The return of Neil Woodford

Don't call it a comeback! Surely the disgraced fund manager can't be looking to return quite so swiftly, asks Tom Ward

There was a time when Neil Woodford, 60, was regarded as Britain’s best fund manager. It might seem hard to believe now, but during his 25-year tenure at Invesco, Woodford rode out the pitfalls of both the 1990s dot-com bubble and 2008’s devastating financial crash, emerging relatively unscathed at times when the world of finance was being turned on its head. 

With a (then) reputation as a long-term investor who took a hands-on approach to his interests, Woodford was known to hold shares for around 15 years. Clearly, he was a man in it for the long-game, a man who cared not just about protecting his end, but your profit, too. 

Headlines at the time called him ‘Invesco’s Perpetual Kingmaker’ while a recent Telegraph piece recalled that at his height, Woodford seemed to possess ‘the magic touch’.

But, it would be Woodford’s next endeavour that would receive the most headlines. Founded in 2014, Woodford Equity Income quickly grew into a multi-billion pound fund – until Woodford came under suspicion of deflating the fund’s coffers by withdrawing an estimated £50 million as dividends between 2017 and 2019. 

An FCA investigation was launched, followed by Woodford’s removal as investment manager, and the eventual closure of the company.

The resulting fallout saw Woodford regarded as a financial pariah and reportedly forced him to sell his £30m estate in the Cotswolds. 

A little over 16 months later, Woodford is making headlines once again. This time by announcing he will return to the fray as head of a new investment firm based in Jersey. Naturally the news has not been met with universal enthusiasm.

How CAN this clown return as a fund boss?” Jeff Prestridge quotes a reader as enquiring in a piece for “Certainly, judging by the contents of my mailbag over the last few days, there is little love left for the investment manager who turned a traditional equity income fund into one horribly exposed to risky unlisted securities and illiquid stocks,” writes Prestridge, calling Woodford “A wolf in sheep’s clothing”. 

So, after emerging as one of the brightest starts in British finance, where did it all go wrong? 

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