Best In Class 

Best in Class: Liontrust UK Smaller Companies

Best in Class: Liontrust UK Smaller Companies

January is usually a month of fresh starts and overhauls. 

Whether it's putting down the mince pies and getting to the gym, cutting out any nasty habits or starting good ones, we generally try to do something positive and/or productive at this time of year. 

It's also a good time to review investment portfolios and start conversations about how best to position them in 2018.

Usually a firm favourite among Isa investors, Brexit worries have made UK equity funds very unpopular. 

Data from the Investment Association shows that UK equity funds experienced an average monthly net retail outflow of £198m over the past year to the end of September and suffered outflows of £444m in October alone. 

Of the £250bn currently invested in UK equities, just 6 per cent is allocated to UK smaller companies funds.

Post-Brexit, the lure of the perceived safety of our larger, dollar-earning companies, means those investors sticking with the asset class preferred large-cap or multi-cap funds instead. 

But just to prove us all wrong, despite the headwinds, the IA UK Smaller Companies sector returned a very healthy 27.2 per cent last year, according to FE Analytics.

Another area undergoing an overhaul which could positively impact this sector is fund company research. 

Mifid II will force fund managers to split out the cost of research and trading for the first time. But while the focus so far has been on whether fund groups will shoulder the research costs themselves, very few headlines have focused on its impact on the research itself. 

As third-party outfits look to cut the costs, anecdotal evidence suggests that some sectors will see the number of analysts cut too. Under-researched areas, such as smaller companies, are likely to become even less researched, so those houses that have good internal teams should be able to add real value.

So who are the potential winners? 

In the UK small-cap space, Liontrust UK Smaller Companies stands out. 

The £802m fund has been headed up by Anthony Cross and Julian Fosh since 1998 and 2008 respectively. They were joined by co-managers Matt Tonge and Victoria Stevens in 2015.

The fund adopts Mr Cross and Mr Fosh's tried-and-tested economic advantage approach to stock selection. Both the fund and the economic advantage process were launched 20 years ago yesterday (8 January).

This involves finding the companies which offer difficult-to-replicate characteristics, such as intellectual property, strong distribution channels, recurring revenue streams and products with no obvious substitutes.

While each individual holding must exhibit at least one of these traits, some of the fund's 65 holdings will boast two or even all of these attributes.

Another important factor is how key employees are motivated, with the preference being through direct ownership of the company's equity.