Now isn't the time to be timid over Isas – aggression is the key

With an outbreak of optimism in global markets, Emma Dunkley reports on which stocks and share funds could make your money work harder

It's been a long time coming, but finally a surge of optimism has burst out of the economic gloom and is driving up markets to new heights. The US is soaring, with the Dow Jones index of 30 giant American corporates recently hitting an all-time record high, while the UK's FTSE 100 index of leading companies climbed to its highest point in five years.

With the deadline for paying into an Individual Savings Account (ISA) just around the corner on 5 April, (£11,280 is this year's limit) you could be looking to ride this mounting wave of confidence by putting some of your cash to work in a stocks and shares ISA, rather than leaving it sitting in a current account earning little, if nothing, at all.

But rather than follow the crowd by investing your money in the typical UK equity income fund or "balanced" fund, you might want to put a portion into more aggressive investments – with the aim of getting a lot more bang for your buck.

"On the one hand, there are cautious people who have lived through the past four years and are nervous," says Tom Stevenson at Fidelity Worldwide Investment. "But at the same time, there's an increasing sense the economy is improving, especially in the US. So if you feel positive on the outlook, where might you put your money?"

If you already have money in a current account or cash ISA, for example, and have £10,000 to invest in a stocks and shares ISA, you might look to split it evenly across four "aggressive" investments, such as Japan, Europe, the US and technology.

"You can put some of your money into a more aggressive portfolio, but you don't need to commit as much, because if it does well it will really outperform other investments," says Brian Dennehy at FundExpert.co.uk.

Japan

One of the areas you could invest to potentially turbo-charge your returns is Japan. "Japanese equities have been seriously out of favour since its bull market of the Eighties came to an abrupt end," says Jason Hollands at Bestinvest.

Since then, there have been all sorts of reasons why you might have avoided this region, from political tensions to natural disasters. But this lack of popularity has meant Japanese stocks are very cheap. "The election of a new government last year has resulted in a radical shift in policy in favour of massive stimulus and aggressive currency weakening," says Mr Hollands. "This is a high-risk approach but is providing a catalyst for a re-appraisal of Japan."

Funds run by managers that remove your exposure to the Japanese currency – which adds another layer of complexity and can eat away at returns – might be your best bet. Mr Hollands tips the GLG Japan Core Alpha fund.

Europe

It might seem bonkers to invest in a region plagued by sovereign debt issues as well as economic and political rifts, but Europe offers some world-class companies that are going cheap.

"The issues troubling Europe last year have not gone away and they may well reappear in the future – usually when least expected," says Adrian Lowcock at Hargreaves Lansdown."But while the risks are significant, Europe has a lot of excellent global companies that are well run and highly profitable – with much of those profits coming from outside of Europe."

For example, Unilever may be a UK and Dutch dual-listed company, explains Mr Hollands, but 55 per cent of its sales are made in emerging markets.

Mr Lowcock recommends the Jupiter European Special Situations fund for investing in the region.

"We also like funds that focus on global players based in Europe which are currently undervalued," says Mr Hollands. "Top funds in this respect are Henderson European Focus and Threadneedle European Select."

America

US stock markets are at all-time highs, but it's not as plain sailing as it might appear. "One of the interesting things about the recent rally in the markets is that they are climbing a wall of worry – there's actually a lot to be concerned about," says Mr Stevenson. "Automatic spending cuts have kicked in, which could reduce the economy by 0.5 per cent this year when it is only expected to grow around 2-2.5 per cent."

Nonetheless, the US economy is arguably ahead of the game in its recovery versus most other developed markets. If you believe the US is on the path for a strong recovery, Mr Hollands tips the JP Morgan US Growth fund. He also picks the Legg Mason US Smaller Companies fund as a way to play more domestic growth in the country.

Technology

"If sentiment is improving and chief executives are becoming more confident about spending, with companies sitting on big cash piles and strong earnings, then an early beneficiary of this spending is technology," says Mr Stevenson.

You might be concerned that the dotcom bubble wasn't too long ago, and that stock prices have not recovered to these levels since, but then many argue prices should not have soared as high in the first place.

"Technology has the ability to catapult a small company from nothing to be market leader in a short space of time. And technology companies can transform an industry rapidly," says Mr Lowcock, who recommends the GLG Technology fund.

Dangers

These aggressive strategies are higher risk, and you should be aware that you could lose more money if markets don't go your way.

"The main risk is an aggressive investment will fluctuate much more in value than a more cautious holding," says Philippa Gee, who runs her own wealth management firm.

"So if a market moves up 20 per cent, you could find you gain more than that, but equally when a market falls by 20 per cent you could also lose more than that." The people who really lose out, she warns, are those who sell their holdings after markets have fallen, crystallising that loss.

Emma Dunkley is a reporter at citywire.co.uk

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