Neil Woodford "absolutely wrong" to not waive fees says Scottish Mortgage manager James Anderson

Published by Tom Bailey on 11 June 2019.
Last updated on 11 June 2019

James Anderson (pictured top), manager of Scottish Mortgage investment trust, a Moneywise First 50 Fund for beginners, has joined the growing chorus of calls for Neil Woodford to cut management fees for investors stuck in his Woodford Equity Income fund, which suspended trading last week.

Following the suspension of Woodford Equity Income, Mr Anderson also argues access to unlisted companies is vital for investors.

In response to questions over Woodford’s fees, Mr Anderson said: “Not waiving fees is absolutely wrong.”

While noting that investment outcomes can often be beyond a fund’s control, he said: “Those ethical issues that are under [the manager’s] control, [they] should be responsible for.”

However, Mr Anderson defended the idea of investing in private, unlisted companies, arguing that they are the source of much future wealth creation. It was exposure to unlisted, illiquid assets that led Neil Woodford to suspend trading in his flagship fund.

He said: “The majority of new capital and knowledge investment is in private markets. Just about all ability to build new companies will happen in private markets.”

Mr Anderson's trust has a fifth of its portfolio invested in private companies and almost a third if companies that were originally bought as unquoted and have since floated are included. He argued: "It is really important to give savers access to these companies.”

The problem with Woodford’s attempt to do this, Mr Anderson argued, is twofold.

As has been widely covered, Woodford’s use of an open-ended structure created a mismatch between the illiquidity of unlisted companies and the liquidity available to investors looking for swift access to their assets.

Mr Anderson said: “Structure is a part of it…Trusts are better [for investing in unlisted shares], but let’s not pretend structure is the simple answer.”

At the same time, as a UK-focused investor, the pool avaliable to Woodford to fish in for private stocks is inadequate. “It is dubious whether British capitalism produces enough of such companies,” he said.

Scottish Mortgage, in contrast, is part of the AIC’s global sector, with extensive holdings in both the US and China

Mr Woodford, he says, “was fundamentally trying to do something useful, but on a canvas that was limited. The structure exacerbated this.”

For Mr Anderson the episode highlights the problem of trying to find appropriate ways for retail investors to access private listed companies. “There is a debate about how to produce vehicles that give access to private companies.”

With regulators now taking a closer look at the liquidity issues caused by Woodford’s holding of unlisted companies, Mr Anderson says: “It would be sad if we can’t give people access to unlisted companies.”

Investors, he fears, would be missing out on companies' most dramatic period of corporate growth if they had to wait for them to list on public markets. 

While the closed-ended structure of trusts offers much more protection than that of open-ended funds against the issues Woodford faced, Mr Anderson notes: “There is plenty of unhelpful and stupid legislation out there.”

This article first appeared on our sister website Money Observer

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RE Woodford Fund.

RE Woodford Fund.
It is very annoying how all the experts come out of the woodwork when things go wrong. Open ended funds are now going to have the rules changed. Why not before things go bad. I tried to find closed ended funds but they are not as common. I am a domestic small investor and rely on advice and caution given in the financial press. To read after the event, all the reasons why it was bound to happen, and to read why, and to understand why, is frustrating at best. Thankfully low exposure.
Regards.