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Witan Investment Trust: May 2021 Update

Investment Analyst Henry Ince shares our analysis on the manager, process, culture, cost and performance of the Witan Investment Trust.

Important notes

This article isn’t personal advice. If you’re not sure whether an investment is right for you please seek advice. If you choose to invest the value of your investment will rise and fall, so you could get back less than you put in.

This article is more than 6 months old

It was correct at the time of publishing. Our views and any references to tax, investment and pension rules may have changed since then.

  • Adopts a multi-manager approach to investing in global equities
  • The trust has successfully increased dividends for 46 years, although this is not a guarantee of future income
  • A strong track record of selecting talented fund managers

How it fits in a portfolio

Witan Investment Trust aims to grow income and capital over the longer term by investing in companies around the globe. The managers use a multi-manager approach, which means they invest in portfolios run by other fund managers and provides exposure to a range of investment styles and philosophies. Shares listed on stock exchanges are the key focus for this trust, but a small portion invests in other assets such as property, fixed income and higher-risk small and private companies. It could be used as a building block for a more adventurous portfolio or to complement other trusts investing in areas like higher-risk emerging markets.

Investors in closed-ended funds should be aware the trust can trade at a discount or premium to NAV.


The trust is managed by the Witan executive team. Andrew Bell has been the trust’s CEO since 2010 and is responsible for the overall management of the trust. Bell has over 30 years’ worth of investment experience and was previously Head of Research at Rensburg Shepard’s. Alongside his duties at Witan he is a Non-executive Director of The Diverse Income Trust plc.

Bell works closely with James Hart, who together form the Investment Team. Hart was appointed as Witan’s Investment Director in April 2015 and previously worked as a portfolio manager at Cayenne Asset Management. He also has experience with emerging markets, research and fund manager selection.


The trust invests with a variety of fund managers, each with their own unique approach. To identify potential candidates, Bell and Hart use both quantitative (number crunching) and qualitative (such as meeting with mangers) methods, and use the board of the trust’s large network of contacts. Bell and Hart are responsible for conducting this research with the best candidates then being presented to the board, who ultimately have the final say.

Chosen managers must possess a number of key traits such as strong intellectual rigour and a deep understanding of their portfolio. The board’s extensive investment experience makes them well placed to judge fund managers on these factors. Typically, these managers construct high conviction portfolios using a clear and disciplined process which could help lead to fairly consistent outperformance; however, this isn’t guaranteed. The companies they invest in tend to have sustainable long-term cash flows, the ability to grow faster than the market anticipates or be undervalued.

They then carefully piece these different managers together to create a well-diversified portfolio of around 300 companies. Most of the trust is invested in ‘Core’ funds which take a global approach, with the exception of Artemis UK Special Situation’s manager, Derek Stuart who invests solely in the UK and is the trust’s longest appointed manager. The remainder of the trust is invested in ‘Specialist’ funds which provide exposure to more niche areas such as higher-risk emerging markets, climate change and life sciences.

They don’t impose restrictions on the managers as this could interfere with their process, but they don’t allow them to borrow money to invest or use hedging techniques. Investments in any one manager won’t usually exceed 20% of the trust’s assets.

Just under 40% of the trust is invested in Europe and around a third in North America, which is much lower than the global stock market average. Sector-wise, the trust is balanced with no large bias to any one industry.

Bell and Hart appointed two new global managers at the end of August 2020. Mike Trigg of WCM Investment Management invests in high quality companies with hard-to-replicate advantages over competitors. They also appointed Mark Baribeau from Jennison Associates who manages a portfolio of disruptive companies with strong growth potential.

While the underlying managers can’t use gearing (borrowing to invest), the trust itself can. This can amplify returns but also increase losses which adds risk. The managers can use derivatives to help them invest, which if used also adds risk.

Please note the trust currently holds shares in Hargreaves Lansdown PLC.


Witan was founded over a hundred years ago in 1909. It was set up initially to manage the estate of the first Lord Faringdon. From 1934 its investments were managed by Henderson Administration, but in 2004 it became self-managed and changed to its present ‘multi-manager’ strategy.

In February 2020 the trust signed up to the UN Principles for Responsible Investment (UN PRI), which commits large investors to six principles regarding environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters. All of the trust’s underlying managers are also signatories. It uses the services of specialist consultants to monitor ESG issues relating to its investments.


The trust’s current ongoing charge is 0.82%. This includes the 0.51% annual management charge and a performance fee which can reduce investors’ returns. If held in a SIPP or ISA the HL platform fee of 0.45% (capped at £200 for a SIPP and £45 for an ISA) per annum also applies.

Investors should refer to the latest annual reports and accounts and Key Investor Information for details of the risks and charging structure.


Witan Investment Trust has performed roughly in line with the benchmark over the past ten years. During this period the trust’s share price grew by 190.9*% vs 188.9% for the AIC Global sector average. Remember past performance isn’t a guide to the future.

Over the past 12 months the trust’s net asset value (NAV) grew by 46.7%, ahead of the sector’s average return of 33.8%. The share price also grew by 42.3%. At the start of last year, the trust changed its benchmark to one with a higher allocation to the US stock market. Initially the trust did not mirror this increase due to valuation concerns, which hindered short-term returns given it’s been one of the strongest performing regions. More recently the managers have started to close this gap but the trust still has less in the US than the benchmark.

Last year was also a mixed bag for the trust’s underlying managers. Across the Core bucket only two out of the four managers performed better than their respective benchmarks (this only accounts for managers that were part of the trust for the full year). Lansdowne was the largest underperformer in this basket followed by Veritas; however, both have outperformed since their initial appointment. In contrast, the Specialist managers were largely able to deliver above benchmark returns. GMO’s climate change fund and emerging markets manager GQC were notable performers.

A 5.45p per share dividend was paid for the trust’s financial year to 31 December 2020, which is 1.9% higher than the previous 12-month period. This has continued the trust’s impressive run of increasing income paid to investors each year for the last 46 years, although the managers dipped into some reserves built up over previous years to support income in tougher times. At the time of writing the trust trades at a discount to NAV of 6.2% and yields 2.4% although remember yields are variable and not guaranteed or a reliable indicator of future income.

Annual percentage growth
April 16 -
April 17
April 17 -
April 18
April 18 -
April 19
April 19 -
April 20
April 20 -
April 21
Witan Investment Trust 35.3% 10.6% 4.2% -17.1% 42.3%
AIC Global 30.8% 15.1% 8.5% -5.9% 33.8%

Past performance is not a guide to the future. Source: *Lipper IM to 30/04/2021.

Find out more about Witan Investment Trust including charges.

Witan Investment Trust Key Investor Information

Important notes

This article isn’t personal advice. If you’re not sure whether an investment is right for you please seek advice. If you choose to invest the value of your investment will rise and fall, so you could get back less than you put in.

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