Best performing trusts of 2021, Photo by Ibrahim Boran on Unsplash

The Best Performing Trusts Of 2021

Yes, I know that we’re not even a quarter of the way through the year yet so it seems waaaaay too early to be doing a piece like this. But with so much of that pesky volatility thing around right now, I thought it was worth taking stock.

So what’s hot, what’s not, and what’s meh…

I scoured Trustnet for data as it seems to be most susceptible to my feeble spreadsheet skills.

It lists nearly 500 investment trusts so I reduced that number by taking out venture capital trusts and a lot of lesser-known companies that seem to sit on the fringes of the sector (i.e. some sources include them but others do not).

That dropped the total to a more manageable 350.

I’ve looked at the return figures for 2021 (yes, all 10 weeks of it), for 2020, and for the last 5 years.

When it comes to 2021, in may cases I suspect that discount/premium moves are likely to have played a significant role. A lot of trusts haven’t yet provided an updated net asset value figure this year or have only done so once, depending on the cadence of their reporting schedule.

It was tempting to include 1-year returns as well because that would have pretty much marked the low-point of last year’s sell-off. But I don’t think it would have added that much with the best performers since then being summed up as Baillie Gifford, China, and commodities.

In case you’re interested, 13 of the 350 trusts have doubled or more since the nadir last March.

Top-performing trusts of 2021 (so far)

Here are the investment trusts that are up by 10% or more so far in 2021. There are 42 of them Douglas Adams fans will be pleased to hear.

To add some context, I reckon the Vanguard global tracker I benchmark against is up 4.3% and Vanguard’s UK tracker is up 5.4%.

Investment trust202120205 years
Drum Income Plus Reit57.1-59.2-44.1
Geiger Counter31.878.7176.6
Miton UK MicroCap30.733.374.7
The Schiehallion Fund26.313.0
Riverstone Credit Opportunities Income26.2-25.2
Blue Planet23.9-29.139.4
Electra Private Equity23.1-28.239.5
River And Mercantile UK Micro Cap22.127.2126.8
Downing Strategic Micro-Cap21.6-19.0
Blackrock Energy & Resources Income21.418.8105.0
Temple Bar21.3-31.540.4
Chelverton UK Dividend20.8-18.035.5
LMS Capital20.7-22.3-41.5
Aberforth Smaller Companies Trust20.5-16.568.6
RTW Venture Fund18.533.0
Augmentum Fintech18.430.8
Jupiter US Smaller Companies17.65.3128.4
BMO Real Estate17.2-23.1-5.0
Baker Steel Resources16.235.8473.3
India Capital Growth16.218.870.7
BlackRock World Mining Trust15.346.7270.9
CQS Natural Resources Growth and Income14.853.8111.6
PRS REIT14.6-12.2
Marble Point Loan Financing14.4-18.5
Chelverton Growth14.3-32.5-34.0
Polar Capital Global Financials14.30.8101.6
Volta Finance13.9-8.977.1
Strategic Equity Capital13.1-4.733.6
RIT Capital Partners13.1-0.457.5
Oryx International Growth12.939.7143.3
Gabelli Value Plus Trust12.79.783.4
Apax Global Alpha12.319.0144.5
Blackrock North American Income12.1-8.689.4
UK Mortgages12.12.73.9
Merchants Trust11.9-14.361.4
ICG Enterprise Trust11.2-0.3134.0
The Diverse Income Trust11.18.647.7
Henderson Opportunities Trust11.016.8100.3
Crystal Amber10.7-23.1-16.3
Fidelity China Special Situations10.568.6256.4
Rights & Issues10.3-3.7112.5

There’s a right old mix here.

Drum is setting the pace but it may not be around for much longer. This small UK property trust (half office and quarter each high street and shopping centre) essentially put itself up for sale earlier this month. It still trades at a 35% discount and its indicated bid-offer spread is an excruciating 40p-55p

We’ve heard a lot about the shift from growth to value so it’s no surprise to see a number of value-orientated trusts here. Temple Bar and Aberforth Smaller Companies are perhaps the most notable examples. Polar Capital Global Financials has also seen a resurgence.

