LONDON (Reuters) – Famed British money manager Neil Woodford shut his asset management business on Tuesday, calling it quits hours after administrators stepped in to wind down his flagship fund and sack him as its manager.
Woodford, one of Britain’s most high profile investors, had been battling to save his company since June after a flood of investor redemption requests forced him to suspend withdrawals in his flagship LF Woodford Equity Income Fund.
He had been trying to liquidate some of its holdings with the aim of reopening the fund in December, but on Tuesday morning its corporate director Link Fund Solutions said the process had not gone as planned and it was to close the fund.
Woodford initially slammed the decision as wrong, but by Tuesday evening said he was to stop managing his remaining two funds – the listed Woodford Patient Capital Trust (WPCT.L) and the LF Woodford Income Focus fund.
“We have taken the highly painful decision to close Woodford Investment Management,” he said in a statement.
“I personally deeply regret the impact events have had on individuals who placed their faith in Woodford Investment Management and invested in our funds.”
The closure of his business marks a dramatic fall for Oxford-based Woodford, who made his name at Invesco Perpetual after avoiding the collapse of the tech bubble at the turn of the century.
After more than two decades at Invesco, he set up his own firm in 2014, quickly amassing billions in mostly retail investor assets, much of it from investment platform Hargreaves Lansdown (HRGV.L), which continued to back the troubled fund right up to its suspension.
At its peak his business managed more than 14 billion pounds.
But the past two years saw his investments in a string of British companies he said were undervalued perform poorly, leading to an increase in demand from clients to take their money back.
Woodford also tried to build up stakes in a number of unlisted technology and healthcare companies he believed had strong growth potential. But these exacerbated his troubles once the redemption requests came in, causing his fund to fall foul of rules on the proportion of illiquid assets it was allowed to hold.
These investments became a focal point for regulators and lawmakers after his flagship fund was suspended — especially as Woodford continued to charge investors management fees.
Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said on Tuesday that the closure should act as a reminder of the structural problems in open-ended investment funds like Woodford’s, which allow investors to take their money out any day they like.
The BoE and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) will spell out how investors can pull cash from open-ended funds in December, following a review.
A source close to Woodford told Reuters earlier on Tuesday that Link’s decision was a “complete surprise” and the manager had only learnt of Link’s intention to close the fund late on Monday.
For Woodford’s flagship fund – which has around 3 billion pounds remaining – Link has tasked Blackrock Advisors (BLK.N) to sell its listed assets while PJT Partners will continue with its previously agreed role in selling the fund’s illiquid assets.
BlackRock will switch the portfolio into money market funds for investors posted online. Filings on Tuesday showed Woodford had already transferred over holdings in at least 10 stocks to Blackrock.
The winding up of the LF Woodford Equity Income Fund – which will be stripped of Woodford’s name – will begin on Jan. 17, 2020, Link said, when investors should receive an initial payment.
It is unclear what will happen to the management of his two other funds.
Darius McDermott, managing director of financial adviser Chelsea Financial Services, said the situation was “a mess” and the flagship fund’s closure would make it “a forced seller of all stocks.”
Britain’s Treasury Committee of lawmakers “will want to examine what lessons can be learned from this saga”, interim chair Catherine McKinnell said.
Hundreds of thousands of retail investors had money in the closed fund.
Nooman Haque, a banker whose family invested 10,000 pounds, said Woodford’s decision to continue charging fees during the suspension “did not endear him to investors.”
Link said in a Q&A for investors that fees would still be paid to BlackRock and other service providers, although it would forego its own fee for acting as authorised corporate director.
Mark Robinson, a property investment manager who invested around 5,000 pounds on behalf of his children, said the funds industry needed to learn from the “debacle”.