FCA focuses on liquidity and platforms in light of Woodford crisis

Andrew Bailey writes in the FT about the lessons to be learned from Equity Income suspension

FCA tells EU to get on with reciprocal passporting

The Financial Conduct Authority is eyeing stricter rules around illiquid holdings in open-ended funds as the City watchdog reflects on the lessons learned from the suspension of Neil Woodford’s fund.

In a letter to the Financial Times over the weekend chief executive Andrew Bailey said banning daily withdrawals from funds holding assets that are difficult to trade and forcing funds to keep assets in jurisdictions chosen by investors were among the options on the table as the regulator looks to finalise rules for open-ended funds investing in illiquid assets like property.

Woodford’s £3.7bn fund was forced to suspend dealing last Monday as it was unable to cope with a spike in redemptions.

Bailey said the inability of Woodford’s flagship fund to meet investor withdrawals raised questions as to whether the rules around liquidity are working as they should be. Currently the regulator has a 10% hard limit for unquoted stocks in Ucits products.

Prior to the Woodford episode, the FCA was in the process of rolling out new regulation for Oeics that hold illiquid assets, like commercial property and infrastructure funds, that would require them to suspend trading when there is “material uncertainty” about the valuation of more than 20% of their assets.

He said the regulator would take into accounts the lessons learned from the Woodford meltdown when finalising its consultation.

“The Woodford fund points to a potential problem with the limits on illiquid assets: the purpose of these limits is to ensure that the fund remains liquid. Simply listing an unquoted company overseas does not in itself make the stock liquid. I am a strong supporter of internationally open markets. But investors have a right to choose the jurisdiction in which they invest and for it to be maintained,” he wrote in the FT.

“It is not sensible to provide for daily dealing and redemption in open-ended funds that hold a large exposure to illiquid assets, including those that while listed are not regularly traded.”

Bailey on best-buy lists

Bailey also touched on the responsibilities that platform providers like Hargreaves Lansdown have when singling out ‘best-buy’ funds.

“The use of platforms by investors has grown rapidly in recent years,” he said. “It is important that platforms should exercise their responsibilities thoroughly and in a timely fashion.”

Bailey did not specify whether this was an area the FCA was looking into presently despite calls from many in the industry for the regulator to conduct a review in light of the Woodford crisis.

At the same time the City watchdog boss said he did not want to discourage investment in illiquid securities, which are often issued by start-ups and other firms with “innovative strategies” that are creating jobs and tackling critical issues like climate change.

“Financial markets should support investment in companies that will contribute to economic growth and create jobs. That will foster innovation and help to tackle critical issues such as climate change,” Bailey wrote.

“Securities issued by start-ups and other firms with innovative strategies will often be illiquid, particularly before they begin bringing in revenue, and not all of them will succeed. That is the nature of innovation.

“If we lose sight of this important objective those involved in financial markets will inevitably face criticism that they are too focused on the short-term and are failing to support the economy.”

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