Vaccine envy and reasons to be cheerful
As we start a new tax year and with the roadmap out of lockdown in place, we sense an air of optimism about what the year ahead has in store. With the changes that come with the restrictions easing, financial resilience and health and wellbeing are in the spotlight like never before. It is pleasing to see the FTSE 100 break through 7000 last Friday – continuing on its path to recovery.
Due to the UK's rapid vaccine programme, even economists are now altering their predictions for the second quarter of the year.
Although we took a step towards normality this month in the UK, it is also clear that many people may not want to manage more than one celebratory pint in a snowy pub garden before heading back home to the warm. Staycation holidays are going to be popular this summer despite the unpredictable UK weather. However, market dynamics tell us that the economic climate in the UK is more amenable than the weather outlook.
While it’s tempting to focus on the remarkable immunisation efforts in countries like the UK, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and, increasingly, the US, we mustn’t forget that the virus knows no boundaries and there is a whole planet out there to be vaccinated and there’s a long way to go before that’s complete. More than one year after the first Coronavirus outbreak, large parts of the global economy are still far from pre-pandemic levels, as they grapple with new waves of coronavirus outbreaks.
Over in Europe, one gets the feeling that a degree of envy is creeping in and things are much less positive. After Brexit, there was plenty of scepticism placed on the UK's new future. Now, 100 days since Brexit, German commentators are taking note of the fact that the pound is strong, as is the stock market. While EU states are now experiencing a third wave of the virus, the vaccination programme has provided a valuable lifeline to UK plc. Figures in Brussels predicted the economy would tank after Brexit but our friends in Europe realise that Britain did not "go under" after leaving the EU. With shops and pubs reopening due to the vast number of people vaccinated, they have to admit that "it's not going badly on the island." Europe’s vaccination programme has famously stalled while virus cases are rising, and tighter restrictions are coming into force. The political finger-pointing across the Channel continues but we expect the political dramas to dissipate throughout the year. Europe will eventually catch up, but only once their vaccination campaign starts to gather speed.
Elsewhere, it is clear markets were eager to pounce on any early ‘vaccine dividend’, as those countries with higher vaccination rates fared much better than those with slow uptake. Investors are clearly most excited about the US, however, where a rapid vaccine rollout has been complemented by two of the most significant fiscal packages in recent times: A $1.9 trillion recovery act aimed at supporting citizens through the pandemic and a $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan that promises to boost US growth beyond it.
In China, economic data is looking pretty rosy as Q1 growth is reported as 18.3% buoyed by domestic demand and higher exports. While the figure will be heavily skewed by the plunge in activity a year ago, the jump would be the strongest since at least 1992. The Chinese National Bureau of Statistics commented with this caveat: “We must be aware that the Covid-19 epidemic is still spreading globally, and the international landscape is complicated with high uncertainties and instabilities.” A Senior economist with Dutch bank Rabobank also commented: "This will moderate later in the year, but we still expect China to easily beat its growth target of above 6% for 2021."
As much as we would all want this to be true, there is no room for complacency. Contrary to some investors’ cheery exuberance in light of promising vaccination campaigns – depending on where you are in the world – there are notes of caution.
The end of the furlough scheme in the UK and other support measures must not present too big a bump in the road to disrupt the path back to economic growth. Geopolitics may cloud things over sooner or later.
The more optimistic among us see this as the last chapter of the Covid-19 saga before vaccination efforts wrap up. Isn’t it always darkest before dawn? So, let’s hope we are on the cusp of better times again. Perhaps an era of indulgence?
If the weather warms up, vaccinations continue to reduce the public health impact of the virus and the economy continues to re-accelerate there are good reasons to be cheerful.
Why a Lasting Power of Attorney is in everyone’s best interest
Throughout the pandemic, one thing has been certain: the elderly, especially those living in care homes, appear to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of the virus. Understandably, they are therefore a priority group for receiving the vaccine as soon as possible. But what happens if the person themselves doesn't wish to receive the vaccine, or if they don't have the capacity to make that decision for themselves? Who determines whether they should or shouldn't receive the vaccine?
