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How to get rich, part three: Rachel Fixsen looks at high-risk, split capital investment trusts

Capital growth is the main attraction of shares - dividends are really just a sideshow. Take the shares of pharmaceuticals giant Glaxo Wellcome. In the last five years, dividends alone gave investors a return of just over 25 per cent, but in the same period the company's share price grew by over 200 per cent.

So imagine the lure of a type of share which returned not only its own capital growth, but that of other shares too. These shares exist. They are called capital shares and are one of the various classes of share available in a split capital investment trust.

An investment trust is a company which exists purely to invest in the shares of other companies. It is a type of collective investment: investors buy shares in the investment trust as a way of spreading their risk across a variety of equities.

Split capital investment trusts are a breed of investment trust which have a limited life. They invest in a similar way to any other investment trust, but instead of issuing ordinary shares which pay a dividend and fluctuate in value according to the performance of the trust, splits offer a variety of types of share.

Capital and income shares are the most basic types. Income shares benefit from the dividends of all the shares in the trust, while capital shares assume all the capital growth.

Other types of share include zero dividend preference shares. These pay no dividend but are the safest because they offer a fixed rate of return and have first call on the assets of the trust when it is wound up. Stepped preference shares pay dividends which rise at a predetermined rate each year, making them suitable for people looking for a guaranteed level of income.

Capital shares can offer huge returns - but at a price. "They are suitable for investors who want to take a high risk for a high reward," says Annabel Brodie-Smith of the Association of Investment Trust Companies. But investors must understand those risks first, she warns.

The reason capital shares are so risky, is that when the investment trust is wound up, capital shares are last in line for a payout. If the trust's investments have performed really badly, there might be little left in the kitty for capital share holders after repaying holders of income shares and zeros. They could get less than their original capital back.

"Capital shares are generally inappropriate for smaller investors," says Graham Bates of independent financial advisers Bates Investment Services. "While you could quadruple your money, you could just as easily halve it," he says. Any funds invested in capital shares should be seen as gambling money, says Mr Bates.

However, as long as you only invest money you are prepared to lose, the potential gains may seem worth the risk. David Learmonth, head teacher at a West Yorkshire school invested between pounds 5,000 and pounds 6,000 in capital shares in 1992. Over the past six and a half years, he has cashed in about pounds 20,000 of growth from the original investment, and the portfolio is currently worth nearly pounds 10,000.

How do you choose a split capital investment trust? As with any other type of collective investment, you have to decide which investment sector you want, whether it is larger blue chip companies, smaller companies or a general UK portfolio, for example.

Find out how long the trust has yet to run. A trust with a reasonable life left has better chances of weathering downturns in the stockmarket, says Kean Seager of Bristol-based independent financial advisers Whitechurch Securities. "Any short-term problems would be ironed out," he says.

Look at the fulcrum rate for the capital shares. This is the rate at which the trust's portfolio must grow for capital shares to be repaid in full. For many trusts this rate is zero or lower, and the lower it is, the safer the capital shares are.

Mr Seager says he would look for capital shares which are calculated to grow between 20 and 25 per cent assuming the underlying portfolio grew at 10 per cent a year.

Stockbrokers can provide this information on capital shares of individual trusts.

He recommends capital shares of the Jupiter Split Capital Investment Trust. It has five and a half years still to run, and in that time capital shares currently priced at 162 pence should rise to 631 pence, assuming the trust's investments grow at 10 per cent a year. If annual growth is just five per cent, the capital shares would still mature at 357 pence.

Lloyds Smaller Companies split capital investment trust has a fulchrum rate of -8.4 per cent a year, providing a reasonable amount of security for capital invested. "I feel smaller companies will come back - they are a good place to be," says Mr Seager.

You could simplify things by investing in capital shares through another collective investment - a unit trust. Exeter Fund Managers runs the Exeter Capital Growth Fund, which invests exclusively in the capital shares of splits.

"We believe a managed portfolio is a lower-risk way in to this sector," says Philip Thitchener of Exeter Fund Managers. Capital shares can be extremely complicated for the lay investor, and there are a number of pitfalls, he says.

"We analyse, research and monitor, and we do that all day long," he adds. "So compared with someone who looks at the sector occasionally, we are in a much better position to take advantage of opportunities as they arise."

Kean Seager says funds such as Exeter's can be a good idea if you only have pounds 1,000 to invest in capital shares. But he also points out that unit trusts have to hold a broad spread of shares, and as the variety of capital shares on offer is limited, this could force Exeter's fund to hold some less attractive capital shares.

However, split capital investment trusts are on the increase, with a number of new launches recently, says Annabel Brodie-Smith. As interest rates slide, the demand for investments which maximise income has increased, and income shares and zeros fit the bill. "The whole sector is in vogue," she says.

AITC - for a factsheet on split capital investment trusts: 0171-431 5222; Whitechurch Securities: 0117-944 2266; Bates Investment Services: 0113-295 5955; Exeter Fund Managers: 0800 807807

`The Independent' is offering a free `Guide to High Risk/High Reward Investment', which outlines the commonest ways in which savers can obtain higher-than-average returns on their funds -including split capital investment trusts - by taking a more aggressive approach with their money. The guide, sponsored by Whitechurch Securities, is available by calling 0845 271 1003.

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