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Woodford risks £250m withdrawal as Kent council reviews investment

Neil Woodford risks £250 million withdrawal from his flagship fund as Kent County Council reviews its pension fund investment.

Woodford risks £250m withdrawal as Kent council reviews investment

Neil Woodford risks a £250 million withdrawal from his flagship Woodford Equity Income fund as Kent County Council, which has backed the fund manager for over a decade, reviews its investment.

The committee in charge of Kent's £5.8 billion pension fund is reviewing its holding in Woodford Equity Income, minutes of its March meeting, first reported in Financial News, show.

The committee said it would 'retain the investment in the Woodford fund for the time being but keep it under review and reconsider the matter at the meeting of the committee scheduled for 21 June'.

It said it would be writing to Woodford over the manager's March deal to swap unquoted assets in the Equity Income fund for shares in his Woodford Patient Capital (WPCT) investment trust. The minutes also note questions about 'the adverse publicity associated with Woodford'.

Woodford has endured a torrid run of performance, with his £4.4 billion Woodford Equity Income fund rooted to the bottom of the Investment Association's UK All Companies sector over three years, down 11.7%.

The Kent Pension Fund's investment in Woodford's flagship fund stood at £255 million at the end of December, or 4.4% of its portfolio, a position that will now be worth around £250 million.

Kent County Council has invested its pension fund with Woodford for more than a decade, having invested in the Invesco Income fund the manager used to run in 2007.

The council withdrew its £532.5 million investment from Invesco in 2014 after Woodford left the group to set up his own fund firm, investing £200 million in the Woodford Equity Income fund later that year. The pension fund invested a further £60 million with Woodford in 2016.

The Kent Pension Fund's 2017/18 report and accounts shows Woodford as by far the worst performer among the fund managers in which it has invested, with its stake in Woodford Equity Income down 13.4% over the 12 months to the end of March last year. 

M&G and Schroders were the only other managers to record losses, of 0.7% and 1.4% respectively.

It's not the first time Kent County Council has placed its investment in Woodford's fund under review. 

After Woodford Equity Income's performance deteriorated, the council requested Woodford attend a committee meeting in November last year to allow it to review its investment.

A Kent County Council decision to withdraw its £250 million investment from Woodford Equity Income would represent a sizeable blow to Woodford, who has been dealing with heavy outflows from his flagship fund.

The fund has shrunk from a peak of £10.2 billion in May 2017 to £4.4 billion at the end of March this year.

Monthly outflows from the fund, which fell below £100 million at the end of last year, now appear to have picked up again after the announcement of the swap deal with Patient Capital. Around £285 million was pulled from the fund in March and April, according to Lipper estimates.

Those outflows are complicating the manager's task of reducing exposure to unquoted companies in his fund. Woodford has said the fund's holding in private companies, including those he has listed on Guernsey's stock exchange to stay within the City regulator's rules, will fall below 10% of the fund by the end of the year. Exposure stood at 18% of the fund at the end of March.

Fund group Jupiter pulled a £300 million holding in Woodford Equity Income in September 2017. The stake, held across the fund group's Jupiter Merlin multi-manager funds, had amounted to just under £1 billion at its peak.

Woodford Equity Income's biggest backer remains Hargreaves Lansdown. The online stockbroker's stake in the fund, held by clients of the stockbroker and its own fund managers, amounted to £1.4 billion at the end of last year.

Woodford Investment Management and Kent County Council declined to comment.

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Neil Woodford
Neil Woodford Average Total Return:
91/91 in Equity - UK Equity Income (Performance over 3 years)

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