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Woodford and Barnett square up in battle for FTSE 250 firm

Woodford and Barnett square up in battle for FTSE 250 firm

Fund management titans Neil Woodford and Mark Barnett are taking opposite sides in a battle for control of a FTSE 250 company that has gripped markets.

The fight is over the management of haulage company Stobart. 

Mr Barnett is understood to back the current chairman of the company from the influential position of being the largest shareholder in Stobart Group, with his funds accounting for 25.99 per cent of the company’s shares.

On the other side of the coin, Mr Woodford’s firm, which is the second largest shareholder on behalf of clients, with a stake of 19.94 per cent, wants to see the chairman removed after he ousted the former chief executive, Andrew Tinkler.

FTAdviser understands Miton Group, the sixth largest shareholders in the business, with a stake of 3.22 per cent held in the funds of Gervais Williams, is presently minded to side with Mr Tinkler in any dispute and regard him as an asset to the Stobart business.

Mr Barnett succeeded Mr Woodford as head of UK equities and manager of a range of funds at Invesco Perpetual when the latter left to create his own Woodford Investment Management firm.

Although they run rival funds, Mr Barnett and Mr Woodford’s investment strategies have much in common, most notably with both managers presently taking the view that the UK economy will perform better than is presently expected by the wider market, making shares exposed to the UK domestic economy attractive investments.

Both managers are also invested in Provident Financial, a business which has had a share price fall of about two-thirds over the past year to 19 June.

But while the two managers are separate shareholders in Stobart, they each take a different view on the direction of the company.

At the start of June, Stobart removed an executive director and former company chief executive Andrew Tinkler. Mr Tinkler had said the chairman of the company, Iain Ferguson, should be removed and a different strategy pursued by the business.

There is at present legal action between the two sides, and Stobart's shares have dropped from £2.94 to £2.58 over the past year.

In a statement Mr Woodford, who has been one of the largest shareholders in the Stobart Group for more than a decade, said he had recently become concerned by "board instability" at the firm and sought to deal with it privately

"Once I became aware of these governance issues, I undertook extensive diligence in order to establish the causes of this instability.

“My motivation, as a leading shareholder has been to ensure that the company is able to continue to deliver great returns to all of its shareholders.

"Sadly, the board has seemed determined to make this a public discussion and has wasted shareholder funds by employing lawyers that have made unfounded and ludicrous allegations against me and other parties."

He praised Mr Tinkler's "creative and entrepreneurial leadership that has delivered shareholder value for Stobart Group", calling him "an unconventional, straight talking, honourable man".