A bit about Woodford

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At Woodford, we don’t want to be just another fund management company. We want to create something different and better for our investors and we feel strongly that existing and potential clients are entitled to understand what we’re doing with their money.

As investors, we are active, engaged, long-term, disciplined, diligent and focused. That’s a lot of things to say about ourselves but each word is important in helping you to understand how we manage money  – we’ll explain in more detail as we move along.

First and foremost, we are stock pickers. We combine rigorous fundamental analysis of companies with our perspective of the long-term macroeconomic outlook and variables and how these might impact existing or potential holdings. This approach allows us to construct robust investment rationales and make informed decisions. We focus on what matters: the long term and the fundamentals.

Our investment approach and process are focused on value discovery, not price discovery. We believe that financial markets are inherently inefficient and that, through disciplined and diligent analysis, we can identify investment opportunities where market prices do not reflect long-term fundamental value. By exploiting this pervasive market characteristic, we believe we can create real long-term value for our investors.

This approach to investing has been employed successfully by Neil Woodford over almost 30 years to identify very attractive long-term investments in the mid- to large-cap space. However, at Woodford we believe compelling investment opportunities do not start and end with larger, listed companies.

For more than a decade, Neil and his team have also recognised the uniquely attractive investment proposition of early-stage companies and have been deploying long-term patient capital to young businesses, which we believe will deliver very attractive returns to investors over the long term. Our focus in this area remains on the fundamentals (principally of the business as the macroeconomy is less relevant) and really supporting businesses through to commercialisation and fulfillment of their long-term potential. The risks are undoubtedly higher than in the more mainstream investment universe but, when adjusted for these additional risks, the potential long-term rewards are extremely attractive.

Investment approach

Understanding our investment approach is crucial in helping clients to decide whether investing with us would be right for them and the experience they can expect with Woodford.

An active strategy

We believe that being an active investor means doing something different from the market and adding value through the investment process.

We invest in the true sense of the word, buying stakes in businesses and helping them to fulfil their long-term potential. Every investment we buy, we buy on merit – we never invest in companies to make our portfolios look more like the index. We are happy for our performance to be compared to the market (and our portfolio activity and performance are fully disclosed on this website) but we are confident that we can better it over the long term by doing things differently. Our focus is on delivering an attractive positive return to our investors.

Company engagement

We are also active in our engagement with company management teams to help us understand the long-term aspirations of the company. We want to represent our investors’ best interests in our discussions with management teams and we engage with management to try to influence change where necessary. Successful investment requires a partnership between managers and owners.

Long-term focus

Our long-term approach to investment management is encapsulated in a patient capital investment style.

Equity markets take a random walk on a daily basis. The forces of fundamentals and valuation may be over-ridden by sentiment and the whim of the market in the short term, but it is the longer time periods that count. We look beyond the short-term noise and focus on the long-term drivers of share prices. We believe that by focusing on valuation and identifying companies that can deliver sustainable growth, today or in the future, we can deliver great long-term outcomes for our investors.

Our valuation lens

In essence, we view all companies through the same valuation lens, large or small, quoted or unquoted. We combine rigorous fundamental analysis of companies with our perspective of the economic variables that may impact them. This approach allows us to construct robust investment rationales. We focus on what matters: the long term and the fundamentals.

There are, of course, nuances to this process. With younger companies, we are typically looking to invest before a product or service has made it to the market. The strength of a company’s intellectual property and the research behind it is, therefore, crucial. In these cases, our investment due diligence has a particular focus on establishing a deep understanding of a company’s technology and patent estate, the scope of the long-term market opportunity and the motivations, ambition and alignment of management.

Detailed holistic analysis of all potential investments helps us to arrive at a considered and conservative judgement about value based on a longer-term investment time horizon (typically, for early-stage investments five to ten years but sometimes longer).

Absolute focus

We believe investors expect a return. We don’t think we’ve done a good job if a fund falls in value, even if the market has delivered an even worse outcome. Protecting our investors’ capital is key.

We cannot completely eliminate a temporary loss of capital in what is unarguably a volatile asset class, but we do our upmost to avoid a temporary loss of capital becoming a permanent one through the careful and disciplined consideration of the fundamentals. We focus on absolute risk and on delivering a positive return over the long term.

The team’s approach to risk in earlier-stage investments is necessarily different than for more established companies. Here, we aim to invest in businesses with the potential to become the FTSE 350 companies of the future – in practice, this means that over a period of three to five years we will look to invest tens of millions of pounds, building significant minority positions in businesses some which have the potential to become multi-billion dollar companies on a five-year view. In many instances, long-term outcomes for such businesses are binary so we have to tolerate the prospect of complete loss on a stock-specific basis, although our due diligence efforts are designed to minimise this risk. Capital preservation is achieved through diversification – by investing in a larger number of smaller positions and typically by increasing positions and portfolio weighting in companies only as they progress through key milestones and begin to de-risk.

