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You could have a ball with Cinderella; Perhaps the biggest attraction about investment trusts is that they are a cost-effective way of getting a spread of stock market investments, either in the UK alone or internationally.

They are widely thought of as the Cinderellas of the personal finance world.

Which is a great pity, because for those in on the secret investment trusts can be a great place for your money.

They offer not only a genuinely low-cost, reduced-risk route into the stock market, they can also yield considerable gains.

Yet they are generally less well known - and less well understood - than their unit trust counterparts.

One reason, perhaps, is because unit trust managers spend a lot more money marketing their products.

Like unit trusts, investment trusts are pooled investments in which managers take money from contributors and invest in a range of shares.

But unlike unit trusts, investment trusts are stock market-listed companies in which investors buy and sell shares - just as they would with any other business.

The shares go up and down according to the performance of the underlying investments and the market demand for the shares.

It means that a particular investment trust's investments might be doing well but because of a lack of demand its share price may not fully reflect its underlying value.

When this happens the shares are said to be trading at a discount to their real value. The opposite can also happen and this is known as trading at a premium.

More often than not though, investment trusts trade at a discount to their real value and some commentators say this is one good reason for buying them.

They argue that by buying investment trusts when they are trading at a discount you are getting the underlying shares 'on the cheap'.

This is theoretically true. The only problem is that if the investment trust continues to trade at a discount for some time, you will also end up selling your shares cheaply and make no gain from the discount.

Perhaps the biggest attraction about investment trusts is that they are a cost-effective way of getting a spread of stock market investments, either in the UK alone or internationally.

Many of the major investment trust companies, such as Foreign & Colonial, Baillie Gifford and Fleming, offer good-value regular savings schemes where investors can buy investment trust shares with monthly amounts of as little as pounds 50.

Charges are generally low, so that out of each pounds 100 invested, as much as pounds 96 or pounds 97 actually buys investment trust shares.

The Association of Investment Trust Companies reckons that charges and stamp duty, plus the difference between the buying and selling price of an investment trust share, totals around 3.5 per cent of a typical purchase.

This is less than the 5-6 per cent typically charged on the purchase of unit trusts.

Another bonus of the savings-scheme route to purchasing investment trusts is that it dispenses with the need to buy the shares through a stockbroker, which can be a bit off-putting for some investors, as well as more expensive.

The schemes are also very flexible. Investors can put in regular monthly amounts or lump sums, just as they choose, and they can stop the scheme or sell part or all of their shares whenever they want.

Once the purchasing of investment trusts has been dealt with the key consideration is how they perform.

A number of organisations such as MoneyFacts produce detailed performance tables on investment trusts.

They show that the gap between the best and worst performers is quite dramatic.

At the top end some investment trusts have managed to double, treble or even quintuple their value in just one year.

According to figures from MoneyFacts, the best-performing investment trust, Enterprise Capital, turned pounds 1,000 into pounds 5,483 in the year to July 28, while second placed International Biotechnology turned pounds 1,000 into pounds 5,260.

In contrast, some managed to lose their shareholders 40-50 per cent of their value.

First Pacific saw an investment of pounds 1,000 dwindle to pounds 426, while Australian Opportunities sank to pounds 535.

The type of investment trust you choose depends on the level of risk you are prepared to tolerate.

Investors should remember that investment trusts, like other stock market investments, are risk investments, the value of which can fall as well as rise.

The trusts mentioned here are not necessarily suitable for any particular investor and individuals should consult a professional adviser before making any investment decisions.
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Author:Finance, John Cranage Personal
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 12, 2000
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