Hargreaves Lansdown has refused to say whether research director Mark Dampier has sold down his stakes in Neil Woodford’s funds, angering critics who point out that he previously trumpeted about investing his own pension with the stockpicker.
Mr Dampier is under no legal obligation to reveal details about his position as his investments are private. But Hargreaves this week refused to say whether he had reduced his positions in any of Mr Woodford’s funds, including the flagship Equity Income fund, which was suspended on June 3, trapping £3.7bn of investors’ money.
Critics have said Mr Dampier should reveal whether he had sold down his Woodford fund stakes in recent months due to the central role he played in championing the fund manager to Hargreaves customers, and the high-profile way he spoke of investing in his own money in the fund’s launch.
“This is not caught by law, but it is certainly caught by moral imperative,” said Mark Northway, chairman at shareholder rights’ group ShareSoc. “Given [Mr Dampier’s] position in the eye of the storm, transparency is the only policy available to him. He needs to stand up and say what he has and what he’s thinking.”
The criticism comes as Hargreaves faces pressure from MPs on the influential Treasury select committee and scrutiny from the UK financial watchdog over its ties to Mr Woodford. The UK’s largest investment fund supermarket has apologised to customers, waived some fees on the billions of pounds its customers hold with Mr Woodford and said its chief executive will forgo his bonus until the crisis is resolved.
At the end of March, Hargreaves customers accounted for about £2bn of the £10.1bn invested in Mr Woodford’s funds. The broker has been criticised for its decision to readmit Mr Woodford’s fund into the Wealth 50 at the start of the year, despite the fund’s lacklustre performance, and only removing it after the fund was suspended.
Back in 2014, Mr Dampier publicly told customers he was investing his pension in Woodford Equity Income in an article entitled “why I am buying Neil Woodford’s new fund in my pension”, adding that his wife was investing part of her savings in the fund.
He also told the Daily Telegraph in 2015 he would invest in Patient Capital Trust. “This looks to me to be a great opportunity to invest for the genuine long term with one of the best fund managers of his generation, Neil Woodford,” he said.
Hargreaves declined to comment and Mr Dampier did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr Dampier is a longstanding acquaintance of Mr Woodford, having known him for 25 years, and conducted personal interviews with him on Hargreaves’ behalf.
The Hargreaves executive also published a glowing note about Equity Income as recently as May — only a month before the fund shocked its investors by taking the unusual move of suspending trading due to a liquidity crunch.
“Hargreaves was quite bullish about saying [Mr Dampier] had invested and using that as a way of highlighting the fund,” said one financial adviser who wished to remain anonymous. “In this case they promoted the fact he had invested and if they sold the fund partly on the back of [his] investment, then they should say if he sold too.”
“He now needs to identify the dates of his research notes and the dates of his market activities,” said Mr Northway at ShareSoc.
Hargreaves’ own policy stipulates that the company be informed when directors buy or sell any investment, including unit trusts. All such deals must be pre-approved.
However directors are not required to divulge whether they own positions in unit trusts in notes to customers about those funds, unlike the rules governing listed investments.
Mr Dampier attracted attention this month when it emerged he and his wife had sold £5.6m worth of shares in Hargreaves on May 16, avoiding a subsequent slump as a result of the company’s ties to Mr Woodford.
“The wider picture of privacy is important,” said the financial adviser, speaking about Mr Dampier’s refusal to reveal his Woodford stakes. “And context is everything. If [Mark] had sold units there might be a reason. But ultimately Woodford is an exceptional situation.”
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