Jan 132013

Last week’s Wall Street Journal had a short piece about the work of an exchange traded fund manager. While brief, it gives some obvious insight into why expense ratios for ETFs can be so much lower than those for traditional actively managed funds:

At 30 years of age, Hao-Hung (Peter) Liao leads a handful of portfolio managers at Van Eck Global who oversee some $24 billion in investor assets around the world. Mr. Liao’s rapid ascent—and the parallel success of his tiny team in handling its outsize mission—owe a great deal to the unique traits of the investments in which the team specializes: exchange-traded funds.

Such ETFs are easier to manage than index-tracking mutual funds. A single person or small team can oversee a long list of ETFs, as Mr. Liao and his team do. Indeed, 87% of Van Eck’s ETF assets are in the 38 funds run by Mr. Liao and his staff of three portfolio managers and analysts.

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Oct 282011

This is the second part of a review of Asian income funds and emerging market income funds for UK investors, focusing on investment trusts. Click here for Asian income funds – unit trust and oeics.

Asian income funds – investment trusts

There are three Asian income investment trusts in the UK market. And it shows how keen investors now are on the income theme that none trade at a significant discount to net asset value (NAV) – for most ITs, a small discount to NAV is normal.

The Aberdeen Asian Income Fund (LN:AAIF) has a rather different geographic focus to the funds we’ve already looked at in part one – it’s much more geared to Southeast Asia. Singapore is the single biggest holding at 20%, followed by Australia and then Malaysia and Thailand. It doesn’t include a sector breakdown in its factsheet, but I estimate that the biggest holdings are the familiar duo of financials and telecoms at 25% and 20% respectively

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Holding foreign funds and ETFs in an ISA


UK investors are often unsure about the rules for holding foreign funds and exchange traded funds (ETFs) in an Individual Savings Account (ISA).

The regulations on foreign shares are clear. These are eligible for an ISA if they trade on a recognised stock exchange. But funds – especially ETFs – never seem so simple. Even the ISA providers sometimes disagree on what’s eligible.

HMRC has a short list of ISA eligible investments online, but it still leaves some points unclear. So I asked HMRC’s ISA specialists to confirm some of the less straightforward situations.

In general, their answers mean that most foreign funds and ETFs will not be eligible, although there are a couple of exceptions. For the details, read on.

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Avoid the tax trap on foreign funds


The UK and the US have very harsh rules on taxing profits from foreign funds. Both will tax any capital gains you make from most foreign funds at income tax rates rather than capital gains tax rates.

These rules were originally brought in to stop investors reducing their income tax by rolling the income up in an offshore fund and taking it as a capital gain. Since capital gains tax rates are usually lower than income tax rates, doing this could save a lot of tax.

So the authorities cracked down. Unfortunately the rules are very broad and catch many investors who simply want to invest in a fund abroad because an equivalent fund isn’t available at home.

The result is that foreign funds are usually very unattractive for US investors, because the tax penalties can wipe out any gain. For UK investors, the situation isn’t quite so bad – but they should stick to foreign funds with a special tax status where possible. Let’s look at the details for both.

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