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Private thoughts

In the past, I have often referred to the roadshows organised for private investors by the Association of Investment Trust Companies, the AITC – or AIC as it will shortly become when the word trust is removed from the title.

My interest in these is twofold. Having had a long association with the investment trust movement and being broadly sympathetic and supportive of its aims and achievements, I am always happy to address the gatherings on the topic of how markets are likely to behave. But I gain the added bonus of obtaining a real feedback on how the average private investor is thinking.

Last week, it was the turn of the West Country to play host to the various trust management groups and me as we gathered in Exeter for the penultimate roadshow of the year.

The turnout in 2006 has been impressive. True, the average age of those attending suggests that anyone advising on pensions would be better gearing their advice towards benefits rather than contribution, strategy but this was as good a cross-section of the Middle-England investor community as you are ever likely to find.

Not only that but there was the usual bevy of investment managers, each with an individual view of what was hot and what was not. Given that markets had not given investors an easy ride recently, I was cheered to find private investors generally realistically optimistic. Better still, the attitude seemed very much to be that if you wanted to invest in equities, your time horizon needed to be long. This was remarkable, given the age of some of those present.

There was significantly less unanimity among the investment professionals. Of course, part of that could be put down to the fact that, to some extent, they were talking their own book but opinion was divided between those who believed the lower rating accorded to shares represented a strong buying opportunity and those who believed it presaged some sort of financial crunch, with dire consequences a few years down the road. No one, of course, believed that a market correction was imminent.

Quite how much should be read into the comments and statements made at these gatherings is far from clear but some messages did emerge. High turnover in trusts was generally frowned upon. High fees were also an issue but I suspect this was more of a problem particular to this particular group of investors, who appeared to be savvier than most.

But of one thing I am certain – getting close to the end investor through exercises such as this is valuable both to the audience, whose education is improved, and to the provider, given the feedback received. Long may the AITC (or AIC) continue this tradition.

Brian Tora is investment communications director at Gerrard Investment Management

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