The Mercantile Investment Trust, one of the oldest and largest investment trusts in the UK, showed a decent turn of foot for a 128-year-old company in the first half of the company's financial year.
The trust, which aims to provide income and capital growth through opportunities in UK mid and small cap stocks, saw a net asset value total return in the six months to the end of July of 6.7%, four-fifths of a percentage point better than the return of the FTSE All-Share, the index against which it benchmarks its performance.
Net asset value per share at the end of July stood at 1,176.5p, down from 1,209.5p a year earlier but up from 1,124.9p at the end of January 2012.
During the reporting period, 95,000 shares
were repurchased for cancellation at a total cost of £970,373. These purchases added around 1.3 pence to the net asset value (NAV) per share. The share price discount to NAV, with debt assessed at fair value, ranged between 9.8% and 14.6% in the period from February 1st, 2012 to September 14th, 2012, with an average discount during the period of 12.9%.
The income received from investments in the first half of the current fiscal year was marginally above that of corresponding period of 2011, reflecting a gradual increase in dividend income for underlying investments.
As for the trust's own dividends, a second interim dividend of 6.0p has been proposed, bringing the total dividend for the year to date to 12p. The board anticipates that there will be a third dividend of 6.0p paid in early February 2013. However, as in previous years, the board's decision on the generosity of the fourth interim dividend will depend on the level of revenue received.
Mercantile benefited from takeovers for Cove Energy, Cable and Wireless Worldwide, Logica, Misys, Aegis and Nautical Petroleum.
"That said, those sectors which were able to continue showing some progress despite the difficult economic background also performed well: the portfolio benefited from strong performance in the housebuilding and non-life insurance sectors," the investment managers said,
The poorest returns in the portfolio in the half year came from the mining sector where its holdings in Aquarius Platinum, African Barrick Gold and Petropavlovsk were hit by rising mining costs and falling platinum and gold prices.
The net return on ordinary activities before tax in the half-year period was positive at £74.53m, of which £17.87m was revenue and £56.66m was capital appreciation. A year earlier, the group had reported a loss before tax of £15.63m with revenue of £15.88m more than wiped out by a £31.51m dive in the value of the portfolio.
"Despite the ongoing macroeconomic uncertainty, equity markets have continued to move higher through the first half of the year, albeit on low volumes as investors have lacked conviction ahead of a resolution to the issues in Europe and lower global growth prospects. In this environment of low growth and investor uncertainty the board feel that there are likely to be opportunities for stock pickers to outperform and are confident that the strengthened management team's approach, which relies heavily on meeting and engaging with company management teams, will be well placed to benefit from such conditions," said the trust's Chairman, Hamish Melville.
"The board continues to believe that UK mid and small cap equities remain attractively valued and will provide investors with solid returns over the long term," Melville declared.