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1 Feb 2020

Woodford investors see first payout, but how much will they get back?

Suspended Equity Income Fund begins winding up

Investors in Neil Woodford's troubled flagship fund will receive more than £2.1bn, with further payouts possible.

The long-awaited payout is good news for the thousands of people whose savings have been trapped in the Woodford Equity Income Fund since its suspension last June.

However, as the fund is wound up, almost a quarter of the fund's assets have yet to be sold.

And, judging by the first payout, investors will suffer heavy losses.

Here, Which? looks at the latest developments of the Woodford saga and explains how much investors will get back.

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What happened to Woodford?

Neil Woodford was one of the country's most successful investment managers, with funds earning billions of pounds which were very popular with investors.

At its peak in May 2017, the Woodford Equity Income Fund held a record £10.7bn of investors' money.

However, by May 2019, withdrawals were averaging £9m a day and the fund was suspended on 3 June, trapping £3.7bn of investors' money. Worse still, investors still had to pay fees, despite being unable to access their money.

Woodford was sacked by Link Fund Solutions in October, when a decision was made to close the fund.

The same month Link announced it would close the two remaining Woodford funds, but it has recently come to light that one - formerly known as Woodford Income Focus, now ASI Income Focus - is to re-open on 13 February.

How much will investors get back?

The scale of losses for individual Woodford investors will depend on when they invested.

However, with payouts ranging from 46p to 59p per share, those who invested at launch (at price 100p/share) would have lost almost half their investment.

Those who invested at the fund's peak (price 139p/share) will suffer even more.

You can find out how much your shares are worth in this table:

Share class namePence per share
A Sterling Accumulation57.9127p
A Sterling Income47.5873p
C Sterling Accumulation58.6631p
C Sterling Income48.2426p
F Sterling Accumulation46.3633p
X Sterling Accumulation56.4549p
X Sterling Income46.4091p

Source: Link Asset Services

Has the period of uncertainty come to an end?

The first payout carried by US investment bank BlackRock only represents 75.55% of the total fund.

It comes from a sell-off of the liquid parts of the portfolio - assets which are easier to sell and convert into cash. Funds investing in FTSE 100 shares for example are more liquid as millions of these shares are bought and sold every day.

However, a large portion of investors' money is still trapped in the illiquid parts of the portfolio.

These need to be sold by PJT Park Hill, which is handling these assets, some of which are in highly specialised companies and could take months.

AJ Bell head of active portfolios Ryan Hughes said: 'There is still huge uncertainty around the money still stuck in illiquid assets.'

He also said the recent payout is likely to be the 'lion's share' of what investors will receive.

Are investors being compensated for any losses?

Unfortunately, no. The Financial Services Compensation Scheme does not cover investments that perform poorly.

Only those who lost money as a result of negligent advice or fraud, those whose investment company goes bust, or anyone who has received poor financial advice would be eligible for protection. If any of these apply, you would be covered for the first £85,000.

What are regulators proposing?

The Bank of England is cracking down in the wake of the Woodford saga with proposals which could affect everyone with an investment fund.

Under its proposals, investors who want to cash out quickly would receive a lower price for their investments. The price would reflect how difficult the assets are to sell.

In order to receive the full price, investors would have to wait for a notice period which would depend on the liquidity of the assets the fund had investments in.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell recently said some responsibility should be taken by regulators, including the Financial Conduct Authority who he said should be probed over their role in the Woodford saga.

Are other funds following suit?

It's not just Woodford investors who have experienced a period of investment uncertainty.

In December last year M&G Investments suspended dealing in its £2.5bn Property Portfolio after suffering nearly £1bn of withdrawals. The fund has yet to reopen.

There are concerns that fund suspensions such as this will become more common.

Hughes said: 'With this update coming out at the same time as Woodford investors being told about their first payment, it reminds people of the dangers of having illiquid assets in daily traded funds.

'While other major property funds have avoided succumbing to a similar fate, investors need to understand the liquidity risk they are taking when investing in assets that are hard to sell in challenged markets.'

How can you shield yourself from other fund suspensions?

All investments involve risk, and investment funds should never be treated like easy access savings accounts.

You should be prepared to invest your money for at least five years, to ride out dips in the market.

But there are ways to minimise risks. For example, you could diversify your portfolio by selecting a range of assets and holding some cash savings.

It is also important to continuously monitor any funds you are invested in to see if any worrying trends are emerging.