By Huw Jones, Simon Jessop and Carolyn Cohn
LONDON (Reuters) – Under-fire British asset manager Neil Woodford was hit by a double blow on Monday as his flagship fund looked set to remain frozen until early December and he faced being sacked from managing his namesake listed investment trust.
Storied stockpicker Woodford, once a darling of retail investors, has seen his reputation tarnished after a liquidity crisis forced him to stop clients leaving his 3.7 billion pound Equity Income Fund in June.
The continued suspension will enable Woodford to “complete a measured and orderly repositioning of the fund’s portfolio”, Link Fund Solutions, which has oversight of the fund, said in a letter to investors posted on its website.
Woodford invested heavily in illiquid and unlisted stocks, a strategy which has been criticised by some lawmakers and regulators given the fund was marketed to retail investors who would be able to take their money out at any point.
As well as being subject to a regulatory probe over the circumstances surrounding the suspension of the fund, Woodford has also angered investors by continuing to charge management fees to clients trapped in it.
Woodford said in a separate statement on its website it would continue to charge management fees on the fund, but Neil Woodford would not be paid any income or dividends during the suspension period.
The fund’s strategy “has not delivered the returns we had anticipated over the past couple of years”, Neil Woodford said, adding that the suspension itself had hit the fund’s performance but that “the worst is now past” and that he was “extremely sorry” for the suspension.
Shares in the listed Woodford Patient Capital Trust <WPCT.L>, which is not directly linked to the Equity Income Fund but is within Neil Woodford’s stable and also invests in illiquid stocks, hit a record low after the announcement and closed down 4.3%.
As a listed entity, the trust has a board which has the ability to appoint another manager to run the assets, and said earlier on Monday it was considering offers from third parties to do that.
The move by WPCT comes around a month after it announced a series of responses to its sliding share price, including plans to cut debt, hire new board members and improve oversight of stake sales in the suspended fund.
WPCT said in a separate statement that Woodford had sold 1.75 million shares in WPCT between July 3 and 8. Trading between 53.1 pence and 58.9p, an average of 56p would have netted Woodford just under 1 million pounds, Reuters data shows.
“In the circumstances, whilst a reluctant seller … Mr Woodford sold … around 60% of his holding. The sole reason that he did so was in order to meet personal financial obligations, including a tax liability,” WPCT said.
(Additional reporting by Lena Masri and Muvija M; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and David Holmes)