June 10, 2019
By Huw Jones, Simon Jessop and Carolyn Cohn
LONDON (Reuters) – Shares in Neil Woodford’s listed fund hit record lows on Monday and clients continued to pull money from his only other remaining open product following the suspension of his main fund last week.
Woodford Investment Management suspended its equity income fund on June 3, a rare move for a product aimed at retail equity investors, after a run of redemption requests.
Morningstar data showed assets under management at the fund, which still provides daily pricing data based on underlying market movements, fell 4% to 3.55 billion pounds ($4.50 billion) on June 6 from May 31, shortly before the suspension.
Investors do not know when it will reopen, and the freezing of the assets has led to a war of words between regulators in Britain and Guernsey, where some of its assets are listed.
With the main fund suspended, investors have voted with their feet in withdrawing from Woodford’s other two funds.
Woodford Patient Capital Trust’s shares fell by about 20% last week after the equity income fund was suspended.
WPCT sought to reassure investors on Monday, saying it was pleased with the progress of its portfolio companies, which it said have the potential to deliver attractive returns.
“The operational performance of these businesses is not impacted by recent events,” it said, adding that its board was “closely monitoring” the situation.
Despite its attempt to calm jittery investors, shares in the fund slid further after markets opened on Monday and were down 4.8% by 1102 GMT after briefly hitting record lows, making it the biggest faller on Britain’s FTSE mid-cap index.
Elsewhere, the Woodford Income Focus fund fell 14% between May 31 and June 6 to 425.2 million pounds, according to Morningstar.
Woodford last week lost separate mandates to manage money from wealth managers St James’s Place and Openwork totaling nearly 4 billion pounds.
Woodford, one of Britain’s best known fund managers among retail investors, has been cutting his stakes in at least 21 companies as he frees up cash to meet a rush of redemption requests that forced him to suspend his main fund.
This raises “important questions” about how illiquid investments should be regulated, Andrew Bailey, chief executive of the Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority, said on Sunday.
Limits on the share of illiquid investments held in collective investment schemes already exist under British and European Union rules, Bailey said.
“The Woodford fund’s inability to meet investor withdrawals raises a challenge as to whether the rules requiring assets to be liquid are working as they should be,” Bailey said in an opinion column published in the Financial Times.
After property funds were suspended in the aftermath of Britain’s vote in 2016 to leave the EU, the FCA consulted last year on tougher rules for funds that invest in property and other illiquid assets.
It is due to announce final changes later this year.
“We will take into account the lessons of the Woodford fund when finalizing these rules,” Bailey said.
Some of the companies in which Woodford invested are listed on an exchange in Guernsey and are not traded.
Bailey said that listing an unquoted company overseas does not in itself make the stock more liquid, and investors have a right to choose the jurisdiction in which they invest and for it to be maintained.
Bailey said that investment platforms also have responsibilities when it comes to recommending “best buys”.
Hargreaves Lansdown, Britain’s biggest fund supermarket, picks out a number of funds it considers to be among the best value for its ‘Wealth 50’ list, and had been a major backer of Woodwork’s suspended fund up until last week.
Many retail investors would likely have chosen to invest in Woodford’s fund in part because of the support of Hargreaves, which charges fees to use its platform.
Hargreaves customers accounted for more than 30% of the fund at the end of 2018.
Shares in Hargreaves were down 4.4%, making it the second-biggest faller on the FTSE 100.
(Reporting by Huw Jones, Simon Jessop and Carolyn Cohn; Editing by Rachel Armstrong, Alexander Smith and Jan Harvey)