Process

We believe that understanding the rigour of our investment process gives clients confidence in our ability to continue to make investment decisions that result in exceptional long-term performance. The Woodford investment process is circular and continuous. There are no set criteria for stock selection and investment decisions are relentlessly revisited to ensure their continuing relevance and appropriateness.

Idea generation

We have a broad-based approach to idea generation. Some are internally generated, while others are identified through proprietary analysis and external research from a wide range of sources. Many also originate from our extensive interactions with the wider investment industry and through our conversations with company management teams. We also have an extensive network of historic relationships that regularly bring new ideas to our attention.

Our network is especially important when identifying suitable early-stage business investment opportunities. We have cultivated close and collaborative relationships with a trusted group of organisations and individuals spanning the full range of skills needed to take a business from seed to commercialisation and covering multiple industry sectors and geographical locations. This includes tech transfer specialists, leading academics, venture capitalists, successful entrepreneurs, development-stage and commercial executives, investment banks and retired executives and experienced board members. We use our network to share ideas, reinforce due diligence, secure specialist technical advice and tap into commercial acumen. It is a partnership network that is unique to us – and one that continues to grow.

Macroeconomic view

Having a comprehensive, fundamental understanding of the long-term macroeconomic outlook is a critical part of our investment approach. However, this does not involve trying to precisely forecast macro variables. More, it is about evaluating the likely direction of those variables and trying to understand the key drivers of growth, inflation, labour markets, liquidity and trade, amongst other things. If we can understand the long-term direction and influences of these macroeconomic variables, we believe we can make better long-term decisions.

This long-term macroeconomic view helps to direct our research efforts and inform our assumptions and judgements on all investment opportunities. The macroeconomic view is of more importance when judging the attractiveness of mature businesses as the fortunes of earlier-stage businesses are naturally determined more by their own fundamental progress than macroeconomic factors.

Fundamental analysis

Over-arching all of our research efforts is a desire to be as comprehensive as possible in our understanding of a company’s fundamentals and we will consider inputs from a wide range of sources, with the aim of reaching informed investment decisions that will add long-term value for our investors.

Quantitative analysis plays an important role in our investment process but needs to be considered in conjunction with many other more important qualitative judgements, including:

  • Do we have confidence in the executive management team to deliver on their long-term objectives?
  • Is management aligned with shareholders?
  • Are margins and cash flows sustainable?
  • What long-term growth can this company deliver and how will it fund that growth?
  • Are there any regulatory, legal, political or other threats to this company and its industry?
  • Does the price that we are being asked to pay for a stake in this company represent compelling value?

When investing in early-stage businesses, the process of fundamental analysis is particularly forensic and aims to demonstrate that the management team’s account of the attractions of the business can be evidenced by fact.

Initial investigation involves the team looking at the business area the company operates in, intellectual property and technology, patent estate, products and services, financial characteristics and management team. We also consider market size, commercial opportunity, competitive environment and risks.

During the next stage of the process – detailed due diligence – we undertake site visits, meet the wider team, talk to potential customers, suppliers and analysts, carry out detailed scientific diligence, engage with industry specialists to better understand the technology and science and the competitive context, commission detailed intellectual property reviews, undertake extensive financial modelling, check underlying assumptions and complete a comprehensive review of valuation, based on a longer-term investment time horizon.

Around half of the companies on which we complete due diligence will be approved for investment and enter the final pre-investment stages of legal process and final approval. In this stage, we conduct more technical diligence on companies as required (covering subjects such as financials, intellectual property, legal, tax and anti-money laundering) and submit to the company the investment terms on which we are prepared to invest.

Company engagement

Meeting company management teams is a vital part of our investment process and responsibility for it sits with the fund management team. For us, corporate governance is about ensuring that the executive and board of a company are aligned with us as shareholders and that the course that they have set for the business will create long-term shareholder value. If we fear that this alignment does not exist or feel that an alternative strategy may result in the realisation of more shareholder value, we will engage with management to try to influence change. Unlike most investors in today’s market, we favour voice over exit.

We meet with management teams regularly, typically at least twice a year after the release of financial results but more frequently where the need arises. These meetings are an invaluable source of information in the conviction building process, which in turn leads activity.