This very question was considered by the courts in a recent case, centred around an 80-year-old care home resident from Cornwall, (‘Mrs E') sadly suffering from dementia. In early January 2021, it was communicated by the local authority that Mrs E was to be offered a Covid-19 vaccination, however, Mrs E's son objected. The court was quickly asked to consider whether under the relevant sections of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, it would be lawful and in Mrs E's best interests to receive the vaccine.
As part of the court process, Mrs E's GP conducted a brief capacity assessment in which she was asked about both her thoughts on a) the coronavirus pandemic (which she could not recall), and b) her wishes in regard to being vaccinated, to which she responded, "whatever is best for me". Having established that Mrs E was unable to make the decision herself, the judge then moved on to consider whether receiving a Covid-19 vaccination was in her best interests.
Weighing up that Mrs E, prior to her diagnosis of dementia, had willingly received a flu vaccine, as well as a swine flu vaccine, he determined that when Mrs E had capacity, she had chosen to be vaccinated in line with public health advice. She had also placed her trust in the GP by stating she would want what was best for her.
As a ‘person interested in Mrs E's welfare', the judge had to take into account the views of Mrs E's son who had raised the objection to the vaccination. He was deeply sceptical about the vaccine, the speed at which it was authorised, whether it had been adequately tested, and also whether his mother's true wishes and feelings had been sufficiently canvassed. Nevertheless, Mrs E's son also gave evidence that he didn't object to the vaccination in principle: just that he did not consider now was the right time for his mother to receive it.
The balance that the judge decided he had to consider on Mrs E's behalf was the real risk to her life from the virus, and the unidentified possibility of an adverse reaction to the vaccine. The judge concluded that in Mrs E's circumstances, particularly taking into account the various vulnerability factors such as her age, ongoing medical problems and the fact that the care home in which she was resident had recorded positive cases of Covid-19, there would be a "real and significant risk to her health and safety were she not to have the vaccine". As such, he declared that it was in her best interests to receive it as soon as practically possible.
There is no mention of a Lasting Power of Attorney in this case, but this serves as a shining example of a situation where, if Mrs E had made an LPA for her health and welfare decisions before losing capacity, she would have had a named attorney, be it her son or another person of her choosing, who could have made this decision on her behalf. In turn, these court proceedings, family anxieties and the resulting delay in administering the vaccine to Mrs E might have been avoided.
It also serves as a reminder to all of us that it is important to consider whether there are any circumstances relating to medical treatment where you would have a strong feeling either way; for example, whether you would want to be vaccinated in line with public health advice or not.
If so, these circumstances should be recorded appropriately within an LPA well in advance of any potential loss of capacity, so that the subjective nature of the ‘best interests' test being applied by your attorney, or by medical professionals, on your behalf, could be avoided.
For this reason, and as part of our advice, we always strongly recommend that our clients consider taking out LPAs for themselves and their loved ones.
Source: Professional Adviser
March 2021 market commentary
This week will mark the anniversary of the turning point of the 2020 COVID stock market crash. Back then it seemed unimaginable that today, some investors would be looking at their one-year portfolio returns and be astonished to find double-digit return figures. These exceptional annual return levels are mainly due to the ‘base effect’ or starting from a low level in the first place. Selecting quality funds has also been key. When converted into percentages, the increase is particularly pronounced. However, we do not expect them to be repeated in the coming months.
Nevertheless, it is pleasing that much of what we communicated to clients in our ad hoc crisis commentaries a year ago has materialised. In the words of Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army ‘Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring’ turned out to be good advice. The global economy remains intact, and near-term growth prospects look strong – as does the likely unprecedented demand spike – once the pandemic finally retreats. A well-diversified portfolio has demonstrated its worth and will continue to do so.
With stock markets having already priced in a considerable amount of what recovery hopefully lies ahead, there is – somewhat paradoxically – more to be anxious about. We are entering a period without real historical reference, and economic data affected by the very same base effect that investors experience for their investment returns, creates considerable uncertainties and nervousness that has led to renewed volatility in capital markets.
