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Webster exits Aberdeen as trust changes name
Phil Webster, manager of Aberdeen Smaller Companies High Income investment trust, departs ahead of name change for the fund.
Phil Webster, manager of Aberdeen Smaller Companies High Income (ASCH ) investment trust, has left Aberdeen Asset Management ahead of a name change for the fund.
Webster joined Aberdeen in 2004 and took on the £43 million trust, then known as Shires Smaller Companies, in 2008, following Aberdeen’s acquisition of Glasgow Investment Managers in the previous year.
He has been replaced by Jonathan Allison, who joined Aberdeen from Morgan Stanley in 2005 as an assistant fund manager in the pan-European equities team, according to Morningstar.
The trust is the second best performing fund out of 12 in the AIC’s UK Equity and Bond Income sector, with a five-year total return of 75%. This is some way behind the leader Acorn Income (AIF ), which has generated 165% growth with a more highly geared split capital structure.
News of Webster’s departure after 12 years with Aberdeen came in the trust’s annual results published this month.
Chairman Carolan Dobson thanked the manager for his work and said he had a particularly strong record in protecting the fund in falling markets.
She added the board already had a good working relationship with his successor.
Dobson also revealed that the trust would drop the word ‘High’ from its name following next month’s annual general meeting. Its 3.5% yield is the third lowest in the sector and way below the average of 6.9%, according to AIC data.
‘In addition, our trust seeks to derive its income primarily from equities and therefore generally holds less bonds that more commonly found in other high income funds,’ Dobson said.
In recent years Webster had reduced the proportion of the fund in fixed income stocks to a record low of 3.3% over concern at the bond bubble caused by central bank quantitative easing policies.
Last year the portfolio of 45 shares he ran produced a total return of 14.3%, helped by gains in industrials, pharmaceuticals and food retailers and being underweight oil, gas and mining stocks.
Although real estate holdings in Helical Bar (HLCL) and Hansteen (HSTN) did poorly, takeover bids for Domino Printing and Anite boosted returns with the profits re-invested in Exova (EXO), an oil services company; Xaar (XAR), the print-head manufacturer; Stock Spirits (STCK), the vodka producer, after its flotation; and Smart Metering Systems (SMSS), a meter rental company serving electricity and gas utilities.
This year Webster also added Burford Capital (BURF), the top-performing legal finance investment company. ‘They have a very strong track record of delivering high returns as their experienced senior legal team cherry-pick the best cases to tilt the outcome in their favour,’ Webster, a former Scotland hockey player, said in his final manager review.
Last year the net asset value of all the trust’s investments increased by 13.4%, just ahead of the FTSE SmallCap index gain of 13%. Shareholder total returns were higher, at 16.6%, as the discount – or gap between the share price and the NAV – narrowed during the year giving investors a performance kicker. However, the discount has widened again from 13% to nearly 20% in the recent stock market turbulence.
The trust declared four dividends during the year totalling 6.65p per share, up 3.1%, covered by earnings of 7.54p, up 5.6% on the previous year.
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