Just when we all thought it was impossible to feel any more disgusted by the behaviour of Neil Woodford, along comes the revelation that he has shared in a dividend of almost £14million.
Now, in the interests of fairness, his spin doctors would want me to say that the payment related to the year ended March 31, 2019, which was before disaster struck in the summer.
But really, so what? The writing was on the wall. Woodford was well aware his investments, too many of them in illiquid, unquoted companies, were performing abysmally. He knew full well nervous investors were leaving.
Rewards for failure: Shamed fund manager Neil Woodford shared in a dividend of almost £14m
Not only that, but he was already engaged in desperate measures to avoid breaching regulators’ liquidity rules.
In March of last year – that is, during the period covered by the accounts – he listed some of his holdings in Guernsey and sold five unquoted stocks to his Patient Capital Trust. He was shifting the deckchairs on the Titanic and he knew it.
Savers trapped in his Equity Income fund were charged around £8million in management fees until Woodford was booted out at the end of last year.
Again, in the interests of fairness, these did not go into his pockets, but were used to pay admin costs and staff wages. But again, so what?
If he had one iota of decency, he could have used his share of this latest dividend to defray those costs. He has, after all, already shared in £100million of divis between 2014 and 2018.
Woodford has shown himself to be an unattractive, brass-necked character, who has coolly taken millions while his investors were in misery, some of them having suffered life-changing losses at his hands.
But the problem goes beyond one individual. By coincidence, rival fund manager Terry Smith put out accounts yesterday, showing he also made many millions.
Smith’s business has made record profits and he is riding high, but as Woodford shows, that can change.
Rewards in the fund management industry are grotesquely asymmetrical. Managers, and the people who run fund supermarkets such as Hargreaves Lansdown, grow super-rich off the backs of savers.
Fund tycoons never end up in poverty, it is only the investors, who often entrust them with small sums, painstakingly earned, who suffer.
If ever there were an industry ripe for reform, this is it.
Boris Johnson’s aim to bring prosperity to all parts of the country faces an obstacle in the form of the housing market.
There have been ten housing ministers in the last ten years. Award yourself a gold star if you can name them* and another if you could pick all of them out in an identity parade. Most of their focus has been on helping first-time buyers.
Just as important, however, are the regional disparities. Nationwide’s latest figures show that the 2010s were a relatively weak decade for house price growth with values rising ‘only’ 33 per cent compared with 180 per cent in the 1980s.
But that average figure masks a significant widening of the regional gap. Prices in London rose by twice the national average at 66 per cent while the North was well below it, at 11pc.
A gulf like this makes it far more difficult for people to move around the country. Talented northerners find it hard to move south because they can’t afford it.
As for talented southerners shifting north, a fabulous home at a fraction of the price is a great lure, provided they are prepared to run the risk of never being able to move back. Inheritance compounds the problems. We are one nation, divided by a dysfunctional housing market.
* Robert Jenrick, Kit Malthouse, Esther McVey, Dominic Raab, Alok Sharma, Gavin Barwell, Brandon Lewis, Kris Hopkins, Mark Prisk, Grant Shapps.
It’s easy to forget how rapidly the British grocery market has changed. At the start of the last decade, German discounters Aldi and Lidl were still minor, fringe players.
Now, as market researchers Kantar point out, they have a combined market share of 13.7 per cent, more than treble that in December 2009.
Ocado, the fastest-growing grocer, hadn’t even floated on the stock market ten years ago, and when it did, in 2010, it was a flop. Now it is a FTSE 100 player with a market value of £9billion.
Iceland, which has a chequered history, is performing strongly, as is the Co-op.
Cheap prices, ethical sourcing, online efficiency: traditional grocers need to step up, because it’s the shape of things to come.
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