Unicorn AIM IHT ISA

The Unicorn AIM IHT Portfolio Service is run by specialist UK smaller company investor Unicorn Asset Management (‘Unicorn’), which began investing in AIM in 2000. Unicorn currently manages £800 million across its range of predominantly UK equity focused investment mandates; of this, £37 million is within the AIM IHT Portfolio Service (December 2023).

The investment team is headed up by Chris Hutchinson, who has been managing portfolios of UK smaller companies for more than 20 years. He is the lead manager of the Unicorn AIM VCT (the UK’s largest AIM VCT) as well as the Unicorn Outstanding British Companies Fund and has primary responsibility for selecting stocks for the AIM IHT service, focusing on established, profitable, and cash-generative businesses.

  • Portfolio of 25-40 AIM stocks
  • Dividend or growth focus, plus responsible investment options available
  • Minimum investment £20,000 (exclusive to Wealth Club clients) – you can apply online 
  • Apply in an ISA: top up or make a new subscription online using the link below. To transfer existing ISAs, please download, print and complete the ISA transfer form and post it to us
  • Apply outside an ISA: please contact us for details

Important: The information on this website is for experienced investors. It is not a personal recommendation to invest. If you’re unsure, please seek advice. Investments are for the long term. They are high risk and illiquid and can fall as well as rise in value: you could lose all the money you invest.

The manager

Unicorn, the Investment Adviser to the service, is a specialist AIM, small and mid-cap manager. It manages more than £800 million (December 2023) across its five UK equity funds, Unicorn Mastertrust, the Unicorn AIM VCT, and Unicorn AIM IHT Portfolio Service. Overall, it manages c.£300 million in AIM stocks. 

Unicorn has been investing in AIM since the company’s inception in 2000. It has a dedicated in-house research team which seeks to uncover attractive opportunities that may not yet be known to other investment groups. 

There are nine members in the investment team, with Chris Hutchinson acting as senior fund manager. Mr Hutchinson joined Unicorn in 2005 and has more than 25 years’ experience covering UK small and mid-sized equities. He is the lead manager of the Unicorn AIM VCT (the UK’s largest AIM VCT) as well as the Unicorn Outstanding British Companies Fund and has primary responsibility for selecting stocks for the service. 

WM Capital Management Limited (WM) is the portfolio Discretionary Investment Manager, responsible for the day-to-day management of investor portfolios, including the allocation of stocks, compliance and taking legal advice on a stock's BPR-qualifying status. James Brearley & Sons Limited (James Brearley) is the Administrator and Custodian, holding shares on investors’ behalf.

Meet the managers: Simon Moon and Max Ormiston, Unicorn Asset Management

 

Investment strategy

There are around 750 firms on AIM and, as Chris Hutchinson has put it, ‘Among the dross there are some great businesses.'

The service sticks to what Mr Hutchinson considers to be the fundamentals of stock picking. It seeks established, profitable, and cash-generative businesses with minimal gearing, offering products or services with tangible benefits for their consumers. 

The team favours companies whose founders or management team have retained a meaningful stake in the business. In Unicorn’s experience, these tend to be more risk-averse and focused on long-term growth, traits that complement the service. 

Investors have the choice of Dividend Focus or Growth Focus. Both follow a similar investment strategy but whilst the growth portfolio places greater emphasis on companies that Unicorn believes can deliver sustainable earnings growth, the dividend portfolio focuses on companies paying attractive and potentially growing dividends (dividends are variable and not guaranteed).

Responsible Investment Portfolio Service options 

As a signatory of the United Nations Principles of Responsible Investment, Unicorn has a company-wide Responsible Investment Policy, which commits its investment team to consider Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) issues when selecting stocks for all its investment mandates.

The Dividend Focus and Growth Focus portfolios will be managed in line with Unicorn’s Responsible Investment Policy.

In addition, each portfolio has a specific responsible investment subset available (Responsible Growth Focus Portfolio and Responsible Dividend Focus Portfolio) for investors who wish to adopt stricter sector limits and exclusions:

  • No companies that generate any revenues from any of the following sectors: adult entertainment, animal welfare, genetic engineering, gambling, and tobacco manufacture
  • No companies that generate 5% or more of their revenues from alcohol, defence & weapons and nuclear power
  • No companies the investment team considers to be involved in significant ESG controversies 

The Responsible Portfolios will not hold a stock that is not already held within the Growth Focus or Dividend Focus portfolio on their own investment merit. Please also note the portfolios screen out non-responsible investments rather than actively seeking responsible investments. 

Currently, six stocks are excluded from the Responsible Portfolios: Advanced Medical Solutions, Ashtead Technology Holdings, Cohort, Gooch & Housego, Solid State, and Young & Co’s Brewery.

