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Woodford Equity Income tops tables ahead of first birthday

Woodford Equity Income tops tables ahead of first birthday

Star fund manager Neil Woodford looks set to celebrate the first birthday of his Woodford Equity Income fund at the top of the performance tables.

The fund is up 19.6% since launch on 19 June, placing it top of the Investment Association's UK Equity Income sector over that period.

'You couldn't have scripted it better; one year on from launching his new fund and Neil Woodford is the best performing manager in his sector,' said Laith Khalaf, senior analyst at online stock broker Hargreaves Lansdown.

'This is a cracking start for the fund, although Woodford's pedigree as a fund manager rests on his achievements in the last three decades, not just the last 12 months.'

The £5.7 billion Woodford Equity Income fund has returned more than double the 9.3% average return of funds in the UK Equity Income sector and is even further ahead of its benchmark, the FTSE All-Share, which rose 6.5% over the period.

Khalaf said Citywire AA-rated Woodford's smaller company holdings were responsible for some of the fund's strong returns.

Few other equity income funds boast the long 'tail' of small firm stocks held by the Woodford Equity Income fund: most of Woodford's rivals prefer to confine their investment to larger, listed companies. The only rival funds to share a comparable shape, unsurprisingly, are the Invesco Perpetual Income and High Income  funds Woodford left behind at his old employer.

'Woodford's stock selection has been particularly strong in smaller growth companies and large high yield companies,' said Khalaf.

'Small caps contributed particularly positively, accounting for around 40% of performance, despite making up only 15% of the fund. This is particularly impressive against a backdrop in which small cap growth stocks as a whole have actually lost money.'

Woodford: has avoided oil price crash

Woodford's shunning of the oil and gas sector has also helped him perform better than some of his oil-heavy rivals. Oil hit its 2014 peak price of $115.06 a barrel on the same day Woodford Equity Income launched, before crashing to $46.59 over the next six months. A partial recovery since the start of the year has brought the price back to $63.02.

Khalaf highlighted Woodford's stock selection in the financials sector. The manager does not hold any banks, having sold HSBC (HSBA) last year. 

His stake in Allied Minds (ALML), a US investment firm which commercialises intellectual property, is up by around 215% since the fund launched and is the portfolio's sixth largest holding.

Consumer credit company Provident Financial (PFG), Woodford's 15th largest holding, is up 29% over the same period.

Barnett: forced to manage outflows from Woodford's old Invesco funds 

Over the last year, Woodford's successor on the Invesco Perpetual Income and High Income funds, Citywire AAA-rated Mark Barnett, hasn't been able to match his former colleague's performance. But his return of 13.3% on the High Income and 12.9% on the Income funds is also ahead of the FTSE All-Share and the average for their sector, UK All Companies.

'Barnett is a talented manager is his own right, and his strong performance is more notable when you consider the increased responsibility he has taken on, as well as managing initial outflows from such large funds,' said Khalaf.

Woodford has meanwhile added to his small company holdings in the Woodford Equity Income fund through a £13 million investment in online stock broker and pension provider AJ Bell.

Woodford has invested a total £21 million in the unlisted group, which runs the Youinvest platform, with a further £8 million from his Woodford Patient Capital (WPCT) investment trust.

Woodford had previously invested in AJ Bell when running the Invesco Perpetual funds. Invesco remains AJ Bell's largest institutional investor, with the majority of the company owned by employees.

Shares were made available by AJ Bell's management and existing shareholders. Invesco increased its holding by 'a modest amount'.

AJ Bell chief executive Andy Bell said: 'The investment from these blue-chip institutions signals the exciting opportunities that are emerging.'

AJ Bell administers £26.1 billion of assets for over 110,000 investors.

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