Overall, markets are still making upwards progress. However, the concern over rising bond yields is both a risk for spoiling the expected recovery party and creating different winners and losers compared with last year. We do not think this should prove too much of an issue for holders of widely diversified investment portfolios. This situation does mean that the markets are having to ‘find their feet’ again after months of central bank support, and this, coupled with currency fluctuations has led to more volatility this month.
On the subject of bonds, as part of our ongoing service and objective of reducing the cost of advice to clients, being a major Chartered IFA in the South West of England, we use our continued growth and size to negotiate special terms with our providers. As well as obtaining unique pricing with Fidelity, Vitality and Aegon, we have also just secured a significant reduction in charges from Allianz in connection with their Strategic Bond fund.
In February, I commented that it seems likely that people will want to make up for lost time after a year of house arrest. Yet it will depend on whether they feel safe to get out and spend – both financially and physically – and whether they have the ability to do so. Consider this hypothetical: if one assumes a fifth of all restaurants were ruined by the pandemic, and that the remainder can cater to just half their usual covers because of continued COVID trading restrictions, that will leave restaurant capacity at 40% of pre-pandemic levels. Not everyone will be able to book a table. You may be experiencing this frustration yourself ahead of the UK’s lockdown easing!
Given the scale of demand and the still-constrained supply, inflation in some areas like pubs, restaurants, hotels and theme parks should be expected in all nations. At least for this year. However, we believe this flurry of activity will settle down and new businesses will spring up in response to the queues of punters. The coming spike in inflation should prove transitory, in our opinion, because there are many stronger, longer-lasting economic trends that are keeping a lid on prices. These include the large amounts of debt held all round the world, technological innovation and demographic changes. There’s also the prospect of rising unemployment – the latest UK measure shows the official jobless figure at 5%, down from 5.1% - is this a sign that the situation is easing?
In the US, the Fed Chair Jay Powell announced this week that short term interest rates would remain where they are until at least 2024 – quite a big ask but they are keen to avoid squeezing any economic recovery by prematurely increasing borrowing costs for governments, businesses and households.
Given how much sway yield levels and inflation concerns are having over market action right now, it is also worth taking a snapshot of where we are with the state of the pandemic.
Globally, the COVID infection numbers are rising again, perhaps driven by a large increase in testing, perhaps because restrictions are being lifted with schools reopening in many places, perhaps driven by the new more contagious strains or perhaps because people everywhere are getting tired of lockdowns.
In the (traditionally insular) US, hospitalisations are declining sharply, and the ‘positive test’ numbers have stopped falling since schools went back and the testing capacity doubled. The now-passed American Rescue Plan Act is already putting money into the pockets of American consumers, which will boost consumption strongly, especially after the winter storm-induced (rather than COVID-induced) slowdown in late February-early March. Consumer service spending could prove particularly strong with, for example, tourist resort hotels completely booked out in the coming weeks and months. Unfortunately, current activity data elsewhere in the world is no longer improving – just like the daily figures on the pandemic.
Case numbers are rising again in Europe and, unfortunately, this appears to be down to greater transmission rather than more testing. The ‘shall we’/ ‘shan’t we’ approach by EU leaders to endorsing the AstraZeneca vaccine for example, has delayed progress and prolonged their lockdowns. What, or rather who, are the ‘clots’ are we talking about here?!
It’s refreshing to see the UK as a world leader in vaccinating its population and we should be proud of that achievement.
Meanwhile, Asia has also had some of its confidence shaken by what appears to be a small COVID resurgence. This is at a much lesser level than Europe but has been enough to keep consumers from enjoying the oncoming spring.
All in all, thankfully, the world continues to shuffle towards something resembling what we used to know.
Sources: Rathbones, Tatton, BBC Business.
Budget 2021: Lifetime allowance frozen until 2026
The pensions lifetime allowance will be frozen at just more than £1m until April 2026, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced on Wednesday. Delivering the 2021 Budget, Sunak said the LTA will stay at its current level of £1,073,100 until April 2026, instead of increasing in line with the consumer price index. Personal tax thresholds for both basic and higher-rate taxpayers will rise next year as previously planned, but will then also be frozen until 2026. The LTA is a limit on the value of pay-outs from pension schemes — whether lump sums or retirement income — that can be made without triggering an extra tax charge.
