By Carolyn Cohn, Muvija M and Samantha Machado
LONDON (Reuters) - Neil Woodford has sold 97 million pounds of shares over the past 10 days to boost liquidity in his suspended equity income fund, a Woodford spokesman said on Thursday.
He needs to raise cash from the Woodford Equity Income Fund, which had 3.7 billion pounds in assets under management when suspended, to pay back investors seeking their money due to poor performance.
The fund was frozen on June 3, shortly after a 263 million pound redemption request from the pension fund of Kent County Council in southern England.
Market participants have been expecting a wave of forced selling by Woodford, with some hedge funds taking out short positions against his investments.
"Since suspension, Woodford has sold 97.1 million pounds of stock as he continues to reposition the Woodford Equity Income Fund portfolio," a Woodford spokesman said by email.
Woodford has said he will shift the focus of the fund to larger, more liquid stocks.
Since the equity fund was suspended, Woodford's firm has sold or transferred stakes worth at least 808 million pounds in UK listed companies, according to a Reuters analysis of stock exchange filings.
However the Woodford spokesman said the bulk of these filings related to stock transfers, following the firm's loss of a mandate from wealth manager St James's Place.
Woodford managed an investment portfolio for St James's Place worth 3.5 billion pounds that was held separately from the suspended equity income fund, but St James's Place cancelled that mandate last week so the portfolio is now being transferred back to them. Wealth manager Openwork also dropped a 330 million pound mandate with Woodford last week.
Woodford's firm has cut or transferred its position in at least 22 listed UK companies, including FTSE 100 company Barratt and smaller companies Time Out Group and Purplebricks.
The filings may not represent the full extent of Woodford's UK sales or transfers as firms in Britain only have to report stake reductions when they own more than 3% or 5% of an underlying stock, depending on the company's home base.
The St James's Place mandate did not fully replicate Woodford's equity income fund, which has come under fire for investing in illiquid stocks. Woodford did not invest in unlisted companies or small overseas stocks on behalf of St James's Place, the St James's Place spokesman said.
Woodford's stake changes, and the expectation of further sales, have had an impact on some of its investments in smaller companies.
E-Therapeutics has fallen 9.1% since June 3, IP Group is down 8.1% and NewRiver REIT is off 8%.
"Woodford is creating some bargains for savvy investors by being forced to liquidate positions," said Neil Wilson, analyst at Markets.com.
(Additional reporting by Simon Jessop; Editing by Rachel Armstrong and Keith Weir)