Should you back Britain?

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The Independent Online
Many small investors feel more comfortable putting their money into the UK stock market because it is the economy they are most familiar with. Yet these same cautious investors will look nervously at the market's recent string of record highs and fear that a crash will come along to wipe out their money.

Despite these fears, many fund managers are convinced there is still plenty of growth in Great Britain plc. Others are less optimistic.

Rupert Pummell manages M&G's Capital Fund, a UK growth fund with a strong percentage of smaller companies. He says: "There's every sign that growth will pick up this year. Inflation is still very subdued by historical standards, which means the Government has the scope to cut interest rates further if growth doesn't come through as it expects. That limits the downside."

Neither, he says, should the prospect of a change of government alarm the City: "Labour has given every indication it will be a better economic manager than it has been in the past. Certainly the policies seem more moderate, which should be good news for the stock market."

In any case, UK shares seldom seem to perform as you might expect in election years. After the Labour victory in 1974, the stock market continued a quiet decline for three months and then took off like a rocket. When Margaret Thatcher won for the Tories in June 1987, shares plummeted just three months later.

Mark Crutchley, Gartmore's pension fund director, agrees that the UK economy will continue to recover throughout this year, but he fears much of that recovery has already fed through into the relatively high prices in the stock market.

He says: "We think it's unlikely that interest rates will come down any further, and increasingly the pressure is going to turn towards rates moving upwards.

"If you were committing brand new money to the UK, we'd caution you to be a bit wary. I think it's entirely possible you'll see this market continue to move forward in the short term, but I wouldn't be so confident it'll be higher in 12 months' time."

Mr Crutchley thinks investors may be better off turning to the Tiger economies of the Pacific. As the table shows, these have produced the highest returns over the past five and 10 years. But, as always, this better performance comes at the cost of higher risk. The table also shows the average UK growth fund towards the bottom of the world league over both periods.

If you are nervous about investing in the UK while the market is so strong, both managers suggest you do so through a monthly savings scheme.


Value of pounds 1,000 invested in the average unit trust

Investment area 10 years Rank 5 Years Rank

Far East Ex-Japan pounds 6,196 1 pounds 2,522 1

Australasia pounds 3,348 2 pounds 2,112 3

Europe pounds 2,906 3 pounds 1,888 4

UK Smaller Companies pounds 2,892 4 pounds 1,883 5

North America pounds 2,866 5 pounds 2,189 2

UK Growth funds pounds 2,745 6 pounds 1,679 7

International pounds 2,648 7 pounds 1,757 6

Japan pounds 2,267 8 pounds 1,248 8

Source: Association of Unit Trusts and Investment Funds