, would be little more than a PR stunt at shareholders’ expense.

There’s no doubt that Kingsnorth has sharpened up the boards at both companies. This benefits all shareholders, and here’s the puzzle. Laxey’s stakes in these games are tiny, less than 1% in 3i, and not much more in Alliance. You’d think he was doing it pro bono if he didn’t have his rotweiller reputation to defend. He’s also not in the best of positions to throw stones. According to Morningstar, Terra Catalyst, a closed-ended investment fund run by Laxey, stands on a discount of 22%. People in glass houses…

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