Open-ended opportunities

Here we show how to make the right choice and cover the field from domestic and overseas markets to personal equity plans and Oeics

Investment trusts have several advantages over unit trusts, and these will continue until there is a widespread emergence of open-ended investment companies (Oeics), which have only just started to become available.

Oeics are designed to pull together the best of unit and investment trusts and allow a British-based offshore investment industry to compete internationally. So far, only one Oeic is available, a Japanese fund run by Global Asset Management, but many more are expected. The Association of Unit Trusts and Investment Funds expects most unit trusts to convert to Oeics within two years.

The complex legal structure of unit trusts, their tax regime and dual pricing system, and different buying and selling prices, mean they appeal only to sophisticated UK investors. In most cases they can, for example, only buy and sell investments that are listed on a recognised stock exchange, and they cannot borrow money except in very limited circumstances.

In contrast, investment trusts can invest as much as their managers like in more or less anything they choose. As they are companies in their own right, they may borrow money when they think it is opportune.

An investment trust is closed-ended, meaning it has a fixed number of shares in issue. The manager does not have to create or close units when investors buy or sell, as with open-ended unit trusts. This means investments do not have to be sold to pay investors back when they sell.

The price of investment trust shares is set by supply and demand on the stockmarket. Unit trust prices are fixed by a Securities and Investments Board formula and are directly related to their underlying portfolios.

Oeics, like investment trusts, can be traded on the stock market, have their own board of directors and borrow money. Their most attractive feature is that they have the same price for buying and selling, unlike unit and investment trusts.

Another difference between unit and investment trusts is their charges. Unit trust prices often include an initial charge, typically up to 5 per cent, plus an annual management charge of 1 to 1.5 per cent. Investment trusts tend to have lower up-front charges. Investors pay 0.5 per cent stamp duty and normal stockmarket commissions when buying and selling. Annual management charges are often lower.

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