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Drink It in; Swiss Wine Fund Returns 20%

Financial turmoil may drive investors to drink but this could be a boon for some of them.

Sharon Lorimer

The Noble Crus fund, which invests in fine wines, had a vintage 2008.

Launched in November 2007 and now managing 11 million euro ($13.9 million), the fund returned over 20 percent last year.

"Our portfolio is focused on the Burgundy region, and we like older wines whose valuations tend to remain stable. Market risk is quite remote for this kind of wine," said Michel Tamisier, owner of Elite Advisers which promotes the fund.

"France's other important wine region, Bordeaux, tends to produce more wine.

It is more easily accessible, and so the financial crisis has had more of an impact on prices.

Younger wines are also more sensitive to price fluctuations," he said.

A significant part of the fund is invested in older Bordeaux vintages, which have maintained their value or appreciated.

But in some cases, wine investing can bring on a hangover -- it was a much tougher year for the Vintage Wine Fund, which focuses on wines from Bordeaux.

Probably one of the world's largest wine funds with over 100 million euros under management, Vintage's value fell 33.4 percent last year.

The decline occurred entirely in the last third of the year, with much of it attributed to what the fund called "essentially foreign exchange related reasons." The fund, which reports net asset value in euros, was hit hard by sterling's sharp year-end decline.

The fund said that by basing valuations on ex-chateau prices quoted in euros by Bordeaux vendors, it could have booked a profit for the year; but for consistency's sake it maintained its current valuation method, which is based on UK list prices.

One problem for investors in this kind of fund is that despite the physical nature of the underlying product, wine funds may be difficult to liquidate: such niche funds have few buyers and sellers, and so bid-offer spreads can be volatile.

"Spreads vary between merchants and can be quite large. You don't want to have to liquidate your portfolio if you get a redemption request, because you may not get the best prices for the wines," said Tamisier of Elite Advisers.

To contain this problem, he said the fund holds at least 10 percent of its assets in cash, and ensures that no client accounts for more than 10 percent of the fund.

Even so, if a rush of investors wanted quick access to their cash, they might have to sell at a discount to net asset value.

If that is too unpalatable a thought, one way out is to take physical possession of their share of the fund.

In that case, if they want liquidity, they will need a corkscrew.

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