St James's sees 'tentative' return of private investor

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St James's Place Capital, the upmarket fund manager, claimed yesterday it has seen early signs of growth among private investors venturing back into the equities market in the past few months.

Sir Mark Weinberg, the chairman of St James's Place, said "anecdotal evidence" suggested a "tentative" recovery of confidence among the company's customers.

St James's Place posted operating pre-tax profits of £25.1m for the half year to 30 June, down from £45.4m a year earlier.

New business was down 17 per cent compared with the first half of 2002, with sales of investment products down 23 per cent and pension sales down 18 per cent.

But the company said that new business in the second quarter was 19 per cent higher than the first. St James's Place shares climbed 6p to 116p yesterday.

St James's Place fired Nicola Horlick's Société Générale Asset Management earlier this year after the private client business decided Ms Horlick did not take a sufficiently proactive approach to stock picking. Sir Mark said: "It was not a comment on Nicola's performance, it was just about a different interpretation of style." Sir Mark, the veteran City financier who will step down as chairman of St James's Place in 2004, has, however, been critical of some fund managers, especially those in charge of multi-million pound pension funds, who claim to be active managers but who are actually "closet index trackers".