Derek Pain: I'm raising a modest glass to toast the blue chips' contribution to the portfolio
Friday 14 February 2014
The No Pain, No Gain portfolio has never been a great fan of so-called blue chips, the shares that comprise the benchmark Footsie index. The now largely forgotten Safeway supermarket chain was a modest success.
Then Scottish & Newcastle, the last remaining member of the "big six" that once dominated the brewing industry, was recruited. It increased the portfolio's coffers considerably when it became a victim of a takeover strike. Leisure group Whitbread, the owner of brands including Costa Coffee, arrived just after Scottish departed in the summer of 2008. It was the sole Footsie representative until Lloyds Banking Group joined in August last year.
Four stocks over 15 years is not a vote of confidence. Still, each Footsie share has made a contribution to the portfolio's coffers. Whitbread is an outstanding success. The shares were recruited at 1,105p and have since topped 4,130p. I have no immediate intention of unloading them, although I would dearly like to see more investment recruits to the Whitbread crusade.
Lloyds has yet to get going although progress has been achieved. The shares arrived at 74.8p and now reside around the 81p mark. I remain hopeful they will recapture some of their old pre-financial crisis buoyancy. The group has undoubtedly made considerable headway since, following entreaties from the then prime minister Gordon Brown, it descended on the deeply troubled HBoS (Halifax Bank of Scotland) and was therefore forced into a taxpayer-funded bail out.
The Government has already sold a chunk of its resultant stake and a further sale is likely in a few months. The shares should be bolstered by recovery prospects and the signalled return to the dividend list.
But Lloyds is not covering itself in glory. I have complained about the ambiguity that accompanies many results these days. There are so many designated profit figures that the average investor is spoilt for choice.
An underlying profit up 140 per cent at £6.2bn and a pre-tax figure of £415m were declared. Yet the real result, as Ian Gordon at investment house Investec pointed out, was an £800,000-plus attributable deficit which equated to a 1.2p loss per share. So was the 8 per cent hike in bonus payments justified? I think not. Computer problems as well as seemingly escalating PPI compensation payments are among known difficulties that lie ahead.
I have no regrets about recruiting Lloyds. I still expect the shares to advance. After all the portfolio is a long-term investor, and is generally not prepared to jump in and out of shares. Sometimes such a policy has backfired but it has often proved correct.
With the portfolio celebrating its 15th birthday this month I could well enlist a third Footsie stock. There are occasional bargains in the upper echelons. One Footsie stock that got away is Compass, the catering group. I was on the verge of recruiting the shares when they suddenly topped 300p. Too dear, I thought. The price has since been around 960p.
There have been mistakes – missed opportunities, like Compass, as well as inexcusable misadventures when a couple of constituents went belly-up, demolishing the portfolio's £5,000 investments. Still, it is comfortably in profit at the moment, though still below the near £150,000 achieved before the financial meltdown. And don't forget dividends – and dealing costs – are excluded from my calculations.
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