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Watchdog warns UK fund managers to avoid Woodford liquidity trap

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By Reuters

By Huw Jones

LONDON (Reuters) – Asset managers must ensure effective liquidity management of their funds, even where investment decisions have been delegated to others, Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority said.

The FCA is investigating the suspension in June of the now-closed flagship equity fund run by Neil Woodford, one of Britain’s highest-profile asset managers, which was unable to meet daily calls from investors for redemptions.

“Good fund governance ensures the liquidity of your funds’ underlying assets is appropriately considered,” Nick Miller, FCA head of asset management, said in a letter to asset managers which was published on Monday. Such letters are sometimes read as a warning that enforcement action is the next step.

For funds, liquidity refers to the ease of selling assets, critical for those that offer daily cashbacks to investors.

Miller said asset managers should check if they are managing liquidity in their funds in line with the FCA’s best practice.

“Open ended” funds come under EU rules that set a cap on illiquid assets, which the Woodford fund breached twice.

Earlier this year the FCA set out new rules on illiquid assets at funds that do not come under the EU rules.

These rules come into force in September 2020 and Miller said fund managers “may wish to consider whether it would be in investors’ interests to adopt some of the measures” earlier.

Asset managers should consider whether a security is in practice sufficiently liquid even when listed for trading on an exchange, Miller said.

Some of Woodford’s assets were listed in Guernsey, where little trading took place.

“Where assets are less liquid, robust valuation practices are vital,” Miller said.

Separately the Bank of England and FCA will give an update on Dec. 10 on their review into the costs and benefits of aligning redemption terms with the typical time it takes to sell assets in normal and stressed market conditions.

(Reporting by Huw Jones; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Alexander Smith)