Woodford calls on fund manager peers to pay more heed to company strategies

7th March 2013

There have been two big stories this week involving how fund managers relate to the companies they invest in. One is – mostly – irrelevant to you, the end investor, though it is all rather unpleasant and merits action from regulators. The second is hugely significant for end investors.

The first story involves the rather bizarre news that some fund managers – mostly hedge fund managers by reports – have been paying large sums of money for one to one access to chief executives – arrangements sorted out by certain investment banks.

The financial watchdog, the Financial Services Authority, is not amused that sums of up to £12,000 are being paid for face to face meetings as the Guardian reports. The total bills to fund managers come to millions and it doesn’t sound like money well spend.

The second story involves one of Britain’s best fund managers Invesco Perpetual’s Neil Woodford. He has been urging his peers to take much more of an interest in the strategy of the companies they place your money with, as reported on Citywire this week.

Now Mr Woodford famously makes sure he gets face time or at least telephone time with many chief executives, most recently BAE Systems, but we are also sure he never has to pay anyone – let alone an investment bank – for the privilege. The money that does the talking in his case is the money he has to invest.

But we think the two stories sums up the strange world of investment today. Have the hedge funds paid the money in order – somehow – to steal a march on rivals? Or is it simply that the culture of investment banks to charge for anything that moves and their clients haven’t thought to question it?

They have run into financial regulations that don’t let fund managers pay for these meetings and there is talk the FSA could even fine some of those involved, which is obviously a good thing. However we don’t think the short termist part of the market is really a concern for any serious long term investor though they may things a little more volatile for everyone else which is a headache.

The medium to long term investor should however be concerned that many fund managers and institutional investors which could include your pension fund are not taking an active interest in the firms in which they invest.

Neil Woodford may not be alone but he certainly shouldn’t be in a minority. The broad issue is that better engagement would probably be better for the UK economy and certainly the stock market listed sector of it. But what should be of concern to you as an investor is that it might mean that company boards are held to account for poor performance. That could eventually mean you get better returns. Mr Woodford appears to be a case in point given his record.

It’s odd because these two stories illustrate two issues in fund management – the first an almost unhealthy interest in companies from short term investment firms, the second an unhealthy lack of interest from some long term investment firms. The second is much more important for you.

But we’ll let Mr Woodford sum up with this quote.

“What we need to do as an industry is think more long-term about our investment; the failure of the industry is a product of excessive short-termism – it exists at every link of the chain. We need to tackle short-term culture at each segment. Fund managers need to recognise their ownership responsibilities more readily.” Mindful Money couldn’t agree more.

57 thoughts on “Woodford calls on fund manager peers to pay more heed to company strategies”

  1. therrawbuzzin says:

    A debt is only a burden if:

    1) The repayments are sufficiently significant to cause problems.

    2) The debt has to actually repaid

    Now I would suggest that:

    http://www.mindfulmoney.co.uk/uncategorized/middle-income-graduate-will-still-have-39000-student-loan-debt-at-age-40/

    means that middle-income graduates are not exactly being hounded for payment, are not paying usurious rates, and that the repayments are reasonably affordable, and it is not the most serious problem in the world.
    How about we compare and contrast with non-graduate earnings, to decide how much worse students would fare were they not to go to university.
    This is a direct and necessary consequence of the democratisation of further and higher education; the taxpayer cannot afford it.
    If you borrow the maximum, for three years, and earn the average post graduate starting salary of £25000, your monthly payment will be less than £16.
    It will rise, but ONLY in accordance with your salary.
    I’m failing to see a problem here

    1. dutch says:

      ‘How about we compare and contrast with non-graduate earnings, to decide
      how much worse students would fare were they not to go to university.’

      That’s comparing apples and pears.20 years ago,15% of people went to uni,now it’s 42%.

      Also,according to the Guardian,there are roughly 60,000 graduate jobs available per annum,20,000 are blue chip/govt,40,000 are SME.
      According to the HEFCE there were 293,000 UK domiciled Graduates last year.

      The potential problems are massive for the UK going forwards,in no particular order
      1) brain drain to avoid repayment.
      2) housing market/banks levered on a housing market at 6 times average salary,hardly sustainable in a world where 233,000 gradutes are working for min wage in a call centre.

      3) drop in aggregate demand,especially if IR’s rise.
      4) risk to taxpayers of not even recovering the principle

      I could go on.

      1. therrawbuzzin says:

        “That’s comparing apples and pears.20 years ago,15% of people went to uni,now it’s 42%.”