With great value markets, come commodity bull runs. Geiger Counter, the uranium specialist, the two BlackRock commodity funds, CQS Natural Resources, and Baker Steel Resources have been leading the way in this regard.

To say we’ve seen a lot of false dawns when it comes to the resurgence of value investing would be an understatement. Personally, I think a lot of value investors seem overly keen to declare victory. We’ll find out if this is a long-lasting shift soon enough.

The debt sector, which I find far too difficult to analyse, has also produced a strong showing in the early days of 2021. Riverstone, Marble Point, Volta, and UK Mortgages have put up decent numbers.

I reviewed both the commodity and debt sectors last summer in a less than flattering way, so if that’s not a classic buy signal then I don’t know what is.

UK rules OK

The UK is well represented, despite the fact the overall UK market is only just ahead of the global index in 2021.

The three micro-cap trusts have done spectacularly well and some of the more low-key small-cap trusts like Oryx and Rights & Issues have also done nicely.

Diverse Income, Henderson Opportunities, and Merchants are among the others flying the flag for UK equities.

There is a little activism and corporate reshuffling at play as well, which I think is behind at least part of the gains at Strategic Equity Capital and Gabelli Value Plus.

Funds from other regions are largely notable by their absence, with just two North American trusts and one Indian trust on this list.

Only one trust from my portfolio makes an appearance and that is RIT Capital Partners. It delivered a better-than-expected performance at the tail end of last year and got a further fillip from the recent IPO of Korean e-commerce giant, Coupang.

Despite the supposed rotation to value, there are some tech/disruption names on the list. RTW is a biotech specialist and Augmentum Fintech continues to impress.

Perhaps the most surprising inclusion, though, is Baillie Gifford’s Schiehallion. Investing wholly in private companies, it saw a big uplift in its net asset value for December 2020. It had a subdued 2020 compared to the rest of its stablemates so perhaps this year’s gain is primarily just a catch- up.

Taking a long-term view

One thing that really stuck out to me was, despite their gains this year, how poor a lot of these trusts have performed over a longer time frame.

I’ve included a five-year figure in the table. Global markets are up around 100% over the past five years and only one in three of these trusts can match or beat that.

Half of these trusts have underperformed global markets over the last five years and the remainder are less than five years old.

If you were to go back even further the difference would be a lot starker. Although the five commodity trusts have doubled over the past 5 years, three of them would have lost you money over 10 years.

Baker Steel is up 473% over 5 years but down 12% over 10. Geiger Counter would have lost you 72%. The best of the group, BlackRock World Mining, would have made you just 34%.

Playing it safe

Personally, I continue to find these more volatile trusts a very difficult game to play for a couple of reasons.

I lack the ability to perceive when market cycles are shifting with any degree of accuracy. You see a lot of commentators highlighting these trend shifts but I find it hard to read the runes myself.  And I find it tricky to judge how the effects will ripple across the economy.

The way my portfolio is set up makes wholesale changes undesirable as well. I’ve still got some non-ISA/non-SIPP positions where CGT issues can play a role. My position sizes can be on the chunky side as well, so making major course changes can be quite costly.

And it never feels right to make major changes to my investments. Turning over more than 10% of my portfolio in a year just makes me feel dirty.

I’m much happier with minor course corrections and looking for long-term trends like small caps and healthcare. These are then supplemented with a core of global trusts, where I hope to largely sit still for a decade or more.

I’m happy to leave these volatile trusts to others who have a better feel for these things.

The worst performers of 2021

Using the same arbitrary 10% figure, the list of worst performers is quite short with just 11 names:

Investment trust202120205 years
Aberdeen Latin American Income-10.4-8.253.5
Golden Prospect Precious Metals-11.269.881.8
Baillie Gifford Shin Nippon-11.248.5148.6
Keystone Positive Change-11.5-0.88.2
Life Settlement Assets-13.110.1
JPMorgan Japanese-13.560.9138.2
Atlantis Japan Growth-15.429.699.5
JPMorgan Japan Small Cap Growth & Income-16.243.4115.4
Amedeo Air Four Plus-16.3-53.1-59.7
British & American-17.4-16.2-39.1
DP Aircraft I-50.7-92.3-95.6

After its stellar performance in 2020, Baillie Gifford makes two appearances in this losers list with Shin Nippon (Japanese smaller companies) and my most recent portfolio addition, Keystone Positive Change.

