Last week an interloper joined the FTSE100 index. Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust has little to do with Scotland and nothing to do with mortgages nor, indeed, the British economy. Its investments are almost exclusively overseas. Its largest UK-listed investment, Prudential, is not even in the top 20 holdings.
However, if you want to get something back from Amazon for putting your local shops out of business, Scottish Mortgage is one way to do so, since 10 per cent of the £5bn fund is in Amazon shares. James Anderson, who manages the trust for Baillie Gifford, can invest wherever in the world he fancies he can see long-term growth. His third-largest holding is the perpetually money-guzzling machine that is Tesla Motors, so holders must have faith as well as patience.
Few fund managers actively brag that they prefer short-term speculation, but Scottish Mortgage, founded in 1909, makes a better case than most for sticking to a long-term view. The impressive performance shows that this approach seems to work. What most definitely does work is low fees, 0.3 per cent to the management, and total ongoing charges of 0.45 per cent of net assets.
Other investment companies use the excuse of the cost of globetrotting to justify charges of more than twice that. A wide-ranging survey for Morningstar showed that the best predictor of future performance of an investment fund is the cost to the investor, so while we’re constantly told that past performance is no guide to the future, the level of fees most certainly is.
Scottish Mortgage’s other long-term approach has been to resist the temptation to change its name, a great help to less sophisticated investors. It’s been rewarded with a share price that, highly unusually, is a premium to its net asset value and now, a place in London’s top index.
Help to Buy, or help yourself
Jeff Fairburn would very much like the government’s Help to Buy scheme to continue. This is hardly a surprise. Short of pouring the money straight into Persimmon’s bank account, it would be hard to find a more lucrative bung for the housebuilder he heads.
Nearly half the homes it built in 2016 attracted a slice of the £4.6bn scheme, where buyers need find only 5 per cent of the price of a new home. Persimmon sold its output at a 25 per cent margin, pushing up profits by almost as much last year. Since the immediate post-referendum panic, the shares have risen by a half. Mr Fairburn is full of the joys of spring.
It’s less clear whether the rest of us should share his sunny view. Help to Buy has artificially stimulated demand and served to spur prices, as some of us predicted at the time. Even today, £4.6bn is quite serious money for the taxpayer to find, and Persimmon is only an extreme example of the benefits flowing straight through to housebuilders’ profits. Besides, as a Hometrack analysis showed last week, the biggest numbers of these subsidised houses are going up where they are least needed.
In the longer-term, this scheme may have other unpleasant side-effects. Those buying now may be grateful, but could discover that when they come to sell, the potential (non-subsidised) buyers are rather harder to find. They could see their 5 per cent deposit wiped out. Thus do we reap the baleful results of another crowd-pleasing scheme from our former chancellor. Let us hope his successor can avoid them this week.
Where there’s blame, there’s…
Have your investments suffered an accident? Are your shares in the 99 per cent club? Then the Aussie lawyers at Slater & Gordon may not want to hear from you. They specialise in chasing for compensation, and their shares have suffered a nasty fall over a broken acquisition, tumbling from A$8 two years ago to 7 cents today. The loose financial paving stone that tripped them up was the purchase of bits of the up-like-a-rocket-and-down-like-the-stick Quindell, a similar UK practice. Well, accidents will happen, but the £673m Slater paid looked careless, almost negligent, at the time. FTAlphaville had been all over Quindell with awkward questions for months beforehand, as the share price slithered. Legal action is inevitable. Of course.