        —-

        I don’t see how you can make that point. If you’re going to say that it’s not worth going to uni because you’ll have to pay £15 a month out of £2k wages, then surely the average earnings of a 25-year-old without the student debt, plus the future prospective earnings of the two have to be compared?

        ______________________

        The potential problems are massive for the UK going forwards,in no particular order
        1) brain drain to avoid repayment.

        What? With 1/2m surplus-to-requirement graduates?

        ____________________________________

        2) housing market/banks levered on a housing market at 6 times average salary,hardly sustainable in a world where 233,000 gradutes are working for min wage in a call centre.

        If they are, then their student debt is of no concern.

        __________________________________________

        3) drop in aggregate demand,especially if IR’s rise.

        ————

        Then the problem solves itself

        _________________________________

        4) risk to taxpayers of not even recovering the principle
        ———–
        That’s only a risk if the intention is to recover it.
        As it is now, 73% of graduates will see some of their debt written off.
        That suggests to me that only those who do really well out of higher education will have to repay their debt in full, and that that may have been the intention, as alluded to in my previous comment.

        1. dutch says:

          What? With 1/2m surplus-to-requirement graduates?

          It has already become ok culturally to go abroad and not repay.fine for humanities grads but not if we lose STEM grads

          If they are, then their student debt is of no concern.

          every ponzi scheme needs new suckers.the cash is inevitable though i agree.

          Then the problem solves itself

          How?

          That’s only a risk if the intention is to recover it

          Generally when you make a loan,the aim is to get repaid.

          1. therrawbuzzin says:

            “It has already become ok culturally to go abroad and not repay.fine for humanities grads but not if we lose STEM grads”

            ===

            Don’t STEM grads usually end up where the research environment is most fulfilling?

            Do you honestly think that £15 a month is the clincher for (we’d hope) intelligent people?

            __________________________

            If they are, then their student debt is of no concern.

            ——–

            I meant that those who are only intellectually “up to” worthless degrees that lead to poorly paid jobs need not worry about having to repay their debt.

            _______________
            Generally when you make a loan,the aim is to get repaid.

            ===
            Generally, true.
            We could discuss the other obvious ways in which student loan terms vary from the commercial norm.
            They are NOT commercial loans, that is the point.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi Shaun,

    Economically, a degree is only worth having if it makes you richer over a lifetime. Many English university degrees fail to make graduates richer. Many English universities are not worth £9000 PA – competition may force some to shut down. Potential students and parents funding them would be well advised to compare various European alternatives, some of which are much cheaper and taught in English.

    The USA has had student fees for decades, decreasing meritocracy and social mobility. The USA has avoided a skills gap for decades by importing top quality graduates, anecdotally many young,married Eastern European science, math & engineering graduates were granted family green cards post 1990. Poaching graduates is a zero sum game, with the losers suffering a brain drain. High tax, high living cost England beware.

    The treatment of potentially very productive and motivated students compares badly to career beneficiaries – no debt millstones, house and food provided in a system that disincentifies work. Lazyness rewarded and hard work penalised – where will this lead when the foreign bankers decide the balance of payments has become unsustainable ?

    1. Anonymous says:

      Hi ExpatInBG

      I agree that the UK system has expanded to a point that some and maybe many undergraduates would not be better off over a lifetime. Also I agree that for most degrees this should be an objective-albeit as ever not so easy to define at the margin-, but I would keep some arts and music courses for example even if they do not.

      It is interesting to see you make an international comparison. I do not doubt that there are plenty of good European universities but do not many foreign students come to the UK? Surely that is a sign that there are also some strengths in the system…

      1. Anonymous says:

        Physicist RV Jones made a good case for classic arts in his book “The Most Secret War”. He also had a good schooling via exams leading to a selective grammar school.

        Blair’s govt phased out selective grammar schools, reducing meritocracy. This leads to the current situation where fee paying schools supply almost all English Cambridge/Oxford students. Elitist education for the wealthy.

        As for foreign students in the UK, the elite UK institutions are very good and £9000 PA is much cheaper than Harvard. Also if foreign students qualify for UK student loans – it creates an opportunity to study and leave without repaying the loan.

        I agree with other commentators that we can only fund limited student numbers, but I think England needs to re-instate merit based selective grammar schools.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    Elephant in the room: mass higher education. Higher education is not for mass education.

