Investment trust

An investment trust is a company with a set number of shares. Unlike an open-ended investment fund, an investment trust is closed ended. This means there are a set number of shares available, which will remain the same no matter how many investors there are. This can have an impact on the price of the shares and the level of risk of the investment trust. Open-ended investment funds create and cancel units depending on the number of investors.

The price of the investment trust shares depends on two main factors:

• the value of the underlying investments (which works in the same way as open-ended investment funds); and
• the popularity of the investment trust shares in the market

Closed-ended funds
This second point applies to investment trusts but not to open-ended investment funds or life assurance investments. The reason is because they are closed-ended funds. The laws of economics say that if there is a high demand for something, but limited supply, then the price goes up. So, if you own some investment trust shares and there are lots of people queuing up to buy them, then you can sell them for more money. On the other hand, if nobody seems to want them, then you will have to drop the price until someone is prepared to buy.

The result is that investment trust shares do not simply reflect the value of the underlying investments: they also reflect their popularity in the market. The value of the investment trust’s underlying investments is called the ‘net asset value’ (NAV). If the share price is exactly in line with the underlying investments, then it is called ‘trading at par’. If the price is higher because the shares are popular, then it is called ‘trading at a premium’, and if lower, ‘trading at a discount’. This feature may make them more volatile than other pooled investments (assuming the same underlying investments).

Improving performance
There is another difference that applies to investment trusts: they can borrow money to invest. This is called ‘gearing’. Gearing improves an investment trust’s performance when its investments are doing well. On the other hand, if its investments do not do as well as expected, gearing lowers performance.

Not all investment trusts are geared, and deciding whether to borrow and when to borrow is a judgement the investment manager makes. An investment trust that is geared is a higher-risk investment than one that is not geared (assuming the same underlying investments).

Split-capital investment trusts 
A split-capital investment trust (split) is a type of investment trust that sells different sorts of shares to investors depending on whether they are looking for capital growth or income. Splits run for a fixed term. The shares will have varying levels of risk, as some investors will be ahead of others in the queue for money when the trust comes to the end of its term.

The tax position is largely the same as for open-ended investment funds. You should be aware that tax legislation changes constantly and you should find out the most current position.

Investment bonds

Investment bonds are designed to produce medium- to long-term capital growth, but can also be used to give you an income. They also include some life cover. There are other types of investment that have ‘bond’ in their name (such as guaranteed bonds, offshore bonds and corporate bonds), but these are very different. You pay a lump sum to a life assurance company and this is invested for you until you cash it in or die.

Investment bonds are not designed to run for a specific length of time but they should be thought of as medium- to long-term investments, and you’ll often need to invest your money for at least five years. There will usually be a charge if you cash in the bond during the first few years.

The bond includes a small amount of life assurance and, on death, will pay out slightly more than the value of the fund. Some investment bonds offer a guarantee that you won’t get back less than your original investment, but this will cost you more in charges.

You can usually choose from a range of funds which can invest in, for example UK and overseas shares, fixed interest securities, property and cash. They can also offer a way of investing in funds managed by other companies, but this may lead to higher charges.

Investment risk can never be eliminated but it is possible to reduce the ups and downs of the stock market by choosing a range of funds to help you avoid putting all your eggs in one basket. Different investment funds behave in different ways and are subject to different risks. Putting your money in a range of different investment funds can help reduce the loss, should one or more of them fall.

You can usually switch between funds. Some switches may be free, but you may be charged if you want to switch funds frequently. Any investment growth at the time of a fund switch is not taxable.

Any growth in investment bonds is subject to income tax. The investment will pay tax automatically while it is running so, if you are a:

non-taxpayer – you will not have to pay any further income tax but you cannot reclaim any tax;

basic-rate taxpayer – you will not normally have to pay any further income tax; and

higher-rate taxpayer (or close to being one) – if you withdraw more than 5 per cent of the original investment amount in a year or you have made a profit when you cash in the investment, you may be liable for more income tax.

Depending on your circumstances, the overall amount of tax you pay on investment bonds may be higher than on other investments (like a unit trust, for instance). But there may be other reasons to prefer an investment bond. Or you may want to set up the investment within a trust as part of your inheritance tax planning (but note that you normally lose access to at least some of your money if you do this).

You can usually take out some or all of your money whenever you wish but there may be a charge if you take money out in the early years.

You can normally withdraw up to 5 per cent of the original investment amount each year without any immediate income tax liability. The life assurance company can pay regular withdrawals to you automatically. These withdrawals can therefore provide you with regular payments, with income tax deferred, for up to 20 years.

Self-Invested Personal Pensions

If appropriate to your particular situation, a Self-Invested Personal Pension (SIPP) could be another option to consider if you require the flexibility to choose where your pension money is invested. SIPPs are now also open to people of lower incomes – not just those with commercial property.

More accessibility
A SIPP is a personal pension wrapper that offers individuals greater freedom of choice than conventional personal pensions. However, they are more complex than conventional products and it is essential you seek expert professional financial advice.

SIPPs allow investors to choose their own investments or appoint an investment manager to look after the portfolio on their behalf. Individuals have to appoint a trustee to oversee the operation of the SIPP but, having done that, the individual can effectively run the pension fund on his or her own.

Thousands of funds
You can typically choose from thousands of funds as well as pick individual shares, bonds, gilts, unit trusts, investment trusts, exchange traded funds, cash and commercial property (but not private property). Also, you have more control over moving your money to another investment institution, rather than being tied if a fund under-performs.

Once invested in your pension, the funds grow free of UK capital gains tax and income tax (tax deducted from dividends cannot be reclaimed).

Unrivalled tax benefits
SIPPs, like all pensions, have unrivalled tax benefits. If you aren’t using a pension to save for retirement you could be missing out on valuable tax relief. In the current 2013/14 tax year you could receive up to 45% tax relief on any contributions you make and pay no income or capital gains tax on any investments returns inside your SIPP.

Other considerations
You cannot draw on a SIPP pension before age 55 and you should be mindful of the fact that you’ll need to spend time managing your investments. Where investment is made in commercial property, you may also have periods without rental income and, in some cases, the pension fund may need to sell on the property when the market is not at its strongest. Because there may be many transactions moving investments around, the administrative costs are higher than those of a normal pension fund.

The tax benefits and governing rules of SIPPs may change in the future. The level of pension benefits payable cannot be guaranteed as they will depend on interest rates when you start taking your benefits. The value of your SIPP may be less than you expected if you stop or reduce contributions, or if you take your pension earlier than you had planned.

A SIPP could be a suitable option if you:

– would like to have more control over your retirement fund and the freedom to make your own investment decisions, or prefer to appoint investment managers to do this for you and are prepared to pay a higher cost for this facility would like a wide range of investments to choose from

– want to consolidate your existing pension(s) into a more flexible plan

– need a tax-efficient way to purchase
commercial property

Dividends received within a SIPP do not come with a 10% tax credit, so basic-rate taxpayers are no better off receiving dividends within a SIPP than receiving the dividends directly. Investors in a SIPP need to be comfortable making their own investment decisions about their retirement. Investments go down in value as well as up so you could get back less than you invest. The rules referred to are those that currently apply; they could change in the future. You cannot normally access your money until at least age 55. Tax reliefs depend on your circumstances. If you are unsure of an investment’s suitability you should seek professional financial advice.