City & Business: Charities should opt out

THE Charity Commissioners, in their infinite wisdom, are considering whether to allow charities to play the derivatives markets. Of course, they do not couch it so flippantly; these are not speculators, after all, they are respectable institutions with a legal duty to protect their beneficiaries' funds.

For good measure Fleming Investment Management, adviser to many charities, says: 'There seems no reason why all charity portfolios should not be granted permission to use them (derivatives) within certain guidelines.'

However, I am not so sure. Unless any guidelines are so strict as to be prohibitive, I predict tears before bedtime. Charity trustees will not be the first to discover that derivatives - mainly futures and option contracts - have a seductive power to lure the unwary on to the rocks. It is all very well to insist that they should be deployed only to 'protect' a position. If that prevents a profit rather than saving a loss, it can be just as galling as if the money went down the drain. The temptation to recoup by taking bolder positions can then become irresistible.

The Commissioners should be made to watch Channel 4's Big Breakfast for a week, until the derivative feeling goes away.

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