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How do Listed Investment Trusts (LITs) work?

Listed Investment Companies (LICs) and Listed Investment Trusts (LITs) are types of investment products listed on a stock exchange. Unlike holding investment assets directly, LITs (henceforth also including LICs) , are professionally managed and are meant to enable investors (especially those without expertise) to optimise returns whilst achieving diversification across different asset classes by investing into the structure. By being listed, they also offer a high degree of liquidity (cash convertibility) and lower dealing costs as a whole than the assets would individually. Given their increasing popularity among investors and managers, we felt it timely to review the basic features and operating mechanics of LITs.

LITs most often aim to invest in equity capital markets (either international, domestic or both) with a focus on profitability. The typical funds categorised by their underlying assets are share funds, specialist funds (with a focus on special assets like infrastructure and property) and private capital funds (venture capital investments). However, recently LITs have started offering a much broader range of underlying assets (fixed income products, commodities etc.) beyond equities. This to some degree reflects investors’ changing risk appetite in such a rapidly-evolving financial world but also growing acceptance of the structure. LITs can also be classified as either conservative or aggressive (or anywhere in between) based on different investment approaches. Aggressive LITs can aim to capture returns by applying somewhat riskier strategies including short selling, over- or under-hedging and employing leverage (borrowing to invest in risk assets), whereas conservative funds favour much safer approaches to avoid capital loss.

LITs, like other trusts, must distribute surplus income to investors in the form of dividends on a regular basis. However, contrary to general funds, investors of LITs are not able to conduct partial unit purchases, meaning savings and distributions cannot be reinvested into the fund until sizable amounts are received. This could imply that investors seek alternative investments to achieve short-term growth for the distributed savings. A similarity to general funds is LITs’ fee structure, which generally include a management fee (charged as a proportion of net assets) and a performance fee (commonly a proportion of outperformance against a predetermined benchmark).
As LITs are mostly closed-ended unit funds, there are normally no additional shares issued or cancelled after establishment. This means, ownership of the funds usually can only be transferred through transactions on a stock exchange. The investment horizon of such funds is medium to long term, during which time funds are valued regularly based on net tangible assets (NTAs) and investors can buy or sell holdings at the unit price as calculated by dividing NTAs by the unit number (sometimes at discount or premium depending on supply-demand, investing environment etc.).

LITs’ high liquidity, price transparency, accessibility to multiple asset classes and professional management obviously are advantages for investors lacking knowledge and experience to directly hold investment assets. However, it is also worth noting that the broader underlying asset universe of LITs does help investors reduce downside risks through diversification but could possibly eliminate large capital gains from directly investing in the next Amazon or Google.