Select Committee on Treasury Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)

THURSDAY 11 JULY 2002

MR MARTIN GILBERT, MR GARY MARSHALL AND MR PIERS CURRIE

  40. What about the percentage, off the top of your head if you cannot give a specific number, between 41 per cent and 70 per cent? What would you say? Give us an estimate to save time.
  (Mr Gilbert) Three to four.

  41. Under 20 per cent?
  (Mr Currie) Three.

  42. Twenty-one to 40 per cent?
  (Mr Currie) I will check my previous file if I have it with me.

  43. Whilst you are checking that, how many of your splits are in what you would term or outsiders would term or the FSA would term "financial distress"?
  (Mr Gilbert) Eight at present.

  44. Eight out of?
  (Mr Gilbert) Nineteen.

  45. In Professional Investor in April 2001 experts at the University of Edinburgh talked about the importance of the inter-related structure of cross-holdings and what could happen in a falling market and they said "The risks created by geared trusts investing in other geared trusts are very real. Substantial price declines in the ordinary shares of some individual trusts might all too easily become a self-feeding downward spiral as the net asset values of the ordinary shares of other trusts that held them fell in turn." What do you do to manage that clear and present risk to protect investors?
  (Mr Gilbert) When was that report?

  46. The April 2001 edition of Professional Investor. Do not just take that as evidence, the quote that my Chairman read out, the Cazenove briefing note, makes a similar point. What do you do about that clear risk?
  (Mr Gilbert) I would like to correct the point that it is the cross-holdings that have caused the difficulties for capital investment trusts. It is not the cross-holdings, it is the gearing that has caused the problem. If there had been no gearing in funds at all they would not be in difficulty, to take the extreme case.

  47. But you had both, did you not?
  (Mr Gilbert) Gearing has added huge positive returns over the last, Piers?
  (Mr Currie) Over the last 15 years.
  (Mr Gilbert) The gearing has added about 11 per cent of the value.
  (Mr Currie) I think what you are trying to get to, Mr Ruffley, is the supposed systemic risk.

  48. I know what I am trying to get to, just give us some straight answers.
  (Mr Currie) You can cut and slice the data with 400 different shares and class it a number of different ways. If I do not have immediate answers I will certainly come back and let you know the specifics. The issue that the FSA was raising in their report and what the Chairman appeared to be mentioning before was the question of the systemic risk affecting the sector. We now see about ten per cent of the split capital market is weak but as against that, identifying purely cross-holdings as the clear and present danger is one which is possibly over-expressed. Only about 15 per cent of the sector is invested in income shares. Investing in income shares per se is not necessarily a bad thing, income shares are priced according to how much income they can produce in the future. The problem that we see here with some of these structures that were being invented in the late 1990s was that bank debt proved to be a more inflexible form of gearing than zero dividend preference shares. Once assets fall sufficiently and fund managers effectively lose control to the bank because assets have fallen, you have an issue with income shares, This is because income shares that are unable to pay out their income fall in value quite dramatically. The sensitivity modelling is generally done by each trust and each board and each manager specific to that trust because they are all designed differently, some invest in different areas, different asset classes, some have bank debts, some do not have bank debt, some have a focus on the UK.

  49. I understand all that. You have explained the problem but why did they screw up?
  (Mr Currie) I think the reason with hindsight—

  50. So you think they screwed up?
  (Mr Gilbert) No, he did not say that.
  (Mr Currie) Who screwed up?

  51. The managers.
  (Mr Currie) No, I do not think the managers did screw up.

  52. Ah. I think a lot of people listening to what you have said, Mr Gilbert, will be quite staggered by that but do continue, Mr Currie.
  (Mr Currie) I think one of the issues is that when these instruments are designed, and they have been designed by some of the best investment bankers and brokers in the UK, they actually build the product to try and withstand stress testing in certain market environments. As it is they stress tested it as if it was a car driving down a pretty bad rainy road and what ended up happening was that they hit a hurricane. We have seen fairly massive falls, let us not forget. A number of these trusts are exposed to the technology market which has been down about 80 per cent and a number of conventional investment trusts exposed to certain asset classes have also fallen dramatically. Geared instruments on falling asset classes do worse. That was the purpose of a number of these instruments and it is obvious what the instrument said it was going to do.

  53. Can I ask you finally, Mr Gilbert, which authorities are investigating you for collusive behaviour?
  (Mr Gilbert) As far as I am aware no authorities are investigating us for collusive behaviour at the moment. The industry, including Aberdeen is working with the FSA in their overall review of the split sector.

  54. At the moment. So you might expect it in the future?
  (Mr Gilbert) I think that is a question you should ask Mr Tiner.

  55. Are you expecting it, Mr Gilbert?
  (Mr Gilbert) I am not expecting it but that is a question you have got to ask Mr Tiner. I would not dare speak on behalf of the FSA.

Chairman

  56. On the point you said about cross-holdings not being the problem, just to finish my colleague's comments, I have got a quote from David Franklin, who is a Director of stockbrokers Christo's, and he said "I think the directors of some of these investment trust companies should be held accountable. There is no doubt in my mind that they would have been aware of the level of cross-holdings and should have understood the consequences." Can I ask for a simple yes or no, do you agree with that?
  (Mr Gilbert) No, I do not agree because it is all written with hindsight, Chairman. Every comment there is with the benefit of hindsight.

   Chairman: Fair enough.

Dr Palmer

  57. I just want to explore these cross-holdings a little more. Are you aware of the extent to which the holdings in, let us say, Aberdeen Progressive Growth is actually invested in other similar trusts?
  (Mr Gilbert) I think it is very important to understand that some of the funds are set up as fund of funds so their specific investment remit is to hold shares of other investment trusts. That is what it was set up to do, that is what it has been described as doing and that is what it does.

  58. So the answer is 100 per cent?
  (Mr Marshall) Was that Progressive Growth you mentioned or Aberdeen Preferred Income Trust?

  59. No, Progressive Growth.
  (Mr Gilbert) Sorry, I thought you meant Aberdeen Preferred Income Trust.
  (Mr Marshall) If I could take that question. Progressive Growth is a unit trust which invests in split capital trusts, the zero dividend preference shares which are shares of split capital trusts. It is, as Martin said, in this case designed to invest in zeros. It is very clear that it invests in zeros. That is its entire purpose and it is laid out that way.


 
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