Witan changes increase focus on India and Australia

The board of the Witan investment trust has made the first changes to the multi-manager line-up it adopted in October 2004.

Comgest and Orbis have taken on APS Asset Management’s Pacific excluding Japan allocation, which has been split into two separate mandates. The move follows the completion of the strategic review process first revealed in Fund Strategy on January 29.

James Budden (pictured), Witan’s marketing director, says the changes are designed to increase the £1.5 billion trust’s focus on India and Australia. He adds that the “sino-centric” approach of APS has harmed performance, with Chinese manufacturers coming under increased pressure.

According to the fund’s 2006 annual report, the APS mandate fell by about 1% in the 12 months ending December 31, 2006, while its FTSE All-World Asia Pacific (excluding Japan) benchmark returned 17.1%.

Comgest, based in Paris, now runs about £56m of the portfolio in a segregated mandate. Budden says: “Comgest focuses on high-quality stocks, with a long-term, absolute returns approach. It is a classic boutique.”

The firm, founded in 1986, is wholly owned by its employees. It also has offices in Dublin, Hong Kong and Tokyo and runs about £4.3 billion in Asian and emerging market equities. Comgest takes a fundamental, bottom-up approach to stockpicking, with the aim of achieving returns at lower levels of long-term risk.

The Australian arm of Orbis runs the remaining £20m of the fund, within its existing Australian Equity unit trust. Budden says the fund, run by Simon Marais, holds a concentrated selection of about 30 undervalued stocks.

The fund has A$375m (£160m) in assets under management and takes an unconstrained approach. Witan’s board says it increased its exposure to the Australian and New Zealand markets because of their low correlation with the rest of Asia. Budden says further modifications to the trust’s structure will follow over the next two to three months.