Woodford attacks UK economic doom-mongers

Woodford attacks UK economic doom-mongers

Neil Woodford has criticised investors lashing the performance of the UK economy, saying they are focusing on "perception over reality".

Data released last month by the Office for National Statistics showed the UK economy grew by 0.5 per cent in the final three months of 2017.

In a tweet Mr Woodford said: "Apparently, 0.1 per cent is the difference between flying and being near recession, which is where many perceive UK to be right now."

He added: "Perception vs reality: French GDP data greeted today with references to how that economy is ‘flying’. It’s doing well but grew just 0.1 per cent faster than UK in the fourth quarter of 2017."

Mr Woodford has, over the past year, positioned his funds for a better than expected outcome for the UK economy, and a slightly worse than expected outcome for the global economy.

This has made him cautious on the outlook for global equities and the global economy.

He said it is reasonable to take the view that if the policy of quantitative easing has pushed asset prices upwards and created some economic growth and inflation, then the ending of quantitative easing will have a significant deflationary impact on the global economy.

But Mr Woodford’s flagship £7.1bn Woodford Equity Income fund has starkly underperformed the market over the past year to 12 February, losing 8 per cent.

It has shed roughly £1bn of assets since the start of 2018 alone.

He has said this is because of the market’s focus on the assets which do better as inflation rises, such as mining companies, at the expense of UK domestic companies, which he feels are priced to cheaply because of the perception around the health of the economy.

Mr Woodford’s comments were echoed by George Godber, who jointly runs the £590m Polar Capital UK Value Opportunities fund.

He said: "The UK market is made up of two parts, international and domestic earners. Domestic earners are at a 30 per cent discount in valuation to the majority of overseas earners. This gives us a fantastic hunting ground for shares with cheap valuations but that have resilient outlooks and high profit visibility.

"We are finding these in infrastructure, housebuilding and niche services such as box storage, dry-cleaning and waste disposal. It may not be glamorous, but we believe these companies should deliver no matter the economic outlook.

"For international earners, the challenge is to find cheap valuations and we are finding these lower down the market capitalisation scale in the FTSE 250 and small cap indices."

Mr Woodford has long been cautious on the outlook for the Chinese economy, and believes much of the growth achieved in the world since the financial crisis has been the result of unsustainable growth in Chinese debt levels, which he feels is unsustainable.

He has warned that when this "bubble bursts" it will lead to deflation being exported around the world, making the assets that do well when inflation is rising, perform poorly, benefitting his fund, which does not hold those assets.