In the latter case, the switchover from Invesco to Baillie Gifford, a hard turn from value to growth, was timed to imperfection in mid-February. Keystone didn’t get the run-up other Baillie Gifford trusts got in January and early February but felt the full force of the tech tantrum.

[Expletive deleted]

I added a little more Keystone before the manager switchover and a bit more since, so I think I’m down 7/8% on this position so far.

I’m happy to give it some time to play out especially as it will take a while to build up its roster of unquoted positions. But I’ll be watching to see how it compares to Baillie Gifford’s other high-flyers over the next few years.

I’ve been funding Keystone by selling down Caledonia, which has also been struggling these past few months so doing nothing would have left me with largely the same level of losses. A very small crumb of comfort admittedly.

There are four Japanse trusts with large drops so far in 2021, which surprised me somewhat. I seem to hear a lot of commentators praising the Japanese market and its recent returns.

In fairness, a lot of Japan trusts had a very good 2020 although the returns from indices like MSCI Japan and TOPIC over the last 5 years haven’t been that great as far as I can see.

While most commodities have been doing well in 2021, gold has been falling since a brief surge above the $2,000 mark last August. That’s made it hard for Golden Prospect.

Last and most definitely least, the aircraft leasing trusts continue to plumb new depths. I think a few of the airlines they lease to have stopped their regular payments, which has had the knock-on effect of halting these trusts’ dividends.

The inbetweeners

There are about 300 trusts in the -10% to +10% band so I’m just going to list some of the popular and larger ones.

Investment Trust202120205 years
Schroder UK Public Private9.7-19.2-60.6
Fidelity Special Values8.0-9.756.3
Edinburgh Investment7.8-7.79.0
Tritax Big Box7.317.364.6
AVI Global6.615.8131.0
The Scottish Investment Trust6.5-12.644.7
Templeton Emerging Markets5.917.1162.4
Pacific Horizon5.4128.6380.6
Law Debenture5.214.084.4
Mobius Investment Trust5.127.5
Impax Environmental Markets4.928.9187.0
Murray International4.4-5.367.8
Alliance Trust2.89.4107.2
The City of London Investment Trust2.3-11.829.3
Murray Income1.4-2.460.4
Personal Assets-0.57.931.2
Baillie Gifford US Growth-0.6133.5
Scottish American-0.612.0108.7
Capital Gearing-
Mid Wynd International-1.020.2122.0
Worldwide Healthcare-1.319.9123.5
The Renewables Infrastructure Group-1.7-2.963.9
Finsbury Growth & Income-2.1-0.758.5
The Biotech Growth Trust-2.967.7163.8
Martin Currie Global Portfolio-3.324.0116.0
Edinburgh Worldwide-4.287.7322.8
Scottish Mortgage-4.6110.5383.8
Hipgnosis Songs-4.617.5
HICL Infrastructure-
JPMorgan China Growth & Income-4.997.5351.9
European Opportunities-4.9-9.233.5
Fundsmith Emerging Equities-4.929.138.6
TR Property-5.3-12.058.6
Polar Capital Technology-5.645.3290.5
Allianz Technology-5.780.3380.5
Greencoat UK Wind-5.9-6.252.6
Herald Investment Trust-6.051.7216.3
Baillie Gifford China Growth-6.356.1135.3
Manchester & London-6.818.2196.9
Lindsell Train-7.824.6174.2

Apologies if your own personal favourite trust isn’t included. Of those listed in this table, I hold Worldwide Healthcare, Smithson, HICL, and Caledonia.

Ruffer’s side-bet on bitcoin has helped its returns in 2021. I think it’s taken profits on the way up so its 2.5% crypto position is probably only partially responsible for its near-10% gain.

It’s also enabled Ruffer to put some clear water between it and both Personal Assets and Capital Gearing, not that upside performance is these trusts’ main focus.

The well-publicised rise in interest rates has no doubt had some effect but Personal Assets and Capital Gearing are pretty much break-even in 2021 so they are continuing to deliver on their wealth- preservation brief.

