Derek Pain: Anglo Pacific – the one that got away for this portfolio
Saturday 15 May 2010
Isuppose every investor has suffered from selling a share that subsequently soared into the stratosphere. The no pain, no gain portfolio's major humiliation is a mining group called Anglo Pacific. Each time I come across the shares – and sod's law dictates that my encounters occur quite frequently – I berate my luck.
Lady Fortune is often an important influence in investing, although I am not putting it forward as an excuse for what must be the most lamentable decision I have taken since the portfolio was born in 1999.
Anglo was an early recruit and, if memory serves, the shares arrived at 16p. They are now around 240p, having topped 250p. Embarrassingly, I even managed to make a loss – selling at 15p.
If I had held on – even for a few years – the portfolio's performance would have been transformed. Nowadays it nurses an overall profit of some £100,000. Assuming Anglo had remained a constituent for all the portfolio's 11 years of existence it would be sitting on a gain of around £170,000. Investment, like our national sport, can be a funny old game.
Anglo gets much of its revenue from royalties on its coal mining interests in Australia and Canada. It also has gold links and takes in a talc deposit in the Shetland Islands.
It is a clear beneficiary of the resources boom and has played the game rather cleverly, largely confining its interests to minority stakes and royalties. A determination to play safe and operate in areas where the risk of political upset is low has also proved wise.
A few weeks ago I advocated the necessity for buy-and-hold investors to exercise patience. Obviously I wish I had taken my own advice in the case of Anglo. But I didn't and there is no point in back jobbing.
Still, the latest stock market gyrations emphasise the importance of the buy-and-hold brigade putting its collective head down and letting the flak fly over. The investment scene has always been volatile. It is, however, much more jumpy these days with global influences stronger than in the past.
Investment, thanks to the advent of computers and online trading, is now so complex and sophisticated that it is more prone to calamitous upsets; witness the near 1,000 points fall in just 20 minutes that occurred on Wall Street last week.
Regulators may move to curb high-tech excesses but they are, invariably, several steps behind the new breed of computer experts. One early outward sign of their impotence was when a powerful computerised hedge fund hit trouble in the late 1990s, threatening untold mayhem. Nowadays we are still living with the disastrous impact of the credit crunch which caught inept regulators – and politicians – on the hop.
Progress in the conduct of investment is, of course, wonderful. It can make many aspects much easier; perhaps more transparent. But abuse and incompetence are also encouraged.
I am not suggesting there is any case for reviving the old face-to-face stock jobbing system. Nevertheless it may have avoided some of the dramatic, quick-fire swings we have experienced since the City's "big bang".
Despite the obstacles afflicting the stock market, such as the Greek tragedy, the euro uncertainty and our own election fiasco (plus that enormous deficit), there is a surprisingly strong swell of optimism. Quite a few experts expect shares to resume their upward march.
Even so, small investors should be prepared for increasingly difficult times. I am not referring to stock market movements but to the desire of our self-appointed "masters" to enforce the ramifications of this high-tech age on unwilling individuals. The ill-considered campaign to do away with paper share certificates is never far away. And there appears to be unrelenting pressure on shareholders to adopt electronic links with their companies, including dividend payments.
More and more companies are urging them to give up the postal system. Most seem to use the inertia technique, demanding that shareholders apply to retain the right to receive hard copy communications. If they don't respond they are dumped into the internet pool, whether they like it or not. Many investors have no desire to operate online, but they are in danger of being overwhelmed in the unethical stampede to computerise all aspects of investment.
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