FIDELITY star Anthony Bolton is to retire from the front line of fund management for the second time when he hands over the reins of the China Special Situations Fund next year.
Bolton, who came out of retirement to set up the fund in 2010, has presided over a 14 per cent fall in the portfolio, which now stands at £740m.
His patchy performance in recent years compares to a track record in the UK that saw his fund return 19.5 per cent a year between 1979 and his departure in 2007.
Fidelity hails Bolton’s UK Special Situations Fund as the most successful fund in the country. An investor who put in £1,000 at the fund’s inception would have been sitting on £148,000 by the time Bolton stepped back.
“He has been recognised, quite rightly, as the best investor in Britain,” said Winterflood analyst Simon Elliott yesterday. “He stuck to his values, and his contrarian approach… but the China fund has been through difficult market conditions and he has found it a lot more difficult than expected.”
Bolton had long been open with investors about his potential departure, renewing his commitment to the fund on a year-by-year basis.
“Obviously I’m disappointed with the performance so far … China has been a more disappointing part of the world than I had expected,” he told a conference call yesterday. “I still remain very optimistic about the future, particularly the outlook for private companies in China, which is much better than the state-owned companies.”
His replacement Dale Nicholls, who will take over next April, met with analysts yesterday to stress his focus on a smooth handover.
Nicholls said yesterday he has a similar approach to Bolton in his preference for smaller firms and the growth of the middle classes in China.
Nicholls returned 154 per cent over the last 10 years as head of Fidelity’s Pacific fund, compared to a 117 per cent rise in the benchmark index.
PROFILE: ANTHONY BOLTON
ANTHONY Bolton stepped down from his UK portfolio at the top of the market in 2007, having delivered a 147-fold return. Two years later he made a less well-timed decision, announcing he was putting his retirement on hold to chase the frontier of corporate growth in China.
He has described the past three years spent in Hong Kong struggling to find returns in these firms, with characteristic diplomacy, as “the most interesting chapter” in his illustrious City career.
His stock-picking career began as an investment analyst at Keyser Ullmann in 1971, having graduate from Cambridge with a degree in engineering and business studies.
He moved to Schlesinger Investment Management Services in 1976 before joining Fidelity’s new London office in 1979, setting up his famed UK Special Situations Fund shortly afterwards.
In 2003, he earned the nickname the Quiet Assassin after he led a revolt against the ITV board that led to Michael Grade’s departure – though he is not a fan of the moniker, preferring instead for investors to see him as an activist when it comes to managing funds, not boardrooms.
In 2009, during his spell of semi-retirement, he met composer Colin Matthews, which led Bolton to release a CD of classical music. My Beloved, A Garland of Carols and Other Works remains available on the Guild music label.