In other budget pensions news, the government will be launching a consultation aimed at supporting the UK economy with pension assets post-Covid, the Chancellor announced. This will mean “taking steps to give the pensions industry more flexibility to unlock billions of pounds from pension funds into innovative new ventures”. He said that Lord Hill has led a "landmark review" in this area, and that the Financial Conduct Authority will be consulting on this matter "very shortly".
According to the budget documents, this consultation will analyse whether certain costs within the charge cap, set at 0.75 per cent, affect pension schemes’ ability to invest in a broader range of assets. The goal is to ensure that pensions schemes are not discouraged from such investments and are able to offer the “highest possible return for savers”. Additionally, the Department for Work and Pensions will also come forward with draft regulations to make it easier for schemes to take up these opportunities within the charge cap by smoothing certain performance fees in a multi-year period. We await the FCA consultation.
February 2021 market commentary
After a wobble at the end of January, the markets took little time to recover and February has progressed in a modest upward trajectory.
Flowery flashes of colour are popping up in the fields and in our gardens and very soon spring will be in the air. With Monday’s announcement from Boris Johnson, we are getting tantalising glimpses of what life could look like in the coming months.
Economically, it will take much longer for the country to emerge from the prolonged ‘pandemic winter’. You can understand the authorities’ reluctance to throw open the shutters, drop the rules and encourage everyone to start mixing once again. Previous attempts to skip out of lockdown led to soaring infections, overwhelmed hospitals and a return to house arrest. Softly, softly is the idea this time round. When deciding whether to continue opening up or tighten restrictions again, the government will be monitoring four specific areas of data: vaccinations, continued reduction in hospitalisations and deaths, NHS capacity, and virus mutations.
Reopening has begun already, with younger Scottish pupils heading back to school this week. All English and Northern Irish schools will follow on 8 March, with Welsh ones joining a week later. For many a parent, this news will be cause for celebration. After months of juggling children and work, many are feeling very frazzled. And more than a few have been chastened by fiendish lessons they’ve forgotten over the years!
With pent up demand, and money ‘burning a hole in my pocket’ attitudes from some, there are expectations that there will be a strong recovery in economies as they emerge from lockdowns. Albeit, this idea should be tempered by the knowledge that the true rate of unemployment (when you strip out government support schemes) is running at about 7% in the UK and 10% in the US. Red hot spending tends to stoke inflation, now there’s a word that hasn’t been in the fore in recent years. If the sheer length of time and crushing circumstances of this virtually year-long shutdown has caused greater damage to businesses than anyone has realised, firms could take a while to catch up on production. In that scenario, there won’t be enough capacity to produce the goods and services that people are clamouring for – a classic recipe for inflation. However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, part of the dynamics will be to see how the pandemic may have changed people’s behaviour. Only time will tell.
On the plus side, there has been no UK double dip recession and the economy grew by 1% in the last quarter of 2020 and current estimates for Q2 are put at +5%. Anecdotally, I have heard that for firms such as florists, carpet and flooring retailers, wine merchants, yacht builders and sports equipment suppliers, business is booming.
On Wednesday March 3rd, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak will present his Spring budget.
As the end of the tax year looms on April 5th, we would like to remind clients that if they wish to top up their ISA or pension then the clock is ticking. Talk to your adviser about the tax benefits and how investing in funds rather than cash deposits, has the potential to out-perform inflation as well. If you are not sure how inflation impacts your spending power, 50 years ago in February 1971 when decimalisation was introduced, the average house cost £4,265, and a pint of beer would set you back 14p, a bargain.
Fact sources: Rathbones, Daily Telegraph.
Pension contributions largely unaffected by the Covid-19 pandemic
Auto-enrolment participation rates remained resilient during the Covid-19 pandemic and in the wake of minimum contribution increases, according to a report by NEST Insight. Auto-enrolment is a Government initiative launched some years ago to encourage people to save for their retirement by taking responsibility for their own pension via their workplace. Payments into a pension can be made from personal wages and salaries and by the employer.
NEST’s third annual Retirement Savings in the UK report revealed between April 2019 and September 2020, despite predictions that significant numbers of people would stop saving for retirement in light of minimum contribution increases and the Covid-19 pandemic, evidence does not back this up.
