May 12, 2017 / 11:32 AM / 5 months ago

Top-10 Glaxo investor Woodford sells out, criticises board

LONDON (Reuters) - British fund manager Neil Woodford said on Friday he had sold out of pharma company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) after a “frustrating” stint as an investor spanning more than 15 years.

FILE PHOTO: Signage for GlaxoSmithKline is seen on its offices in London, Britain, March 30, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

In a strongly worded blog post on the firm’s website entitled ‘Glaxit’, Woodford said neither growth nor shareholder value had met his expectations, while the board had consistently refused to listen to his plans to break up the company.

Woodford, famous for avoiding the dot.com crash and financial crisis during a 25-year stint at Invesco Perpetual, and who now runs around 10 billion pounds ($12.8 billion) at his own firm, said three of GSK’s four units had been “perennial underperformers”.

Glaxo’s core pharma unit was generating broadly the same revenue as in 2004, its consumer healthcare unit was lagging peers, and growth in vaccines had slowed, leaving HIV franchise ViiV as the one bright spot, Woodford wrote.

“Some investors remain hopeful of recovery but I am now less optimistic,” he said, citing a weak pipeline of new drugs and a lack of strategic options, which made a dividend cut likely.

Woodford said he had challenged management regularly over the years and argued for a break-up of the company into separate, more specialised business units.

The company, meanwhile, had said being diversified was a strength and that there were synergies between the business units.

With ex-chief executive Andrew Witty replaced by Emma Walmsley last month, Woodford said her portrayal of herself as a “continuity candidate”, meant the prospect of a Glaxo breakup was more remote than ever.

A Glaxo spokeswoman said in an email the company did not comment on individual shareholders.

In a separate blog post, the fund firm said it had moved some of the money into Lloyds Banking Group (LLOY.L).

“We view Lloyds as a well-managed bank with a conservative approach to its balance sheet. Its valuation looks very attractive in our view, and it has the ability to pay a very healthy and growing level of dividend,” they wrote.

($1 = 0.7780 pounds)

Reporting by Simon Jessop; editing by Carolyn Cohn and Susan Thomas

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