June 23, 2019 / 7:07 AM / 6 months ago

Illiquid assets held by Woodford's UK fund pose hurdle to reopening

LONDON (Reuters) - Trading in Neil Woodford’s 3.7 billion pound ($4.69 billion) Equity Income Fund may not be reopened swiftly after it was suspended on June 3 because of the illiquid assets it holds.

Neil Woodford, founder and fund manager at Woodford Investment Management, is seen in this undated handout picture released on June 10, 2019. Jonathan Atkins/Handout via REUTERS

The fund’s authorized owner, Link Fund Solutions, must update investors on whether it intends to keep the fund closed to trading at least every 28 days. The first deadline is July 1.

The main reason trading was suspended was to allow time for the fund to sell its stakes in unlisted and illiquid assets. This is also the main factor determining when it can reopen.

Woodford had been trying to sell those stakes before the suspension. His plans included moving five holdings into his listed Woodford Patient Capital Trust (WPCT) in a March share swap. But redemptions outpaced that effort.

Britain’s markets regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), said at the time of the suspension that a fifth of the fund’s assets were in such illiquid assets.

The illiquid assets include preference shares in four firms listed on the Guernsey stock exchange that have never traded.

FCA data show how difficult it will be to reopen the fund quickly, indicating that just 8% of the holdings could be sold in a week. The rest are expected to take much longer to sell.

The data showed selling 29% of the fund’s holdings could take up to a month, about 30% would require six months and another third would need from six months to more than a year.

“I doubt very much whether that fund will be unsuspended until much later this year, possibly not until next year,” said Chris Bailey, analyst at Raymond James.

Tracking Woodford’s handling of the process has been made harder since he stopped publishing a list of holdings on the company website.

A Woodford spokesman told Reuters on June 13 that the frozen fund had sold 100 million pounds in more liquid listed British stocks. He declined to offer an update when contacted on June 21.

According to the 2018 annual report, the fund had stakes in 24 unlisted or Guernsey-listed companies, excluding those subsequently removed in the share swap. The companies equated to 18.26% of the portfolio with a value of 850 million pounds, based on assets under management at the end of 2018.

The fund’s investment include stakes in 14 unlisted healthcare or biotechnology companies.

($1 = 0.7895 pounds)

Additional reporting by Samantha Machado; Editing by Edmund Blair

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