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Woodford trains Patient focus as performance picks up

Woodford trains Patient focus as performance picks up

Judge the Woodford Patient Capital (WPCT) investment trust by share price performance alone, and there has been little to excite investors after the initial frenzy surrounding its launch fizzled out.

After listing in April 2015 at 100p a share, the excitement surrounding Neil Woodford's growth-focused investment trust sent the shares soaring to a premium over net asset value (NAV), hitting a high of 119p in August that year.

But as that premium drifted to a discount, investors have subsequently seen the shares trade largely sideways, lagging a rally in the UK stock market. By this afternoon they traded just under 102p, up 1.2p today.

In the trust's latest annual results, Woodford said that some of the progress made in the companies held by the trust were yet to be reflected in valuations, and cautioned it remained 'early days' for a long-term investment strategy.

'The operational progress made during the year, across the majority of the portfolio, was extremely encouraging. Much of this fundamental progress has yet to be reflected in the net asset value of the company itself,' he said.

'I understand that some investors may be disappointed at the net asset value progress thus far and, although I would have preferred to have been writing this review having delivered a positive return, it must be remembered that the investment strategy was never designed to deliver significant short-term wins.'

The trust's flat performance since launch, with the shares today trading at 101p, meanwhile hides an upturn since the turn of the year, up 11.2% in 2017 versus a 4.7% return for the FTSE All-Share.

While this will be welcomed by investors, it's an extremely short time frame over which to judge performance for any fund, especially one with such an emphasis on long-term horizons.

But analysts at Winterflood Securities, house broker to the investment trust, argued that the stocks that have driven that performance showed signs of the portfolio's evolution since its launch.

'While there have been some well-publicised disappointments within the portfolio, there have also been notable successes including very strong performance from the online estate agent, Purplebricks (up 226% in 2017) and Theravance Biopharma (up 27%) amongst others,' they said.

'In our view it remains too early in the fund's life to judge performance given the long-term "patient capital" approach, however, we believe that there are signs that the asymmetric return profile that will drive performance is beginning to develop.'

In a note to investors last week, they pointed to a more concentrated portfolio, with the top 10 investments accounting for 54% of assets, up from 33.9% shortly after its launch.

'This trend is likely to continue as the portfolio becomes increasingly dominated by those holdings that are performing strongly, with the manager inclined to remain a long-term, supportive investor and to "let the winners run".'

Performance of the trust's holdings has varied widely. Woodford's worst holding by a distance has been Northwest Biotherapeutics (NWBO.O), down 98% from a 2015 peak amid allegations of financial impropriety.

Of more significance to the portfolio has been the larger holding in Allied Minds (ALML), which has lost two-thirds of its value in 2017.

But the successes have been even more spectacular, with Purplebricks (PURP) up 383% since its late 2015 flotation, and Theravance Biopharma (TBPH.O) up around 200% in dollar terms since Woodford invested in the summer of 2015.

Both stocks are top 10 holdings, and Winterflood said it was encouraging that some of Woodford's highest conviction stocks have been his top performers.

'During 2017 there has been a positive link between position size and performance of the fund's listed holdings; larger positions tending to have higher returns,' they analysts said.

'Of course the portfolio is made up of companies that are expected to deliver strong returns over the longer term and we have looked at a short time period, but it is nevertheless promising that the link is there, particularly as the portfolio is becoming more concentrated in the top 10 holdings.'

Investors have responded to the uptick in performance by rerating the shares: a discount that crept into double figures earlier this year is now down to 2.9%.

'As both absolute and relative NAV performance (relative to the FTSE All Share) have improved the fund's discount has tightened recently and it is possible the fund could move to a premium if the NAV continues to outperform the FTSE All Share,' said Winterflood.

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