Scotland business

Alliance Trust faced a 'perfect storm'

Money
Image caption Alliance Trust said despite volatility on the markets it continues to favour equities

Investment firm Alliance Trust said it had witnessed "a perfect storm" created by the global financial crisis.

However, the Dundee company said it generated returns "well ahead of the sector" with a dividend increase of 7% - the largest rise for 20 years.

The trust said although it was not forecasting a global recession it believed the issue was "finely balanced".

It also called for clarity on the implications of Scottish independence.

The company said that it was not "appropriate to take a political stance on this issue", however it said it would "endeavour to ensure that the implications of an independent Scotland in areas such as economic and fiscal policy and regulation of financial services are clearly spelt out".

It added: "In particular we will wish to establish that the benefits of investment trust status and the position of our investors and customers, wherever they live, will be preserved in order to ensure that the strength of Scotland's investment sector is preserved regardless of the outcome of the vote".

Equities 'streamlined'

In its results for the 11 months to the end of 2011, Alliance said its Net Asset Value (NAV) - one of the key indicators of performance - was ahead of many of its competitors.

The company said it had "streamlined" its equity portfolios "to focus on the four main regions of expertise: the UK, North America, Europe and Asia".

It added that although it remained "pessimistic" about the UK economy, it continued to have more than 30% of its portfolio listed in the UK

Katherine Garrett-Cox, chief executive, said: "Despite the rally over the last three months, equity markets have been and remain as challenging as at any time in generations.

"We have witnessed a perfect storm created by the global financial crisis which has culminated in the recent uncertainty within the eurozone, the increased dependence on sovereign debt and the need to substitute consumer demand from the West with that from the Far East."

She added: "Going forward, we see continued high levels of volatility and pressure on margins and corporate earnings which will present challenges for investors.

"Despite this, in certain cases corporate balance sheets look extremely robust and there are opportunities out there to invest in world-class companies at attractive valuations."

Share buy-back

The Alliance Trust leadership came under intense pressure from activist shareholder Laxey Partners last year, complaining the discount on the Dundee company's assets has been too large - the gap between the Net Aggregate Value of investments and the lower valuation placed on the investment trust itself.

The company saw off a challenge at its annual general meeting in May, which would have required it to cut that discount to 10% by forcing automatic buy-back of shares.

However, having won that vote, Alliance Trust has gone into the market to buy more than 10% of its own shares, and this has helped it cut its discount from 17.1% to 15.5%.

"We would not expect to maintain this level of buy-back activity in normal market conditions," Alliance Trust reported.

Quotas

As one company that has a high proportion of women at senior levels, including the chief executive and chairwoman, the preliminary results statement said it was against quotas for women on company boards.

It stated: "Our policy throughout the company is a simple one - at all levels to appoint the best qualified person for the job.

"Currently women comprise one third of the board and our executive committee which includes the executive directors and other senior executive.

"Women comprise around one quarter of our senior leadership group and more than half of our total workforce."

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