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AJ Bell cuts Woodford from top funds pick list

Online stockbroker has 'higher conviction in other UK equity strategies' as Neil Woodford's performance continues to suffer.

AJ Bell cuts Woodford from top funds pick list

Online stockbroker AJ Bell has removed the Woodford Equity Income fund from its Favoured Funds list of investment picks amid a persistent poor run for Neil Woodford's flagship fund.

AJ Bell has dropped the fund, a feature since the launch of the top picks list in April last year, as Woodford's performance continues to suffer.

The £6 billion Woodford Equity Income fund is rooted to the bottom of the UK All Companies sector over three years to yesterday, having delivered a flat return.

Woodford has been undone by a series of high-profile share price crashes from some of his major holdings, including Provident Financial (PFG), Capita (CPI), Prothena (PRTA.O) and Allied Minds (ALML).

'It is clear that Woodford has had a challenging time, albeit, slightly better more recently, and has faced significant pressure from a large amount of outflows over the past 12 months,' said Ryan Hughes, head of active portfolios at AJ Bell.

'After careful consideration, it is our view that we have higher conviction in other UK equity strategies and as a result we have decided to remove the Woodford Equity Income fund from our Favourite Funds list at the current time.

'What we are not saying is the fund is a "sell". It's still got a lot of attractive features. We will continue to monitor this and the other funds in the Woodford range closely.'

AJ Bell has dropped the fund as part of a wider reshuffle of its list, which has been reviewed after fund research was brought in-house. Previously, the funds platform had used research from consultants Square Mile Research.

Also cut from the list is the £654 million Unicorn UK Income fund run by Fraser Mackersie and Simon Moon.

The previously high-flying fund has hit a sticky patch of performance, having lost 3% over the last year, placing the fund near the bottom of the Investment Association UK Equity Income sector.

Mackersie and Moon were hit by the collapse of Bargain Booze owner Conviviality and a punitive profit warning from Micro Focus (MCRO).

Majedie UK Equity is another former top performer where returns have come off the boil over the last year, and is a further casualty of AJ Bell's reshuffle.

The £3.9 billion fund has delivered flat returns over the last year, as the managers' value investment style has come under pressure.

Hughes said that while he still rated the Majedie team, the Jupiter UK Special Situations fund managed by Ben Whitmore, an existing fund pick, represented 'the best exponent of a proper value bias'.

Among the new entrants to the list is Montanaro UK Income, the £320 million fund whose small size believes its strong performance at the hands of Charles Montanaro.

Like the Unicorn UK Income fund it has replaced, the fund has a bias towards smaller company dividend stocks.

Montanaro's fund has delivered 245% over 10 years, a return that places him third in the UK Equity Income sector over that period.

He's behind the Unicorn fund and the £684 million Chelverton UK Equity Income fund, as the third of a trio of small cap focused funds topping the sector.

But unlike the Unicorn fund, Montanaro has avoided losses over the last year, although broader pressures on smaller company dividend payers has seen the fund return just 5% over the last 12 months.

Hughes said the fund was his highest conviction pick in the small cap income space.

'We see a huge amount of experience and an enormous analyst base,' he said. 

JOHCM UK Dynamic meanwhile appears the most direct replacement for Majedie UK Equity.

Citywire A-rated Alex Savvides in June notched up 10 years at the helm of the £1.1 billion fund, and has returned 197% over that timeframe, placing the fund just inside the top 20 of the 188-strong UK All Companies sector over that period.

More recent performance has been solid, with the fund up 38% over three years, placing it in the top quarter of the sector.

With Woodford Equity Income now removed from the list, AJ Bell's blue-chip UK income picks consist of existing favourites Evenlode Income, Threadneedle UK Equity Income and new additions Man GLG UK Income and Trojan Income.

Citywire A-rated Henry Dixon has run the £724 million Man GLG fund since October 2013, and his three-year return of 34% places the fund in the top five of the UK Equity Income sector.

It is Dixon's second fund to enter AJ Bell's list, joining his £1.1 billion Man GLG Undervalued Assets fund.

Hughes pointed to the UK Income fund's high yield, currently running at 6.3%, and value approach.

The £2.9 billion Trojan Income fund is meanwhile a tried-and-tested fund whose manager Francis Brooke has shown his ability to withstand testing market conditions during his 14 years at the helm.

Over 10 years the fund has returned 153%, the sixth best performance in the sector, thanks in part to Brooke's limiting of losses during the financial crisis.

AJ Bell's additions to, and removals from, its Favourite Funds are listed below. The full list can be found on its website.

Funds added Funds removed
Allianz Gilt Yield Artemis European Opportunities
Fidelity Global Special Situations Fidelity Enhanced Income
Franklin UK Smaller Companies Henderson Fixed Interest Monthly Income
Janus Henderson UK Absolute Return JP Morgan Multi Asset Income
JO Hambro UK Dynamic Kames Investment Grade Bond
Jupiter Global Emerging Markets Majedie UK Equity
M&G Emerging Market Bond R&M UK Equity Income
M&G Global Macro Threadneedle Dynamic Real Return
Man GLG UK Income Unicorn UK Income
Montanaro UK Income Woodford Equity Income
Royal London Corporate Bond  
Schroder European  
Schroder Global Recovery  
Troy Trojan Income  
TwentyFour Corporate Bond  

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Alex Savvides
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25/165 in Equity - UK (All Companies) (Performance over 3 years) Average Total Return: 37.69%
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23/91 in Equity - UK Equity Income (Performance over 3 years) Average Total Return: 27.54%
Henry Dixon
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3/91 in Equity - UK Equity Income (Performance over 3 years) Average Total Return: 41.26%
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63/91 in Equity - UK Equity Income (Performance over 3 years) Average Total Return: 19.27%
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4/91 in Equity - UK Equity Income (Performance over 3 years) Average Total Return: 36.16%
Simon Moon
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26/91 in Equity - UK Equity Income (Performance over 3 years) Average Total Return: 27.24%
Fraser Mackersie
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25/91 in Equity - UK Equity Income (Performance over 3 years) Average Total Return: 27.24%
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91/91 in Equity - UK Equity Income (Performance over 3 years) Average Total Return: -10.36%
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