Nick Goodway: AIM tax breaks can be significant for investors

Funny foreign mineral hunters and weird Israeli tech boffins also have their place on the market

It began with a whimper, not a bang, but last week's change in the law to allow investors to put Alternative Investment Market (AIM) shares into Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs) is significant.

Official data from the London Stock Exchange which runs AIM was that share trading volumes were pretty much the same as in any normal week.

But the anecdotal evidence is slightly different.

Far more AIM companies than usual had to issue a disclaimer saying that they knew of no reason for a sudden sharp spurt in their share price. And stockbrokers specialising in smaller cap stocks and retail investors saw a distinct rise in interest in AIM shares.

Experienced investors with existing AIM portfolios have switched them into the ISA wraps.

Not surprisingly, the greatest interest was in ASOS, the online fashion retailer, which – if it weren't on AIM – would actually be in the FTSE 100. It's not a typical AIM company in that it is now a proven solid business, unlikely to go bust and a strong candidate for a takeover in the future. Oh, and its shares have trebled in value in the last 12 months. Not a hard choice when it comes to your ISA.

But the other stocks which attracted attention were a much more mixed bag. As usual, obscure overseas mining stocks topped the list, but there was solid demand for UK companies, ranging from Judges Scientific to Iofina.

The FTSE AIM Index ended the week up almost 2 per cent.

The newest entrant to the market, Science in Sport, which makes nutritional products for athletes including their brand ambassador Sir Chris Hoy, pictured, debuted on Friday with its share price rising from 56p to 60p.

Those who successfully argued for AIM stocks to be allowed in ISAs and, indeed, the abolition of stamp duty on AIM shares which comes in next April, highlighted the importance of the junior market in growing young UK companies and creating British jobs.

That is true up to a point but those funny foreign mineral hunters and weird Israeli technology boffins also have their place on the market.

Research from Equity Development suggests that the ISA move followed by the stamp duty abolition could have a significant impact on AIM.

The entire market capitalisation of AIM is just £53bn. The entire amount we hold in so-called Stocks and Shares ISAs is £200m. If just 1 per cent of that money were be invested in AIM stocks, that could have a material impact on AIM share prices – which in any case tend to be far more volatile than those on the main market.

Certainly AIM needs a boost. Over the past two years the FTSE AIM Index is largely unchanged, while the FTSE All Share has risen 29 per cent and the FTSE SmallCap has put on impressive 37 per cent.

The Government lobbied the London Stock Exchange and others and has done the right thing in giving tax breaks to AIM investors. But they can only lead these horses to water. It is up to retail brokers and IFAs to encourage them to drink.

Ladbrokes bring up rear again

What is it about Ladbrokes? On the face of it, it suffers the same challenges as its arch-rival William Hill; hard going means fewer horses run, which means more favourites win; hot weather means fewer people visit bookies shops and Stoke City avoid relegation for the fifth successive season.

But somehow Ladbrokes seems to manage to come in not just a head, not just a length but a full six lengths behind Hills every time.

Richard Glynn has been in the saddle as Ladbrokes chief excecutive for almost three and a half years now.

He frankly admits that he is probably some four years behind Hills when it comes to digital betting but claims the deal he has set up with Playtech will recover a lot of lost ground. Shareholders are becoming impatient.

I'm wondering what price Hills might offer me that he is still there in a year's time.

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