Woodford’s Bet on U.K. Plc Comes Good Too Late for Investors
(Bloomberg) -- The rally inspired by the U.K. Conservative Party’s election victory has come too late for Neil Woodford, whose former flagship fund is being liquidated just as his bets on small and mid-sized U.K. firms start to pay off.
Stocks that were the biggest holdings in the LF Woodford Equity Income Fund rose as much as 15.8% on Friday after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s party roused the markets with an historic win.
Analysts predict a surge in international investment in U.K. markets now that Johnson has the majority he needs to push his Brexit deal through Parliament. The pound rose as much as 2.7% against the dollar while the FTSE 250 Index, which includes many of Woodford’s picks, posted the biggest rise in more than nine years.
The problem is that Woodford is no longer in charge and the fund is being wound up. Almost 80% of the publicly listed securities held by the fund, now renamed the LF Equity Income Fund, have been sold since mid-October, according to a statement from the administrator, Link Fund Solutions Ltd.
A spokesman for Woodford Investment Management declined to comment.
Housebuilders were some of the biggest beneficiaries of the post-election boost in equity values in London. Barratt Developments Plc, which was the fund’s largest holding as of June 30, rose by as much as 14.4% on Friday, its biggest intraday gain for more than 10 years. Taylor Wimpey Plc, another of the fund’s top 10 holdings, rose as much as 15.8%.
Another of the once-feted stock picker’s funds enjoyed the largest increase in its asset values since its inception, up 6.6% on Friday. The Woodford Income Focus Fund has stopped investors from withdrawing cash, but unlike the flagship fund, the portfolio is not being liquidated and it will be passed on to a new manager.
The fund’s holdings included BT Group Plc, which had fallen in recent weeks as Labour mooted nationalizing the telecommunications company, but climbed on Friday, and the Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, which gained the most in more than 10 years after the election result.
“The election result brings to an end the paralysis that has affected Westminster and is a catalyst for investors to reconsider the value available in public U.K. equity markets,” Mark Barnett, Invesco Ltd. fund manager and Woodford’s former protege, wrote in a note to clients. U.K. companies had traded at substantial discount to their global peers since the 2016 referendum on whether the country should leave the European Union, he wrote.
BlackRock Inc., which was hired to wind up the listed part of the portfolio, has so far sold 1.65 billion pounds ($2.2 billion) of assets, representing 79% of the value of the fund’s liquid assets and 56% of the total portfolio, Link said. It has reinvested the proceeds in FTSE 100 stocks, money market funds, government securities and commercial paper, according to the statement.
A Link spokesman declined to comment on the details of the fund’s remaining assets.
“Investors can take some solace in the fact that some of the assets that have been sold to date have been reinvested back into FTSE 100 trackers,” Ryan Hughes, head of active portfolios at AJ Bell Plc, said in an emailed statement. “So they will have benefited from some of the post-election bounce the index has seen so far today. However, this is likely to be scant consolation.”
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