16 September 2016

Howard Cockburn

Howard Cockburn discusses life as a wealth manager.

Near Cambridge

Married with 3 children

Rugby School, Newcastle University


Investment Director

Sport, Agriculture, Music

Ministry of Agriculture

Fitbit (it’s broken already!)

To score 100 runs


With so much uncertainty are your portfolios positioned particularly defensively or are you looking for opportunities?

I believe it is important to avoid becoming too negative or too positive. It is too early to tell whether global growth will be hit through the knowns and the unknowns. As such I am not looking at buying into companies that are dependent on the economic cycle. However very loose monetary policy and a weaker pound has made global blue chips very attractive. Added to a good weighting to these I also have exposure to some companies with superior growth characteristics. I feel this mix should help keep up in the good markets but also not give back too much ground if risk aversion returns.

Maintaining your fundamental investment philosophy must be hard in these markets – what are the key disciplines that you try and stay true to?

I believe strongly in portfolio structure and to know what I own and why. There is a strong core of investments within most client portfolios, where suitable, that have not changed throughout the ups and the downs. The long term story remains in tact, so why change them? This last point is difficult to maintain when the media write negative articles and you have to be able to assess the accuracy and be confident. Of course if the story has changed then it is probably right to exit the position. This is more difficult when cash offers no return but the discipline remains key.

What are your biggest long-term fears for the markets?

Short term goals affect behaviour at investor level and also within corporate management teams. There is such a weight of money moving very quickly that leads to price distortion which I don’t think is a good thing for the market as a vehicle for valuing opportunity. The short term behaviour often feeds through to corporate management who might have incentives to generate short term returns to keep investors happy, by for example conducting a cost cutting exercise. Investment for the future takes bravery in the current environment but it is essential for the market and the wider economy.

In your experience, does stock market uncertainty encourage or hinder your business development efforts?

On balance I feel it hinders efforts made at business development. In my experience, it does encourage people to look at their investments and seek professional help rather than looking to manage on their own. However, I think my own age group (35-50) often finds the market instability, such as we are experiencing now, difficult to comprehend especially if their wealth has been impacted by property investments; the growth of the buy to let market illustrates this point. In time this will become more equal but the stockmarket uncertainty makes all the wrong headlines and can deter first time investors. Of course, this makes it all the more important to fully engage with prospective clients when explaining our services.

What’s the most important investment lesson you’ve learned over your 25 year career?

To be your own client. The main bulk of holdings I own for clients I also own with my own money. This makes it so much easier to explain any difficult but key decisions, such as selling at a loss, but you also share the winners which adds to the fun and fulfilment. Portfolios will not be identical because of different investment objectives and attitudes to risk, but there is a lot of commonality.

Understanding Finance

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