Investment trusts have got off to their best start to the year since 2013. No wonder this shareholder hopes 2019 proves another example of the old adage: as goes January, so goes the year.
The FTSE Equity Investments benchmark for closed-end funds beat the FTSE All Share index by nearly 10% last month, with the former rising by 4.6% compared to 4.2% for the latter, according to the stockbroker Winterflood.
However, there is always a fly in the ointment and - following the recent dividend cut and share price slippage - I have sold my holding in European Assets Trust (EAT).
Sceptics often warned that the price of a high income here would prove to be low total returns. It certainly gave me no pleasure to sell EAT at 100p this week after the shares peaked at 135p in January last year.
Allowing for an intervening capital reorganisation, I sold at much the same as I paid to invest in February, 2015. While the share price performance was never stellar, the dividend yield, which sometimes exceeded 7%, provided a substantial reason to hang on and hope for better times ahead. But a trend is only a trend until it stops and yesterday’s river grinds no flour. The sharp drop in net asset value (NAV) last year and the resulting reduction in this year’s dividend distributions added up to a double-whammy of bad news and a good reason to move on.
The difficult bit remains choosing a replacement. Jupiter European Opportunities (JEO) is the top performer in this sector over the last five and 10 years. Unfortunately, JEO is overshadowed by unresolved allegations about its biggest single shareholding, the German digital payments firm Wirecard, where the share price has nearly halved. So, in my humble opinion, it seems uninvestable for now.
Fidelity European Values (FEV) is the next best medium to long-term performer with share price returns of 60% and 181% over five and 10 years, according to independent statisticians Morningstar via the Association of Investment Companies.
Unfortunately, I already have a substantial direct shareholding in FEV’s biggest single stake, the Swiss foods giant Nestle, and not much wish to invest in L’Oreal or LVMH Moet Hennessy, the luxury goods groups that also feature in its top 10.
Henderson Eurotrust (HNE) looks more interesting with its biggest holding in Novo Nordisk, the Danish healthcare group with a leading position in the treatment of diabetes. As the developed world grows more overweight, demand is likely to rise. Here and now, HNE yields 3% or half as much again as FEV.
Lagging some way behind over five years but ahead over the last decade, JPMorgan European Income (JETI) has delivered share price returns over those periods of 45% and 245% respectively. Healthcare is also a major theme at JETI where the top 10 holdings include Novartis, Roche, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk.
Doing well by doing good is always an attractive theme for investors and one that is likely to work for the foreseeable future. As the world grows wealthier and older, it will spend more on healthcare even if there are political rows about pricing along the way.
For an investor in his second half-century with one eye on retirement, it’s also reassuring to receive dividend income and JETI pays 4.4%, the top yield in its sector. Better still for value-seekers, the shares are priced nearly 13% below their NAV. All things considered, JETI looks like the one to replace EAT in my portfolio.
However, I have delayed pulling the trigger for personal and political reasons. Cash will be needed for a property I am redeveloping and could come in handy if Brexit delivers even better bargains closer to home. Despite my optimism about markets over the medium to long term, February and March might provide a bumpier ride than January.
Here is a complete list of Ian Cowie’s stock market investments. It is not financial advice nor is any recommendation implied.