We are necessarily highly engaged with the management teams of the early-stage businesses in which we invest – although not so involved that we influence day-to-day decisions. For our private investments, a combination of board meetings, board packs and quarterly management reviews ensures we stay current with our investments from the perspective of monitoring – for oversight and valuation purposes. If we identify an issue we become more engaged, trying to get to the root cause and encouraging the business to address this through a number of means. We hold each company to account to make sure it achieves the milestones we have set. If it does, we put more capital to work and if it doesn’t, we stop or withdraw funding.

Portfolio construction

The construction of the portfolio is the sole responsibility of the lead fund manager, Neil Woodford, with other members of the investment team assisting in decision-making and implementation.

The aim of all of our fundamental research efforts is to arrive at an informed judgement about long-term fundamental value so that we can assess whether the investment opportunity is attractive enough to include in a portfolio. There is always an intense competition for capital within portfolios, so a new investment opportunity has to fight for attention and prove its credentials alongside existing positions.

Portfolio construction is approached from the bottom-up with reference to the fundamental attractions of each individual investment and the level of conviction in each opportunity. It is not by reference to any index or sector preference. Each stock is included in a portfolio on its own merit – we do not hold positions purely to manage relative risk. Portfolio weightings are determined by the level of conviction in an investment thesis and our judgement of the balance between the potential upside to true inherent long-term value and the risks that may stand in the way of that long-term value being realised. Risk management considerations are at the forefront of the fund manager’s mind at all times.

All of this is informally balanced against a desire to be sensibly and appropriately diversified at a stock and sector level, in pursuit of a portfolio that can deliver attractive long-term risk-adjusted returns.

For early-stage investing, when we first invest, it will be with a typical time horizon of somewhere between three to five years, split into funding more discrete 18-24 month business plans. If a business is successful, a 10-15 year holding period is entirely possible. The largest portfolio positions are typically those where the company is furthest along the development or commercialisation path. The earlier the stage a company is at, the further from technology or commercial validation, the smaller the position is likely to be – due to the greater risk and because we foresee multiple future funding rounds, in which we may wish to participate to build the position as the company de-risks.

Portfolio monitoring

Monitoring of portfolio holdings is a continuous process and is primarily the responsibility of the lead fund manager, assisted by the rest of the investment team. All portfolios are reviewed daily to ensure appropriateness, consistency and adherence to mandate. Individual holdings are assessed and monitored daily for news flow and relevant conversations with brokers and directly with the company.

Sell discipline

A decision to sell tends to be formed around three, often inter-linked factors:

  • A judgement that a stock’s valuation has started to look less attractive (the gap between ‘value’ and ‘price’ has been discovered)
  • An event such as financial results or an acquisition changes the fundamentals
  • A stock starts to look less attractive than other investment ideas that are competing for a place in the portfolio

These factors will always dominate a decision to sell or reduce a position, unless we are mandatorily required to sell (for instance, if we could exceed the maximum permitted size due to share price movements or in a bid situation).

Results

The foundations of our investment principles and approach have been at the heart of Neil’s successful investment philosophy for decades and have proved extremely rewarding for his investors. The approach has been fine-tuned over the years – as our fund managers have learnt from both successes and failures – but it has not changed in any material way.

Our aim of delivering consistent and attractive long-term performance has been achieved consistently throughout Neil Woodford’s career. We strongly believe that our disciplined approach is robust and repeatable and will continue to deliver real value for investors.

In the period since Woodford was established, our assets under management have grown steadily to £17.8bn (source Northern Trust, as at 31 May 2017), with all types of investor demonstrating belief in Neil and his team.

Find out more

Woodford Investment Management Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (firm reference number 745433). Incorporated in England and Wales, company number 10118169. Registered address 9400 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2HN.

Woodford Patient Capital Trust plc is incorporated in England and Wales, company number 09405653. Registered as an investment company under section 833 of the Companies Act 2006. Registered address Beaufort House, 51 New North Road, Exeter, EX4 4EP.

The Woodford Funds (Ireland) ICAV (the “Fund”) has appointed as Swiss Representative Oligo Swiss Fund Services SA, Av. Villamont 17, 1005 Lausanne, Switzerland, Tel: +41 21 311 17 77, email: info@oligofunds.ch. The Fund’s Swiss paying agent is Neue Helvetische Bank AG. All fund documentation including, Prospectus, Key Investor Information Documents, Instrument of Incorporation and financial reports may be obtained free of charge from the Swiss Representative in Lausanne. The place of performance and jurisdiction for all shares distributed in or from Switzerland is at the registered office of the Swiss Representative. Fund prices can be found at www.fundinfo.com.

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