DTI set to ease rules on investment trust shares

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The Independent Online
THE Department of Trade and Industry is looking at a change in company law to allow investment trusts, which hold more than pounds 60bn of investors' funds, to buy back shares from shareholders.

Ministers are considering changing a key obstacle in DTI regulations which block trusts from doing share buy-backs because they would lose their status as investment companies.

The decision to look at changing the law follows intensive lobbying by the trade body for investment trusts, the AITC. The AITC wants its members to be able to use buy-backs to narrow the discounts which exist between the price of an investment trust company's shares and the value of its assets.

Potential investors in investment trusts, including pension funds and insurance companies, have complained that discounts have grown quickly in the last four years as demand for shares in the trusts has dwindled. In 1994, the average discount was 3-4 per cent. Now, some investment trust companies are running discounts of up to 20 per cent.

Ian Sayers, taxation adviser to the AITC, said: "The DTI have given us a reasonable response and we are optimistic that they are going to take this forward. They are putting it to ministers and we hope to have the issue sorted by April 1999."

Investment trust companies which try share buy-backs risk losing their status as investment companies, which could distort their accounts and alter the company's dividend policy.

In contrast, Inland Revenue rules allow them to keep their status as investment trusts for tax purposes when they buy back shares, exempting the companies from capital gains tax.