Thursday, 10 July 2014

Putting your money where your mouth is

Twenty-five years ago, the CAMRA Members’ Investment Club was created, with the declared objective of investing in companies producing and selling real ale. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength, with the value of its holdings now adding up to an impressive £17.2 million. One of the benefits of investing in traditional integrated brewing companies is that their property portfolios provide a cushion against losses. If the company is successful, then its share price will rise, but if it isn’t, it won’t go bankrupt, it will be taken over by someone else with an eye on the value of the tied estate.

While obviously the genteel poverty of Curmudgeon Towers precludes any large-scale stock market speculation, I have to say I have squirrelled a few mites away in this over the years and it hasn’t done too badly. One of its fundamental principles is that, unlike a conventional unit trust, it doesn’t actively trade its holdings – they are allowed to progressively accumulate and only sold if the company concerned is taken over or ceases to be involved in the pub and brewing industry. The CMIC holding also provides a buffer against hostile bids.

However, it has now been attacked for having holdings in the pub companies that have been so heavily criticised by CAMRA. However, this rather misses the point. Owning shares in a company does not imply that you support the policies of that company, and indeed allows you to attend the Annual General Meeting and may enable you to exercise some leverage over it. In fact, the holdings in Punch and Enterprise are now of pretty trivial value, which reflects the collapse of those companies’ share prices in recent years.

Currently the club has holdings worth over £1 million in Fuller’s, Greene King, Marston’s, Shepherd Neame, Wetherspoon’s and Young’s, none of which have been entirely immune from CAMRA criticism over the years. It needs to be pointed out that the shares of some substantial brewers such as Charles Wells, Robinson’s and Samuel Smith’s are entirely privately held and so not available to outside investors.

Another criticism that in the past has appeared in the comments on this blog is that the club has been unwilling to “put its money where its mouth is” and make speculative investments in brewery and pub company start-ups. However, a key principle is that it is meant to be a serious investment, not a gamble, and only to buy shares in established companies with a sound track record. Quite a number of people (not me) have amassed individual holdings worth over £50,000, which must form a large chunk of their overall savings. If it started acting as a venture capital operation, then I’m sure a lot of people would not hesitate to whip their money out.

Having said that, it has recently made investments in a couple of micro-breweries – Black Eagle and West Berkshire – that seem to have good prospects. It has also amassed holdings of 9.6% in Hop Back and 8.7% in Black Sheep which to my mind run the risk of compromising its independence. If it was up to me I’d probably limit it to 5% of any one company.


  1. "and may enable you to exercise some leverage over it"

    they would need a substantial stake to stand a chance.

    by your logic the CofE should keep their investments in Wonga in order to try and ensure the poor and vulnerable are fucked over less nastily.

    or even the CoOp ethical investment fund should buy into diamond mines in despotic African countries and Indian sweatshops full of child workers just to ensure the slaves get a 5 minute break in their 18 hour day.

    The vegetarian society should be buying up Macdonalds shares.

    just so it can ask a question about stuff it don't like at the AGM

    If you can't buy enough of a stake to take it over and put a stop to what you don't like, your investment is tactic support of the policies and operations of the management. If you don't like it, it's a sell.

  2. No, because:

    (a) these are not investments made by CAMRA directly, but by a separate club of CAMRA members from their own savings, and

    (b) following the same principle, the Vegetarian Society Investment Club should only invest in companies producing and selling vegetarian food, not in payday lenders and miners

  3. I'd be more concerned about how, with all the insider and specialist information that CAMRA members have available to them compared to the general public, these shares weren't dumped a decade ago.

  4. As said, the principle is not to sell shares anyway.

    But what *publicly-traded* beer and pub shares would you have bought instead?

  5. That's a bloody stupid principle, you're basically guaranteed to lose money if you just wait for every company you invest in to go bust or stop trading.

    They should have bought the first lot of brewdog share issues for one thing. :-D

  6. I take it you haven't stumped up, then?

    Brewdog is a crowdfunding exercise, by the way - they're not tradeable shares.

  7. 8.7% in Black Sheep? Try 26.12%, or the second biggest shareholder behind the 30.68% owned by Giltspur Nominees Ltd A/C Buns, which is an investment vehicle operated by Brewin Dolphin.

    That's not just an investment - it's a potentially controlling interest.

  8. The church has finally got it's act together on Wonga

    Just waiting for the church of beer to get it's act together regarding this investment hypocrisy.

  9. The other area in which some people want CMIC to "put its money where its mouth is" is to help community groups resurrect failed pubs. But I don't want to throw good money after bad, thank you very much.

  10. a while ago the CAMRA investment club took shares in Carlsberg. Whatever the pros aand cons I thought that, symbolically, it wasn't the best move. However capitalism and sentiment don't really go together.

  11. I've only just noticed this post, CM, upon the same theme that, coincidentally, I wrote about a couple of days later. Unsurprisingly, our conclusions are radically different.


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