What Woodford's new venture might look like

What Woodford's new venture might look like

The setting is the upstairs room of a Soho restaurant. It is early 2017. 

Fund manager Neil Woodford is still riding high. His Woodford Equity Income fund has started to underperform in recent months, but investors remain keen, and the manager's prognosis that the FTSE 100 would rise in the aftermath of the Brexit vote due to the fall in sterling proved prescient, reinforcing his image as someone capable of getting the 'big calls' right. 

Assets were rising steeply in his income fund, and the Patient Capital investment trust he launched broke all records for an IPO by an investment trust.

An event is held to announce the launch of the third (and they say final) fund in the Woodford Investment Management stable. 

When the manager enters the room, those expecting wanton charisma or a towering presence to justify the hype would be disappointed. 

Woodford retains his faith in the 'value' stocks that litter his portfolio, the underperformance of which was just beginning to hurt his relative returns. His confidence in unquoted companies in sectors such as biotech remains undimmed. 

It has been made clear to journalists that we will get just one question each, and I figure this could be the last time for a while I can put a question to Woodford.

“Do you ever think you might be wrong? And is there anyone in your firm to tell you you're wrong?"

He replies: “I question myself every day. I always ask myself if I am wrong, don’t get the impression otherwise. And believe me, my office is full of people who are well able and willing to tell me I’m wrong, and who do tell me I’m wrong.” 

Act two 

Now it is February 2021, two years after the collapse of his fund management empire, and Woodford has something new to say.

The investment business he was celebrating in Soho almost exactly four years earlier lies in ruins.

He was fired from the Equity Income fund after it was forced to suspend redemptions as poor performance lead to a wave of outflows. That was sufficient to force him to quit his other funds. 

The large office near Oxford is gone, replaced with a serviced premises. There are no Soho restaurants for Woodford’s return, no 'old Woodford hands', to ask the questions.

In an interview with a Sunday newspaper, there is an apology, of sorts. He said he is “sorry for the things he didn’t do”. But he maintains many of his former convictions. He directs the blame at fund administrator Link, for firing him too soon, and said many of the unquoted assets that were at the centre of the storm have subsequently risen in value, with investors in his old funds the losers.