Is it time to buy Patient Capital Trust?

Neil Woodford’s Patient Capital Trust has been taken over by asset manager Schroders. The share price has surged - but should you buy in? John Stepek looks at the trust’s prospects.

Schroders logo © K. Y. Cheng/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

Schroders logo © K. Y. Cheng/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

Quick thing before we start: if you're not already subscribing to MoneyWeek magazine, you can get your first 12 issues for £12, plus a free report on Brexit, all by signing up now. Don't miss it!

Things might be looking up for (some) Neil Woodford investors.

Schroders is taking over Woodford Patient Capital Trust. The trust will be renamed Schroder UK Public Private Trust. The share price surged yesterday as a result.

Woodford had been set to run the trust for three months, but according to Morningstar, "Schroder is poised to take over the running of the trust by the end of the year."

So what happens now?

The future for Patient Capital

First things first you may not be surprised to hear that the (inadvertently) generous fee structure is going to change. Under Woodford, the management needed to deliver net asset value (NAV) growth of at least 10% a year before they became eligible to take a fee.

That never happened (although there was a 0.23% a year charge for annual expenses). So while Patient Capital investors have lost plenty of money (on paper, at least), most of that damage can't be blamed on fees.

Setting such an ambitious target for NAV growth presumably demonstrates the somewhat overstated sense of self-confidence Woodford had at the time. No one was going to take over the trust on the same terms, and so it has proved.

Schroders won't charge a fee for the first three months. But after that, the group will charge 1% a year on the first £600m of assets, and then 0.8% on anything above that.

There's going to be a performance fee too, although that does not kick in until 3 December, 2022. After that point, Schroders will take 15% "of any excess returns above a NAV per share of 77p". (At the moment, the NAV is 63.2p).

And then after that, there will be a 15% fee "of any performance above a hurdle of 10% of net assets a year, subject to a high watermark."

We don't like performance fees at MoneyWeek we feel that there are better ways to align managers' interests with those of investors. That said, if Patient Capital's NAV recovers to a point where investors actually believe that 77p is an accurate estimate, then Schroders will probably have earned the money.

More importantly, what does this mean for Patient Capital's prospects? Is it worth buying in?

The share price surged by almost a third on the news of Schroders' appointment. Yet despite this massive relief rally, the share price is still a good way below the 45p a share at which I said you shouldn't touch it with a ten-foot bargepole last month.

It's also still trading at a massive discount to its NAV of nearly 40%.

In other words, if Patient Capital Trust is genuinely worth buying, I don't think you've missed your opportunity. The question, of course, is this: is it?

Is Patient Capital worth buying now?

What do we know now that we didn't know this time last week?

The fact that Schroders is willing to take on Patient Capital suggests that it is not an entirely lost cause. And apparently Schroders aims to run it in line with the current plan to generate long-term capital growth by investing in both listed and unlisted, primarily UK-focused, companies.

So it's not yet being wound up. Therefore, unlike the open-ended fund, the risk of pressured, fire-sale assets is lower than it was before.

That said, we still don't know what the new management team is going to think when they get a proper chance to trawl through the portfolio.

As Alan Brierley of Investec points out, "Schroders will inherit a highly geared, highly illiquid and concentrated portfolio, predominantly consisting of venture capital investments we expect to see more gremlins before any unicorns."

There's also as Brierley alludes to the tricky question of gearing. The trust needs to sort out its debt levels to give it more room for manoeuvre. Arguably, that should be a bit easier to do now that there is more clarity on the fund's future, but it's still a challenge.

Overall, I'd say that the big change here is that Patient Capital has bought itself some time. That's very important.

The big reason that Woodford got into trouble in the first place is that the illiquidity of his portfolio meant that he had to make short-term decisions based on managing that exposure, rather than long-term decisions this investment style requires.

So getting some breathing space is a big plus. And if the Schroders handover goes relatively smoothly, then chances are that the main concern left will be the quality of the portfolio, rather than issues of running up against limits on leverage and unquoted holdings.

That means that if the underlying investments are genuinely decent, then they might just get the room they need to realise their potential. The question then, of course, becomes: do they have sufficient potential?

I can't answer that. Normally I'd say that a 40% discount to NAV was a wide enough margin of safety not to worry, but this is not a normal situation.

Long story short, I think that this has removed some of the uncertainty hovering over the fate of Patient Capital, and as a result, that does make it more appealing. I don't think it's a high-conviction bargain. And I'm not desperately tempted to invest myself.

That said, if you've been eyeing it up, then I think now could be the time to make a cautious initial investment. In more down to earth language, it's gone from being untouchable to "maybe worth a punt". That's about the best I feel I can say about it right now but that's a lot better than what I was saying a month ago.

Recommended

UK inflation is at a 30-year high and it hasn’t peaked yet
Inflation

UK inflation is at a 30-year high and it hasn’t peaked yet

UK inflation has hit 5.4% - its highest in 30 years. And it could be heading higher. John Stepek explains what it means for you and your money.
19 Jan 2022
The UK jobs market is booming – but wages are struggling to keep up with prices
UK Economy

The UK jobs market is booming – but wages are struggling to keep up with prices

Britain’s jobs market is booming, with wages rising and plenty of of vacancies. But inflation is rising faster than wages can keep up. John Stepek loo…
18 Jan 2022
HubSpot: a tech stock set to tumble
Trading

HubSpot: a tech stock set to tumble

US tech stocks have had a fantastic couple of years. But this year is unlikely to be so bullish for high-fliers that can’t turn big profits.
18 Jan 2022
How to position your portfolio for lasting inflation
Investment strategy

How to position your portfolio for lasting inflation

Inflation is rising around the world – and with high inflation a key part of the solution to the world's debt problem, you should expect it to stay th…
17 Jan 2022

Most Popular

Five unexpected events that could shock the markets in 2022
Stockmarkets

Five unexpected events that could shock the markets in 2022

Forget Covid-19 – it’s the unexpected twists that will rattle markets in 2022, says Matthew Lynn. Here are five possibilities
31 Dec 2021
US inflation is at its highest since 1982. Why aren’t markets panicking?
Inflation

US inflation is at its highest since 1982. Why aren’t markets panicking?

US inflation is at 7% – the last time it was this high interest rates were at 14%. But instead of panicking, markets just shrugged. John Stepek explai…
13 Jan 2022
Tech stocks teeter as US Treasury bond yields rise
Tech stocks

Tech stocks teeter as US Treasury bond yields rise

The realisation that central banks are about to tighten their monetary policies caused a sell-off in the tech-heavy Nasdaq stock index and the biggest…
14 Jan 2022