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Kent pension fund backs managed run-down of Woodford fund

The pension fund for Kent County Council, a £6.4bn local government pension scheme, has said a managed run-down of the portfolio of beleaguered Woodford Equity Income Fund is in the best interests of all the fund’s investors.

The Woodford fund was suspended in June following a surge in redemption requests from investors, including one from the Kent local authority pension fund, and today it was announced that it is to be wound up as soon as practicable rather than re-opened.

In a letter to investors, Woodford Equity Income Fund’s authorised corporate director Link Fund Solutions said the suspension in June was designed to give Woodford Investment Management time to reposition the fund’s portfolio into more easily sellable investments but that while progress was made, it was not sufficient to provide reasonable assurance as to when the repositioning would be fully achieved.

Neil Woodford, who managed the fund, reportedly hit back at the decision to close it, saying he did not think it was in investors’ long-term interests.

Charlie Simkins, chairman of the Kent Superannuation Fund committee, said: “We had not been made aware that the Woodford Equity Income Fund was being closed, as we were previously advised that the situation would be clarified in December.

“However, we believe a managed run-down of the portfolio is in the best interests of all the fund’s investors.”

Although it was disappointing that payments to investors would not now begin until January, rather than December, “the delay in recouping the Kent Pension Fund’s investment will not impact on the fund or its ability to pay members,” Simkins said.

“The Kent Pension Fund is one of the top 10 largest local government pension schemes in the country and is one of the top performing.”

Woodford Investment Management has been removed as manager of the equity income fund, which is to change its name to LF Equity Income Fund. BlackRock has been appointed transition manager to dispose of listed assets, and PJT Partners (Park Hill) as brokers to help sell unlisted assets.

Subject to regulatory approvals, the winding-up is expected to begin in mid-January, after which money will be returned to investors in instalments. Link is meanwhile requesting formal approval from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to wind up the fund.

Meanwhile, the FCA is carrying out an investigation into the activities that led to the high-profile fund suspension. The regulator is reviewing whether changes are needed to its rules about open-ended funds holding illiquid assets.

Peter Brunt, associate director, equity strategies, manager research, Morningstar, said: “It was always going to be a monumental challenge for Woodford Investment Management to keep the LF Woodford Equity Income Fund going, even if it had successfully managed to reposition the portfolio for its re-opening in December 2019, as investor confidence had been so badly beaten down.”

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