Peter Sharkey: Diary of a share punter
We've arrived at a time of the year when many people become even more acquisitive than usual, an ideal period, I think, to review what could be described as 'peripheral investment ideas' for 2011.
Indeed, as European economies continue to stumble like a drunk on ice, the incentive to look further afield has been too good to be missed.
As a rule of thumb, if I'm looking to spread my investment wings, I feel there's greatest merit in buying into a fund, so utilising an experienced manager's expertise.
As my sifting process progressed, three funds stood out: Aberdeen's Asia Pacific Fund; Aberdeen's Emerging Markets Fund and the BlackRock Gold & General Fund.
Each of the trio is gleaned from extremely competitive sectors; ultimately, it was the consistent performance of all three which caught my attention.
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According to the (slightly aged) statistics which formed the basis of my initial research, over a five-year period, each fund's annual performance had remained positive. However, these records went only as far as the beginning of September and showed that, unlike thirty-odd other funds I had highlighted as 'possibles', even during 2007 and 2008, this threesome had managed positive returns.
However, when I compared these impressive figures with data from a few months earlier, a different picture emerged.
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For example, Aberdeen's Asia Pacific 12-month performance between August 2008-09 was a healthy 12.3pc; measured between February 2008-09, it was a less attractive -23.9pc. Similarly, BlackRock's annual figures from August 2006-07 showed a 10.8pc return; between February 2006 and February 2007, they were -1.8pc.
These figures might suggest it is possible to time the market, but such a notion is nonsense. What they do show is the importance of having up-to-date information when making investment decisions.
The apparent variance in percentage growth during selected years drove me back to Trustnet.com, a website which calculates rolling returns and provides a snapshot of how unit trusts and investment trusts have been performing.
In this case, all three funds have shown handsome returns over one, three and five years. BlackRock has done best since December 2005 (+183.4pc), Aberdeen's Emerging Markets fund topped the pile between December 2007 and December 2010 (+66.2pc), while Aberdeen's Asia Pacific fund emerged on top in the 12 months since December 2009 (+33.3pc).
Granted, past performance is no guide to future returns, though all three funds are well managed and comprise attractive holdings – enough, in fact, for them to make it into my 2011 selection of overseas-facing investments.
Yet the point is to highlight just how capricious investment selections can be if they're determined solely by earlier returns. Past performance undoubtedly influences our investment selections, but woe betide the investor who bases them exclusively on how any security has been doing over the last few years.
Statistics showing stellar performances cannot be trusted unquestionably – a rule of thumb which doesn't only apply to investments.