F&C asset value climbs 22%

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The Independent Online
FOREIGN & Colonial Investment Trust, the oldest and largest, with more than 57,000 private shareholders, hopes its shares will eventually trade at a premium to net asset value, enabling it to offer new shares to would-be investors.

Like most investment trusts, F&C's shares trade at a discount, but this has steadily narrowed to about 6-7 per cent since 1984 when the company introduced the industry's first savings scheme. That has transformed the trust's ownership: the number of shareholders has soared from fewer than 12,000 to more than 58,000, and private shareholders own 39 per cent of it. Michael Hart, the trust's manager, said F&C was now among the most actively traded shares on the London Stock Exchange.

F&C already seeks authority from its shareholders to expand the number of shares in issue by up to 5 per cent each year. If the share price moved to a premium, Mr Hart said the trust would be able to issue new shares to meet demand from the savings plan. At the moment, the savings scheme aggregates the many small orders and buys stock in the market.

F&C was reporting on 1992, during which its net assets grew by 22.1 per cent to nearly pounds 1.2bn. Net asset value per share rose by the same proportion to 225.5p a share. In comparison, the FTA all- share index rose 15 per cent.

The trust claims to have the best and most consistent record of investment performance of any similar large, general trust. Mr Hart said F&C successes last year included its bearish stance on sterling, which led it to repay dollar loans and switch borrowings into sterling before the Black Wednesday currency crisis. He said that, except for France, stock selection was generally good.

Failures included the loss of about pounds 5m on GPA, the aircraft leasing group, over-investment in Japan and under-investment in Hong Kong, whose market rose 64 per cent last year.

F&C currently has 39 per cent of its assets in the UK, 15 per cent in Europe, 30 per cent in the US, 9 per cent in Japan, 5 per cent in the Far East and 2 per cent in Latin America.

Mr Hart said the recession's impact on company dividends had made it much more difficult to increase income, but he was still able to increase the dividend by 5 per cent to 3.35p a share with a final payment of 2.23p.

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