Current portfolio overview

Unicorn is sector agnostic although its focus on cash-generative businesses precludes higher-risk sectors such as oil, gas, mining, and commodities as well as biotechnology and other early-stage technology companies. The portfolios are expected to hold 25–40 stocks, with no single stock expected to make up more than 5% of the portfolio. 

The growth and dividend portfolios have similar sector exposures but differ in terms of market capitalisation. Overall, 70% of the Growth Portfolio is invested in businesses with a market cap greater than £250 million (average £431.8 million). The Dividend Focus Portfolio has a bias towards smaller income-generative companies, with an average market cap of £330.7 million. Around 45% of the businesses within the dividend portfolio have a market cap above £250 million.

The dividend portfolio targets a yield of 2-4% per annum and monthly income payments – variable and not guaranteed.

All portfolio details shown below, including sector breakdown and performance, relate to the wider Growth Focus and Dividend Focus Portfolios, rather than the Responsible Investment Portfolios.

Growth Focus Portfolio - sector breakdown (%)

Dividend Focus Portfolio - sector breakdown (%)

Source: Unicorn Asset Management, as at 31 March 2024

Unicorn AIM IHT Portfolios - market capitalisation breakdown (%)

Source: Unicorn Asset Management, as at 31 March 2024

Examples of portfolio companies

Ashtead-Unicorn-AIM-ISA.jpgAshtead Technology Holdings – Growth Focus portfolio

Ashtead Technology is a leading provider of equipment rental, underwater technologies and support services to the global energy sector.

Since its establishment in 1985, the company has grown organically and through strategic acquisitions and now operates in more than 80 countries. In Unicorn’s view, the business possesses several key strengths, including strong strategic customer relationships, a crucial role in the subsea supply chain, unique exposure to the energy transition, and an ambitious management team focused on scaling the business over the long term.

In the year to December 2023, the Group’s revenue grew 51.1% to £110.5 million and profit before tax rose to £27.5 million, up 69% on the year prior. The results were attributed to strong revenue growth in both offshore renewables and oil & gas as well as the successful integration of three acquisitions. Past performance is not a guide to the future.

Ashtead Technology has a current market capitalisation of £607.6 million (March 2024).

Bioventix-Unicorn-AIM-ISA.jpgBioventix – Dividend Focus portfolio

Bioventix creates, manufactures and supplies animal-derived antibodies to diagnose conditions ranging from vitamin D deficiency to coronary artery disease.

Antibodies are used to detect important biological markers, such as hormones or viruses, in patient samples. Traditionally, commercial antibodies are manufactured using white blood cells from immunised mice. Bioventix, on the other hand, uses sheep. 

Different species immunological properties mean animal model choice can have a significant impact on antibody production. In Bioventix’s case, its technology offers higher affinity, improved sensitivity, and a better ability to recognise ‘difficult’ targets.

The company has two revenue streams: direct sales and royalties (from customer diagnostic products). In the six months to December 2023, it grew revenues 13% to £6.7 million and profit before tax 16% to £5.2 million. A significant proportion of this growth came from increased physical product sales and associated royalties from Chinese customers. Past performance is not a guide to the future. 

Bioventix has a current market capitalisation of £232.3 million (March 2024).

Victorian Plumbing

As is to be expected, not all investments work out. One example is Victorian Plumbing.

Victorian Plumbing is the UK’s leading online bathroom specialist. In June 2021, the company floated with a share price of 262p and a market capitalisation of £850 million – the largest IPO in AIM’s history. Unicorn invested shortly after, having been impressed by the company’s growth and ability to increase market share. 

However, later in 2021, the company downgraded its earnings forecast significantly, citing a combination of rising costs and declining sales. In response, shares dropped by more than 40%, falling to 91.5p. 

Unicorn concluded the poor outlook for consumer spending was unlikely to recover and sold the majority of its position in February 2022. 

Performance

The Unicorn AIM IHT Portfolio Service was launched in 2016. The chart below shows the performance of the service over the last five years against a peer group of other AIM ISA portfolios available via Wealth Club. Like other IHT portfolios, this is a discretionary managed service so each portfolio is likely to be different. 

Five-year cumulative performance to 31 March 2024

The default view is the performance for this particular offer. You'll be able to see the performance of other AIM ISA offers if you click on the portfolio names above. Source: Unicorn Asset Management and other AIM ISA managers. Performance is shown net of fees, excluding initial charges, with dividends reinvested, based on the average portfolio performance across the service, except for Puma which shows the performance of one example portfolio. Past performance is not a guide to the future. Dividends are variable and not guaranteed.

