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Desperately seeking a turnaround, beleaguered veteran fund manager Woodford hits out at critics, fake news

Embattled UK fund manager Neil Woodford has chided his critics for steering investors away and sullying his reputation, as the veteran works on stifling the bloodletting in his flagship fund.

In an interview with the Financial Times on Friday, the veteran head of Woodford Investment Management said the the rate of withdrawals from the fund put him at risk of being “out of business in about two-and-a-half years”.

After 26 years at Invesco, Woodford launched his cornerstone equity income fund in 2014, raising billions to invest in the life sciences. But some of his bets — such as Prothena, Circassia and Northwest Bio, turned sour, and those wrinkles have culminated in the longest period of weak returns. Woodford originally anchored his reputation as a blue chip investor in companies like GSK, but rattled by Gilead’s HIV prowess, he elected to part ways with the British drugmaker in 2017 in a lengthy blog post entitled “Glaxit“.

In the FT interview, he argued large-cap stocks were best left untouched, although it is very difficult to make that assertion in public.  “You are pretty much a lone voice, and people write all sorts of stuff about you that tell you that you’ve lost the plot, you’re a lunatic, you’re arrogant. You’re a disastrous fund manager. You’ve had loads of blow-ups, blah, blah, blah. It’s very difficult.”

Once considered the UK’s most prominent stock picker, Woodford is now speculating about his comeback into the big leagues in the next two years, by preserving his “valuation-focused” approach to stock selection that has served as his armor through previous periods of underperformance.

“To do anything different from what we do now would be a fundamental betrayal, would be, frankly, a lie and we would not deserve to be in business if we did such a thing,” he told the FT.

Expressing his frustration in the FT interview, Woodford said investors were being enticed by misinformation into making bad decisions. ““There is a mountain of fake information and fake analysis out in the marketplace which, in the end, does impact investors’ decisions detrimentally. So, that’s what pisses me off.”

Image: Neil Woodford, Woodford Funds


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