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The City of London Investment Trust plc

Job Curtis, manager of the City of London Investment Trust talks about his love of history and why he […]

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My name is Job Curtis. I was brought up in London and I was sent away to school, ended up at Oxford University, where I read Philosophy, Politics and Economics. And in 1983, I started as a trainee at a stockbroking firm. I started at Greaves & Grant in 1980, which is one of the big stockbroking partnerships pre ‘big-bang’ and I found the stock market fascinating immediately.

But I wasn’t really a born broker, but I soon worked out I might quite like the other side of the fence as a fund manager, taking the investment decisions, you know, listening to advice and brokers, amongst others. And so after two years, 1985, I managed to join the investment department at Cornhill Insurance and started in fund management at that point.

I’m interested in the arts generally. I like theatre. I like cinema, but I particularly like reading. I’ve got a fairly eclectic taste. I like historical books, biographies, fiction thrillers, business histories. I take enormous pressure from reading and I have at least one book on the go.

City of London Investment Trust was originally a brewery company. It goes back many generations. It was listed in the 1890s and it owned a brewery in the City of London, hence the name, and also in pubs in the London area. The brewery, by the time of the 1930s, had become unprofitable and the directors of the company decided at that point to sell it off. It was on some valuable land and reinvest the proceeds and shares. And at that point it became an investment trust. But the pubs were owned until the 1960s.

I started managing to trust on the 1st July 1991, which was about a month after I got married. So it’s 28 years since I started managing the trust. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s constantly fascinating. I can’t think of a better fund to manage, and it’s been a great privilege to take responsibility for savings of many people and try and build both capital growth and also income growth for them.

The focus is on the UK stock market. At least 80 per cent of the share investments will be in the UK stock market, currently around 90 per cent. Of course the UK stock market is full of very big global companies so the companies to invest in tend to be quite global. We’re in the large capitalization companies predominately, although we have some medium sized companies as well. We also are very proud of our income record. We’ve grown the dividend every year since 1966. We are able to hold back some income in the good years and so we smooth the dividend so we can hold back up to 15 percent of our income. In seven years out of 28 years, I’ve been managing to fund, we’ve used these revenue reserves, in seven of those years.

I’m a fairly conservative person by nature, so I have preference for quality companies and companies with strong balance sheets. I think companies with a lot of debt in downturns are fairly toxic in that they don’t have much to fall back on. If you’re an equity holder, they often have to cut their dividends. And in addition, as a part of the conservative approach, I like a diversified portfolio. We have around 100 holdings and across a range of different sectors. So it goes back to having all your eggs in one basket.

I suppose what I enjoy about managing the trust is the stock market is endlessly fascinating and trying to pick a way through the stock market. It’s like a big soap opera there and trying to work out which company’s shares are going on the way up and which are declining is endlessly fascinating. So I enjoy that. It’s a great responsibility and something I’m very proud to have done for these many years. And the trust has grown to about one and a half billion pounds worth of assets. And I’m very conscious that I’m managing people’s savings. And that’s a huge responsibility and I’m very proud to bear that responsibility.