The companies you didn't know you were invested in

12 March 2013

How often do you throw away the business section of the newspaper untouched or change channels when the newsreader turns to company news?

You may not think of yourself as an investor but if you have money in a pension or save into UK equity or income funds, or simple FTSE trackers, there's a very good chance your money is tied to the fortunes of the companies hitting the headlines.

Each month, most of us save some money into equity-based investments without giving much thought to where that cash is going and what stocks we're indirectly holding. So here we take a look at 10 of the companies your finances could be relying on.


In January, almost £300 million was wiped off Tesco's share price when it emerged the supermarket giant had been unknowingly selling frozen beef burgers which, according to reports, were up to 29% horsemeat.

But while the scandal has been something of a PR disaster for the company, shareholders have no real cause for concern. Tesco acted quickly and within days the share price recovered.

In recent years, the biggest concerns for Tesco investors have been flagging UK sales and its failure to crack certain overseas markets - in particular the US with its Fresh & Easy stores. But following a profit warning at the start of 2012, which saw the share price drop by 20% in a matter of days, the supermarket is fighting back and refocusing on its British stores.

Rather than building more large Tesco Extras, it is now concentrating on smaller stores and food. While clothes continue to sell well, it is reducing floor space for other non-food items such as electricals.

Amanda Tovey, head of direct equities at Whitechurch Securities, explains: "Christmas trading figures have shown that Tesco seems to be regaining its grasp on the UK market with its strong online presence and 'click and collect' services doing particularly well."

Tesco is also reviewing its presence in the US and is expected to make an announcement in April.


Tobacco stocks are something of a stalwart for equity income managers - particularly defensive managers such as Neil Woodford who manages the huge and very successful Invesco Perpetual High Income fund (now with more than £12 billion invested).

BAT is one of three tobacco stocks in his top 10 holdings (the others being Reynolds American and imperial Tobacco) and the fourth-biggest holding in the fund.

Tovey explains the company's appeal. "It looks very good value compared to other stocks, it has good dividend growth and a good balance sheet." And, as Jonathan Jackson, head of equities at Killik, notes, it's also pretty resilient. "It holds up well in a recession. People may trade down brands but they don't stop smoking."

Despite these credentials, this is a type of investment that doesn't sit well with some private investors. "From an ethical point of view, I find tobacco stocks are the ones that cause most concern among people. People can see the effects smoking has," adds Tovey.


Any investor in the FTSE 100 needs to be aware of their exposure to banks. "Despite being hugely de-rated since the Lehman Brothers collapse, banks still account for a huge chunk of the index," notes Darius McDermott, managing director of Chelsea Financial Services.

Worth £130 billion, HSBC is the biggest bank (and the second-biggest company) in the index. Less scarred by the financial crisis than other banks, HSBC is still paying quarterly dividends, unlike its government-owned peers Lloyds TSB and RBS, which are currently prevented from making such payments to shareholders.

However, Tovey points out the bank has been embroiled in several of the scandals that have rocked the City in recent years - for example, the manipulation of Libor.

"Pending the outcome of the investigations by the US and UK authorities, the company could still be impacted by this on top of the other issues it has faced over the past year, including a record fine by the US government over money laundering and UK PPI claims where the bank's provision has had to be increased to $1.8 billion (£1.14 billion)," Tovey says.

Despite all this bad news, the bank is performing well. In addition to maintaining a good dividend, its share price has risen from £5.45 at the start of September to roughly £7 in February.


"BP highlights the risk of investing in any company," says Jackson.

Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010, the company saw its share price halve in a matter of weeks. One of the worst environmental disasters in history, it has so far cost the oil giant an estimated $42 billion including a record $4 billion fine from the US courts.

Tovey adds: "While the share price has recovered, it is still some way off the peaks seen before the crisis and further settlements could be paid if civil suits are successful."

Nonetheless, Jackson is optimistic for the company. "Even though we don't know how much it will have to pay, it has sold off lots of assets and is in a good position to grow."


As a US company, Apple may not be as widely held as some of the companies mentioned here, nonetheless if you invest in global, technology or US funds there is a good chance you have exposure to this high-profile Nasdaq stock.

Famed for turning "boring" home and laptop computers into designer accessories, the technology world's darling has now conquered the smartphone market with the iPhone and is fast making us think we really can't manage without an iPad either.

In the three days following their launch, Apple sold a whopping three million mini iPads and iPad 4s. But while the public at large may still be enjoying a love affair with the company, investors may be feeling less enamoured.

"Apple is down by about 35% from last September's peak," remarks McDermott. Following the untimely death of the company's creative mastermind Steve Jobs, Apple is now under pressure to come up with the next big innovation. "It's a trendy brand with trendy products but a Samsung tablet is half the price of an iPad," he adds.

How much attention should you pay to company news?

"It's a good idea to take a keen interest, as knowing what is happening with a company will help you better understand its performance," says Darius McDermott, managing director of Chelsea Financial Services.

"But unless you are a stock investor, it is important not to let short-term noise get in the way as this can be a danger."

As the Tesco horsemeat story has shown, just because a company receives a lot of bad press doesn't mean it will have a long-term effect on the overall performance of the company. It is also helpful to check the fund fact sheets of all your investments to get a clearer idea of where your money is invested.

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