Jeff Prestridge  

What should Woodford do?

Jeff Prestridge

Jeff Prestridge

By the time you read this article, Woodford Investment Management will have sucked nigh on £9m of fees out of the Equity Income fund since dealings were controversially suspended in June.

Although some financial advisers loyal to Neil Woodford continue to defend these fees, I have yet to be contacted by a Woodford investor who agrees.

As the weeks go by, the nights draw in and leaves turn an autumnal gold, the anger of Equity Income investors rises a notch or three.

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Especially when the fund’s value continues to shrink (now below £3bn, compared to £10bn in early 2017) and the fund’s losses continue.

Over the past three months, six months and year, the fund has suffered respective losses of 15 per cent, 27 per cent and 32 per cent.

Since launch in June 2014, overall losses are heading towards 20 per cent – the same figure for losses since dealings were abruptly halted in June.

There is now a good chance that the fund will not reopen its door in December as previously intimated – we may find out a bit more on this when Link, the fund’s overseer, provides its fifth monthly update on October 21.

Indeed, some experts say it could be June next year before investors are given the chance to liquidate their Equity Income holdings and move on with their investments.  If so, that would mean a year of being trapped, of seeing their investment holdings shrink in value, and not being able to do anything about it but weep into their comforting bowls of Shredded Wheat.

Whatever some financial advisers may say, I have no axe to grind with Mr Woodford.

He has shown his prowess as an investment manager before – and his ability to get out of a pickle. Remember the 1990s when he was criticised for not participating in the scramble for technology shares, only to come good when the bubble burst and his more cautious approach prevailed and triumphed in the early 2000s.

So, yes, it is possible he may get out of the current mess that has spread to his two other investment vehicles – investment trust Patient Capital (now a near basket case) and Income Focus (which has halved in value since Equity Income was suspended in June).

Yet with every day that passes and every leaf that falls gently to the ground, I fear the hole that WIM has dug for itself is becoming too deep for Mr Woodford to climb out of.

Like many of his investors, he is trapped.

Refusing to speak to the press has not helped his cause (even when people like myself came knocking at his business door).

Nor has his refusal to waive the fees (or a slice of the fees) on Equity Income while investors have remained trapped inside the fund.

A reduction in fees, I am sure, would have temporarily appeased many investors.

He has also done some silly things, none more so crazy than his decision in July to sell £1.75m of personal shares in Patient Capital to pay a tax bill.