Five-year discrete performance

AIM IHT portfolio YTD 2023 2022 2021 2020 2019 Five years to 31 Mar 2024
Unicorn Dividend Focus AIM IHT -1.6% -1.2% -17.7% 13.1% -5.8% 21.4% -2.6%
Unicorn Growth Focus AIM IHT -2.9% -3.9% -25.7% 4.6% 7.2% 34.0% -5.6%

See five-year discrete performance comparison of all available AIM IHT portfolios

Source: AIM ISA managers (31 March 2024). Performance is shown net of fees, excluding initial charges, with dividends reinvested, based on the average portfolio performance across the service, except for Puma which shows the performance of one example portfolio. Past performance is not a guide to the future. Dividends are variable and not guaranteed.

Access to your investment

Investments in this portfolio are for the long term. However, if your circumstances change, you can sell some or all of your shares, although sometimes this can take a while depending on market conditions and liquidity. Withdrawals are subject to payment of the exit fee and market liquidity. Any amount you withdraw will no longer be IHT free. Withdrawals may result in a Capital Gains Tax liability unless held in an ISA.

Risks – important

This, like all investments available through Wealth Club, is only for experienced investors happy to make their own investment decisions without advice. Those considering AIM Inheritance Tax portfolios should be comfortable with the significant risks of investing on AIM.

AIM IHT portfolios should only form part of a balanced portfolio. Your capital is at risk and you should not invest money you cannot afford to lose. If a service is managed by a small investment team, it could create key person risk. The fewer the companies included in the portfolio, the higher the risk of loss if things don’t go to plan.

AIM stocks can be hard to sell, particularly at the smaller end of the market, and can be illiquid. AIM shares can be very volatile especially if the market falls sharply. The difference between the buying and selling price (spread) of AIM shares is often wider than the spread for shares listed on the main market. 

Eligibility for BPR, based on current rules, is assessed at the date of death and will depend on the companies in the portfolio remaining qualifying. Broadly speaking, you will need to have held a BPR qualifying stock for at least two years and still hold it on death to qualify. Tax rules can change and benefits depend on circumstances.

Before you invest, please carefully read the Risks and Commitments and the offer documents to ensure you fully understand the risks. 

In recent months, there have been widely reported rumours that the government might change or abolish IHT. It is currently unknown if and when any decision might be announced.

Charges 

A summary of the main charges and savings for an investment within an ISA is shown below. If you wish to invest outside an ISA, please see the provider's documents. The investment may have additional charges and expenses: please see the provider documents for more details. If you would like a full breakdown or a personal illustration, please let us know.

Exclusive offer: Wealth Club clients receive a reduced annual management charge of 1.5% and dealing fee of 0.7%.

Full initial charge 4.5%*
Wealth Club initial saving 3.5%
Net initial charge through Wealth Club 1%*
Annual management charge 1.5%
Administration charge 0.25%**
Dealing fee 0.70%
Performance fee
Exit fee 1%
All fees and charges are stated exclusive of VAT, which may be applicable in some cases. *Initial charge waived on top ups. **Subject to a minimum fee of £100.

See example of the total charges over 5 years

    Our view

    Unicorn is an established fund manager with significant experience in both the AIM market and in managing UK small-cap portfolios. The team has been investing in AIM for over two decades and also manages the UK’s largest AIM VCT. 

    Unicorn appears well placed to manage an AIM IHT Service, particularly given the strong overlap with its other investment mandates, which should provide the service with valuable perspective.

    The investment strategy is uncomplicated, targeting established and profitable companies, preferably whose founders or management team have retained a significant stake in their business. 

    Investors into the service have a choice between the dividend or growth portfolio, as well as responsible investment options for both.

    While the portfolio’s fees are higher than some its peers, Wealth Club clients receive discounts on both the annual management and dealing fees, making the offer more comparable with other AIM ISA portfolios. Wealth Club clients also have exclusive access to the service for £20,000 (compared to £50,000 normally, making it a contender for this year’s ISA subscription.

    See five-year performance of shares mentioned above

    Wealth Club aims to make it easier for experienced investors to find information on – and apply for – investments. You should base your investment decision on the offer documents and ensure you have read and fully understand them before investing. The information on this webpage is a marketing communication. It is not advice or a personal or research recommendation to buy any of the investments mentioned, nor does it include any opinion as to the present or future value or price of these investments. It does not satisfy legal requirements promoting investment research independence and is thus not subject to prohibitions on dealing ahead of its dissemination. 

    The details

    Portfolio size
    £37.0 million
    Average market cap
    £381.3 million
    Initial charge
    4.5%
    Saving via Wealth Club
    3.5%
    Net initial charge
    1.0%
    AMC
    1.5%
    Last updated: 9 May 2024

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