    1. therrawbuzzin says:

      Vassilis, I agree. Mass higher education is the self-funded option to mass youth unemployment.
      A huge number of degrees are worthless.
      If large numbers of kids want to pay many thousands for an easily attainable degree in media studies or somesuch, on their own heads be it.

      1. Anonymous says:

        I don’t think we can just blame the kids. By subsidising pointless degrees the govt has pumped up the % who take degrees. Employers who before employed 50th percentile candidates suddenly find that the 50th percentile have a degree, so they start demanding “must be educated to degree” on their forms.

        Now we are locked into this cycle where kids know if they don’t get that degree they can’t even apply for a crappy job. So they go. This is the red queen syndrome that Sean alludes to in his post.

        1. therrawbuzzin says:

          Indeed, indirectly it becomes a form of taxation, but one that only those who do best pay.
          Those that get the crappy jobs, probably don’t end up paying back the loan.

          1. Anonymous says:

            This is an insane misallocation of resources. They need that misallocation to pull forward demand.

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    2. Anonymous says:

      Hi Vassilis

      I agree although once you go down that road it is something (like a few others) that is very difficult to find a reverse gear on.

      On another topic congratulations on the Greek bond issue today although the nuances would be worth a post on their own! For those who have not followed this here are the details from the Wall Street Journal.

      “Greece raised €3 billion ($4.14 billion) by selling bonds that mature in 2019,….The finance ministry said close to 90% of the demand came from abroad. Bankers said the five-year bond would price to yield 4.95%.”

      1. Anonymous says:

        I’d love to know *where* the demand came from. The whole Greek spectacle seems to be a laboured exercise in banks saying to states “play by our rules or we squash you”. This has been spelled out very clearly to all humans, including today’s gushing headlines that Greece was back on track after doing as the banks asked.

        If as part of that propaganda the ECB or the banks wanted to make it look like demand for Greek bonds was strong now they have a hair shirt on would it be so hard for them to engineer this?

        1. Anonymous says:

          I’d love to know where the Greek politicians put the billions that Greece received in loans.

          1. shrimpers says:

            Hi Expat, maybe Shaun has the precise numbers but the Greek bail out was redirected to the German, French, British banks etc since at the time of the original crisis approaching 80% of debt/bonds were held by private sector (banks, hedge funds, asset managements…) and now it’s 80% public i.e. ECB, EU, IMF. Lest we forget I recall Merkel stating that haircuts/restructuring/default would never be allowed to occur again thus the eventual metamorphosis from SMP to untested as yet OMT

          2. Anonymous says:

            I was suggesting that Greek politicians corruptly stole most of the loans and too few have been held accountable – sadly it’s the Greek people who suffer for their leaders misdeeds.

          3. Seasiders says:

            Absolutely agree, indeed parachuting in Papademos, Central bank Governor at the time of GS shenanigans (dragging was head of GS European operations wasn’t he?) denying the Greeks a referendum on the Euro was all part of the protection of their (the elites, banks, poodle politicians) assets in a sturdy Ersatz Dmk bloc whilst the transfer of risk to taxpayers , the so called bail out, has decimated the Outlook for ordinary Greeks

          4. Seasiders says:

            Sry meant Draghi of course

      2. Anonymous says:

        ‘I agree although once you go down that road it is something (like a few
        others) that is very difficult to find a reverse gear on.’ Do you mean the Euro???

  4. forbin says:

    higher education system based on the false belief that having a “degree” means you get a high paying job

    so make ’em pay for the degree

    also as many youths between 18 and 23 can safley be taken off the unemployment list this helps HMG, and ofcourse they can argue that it is self funding as the Tax Payer will get their money back …. hmmm

    now many unimportant degrees will by Darwinian evolution push out the important ones as why study for physics when social studies is easier , and of course I’ll a good job , its a a degree , innit!

    sighs

    so at the age of 23 , no job, big debt, and housing at 6 times salary ( if you get a job ) , might as well get the girl friend up the duff and get social housing….

    and pushing up courses to 9000 is and has put overseas students off .

    me thinks the whole plan was thunked up by Baldrick

    another case of Looking Glass Economica …….

    now where did progrock goto ? I need to book my tickets !!!

    Forbin

    1. Anonymous says:

      Hi Forbin

      This is a clear example of Goodhart’s Law where a statistical relationship – an undergraduate degree gets you a higher paying job- breaks down when it is relied on. The catch of course was that so much expansion of the numbers was always likely to break the relationship.

      Politicians love self-funding schemes where the gains are now but the funding like a can is kicked into the future, in this case often the far future.

