The cat's share tips

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The Independent Online
Had you been standing in my kitchen on 13 August last year, you would have found me carefully laying out pieces of dry cat food on to a grid of 250 numbered squares.

Despite appearances, there was a point to this. When the grid was complete I let a cat named Schrodinger loose in the kitchen and noted the 35 pieces which he ate first. These numbers, matched up a against a list of shares in the FTSE mid-250, went to make up what I call the Consolidated Accumulation Trust portfolio - or CAT, for short.

The shares which Schrodinger selected included household names such as The Body Shop, Dalgety, Northern Foods, Racal, Savoy Hotels and Taylor Walker. He also went for a few more adventurous picks such as media group Flextech, healthcare specialists ML Laboratories and Mercury World Mining, an investment trust.

As far as sector split is concerned, Schrodinger went for six investment trusts, three media companies, three construction companies, two engineering firms and two transport companies. Not to mention a smattering of power, drinks, distribution and financial services. A sample of the stocks he picked is given in the table alongside this article.

So, six months on, how are Schrodinger's skills as an investment manager holding up?

A friendly unit trust group - far too modest to have its name bandied around here - has put the portfolio on the computer for me, assuming an initial investment of pounds 10,000 in each company's shares. For the purposes of this exercise, we've deducted a broker's commission of pounds I,053 at the outset, but ignored all other charges.

In the six months since its creation, CAT's value has grown by 3.05 per cent, against a figure of 4.06 per cent for the mid-250 index. But this conceals a dramatic upswing in the last quarter. In the three months to 4 February this year, the fund has grown by 4.4 per cent, nearly double the mid-250's advance of 2.3 per cent.

Even the six-month figures rank Schrodinger ahead of my real-life fund managers. It is not a foolproof comparison by any means, but Micropal's figures for UK Growth unit trusts over the same period (bid-to-bid, ignoring income) show the sector average at 10.1 per cent. CAT is ranked at 156 in a field of 164.

Among Schrodinger's big successes, other than his top-five selection, are also the Cowie Group, which saw its share price rise 15.9 per cent in the past six months, Taylor Woodrow, whose shares have benefited from the housing market recovery to the tune of 13.8 per cent, and Electra Investment Trust, up 11.8 per cent.

Admittedly, there are some poor selections. Bulmer Holdings is down 6.7 per cent, while Wimpey has dropped 6.2 per cent and Highland Distilleries shares have lost 3.9 per cent of their value in six months.

This still puts Schrodinger comfortably ahead of managers of trusts such as Barclays Unicorn Leisure (+4.3 per cent), Equitable Life Special Situations (+4. 1 per cent), M&G Recovery (+3.8 per cent) and GT UK Growth (+3.5 per cent).

An M&G spokeswoman is unabashed at Schrodinger's success relative to her company's fund: "Don't be so catty," she retorts. "Our Recovery Fund has outperformed the FT All-share index over every 15-year period since its launch in 1969.

"If we were to hire Schrodinger as a fund manager after that kind of performance we might be faced with a large number of early redemptions from our fund."

It's still early days, of course, but I think we can consider that a reasonably promising start for our four-legged financier. We'll be returning to CAT every three months or so in the future to see how he's getting on.

Many investment plans, like Virgin's PEP, are based not on actively managed funds, but on "tracker trusts".

Trackers have the advantage of eliminating the risk that the market as a whole will go up, but your own fund manager's succeeds in picking the few stocks that are falling.

Active fund managers are relaxed about tracker trusts as most companies will have one in their selection of funds. How they will react to being outperformed by an investment expert whose only remuneration - unlike theirs - is the occasional tin of Sheba remains to be seen.

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