To follow up on my previous blog post over the collapse of Woodford Investment Management and how to avoid dud managers, the focus has now turned in the national media upon Hargreaves Lansdown (HL.). Investors who have lost a lot of money, and now won’t be able to get their cash out for some time, are looking for who to blame. Neil Woodford is one of course, but what about investment platforms such HL?
The Woodford Equity Income Fund was on the HL “best buy” list for a long time – indeed long after its poor performance was evident. They claimed at a Treasury Committee that Woodford had displayed similar underperformance in the past and had bounced back. But that was when he had a very different investment strategy so far as one can deduce.
The big issue though that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) should be looking at is the issue of platforms favouring funds that give financial incentives – in this case via providing a discount to investors and hence possibly generating more revenue when better performing funds such as Fundsmith refused to do so. HL have not recommended Fundsmith in the past, despite it being one of the top performing funds.
It is surely not sensible for fund platforms to be recommending funds unless they have no financial interest in the matter whatsoever. Indeed I would suggest the simple solution is for platforms to be banned from recommending any funds or trusts, thus forcing the investor to both get educated and make up their own minds. Such a rule might spawn a new group of independent retail investor advisors which would be surely to the good.
Today I attended the Annual General Meeting of Rosslyn Data Technologies (RDT). This is an IT company that I bought a few shares in a couple of years ago as an EIS investment. It was loss-making then, and still is but is getting near break-even.
There were only about half a dozen shareholders present, but they had lots of questions. I only cover the important ones here. New Chairman James Appleby chaired the meeting reasonably well, but left most of the question answering to others.
Why did company founder Charles Clark step down (as announced today)? Reason given was that he had set up another company where there was a potential conflict of interest.
I asked about the Landon acquisition that was announced in September. How much revenue would this add? They are not sure but maybe £0.5 million. Bearing in mind they only paid £48,750 for the assets and client list from the administrator, that seems to be me a remarkably good deal. But it later transpired that they have outstanding contracts (pre-paid) which they have to finish so that might be another £250,000 of costs. However, that’s still cheap and by rationalising some of the costs they should quickly turn Langdon profitable. It was suggested that Langdon had been mismanaged with over-expansion and too many staff which is why it went bust – only a few of the staff have been taken on. Note that the impact of this acquisition is not yet in broker’s forecasts.
It was noted that RDT is currently broadly on track for analysts forecasts but it has been a slow start to the year. Deals are slipping into the second half. Decision timescales in major corporates seem to be stretching out at present.
One shareholder, who said “I am talking too much – a daft old man”, which it is difficult to disagree with as he asked numerous questions, some not very intelligent, asked whether they were charging enough for their services. There was a long debate on that issue, but it was explained that competitors were charging less.
There were also concerns about the slow rate of revenue growth (only 8.3% last year). Comment: this company is clearly not operating in a hot, high-growth sector of the market. But it does seem to be competently managed and if they can do acquisitions like Langdon that are complementary then profits should grow.
Altogether a useful AGM.
Brexit has of course made many UK companies nervous about new projects. At the time of writing the latest position appears to be that the EU and Boris have agreed a deal. Most Conservatives like it, but the DUP does not and Labour, LibDems and SNP will all seem likey to vote against it in Parliament. The last group all seem to be playing politics to get what they individually want, but not a general election which on current opinion polls might result in a big Conservative majority. Most people are very frustrated that this group are blocking support of Brexit so we can close down the issue and move on when there seems to be no overall public support for another referendum or cancelling Brexit altogether.
But even given this messy situation, I am hopeful that it will be resolved in one way or the other soon. But then I am the perpetual optimist. I am investing accordingly.
Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson )
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3 thoughts on “Woodford and Hargreaves Lansdown, Rosslyn Data AGM and Brexit”
In your Brexit comment, when you refer to the last group playing politics, I’m not sure whether you mean Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP or just the SNP, but in either case is it right to claim that they’re playing politics? Both the Lib Dems & the SNP have always strongly believed in membership of the EU, so to oppose the latest Brexit agreement is hardly unexpected, is it? At least they are standing on their principles & beliefs. One would struggle to say that of the two main political parties along with the DUP.
Lawson, I think we know your views on Brexit, and no doubt you know mine. I think my comments were fair but it would take too long for me to explain completely why I criticised the various political parties who seem to be opposing the negotiated Withdrawal Agreement for various and differing reasons. If you want to have a political debate, this blog is really not the place for it.
But if anyone wishes to read the revisions to the Withdrawal Agreement, it is here: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/publications/revised-protocol-ireland-and-northern-ireland-included-withdrawal-agreement_en
At first glance it appears to overcome the objections of many to the Withdrawal Agreement as previously agreed, but those who oppose Brexit are now looking for other excuses to reject it.
Thanks for your comment, Roger. but my comment was not predicated upon my views on Brexit but on the need for even-handedness in your views. I shall be glad when this whole sorry saga is over. Regards,