That said, it’s somewhat amusing to see Baillie Gifford US Growth nestled between these two as it could hardly be more different in its approach.

This trust turns three years old next week and it’s up 224% since it launched. At one point last month, it had risen 286%.

Only six other investment trusts have gained more than 100% over the last 3 years and Scottish Mortgage is the best of that half-dozen with 149%.

Selective value and quality quibbles

A lot of value-orientated trusts don’t seem to have done that well in 2021.

I would have expected the likes of Scottish IT, the Murray brothers (International and Income), and City of London to be doing a little better. Ditto for more mainstream global trusts like Alliance, F&C, Bankers, and Witan.

But, you know, 10 weeks.

The trusts with a global/quality/concentrated portfolio approach have struggled in 2021, much like they did at the tail end of 2020 as well.

That’s the likes of Lindsell Train, European Opportunities, FEET, Smithson, Mid Wynd, Martin Currie, and Manchester & London.

My holdings in the open-ended Lindsell Train Global Equity and Fundsmith Equity are showing similar numbers as is Blue Whale.

As someone leaning heavily on this style of investing, I’m actually comforted by the fact they are all struggling at the same time as that indicates it’s not down to individual managers losing their touch.

A few of the big infrastructure trusts are down a bit, with rising interest rates and tax rates crimping their net asset valuation calculations.

The three tech trusts — Polar, Allianz, and Herald — are bunched together at around -6%.

Taken as a whole and for the long term, I’d rather be holding many of the trusts that are in negative territory on this list.

In summary

For the third and last time, it’s worth stressing these figures only cover 10 weeks and that’s a blink of an eye relative to most people’s investing careers.

Had I rolled back the numbers to the autumn, when the vaccine news started pouring in, the divergence between the two main investing styles would have been more pronounced.

However, so far in 2021, I’d say there’s a lot less difference between the performance numbers that I would have expected, given all the ‘Great Rotation’ stories we’ve been pummelled with.

The shares of Scottish Mortgage are only down 5% for the year, for example, having lost nearly 20% at the same time last year.

Likewise, all the stories saying the standard 60/40 portfolio is finished look somewhat premature to me as well.

Vanguard’s Lifestrategy 60 fund is up 1% this year. Not that great but certainly not catastrophic. The fact that these funds are only partially invested in the long-dated bonds hit hardest by interest rate rises explains why they haven’t suffered unduly.

Of course, we could be in the early stages of this move or it could be another value head-fake.

No one knows for sure, however confident they may sound.



Please note that I may own some of the investments mentioned above -- you can see my current holdings on my portfolio page.

Nothing on this website should be regarded as a buy or sell recommendation as I'm just a random person writing a blog in his spare time and I am not authorised to give financial advice. Always do your own research and seek financial advice if necessary!

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2 Replies to “The Best Performing Trusts Of 2021”

  1. Interesting article. Thank you.
    My appetite in detailed short-ish share (IT) movements waxes and wanes over time. I have about half my money in Global Trackers that has served me well over time. Occasionally I dabble in the dark arts of short-ish term predictions and my implementation vehicle of choice are ITs. I usually confirm that I have no skill in this area and revert to dripping cash into trackers whilst my IT’s recover and then flourish. I hardly ever sell. At the end of the year I took a positions in UK, EM and Commodities. The latter seems to have paid off and the former is only just above water. But as you say early days…….

  2. It’s a tough game, BillG, to my mind anyway. There are definitely some folks who have a talent for it but my feeling is that fewer people, as a percentage of those investing in ITs, are playing the discount game these days.

    I don’t have firm data on it but I get the impression that significant moves are relatively rare and you have to know a trust very well to gauge whether it’s a real discount with a decent chance of narrowing in a reasonable timeframe. And buying big discounts can often drag into owning lower-quality assets.

    I think when we do see a sudden move, it can trick us into thinking they happen more often than they do and we set off looking for the next, similar opportunity. I was probably guilty of that myself when buying Keystone when BG was first proposed as manager.

    That said, I tend to follow this sort of strategy a little when it comes to regular top-ups and dividend reinvestment, often choosing trusts that I already hold but that the market seems to be under-pricing a little.

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