The Motley Fool

Here’s what Neil Woodford has been buying and selling since the Brexit vote

After more than a quarter of a century of phenomenal success running funds for grateful clients, Neil Woodford knows more than a thing or two about managing a portfolio through all manner of political upheavals, economic cycles and stock market ups and downs.

Before the Brexit vote

Woodford had a good deal to say in the run-up to the referendum, both on the macro outlook and the positioning of his portfolio.

In brief, his take was that a leave vote would lead to short-term uncertainty, but that the UK and the world face much bigger challenges than Brexit, including — but not limited to — weakening global growth, excessive debt, and deflation.

As far as the positioning of his portfolio was concerned, he said he was invested in businesses that he believes will deliver high-single-digit growth per annum “despite these significant macro headwinds.” He added that “these companies trade on valuations which do not reflect that capability” and that “the portfolio strategy will not change on a ‘remain’ or ‘leave’ vote”.

Buying the domestic sell-off

After the ‘leave’ vote Woodford and his team observed that: “The initial sell-off gave way to pronounced rotation, as investors fled from domestically exposed stocks to those with global revenues. This move was largely indiscriminate, at least regarding valuations, as many market participants appeared determined to make the switch at almost any cost”.

Woodford was keen to take advantage of “the ill-informed investor behaviour (essentially, panic!), that is a common characteristic of financial markets in a state of shock.” He didn’t go buying any and every UK-facing business that had taken a hammering — for example, banks continue to be shunned — but notably added to two existing holdings “at highly distressed share price levels”.

Insurer Legal & General (LSE: LGEN) and sub-prime lender Provident Financial (LSE: PFG) fell 30% and 25%, respectively, in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote. Woodford and his team reckoned that this was a result of investors simply ditching domestic cyclicals and financials “regardless of valuation or prospects” — and having spoken to the management of both companies since the referendum they have concluded that both businesses remain well-placed to deliver very attractive rates of sustainable dividend growth in the years ahead”.

The shares of the two companies have recovered somewhat but continue to look attractively-valued to my eye. L&G trades on a forward P/E of 9.7 with a dividend yield of 7.2%, while the scores on the doors for the less-cyclical Provident Financial are 15.4 and 4.9%.

Babcock International, Capita and New River Retail are among other UK-facing businesses Woodford has added to since the vote.

Strong risers

Woodford’s tobacco stocks and major pharmaceutical companies, such as AstraZeneca (LSE: AZN), GlaxoSmithKline (LSE: GSK), Roche and AbbVie, were strong risers: “Indeed, such was the extent of the share price appreciation in some of these businesses, that we reduced the portfolio’s exposure to them,” he said, with Roche and Reynolds American singled out for mention in this respect.

I note, though, that AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline were still ranked at two and three in the Equity Income Fund at 30 June with weightings of 8.1% and 7.6%, respectively.

Again, I also see value in these two stocks, which have nice dividends and, I believe, bright long-term futures. AstraZeneca trades on a forward P/E of 15.8 with a 4.5% dividend yield, and Glaxo on 18.2 with a 4.9% yield.

Brexit survivor's guide

Understandably, Brexit has left many investors feeling uneasy and uncertain. That's why the experts at The Motley Fool have written a FREE guide called Brexit: Your 5-Step Investor's Survival Guide.

This is essential reading on the risks and opportunities of Brexit for investors, and could make a real difference to your portfolio returns in the coming years. Simply click here for your copy - it's completely free and comes without any obligation.

G A Chester has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK owns shares of and has recommended GlaxoSmithKline. The Motley Fool UK has recommended AstraZeneca. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.