June 6, 2019 / 4:53 PM / 10 days ago

Guernsey stock exchange ready to work with FCA over Woodford

LONDON (Reuters) - Guernsey’s stock exchange said it knows of no investigation by Britain’s financial markets regulator into the bourse connected to the suspension of a fund by Neil Woodford - or a reason to start one - but stands ready to help the UK watchdog.

Woodford’s Equity Income fund was suspended on Monday after an increase in redemptions, and on Wednesday Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said it was looking into the suspension and the listing of some of Woodford’s assets in Guernsey.

The FCA indicated on Wednesday that it was concerned the movement of some or all of Woodford’s stake in four companies to Guernsey might be an attempt to side-step rules capping the share of unlisted stocks in his fund at 10%.

The four companies in question - biotech company BenevolentAI, technology investor Ombu, energy group IH Holdings and real estate investor Sabina Estates - are all private companies that have listed preference shares in Guernsey. None of the shares have ever traded, the stock exchanges’s website shows.

The International Stock Exchange (TISE) Authority, which operates the Guernsey bourse, said some media had interpreted the FCA’s statement to mean that the UK watchdog was investigating the bourse over Woodford’s suspended LF Woodford Equity Income Fund, but the fund was outside its remit.

“The International Stock Exchange Authority only has a remit for certain securities listed on TISE where the LF Woodford Equity Income Fund is an investor ... (and we) will of course communicate with and support the FCA further,” it said.

Three of the Woodford-linked companies - BenevolentAI, Ombu and IH Holdings - were suspended from the exchange temporarily on April 12 without explanation. BenevolentAI and Ombu were reinstated on April 23, with IH reinstated on May 14.

In its statement on Thursday TISE said it had made several attempts to contact the FCA over the suspensions in April before finally speaking to the authority on May 8.

In a rebuke to the FCA, TISE said it had received no warning of the former’s plan to release a statement about Guernsey on Wednesday.

“The International Stock Exchange Authority proactively engaged with the FCA in the spirit of regulatory cooperation but subsequently was given no prior warning of the FCA statement or its content.”

The FCA declined to comment when contacted by Reuters on Thursday.

People familiar with the FCA said it was the UK watchdog that initiated contact by asking the Guernsey exchange in mid-to-late April about Woodford, with a formal discussion arranged for May 8.

Woodford is also facing pressure over its decision not to waive fees on the suspended fund, a favourite among retail investors. On Thursday a senior British lawmaker joined calls for Woodord to act.

The Guernsey Financial Services Commission, which regulates the island’s bourse, said it was not directly involved in the listings decisions.

“The FCA has no jurisdiction in the Bailiwick of Guernsey and any regulatory investigations in Guernsey would be conducted by the GFSC should it deem any necessary,” it said in a statement.

“The LF Woodford Equity Income Fund is registered in England and Wales and the Investment Manager of the Fund is authorised and regulated by the FCA, not the GFSC,” the statement added.

Reporting by Simon Jessop, Carolyn Cohn and Huw Jones, additional reporting by Kanishka Singh; Editing by Rachel Armstrong, David Goodman and Alexandra Hudson

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