Peter Webb, the former star smaller companies investor, has made a surprise return to fund management after replacing share tipster Tom Winnifrith on two funds owned by online stockbroker The Share Centre.

The Share Centre has appointed Webb’s firm, Webb Capital, as manager of the T1PS Smaller Companies Growth and T1PS Smaller Companies Gold funds following a shake-up at their previous manager T1PS Investment Management.

Rivington Street Holdings, the Isle of Man-based parent company of T1PS Investment Management, decided to scale back the business after a slump in performance made the division less profitable.

A strategic review, led by chairman Jim Mellon, himself a former fund manager and co-founder of the Regent Pacific investment group, has also seen Rivington close, its recently launched low-cost share dealing platform.

Winnifrith (pictured), until recently chief executive officer of Rivington, has left the company but will continue to provide consultancy services to its investment website.

As part of the deal around 4,500 clients will be transferred to The Share Centre. They have six weeks to move at no cost to another broker. If they decide to stay they will continue to pay JPJ’s flat-rate dealing commission of £5.75 until 6 January when The Share Centre’s charges, starting at £7.50 per deal, kick in.

Second chance for Webb

Taking on the small T1PS funds, which will be renamed, gives Webb a chance to restore his reputation as a fund manager after a four-year absence.

Webb, 50, made his name in the 1990s with the top-performing Eaglet investment trust. He went on to found Unicorn Asset Management in 2000 but left the firm in 2008 after it lost control of Eaglet following a period of poor performance.

Investors in the T1PS funds will hope Webb has renewed his enthusiasm for investment. Their recent experience under Winnifrith has been painful, with the £12 million T1PS Smaller Companies Growth fund and the £16 million T1PS Smaller Companies Gold fund both at the bottom of their sectors, with respective losses of 45% and 44% in the year to March.

To be fair the funds’ overall total returns are better. Since launch in November 2007 the smaller companies fund grew just 5.6%, below the 31.2% return from the Numis Smaller Companies index and the 20.7% average return from smaller company funds. However, the gold fund has grown nearly 17% since its launch in 2009, better than the 0.5% return in the FTSE Gold Mines index.

Iain Wallace, compliance and legal director at The Share Centre, said the company had looked at several managers but had decided Webb ‘was the right man for the job’ based on his ‘extensive experience in smaller companies’.

Webb will run the funds with Stephen Hazell-Smith, former chairman of PLUS Markets with whom he worked at Rutherford Asset Management in the 1990s. In a statement Webb said: ‘This is a significant step in the development of Webb Capital’s fund management activities and provides a solid foundation for our future expansion.’

Ironically, Webb offered Rivington a 9.9% stake in his business last year in return for acquiring its corporate finance arm, although the deal was later called off. Webb Capital went on to grant a similar stake in a deal with Hill Street Investments, led by serial entrepreneur Tim Baldwin. Last year there was a sign that Webb may have returned to his old activist style when he attempted to gain control of BWA Group, a company that was not investing its cash as fast as Webb wanted.

More recently Webb Capital raised £750,000 for Coull, a video performance network operator, in which Peter Hargreaves, chairman of online investment website Hargreaves Lansdown, is a 10% shareholder.

Citywire Verdict:

It is good to see Webb return to the private investor market. However, the smaller companies sector is packed with investment talent. We will watch what Webb and Hazell-Smith do with the Share Centre funds, but until then the smaller company funds picked by our Citywire Selection team are:

Meanwhile, it is interesting to see that Unicorn managers continue to do well.

Christopher Hutchinson and John McClure are both Citywire A-rated for their performance running Unicorn funds such as Unicorn UK Smaller Companies and Unicorn Outstanding British Companies.