THE £31 million Saracen Growth Fund, run by veteran asset manager Jim Fisher and Craig Yeaman, has trounced its benchmark index in its latest year with strong showings from holdings including broadcaster STV.
Mr Yeaman said that Saracen Growth Fund, which is run from Edinburgh, had achieved a total return of 34.7% in 2013. This was way ahead of a return of 20.8% on its benchmark, the FTSE All-Share Index.
Saracen Growth Fund has, Mr Yeaman noted, now outperformed its benchmark in 12 out of 15 years. Since inception on March 5, 1999, it has achieved a total return of 422.6%. Over this period, the All Share Index has returned 105.2%.
Mr Fisher, founder of Saracen Fund Managers, and Mr Yeaman continue to see value in equity markets.
They highlighted a significant move last year by Saracen Growth Fund out of FTSE-100 companies and into smaller-capitalisation stocks. And they see potential for significant merger and acquisition activity among stock market-listed companies this year.
Commenting on the performance of Saracen Growth Fund in 2013, Mr Yeaman said: "Obviously, we are delighted with last year. It was a great year."
He highlighted the performance of STV shares, which he noted had finished 2013 at about 299p, up around 200% over the year.
Mr Yeaman said of STV: "It was on a very inexpensive rating. Investors were concerned over the level of debt and the pension-fund deficit. Management had a plan in place, which has come to fruition. Debt has been reduced. The pension deficit has been reduced. In the last set of figures, there were no exceptionals. The stock was re-rated on the back of that."
He added: "We are still very confident in future prospects for the (STV) business. We think (chief executive) Rob Woodward and (chief financial officer) George Watt have done a tremendous job."
STV accounts for about 4.8% of Saracen Growth Fund's assets.
Glasgow-based engineering company Weir Group is another of Saracen Growth Fund's big holdings, accounting for about 4% of assets. The fund's largest holding is another engineering company, GKN, which accounts for 6.1% of assets and enjoyed a 63% rise in its share price last year.
Among other stocks which boosted Saracen's performance last year were Howden Joinery and housebuilder MJ Gleeson. Also in the housebuilding sector, Saracen enjoyed a strong return on its holding in Berkeley Group. Other strong performers included Development Securities, Avon Rubber and XP Power.
Mr Yeaman cited Ormonde Mining, Concurrent Technologies, Anglo Pacific Group, and Zytronic as holdings which had under-performed last year.
However, he said: "Although these companies have had a detrimental impact on performance in the short term, we remain positive on their future prospects."
Mr Yeaman said that Saracen Growth Fund had last year sold out of holdings in oil giants BP and Royal Dutch Shell, pharmaceuticals companies AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline, and mobile telecoms group Vodafone.
Explaining these sales, he added: "We felt there was better value elsewhere in the market."
Among smaller stocks acquired last year by Saracen Growth Fund were financial services group Close Brothers, conveyor belt specialist Fenner, and corporate travel services provider Hogg Robinson.
Mr Yeaman was upbeat about the prospects for equities.
He said: "We think the market is inexpensive. If you look at the UK market, it is trading on 13 times forward earnings. It is certainly not over-stretched, even after having a good couple of years. We are still confident. GDP (gross domestic product) growth is beginning to turn upwards."
Mr Yeaman added: "We feel that M&A (merger and acquisition) is going to be a theme for this year. We think that, now management teams have more confidence, they have strong balance sheets in the main in the UK market, M&A activity will increase from this point."
Mr Fisher and Mr Yeaman highlighted ambitions to increase the size of Saracen Growth through inflows of funds from investors.
Mr Yeaman said: "Our target is obviously to get through £50m and beyond."