Archived article: This article was correct at the time of publishing. Tax, investments and pension rules can change over time so the information below may not be current.

Why is the VCT market so buoyant?

Some months ago we predicted that 2013/14 could see a “sweet spot” for Venture Capital Trusts (VCTs) and today (20 January 2014) the Association of Investment Companies, which represents a large number of VCTs, has confirmed that VCT fund raising is indeed 69% up so far this tax year compared to last year.

Jason Hollands Jason Hollands
20 January 2014

With over £600 million of capacity this year and a large number of offers open, investors are spoilt for choice. However, it is vital to be selective when investing in such specialist vehicles.

What is driving supply and demand?

Supply: the UK is recovering but corporate bank lending is weak

VCT managers are seeking funds in their droves, and the consistent message is that the UK domestic recovery is creating strong pipelines of new investment opportunities as appetite for expansion and MBOs creates demand for financing.

As a scheme which is focused on small trading businesses that must operate wholly or largely in the UK, VCTs are investing at the coal face of the domestic recovery, unlike funds investing in listed UK equity markets where companies are more international in nature.

Yet an unusual feature of this abnormal recovery is that that corporate lending by banks remains very weak, prompting the British Chambers of Commerce to warn earlier this month that constrained bank lending could derail the recovery. That is helping fuel demand for VCT financing, much of which is provided via loan notes rather than equity stakes.

Demand: taxes remain high, pension allowances reduced and income is scarce

VCTs are not for everyone as they are specialist investments and you need to understand their quirks and risks, as well as the tax benefits. In our view the target market is very much higher earners who already have portfolios of mainstream investments and can add a small weighting to VCTs.

The upper rates of personal tax remain high in the UK – with little prospect of a cut with a General Election looming – and there have been significant reductions in both the annual and lifetime pension allowances recently. Contributing to a pension has traditionally been a popular way for higher earners to mitigate punitive levels of taxation.

More affluent investors are therefore looking to VCTs as an add-on alongside ISAs and pensions, in the knowledge that these schemes enjoy statutory backing. Investors are rightfully wary of more dubious forms of aggressive tax planning (loopholes), which the Revenue is cracking down on. In contrast VCTs are helping deliver Government policy objectives of supporting small enterprises.

Another factor creating demand is that the majority of schemes raising assets are mature VCTs, not new schemes. Mature VCTs are generating very attractive tax-free yields at a time when income remains in scarce supply for some other asset classes. If the recovery can be sustained, we think this also raises the potential for mature VCTs to accelerate exits from existing holdings, which would support future special dividend payments.

VCTs should be regarded as higher risk investments. They are only suitable for UK resident taxpayers who can tolerate higher risk and have a time horizon of greater than five years. Past performance is not an indication of future performance. Share values and income from them may go down as well as up and you may not get back the amount originally invested. Owing to the nature of their underlying assets, VCT's are highly illiquid. Investors should be aware that they may have difficulty, or be unable to realise their shares at levels close to that that reflect the value of the underlying assets. Tax levels and reliefs may change and the availability of tax reliefs will depend on individual circumstances. You should only subscribe for new VCT shares on the basis of the relevant prospectus and must carefully consider the risk warnings contained in that prospectus.