  5. Noo 2 Economics says:

    The current system needs to be scrapped and replaced with the old system i.e. educational standards are increased to that of 35 years ago and then comes my twist – calculate how many graduates you actually expect to need over the next 40 years (probably 10% or so of the further education population) and only offer that number of graduate places assigned in merit order based on highest scoring students applying for a particular course.

    Each graduate to be fully funded via the state (no loans) unless their parents are “rich” in which case the parents contribute or fully fund the student dependent on how “rich” they are.

    The remaining swathes of young unemployed are paid benefit and put on quality training schemes. If they refuse they are paid nothing.

    I don’t think this system would cost any more than the current “no intention of recovering student loans” system.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Hi Noo2

      My father has often made the case for technical colleges of the type he went too. He went to Brixton School of Building and became a surveyor. I think that rather than the title inflation where many polytechnics became universities we would have been better off getting them to return to their roots and beginnings. In essence their role would be to educate and equip people for a trade or skill.

    2. Anonymous says:

      I don’t think govt’s should over manage by decree. they could work towards a good educational balance by reducing access to loans and providing a restricted number of student bursaries to the top performers – and only provide student funds in subjects that lead to employment.

      So we get bright students paid to study physics, and anyone wanting media studies can pay up without loan or get a real job.

      I’d also comment that the open university offers widespread access to higher education in a system that does not require large loans.

  6. Dan Hill says:

    And still, better terms of running up debt you will not find. No pay? Don’t pay. You never risk losing your thumbs, kneecaps or your house.

    In the end, by and large, the taxpayer pays. It’s just another PFI scam making the books look favourable short term and plaguing the future for all concerned.

  7. richardbirmingham says:

    It might have had some rationale when less than 10% could hope to become graduates and likely to be mostly high earners. Today’s graduates may on average be higher earners but the incidence is far less pronounced. Lumbering so many with what is, effectively, a graduate tax is creating unnecessary division and when the numbers of people affected reaches a critical mass, electoral considerations will see parties bidding to find ways to ameliorate the burden, probably by accelerating write off of arrears or balances outstanding. If you can legitimately avoid repayment that is a pretty sure bet one day.
    We also risk driving some of our ablest people to emigrate as a practical way of escaping the recovery of loans. The disparity with other eu students is indicative of the muddle caused by introducing policies which have little comparable application elsewhere in the Single Market.

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  16. David Lilley says:

    Shaun,
    I have seven children. I know a lot about student loans; £1,000, £3,000 and £8,600.
    When tuition fees were £1,000 pa we only collected 46%. When they were raised to £3,000 we only collected 22%. What will history tell us about raising them to £6,000?
    Lord Browne expected a competitive market in degree providers where the customer would choose from 100s of providers. But the 150 or so providers decided to go for an oligopoly rather than a perfectly competitive market. And nothing was done to prevent them.
    I cannot remember the names of these anti-competitive groups: the Russell group, the 100 group. They decided not to compete, not to cut each others throats, but to all go for the same tuition fees. Thus £6,000 pa was lifted to £8,600. They got away with this mischief via the brownie point system, bending over the table. Up to 25% of courses would be provided by bursaries, Those paying the full £8,600 average tuition fee would pay a 25% tax on the cost of their higher education.

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  22. Morine Mario hong says:

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  23. dutch says:

    From what I understand Student loan debt can’t be expunged through bankruptcy.What I suspect will happen is that whoever buys the debt at 10p in the £1 will only chase 15% of the people.

    You also run the risk that a future govt changes the T+C’s.

  24. Anonymous says:

    The mechanism is the one used by the UK govt for everything.

    Extend credit based upon the presumption that in time the value will be met.

    The aim: to ensure the markets don’t shout “you over there – are you *printing* money?”

  25. Anonymous says:

    Hi Chris

    Did they always intend to work abroad or was it just circumstances which led them to do so?

  26. Chris Rick says:

    They met and followed their, eventual, wives abroad. So no planning there. The decision on where to live was made later and having tried both countries they decided against UK. Given what their peers are doing they seem to have better lifestyles and are better off.

    As a nation we invested a lot in them and many others like it. You might think it in UK’s interest to encourage them to stay. You could reverse student loans and reward them for staying? Doesn’t UK get payback on the higher salary paid and therefore the higher taxes paid anyway? “So good they taxed them twice”…only they didn’t.

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  29. Peter says:

    oh yes I am wanting lots and lots of monies how much can you give me? Too much is not enough.

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