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UK dividends have room to grow, says leading fund manager

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Job Curtis, manager of the £1.46bn City of London Investment Trust, said he is more confident in UK stocks than he has been for some time, believing there are good prospects for dividend growth.

The trust has just announced its 51st consecutive year of dividend increases, with the dividend rising 5% for the financial year to 30 June.

Curtis said the dividend outlook had improved for a number of UK companies, notably the oil majors. He added: “We have seen a self-help story for BP and Shell. Our confidence in the ability of Shell to sustain its dividend has improved…BP has settled on the Macondo disaster and tackled costs. It has sold its lower quality assets.” Shell and BP now make up the largest and third-largest positions in the portfolio respectively.

Curtis is running with three other main themes in the portfolio. He has a relatively large weighting to consumer staples companies. He said that while valuations are relatively high, they are showing stability and their dividends look attractive relative to government bond yields.

He also holds a number of property companies. He said: “We have the two biggest UK Reits – Land Securities and British Land. There is still considerable demand from overseas investors for UK property. We also hold Tritax Big Box, GCP Student Living and a number of social housing companies. They provide index-linked rents rising in line with inflation.” He also holds housebuilders, believing that they will continue to benefit from a lack of affordable housing in the UK.

Curtis’s final theme is banks. While he does not hold RBS or Standard Chartered because they don’t pay a dividend, he holds HSBC and Lloyds and has been adding recently.

He also holds around 12% of the portfolio outside the UK, notably in the pharmaceuticals sector. However, he hasn’t increased his holdings because of the relative weakness of sterling.

The trust lagged the FTSE All Share over the year to 30 June, returning 14.5%, compared to a return of 18.1% for the index. However, over five years, the trust has risen 78.8%, compared to 65.3% for the FTSE All Share. The trust has the lowest ongoing charges in its sector at 0.42%.

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