Neil Woodford in the game to buy back his former unlisted portfolio that's proving hard to sell — reports
As brokers struggle to offload the portfolio of assets formerly managed by Neil Woodford, an unlikely buyer has emerged.
The disgraced stockpicker is reportedly gauging investor interest in a comeback bid to reacquire some of those unlisted company stakes, including equity in drug discovery startup BenevolentAI and TCR player Immunocore.
If he manages to pull enough funding — £500 million (close to $720 million) would be required — Woodford would set up a new vehicle to buy back his darlings at a discount. The target audience will be professional, sophisticated backers rather than retail investors.
Sky News first reported the news, which was then echoed by the Times and other outlets.
“Neil is dipping his toe in very gently,” a source told This is Money. “He has had a handful of conversations with institutional investors to gauge their appetite.”
Bloomberg previously noted that Woodford and business partner Craig Newman have met up with co-investors in China and the Middle East for a potential new venture focused on early-staged assets. It’s unclear whether they discussed buying his former holdings.
After Woodford abruptly froze his flagship Equity Income Fund, barring investors from redeeming, selling or otherwise pulling out their investments last June, it took Link Fund Solutions to fire him and decide to liquidate the fund. But while the sale of the listed portion of the portfolio, entrusted to BlackRock, went smoothly, PJT Partners had a much harder time securing a good deal for the private startups in the mix. With some of those holdings boasting unicorn status, it was likely difficult for the seller and buyers to reach agreement on the valuation.
Last month the Sunday Times reported that a £550 million rescue deal collapsed after WG Partners, the life sciences-focused boutique investment bank, failed to assemble a group of investors willing to help take over Woodford’s 20 startups on time.
The Woodford fallout was cited as one factor weighing down market sentiment in the UK BioIndustry Association’s annual report. It also “created a difficult environment for some companies within that portfolio, overshadowing positive milestones.”
But others have moved on. Oxford Nanopore Technologies began the year with $38.6 million (£29.3 million) in new capital for its gene sequencing device business, while managing to help Woodford and other existing investors find new firms to take their stakes totalling $105.9 million (£80.2 million). And with former MedImmune chief Bahija Jallal now at the helm following an exec exodus, Immunocore has recently added $130 million to its coffers.