June 7, 2019 / 4:45 PM / a month ago

Under fire fund manager Woodford in scramble to sell stakes

* Neil Woodford restructuring Equity Income Fund

* Eyes more redemptions, looks to sell less-liquid stocks

* Circassia, Allied Minds, Redrow all sold down

By Simon Jessop, Muvija M and Helen Reid

LONDON, June 7 (Reuters) - British money manager Neil Woodford cut his stakes in at least 21 companies this week as he frees up cash to meet a rush of redemption requests that forced him to suspend his flagship fund.

Woodford, one of Britain’s best known investors, froze his Equity Income Fund on Monday as too many people were asking for their money back after a number of his top investments turned sour.

The suspension has bought him time to restructure the 3.7 billion pound ($4.70 billion) fund, but stock market filings this week indicate he has been in a rush of selling.

While he has been trimming his holdings to meet redemption requests for several months, the pace stepped up dramatically this week following the suspension.

Filings from the London Stock Exchange - more than 80% of his holdings are UK-based - found 21 sales by Woodford of companies in which he is a major investor.

By contrast, during the whole of May Woodford sold down just two significant stakes. He also raised four and initiated one, by buying a 14.67% stake in Induction Healthcare Group at its initial public offering.

Among the big sales this week were a stake of 5% in intellectual property company Allied Minds, 9.63% in online estate agent Purplebricks, 7.42% in property investor NewRiver REIT and 5.45% in used-vehicle market BCA Marketplace.

He also trimmed positions in builders Crest Nicholson and Kier Group, as well as Circassia Pharmaceuticals.

SHORTS

When Woodford launched his fund management business in 2014, striking out on his own after a storied career at Invesco, he publicly disclosed all his investments, but now Woodford’s website just publicly lists the top 10.

In part, that was an attempt to hamper any hedge fund seeking to bet on market falls in companies he owns, given the rising redemption pressure.

Regulatory filings show he had good reason to be cautious, with several Woodford-backed stocks seeing an increase in short interest this week. However, the extent to which this was directly linked to Woodford’s troubles was not clear, especially as some of the companies are suffering problems of their own.

BlackRock took out short positions of more than 1% on engineering firm Babcock and construction group Kier this week, while Marshall Wace also took out a short position of 2% on Kier. Kier’s share price has recently been hammered following a profit warning and mounting debts.

CZ Capital and GLG Partners took out short positions of more than 1% on NewRiver Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) .

Other investors are simply selling out of stocks Woodford is linked to.

“Clients are trying to get ahead of the forced selling from Woodford,” said the head of trading at a brokerage in Europe.

Institutional funds that held some of the same stocks “started selling as soon as the news came out,” he added.

While Woodford’s main fund is suspended, his listed Woodford Patient Capital Trust, in which his main fund owns a number of shares, has come under selling pressure, falling nearly 20% this week.

Demand to short shares in the Trust, the only listed fund owned by Woodford’s investment management company, were at a 12-month high by the market close on Thursday, data from FIS Astec Analytics showed.

There are, however, some investors betting that selling linked to Woodford’s problems is overdone.

British hedge fund Toscafund snapped up shares in Purplebricks after Woodford started selling his stake this week, raising its position to 10.11% from 5.64%, filings showed.

$1 = 0.7864 pounds Additional reporting by Carolyn Cohn, Lawrence White and Lea Desrayaud in London Editing by Susan Fenton

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