James Coney  

Better fund performance has to follow Barnett exit

James Coney

James Coney

I have never met Mark Barnett but, from what I hear, he is a thoroughly decent man of integrity.

You can tell by the way the former Invesco manager dealt with the media and investors that he was happy to eschew the limelight and just get on with the business of managing money.

That does not mean he should not have lost his role running the Income and High Income funds, but it does mean that we are dealing with an entirely different kettle of fish to Neil Woodford.

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Did he ever really stand a chance when he took over from Mr Woodford?

Probably not, particularly because he was cursed with outflows from the moment he took over as institutional money flowed out and followed Mr Woodford to his new company.

And taking over someone else’s portfolio was never going to be easy.

But Mr Barnett’s curse was similar to that of his former mentor – high redemptions, exacerbated by a decent chunk of the fund in illiquid stocks, and by terrible fund performance. 

Once the spiral starts it is almost impossible to end. The writing was on the wall from October, the moment Mr Woodford’s empire collapsed around him.

I cannot really understand why anyone would still be in the Income and High Income funds; there are too many decent alternatives out there to have tolerated their long-running underperformance.

“His luck will change” and “value has been out of fashion” have become two of the most well-worn excuses in recent years, but offering them up is essentially a bet on the never-never.

For example, Mr Woodford’s portfolio was supposed to be positioned well for Brexit.

Of course, we will never know whether (even theoretically) that would have been the case because we have since had Covid-19, which takes precedence over everything.

Was it the virus that finally did it for Mr Barnett? Not likely.

It was likely more to do with the appointment of the new Invesco chief investment officer Stephanie Butcher, who it seems has been asked to turn around a ship that looks pretty tired.

Invesco once seemed to be the bright shining light in UK asset management, but has slowly slipped behind much more exciting names such as Fundsmith, Lindsell Train and, of course, the stellar Baillie Gifford.

You can add to the list of tired old dogs companies such as Jupiter and Janus Henderson.

In the new asset management world where trackers are king, you have to be a pretty stellar active manager to take any plaudits.

Mr Barnett was bound to go, he was almost cursed. But this is not going to save Invesco. If its asset managers are going to prove their worth, better fund performance has to follow fast.