Money: Buy shares in the bargain basement

Act now if you want to buy bargain-basement shares. Many investment trusts are being sold for less than their true worth because there is little demand for their shares.

But a pounds 16m advertising campaign in the autumn - the Association of Investment Trust Companies (AITC) is organising the spree - will almost certainly push up prices.

And as soon as the investing public twigs on to the hidden bargains, the discounts will drop. Those in the know are moving in now.

It has happened before, says Simon Crinage, at investment trust managers Flemings: "In 1993/1994 a raising in awareness of investment trusts closed the discount to near zero."

The reason we have not heard more from investment trusts in the past is also the reason why they are a good deal for investors: they are cheap. Because charges for managing your money are low, the funds pay little or no commission to financial advisers who are more likely to recommend a more expensive alternative.

The management fees can be as much as a third less than those for unit trusts. Jeremy Tigue, at Foreign & Colonial, gives an example of how much you can save by buying investment rather than unit trusts: "Annual management fees on unit trusts are 1.5 per cent, while for the F&C Investment Trust, the fees are 0.3 per cent."

Investment trusts also give greater scope than unit trusts for investing in markets outside the UK. Mr Crinage says: "In general, investment trusts have more of a bias towards emerging markets, including the Far East, and smaller companies." This bias is useful if you are looking for a global portfolio or want to try your luck on emerging markets.

Investment trusts are currently trading at an average true worth, or discount of 13 per cent to their Net Asset Value. There is a huge choice of investment trusts, but for first-time investors Tom Tuite-Dalton, of Credit Lyonnaise, recommends a global spread of shares: "The Alliance Trust offers investors unmatched value for money in gaining exposure to world markets."

Mr Crinage agrees Alliance Trust and F&C are good buys for first-time investors. He makes some more adventurous choices from his own portfolio: Flemings Overseas, which has only 4 per cent invested in the UK, and Flemings Chinese: "People believe in the long-term growth potential of the greater China region. This perhaps could add a bit of spice to a well diversified portfolio."

The rule changes when PEPs were scrapped in favour of individual savings accounts (ISAs) have also favoured investment trusts. You can now buy almost any trust, with shares from around the world, as a tax-free ISA. During the 1999/2000 tax year you can invest up to pounds 7,000 in an ISA investment trust.

n Websites: www.aitc.co.uk; www.trustnet.co.uk. See `Investment Trust Managers Directory' for trusts' phone numbers.

HOW THE FUNDS SHAPE UP

How pounds 100 would look if invested one, three, five or 10 years ago

One Three Five 10

Low risk

Foreign & Colonial 113 123.6 138.4 364

The Alliance Trust 115.3 147.9 163 404.9

Average risk

Fleming Continental 119.4 166.2 168.5 412.7

High risk

Fleming Chinese 61.3 46.6 27.8 -

Foreign & Colonial Pacific 86.3 53.6 60.3 140.8

Source: AITC Monthly Information Service

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