Walk on the wild side of finance

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The Independent Online
Sometimes you want a little excitement from your investments. We have all read about shares or funds that delivered 100 or even 1,000 per cent growth in a matter of months and wished we had a piece of the action.

When taking the high-risk route, you should always follow the gambler's maxim and only put in what you can afford to lose. After all, what you are doing is little more than a calculated gamble.

"There are three reasons for taking risks," says Martyn Page, investment researcher with Countrywide, a network of independent financial advisers. "In the hope of high returns, for the thrill of the punt, and as an education. People who invested in emerging markets five years ago will have learnt a lot from anxiously watching their investments shoot up and down."

Mr Page's current favourite high-risk funds are largely investment trusts. "I like Herald, which invests in media and computer services, the Taverners trust by Aberdeen Asset Management, investing in pubs and entertainment venues and First Ireland, which aims to tap into peripheral European economies."

He also names a couple of higher-risk unit trusts. "Remember that high risk does not mean plain stupid, so you can still stick with some of the established fund providers. I like Jupiter Financial Opportunities, which invests in banks and property services, and Framlington Health, which goes for smaller US health companies."

Patrick Connelly at Chartwell Investment Management says there are currently two main areas for high-risk investment. "Technology funds are very much in vogue. Fund managers like Aberdeen Asset Management, Henderson, SocGen and Scottish Equitable all have technology funds, but I would only put a small percentage of my portfolio in this type of fund, no more than 15 per cent."

The other area is the Far East and emerging markets, where investors have suffered great swings of fortune. "The Nikkei has dropped from 39,000 to 11,000 then back up to 18,000 in recent years, so you could have made sizeable losses or gains," Mr Connelly says.

"You could try Fidelity's South-east Asia fund, which has a large amount invested in Hong Kong, which is relatively stable. If you want to cover Japan there is the Jupiter First Eastern Fund, while Fidelity covers small and medium-sized companies in its Japan Special Situations fund. This fund has always performed well in its sector but has still delivered only 3 per cent growth a year over the last decade."

Remember that investing overseas carries the added risk involved in putting your money into another currency. Changes in exchange rates could wipe out - or enhance - your gains.

Internet stocks, while currently about as sexy as stocks can be, are a bubble that could easily burst. "The valuations of internet-based companies are not based on an awful lot of substance. They have no profits and only the promise of future returns," says Paul Penny, managing director of Financial Discounts Direct.

Another option for risk seekers are venture capital trusts (VCTs), which invest in small companies unquoted on the stock exchange. This comes with tax breaks; your investment gets 20 per cent tax relief and you also pay no tax on your profits. You have to hold your investment for five years. You get the tax breaks because VCTs are high-risk, but the Government wants to encourage invest-ment in start-up companies.

"My preferred type of VCT are those that invest in preference shares in very small companies with less than pounds 10m market capitalisation," says Mr Page. "This is a lower risk way of investing because it puts you higher up the list for payment if the company lapses, higher than ordinary shareholders."