Over the course of NEST's research timeframe, minimum contribution rates increased from 5% to 8% of qualifying salary and the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in national lockdowns which had a significant impact on savings and the financial wellbeing of many.
The report, which highlights the savings behaviours of more than 9.5 million NEST members - revealed that as at March 2020, opt-out rates remained below 8%, while between April and September 2020 opt-out rates increased by just 3% to 11%.
It also found there were no significant changes in average contribution levels between April 2020 and September 2020, while around one fifth continued contributing more than the minimum contribution rate.
NEST Insight suggested millions of members have been able to continue saving in the same way due to the benefits of "the buffering effect of the UK government's coronavirus job retention scheme.
The data is only up until last September so it’s still a little too early to assess the full impact of the pandemic. So far though, savers have continued to squirrel away part of their earnings for later in life with around 20% contributing more than the minimum contribution rate.
Being in lockdown has allowed time for some to review their retirement plans and it has sharpened the focus on what they may have (or not have) in the way of financial backing to support their later life leisure plans. Investing in a pension is very tax efficient way of saving for the future.
Scams, scams and more scams
We have written many times before on this subject but sadly, illegal activities by the unscrupulous continue to blight the financial landscape – a problem that seems to have worsened significantly through lockdown as criminals target the more vulnerable. With a new year and hopefully a new outlook for later in 2021 the industry needs to do all it can to protect clients and consumers from these types of scams. The best way to do so is to understand the ways in which scams operate and I have outlined below some of the latest audacities:
Data from Action Fraud revealed clone fraud victims lost £78m to scammers in 2020, with reports to authorities rocketing during the first national lockdown.
On average people lost more than £45,000 to online fraudsters. The data also showed that reports of cloned firms increased by nearly 39% from April to March last year as scammers took advantage of fears related to the first Covid-19 lockdown.
As an example, news has emerged of scammers who appeared to be acting as a fake St James Place adviser called Richard Thorpe, offering support and guidance relating to bonds and have even set up a fake cloned website called 'Bond Compare'. This was reported to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in November 2020 but at the time of writing, the FCA have not acted to close it down.
An adviser in Hull managed to thwart a Covid-19 vaccine-related fraud. The IFA said that two of his clients came close to losing money after they received texts offering them a chance to get the vaccine.
There is the old adage that if something appears too good to be true, then it probably is. Investing in something that seems exotic and mysterious may be tempting in these rather dull and boring times, but they are generally very high risk. These types of investments (such as overseas properties, renewable energy, forestry or biofuels) often sound plausible and like they should be a safe investment. However, even if they are legitimate, once the funds have left the UK, they could be very difficult to retrieve with regulation not being as strict elsewhere; in many countries, the money could be used for illicit purposes and never seen again.
Cold calling, is now actually banned for pensions, but the legislation is only enforceable for those calling from the UK or offering UK services. For calls originating abroad, the regulator is somewhat toothless in preventing or prosecuting these scammers. Targeting through cold calling is nothing new, nor is it isolated to pension funds, but pension funds are one of the largest investments that people will ever accrue, so naturally they are very appealing to scammers. The FCA has identified 30,000 instances of unregulated activity in last 12 months. The callers won't necessarily be asking to access pensions and pass the funds to them directly; however, they may be trying to engage individuals further by visiting a website or agreeing to take pensions ‘advice' from them. The cold call will likely just be the start or lead into another more elaborate scam.
The internet is rife with fraudsters offering wonderful schemes, but they are only trying to trick you out of your money. A rising number of Instagram users have lost money to alleged fraudsters posting on the social networking service. These get-rich-quick trades come with promises of immediate profits so may seem very tempting. With a lot of young people looking at social media every day, scams like this are becoming more common. It is easy in the comfort of your own living room to be sucked in wanting to believe it and wanting a different lifestyle, especially these days with young people struggling to get jobs. Increasingly, more people are looking at different and newer ways to make more money.
There are billions of social media accounts and algorithms aren't sophisticated enough yet, so we can't rely on computers to sift out the bad stuff. Social media companies have got a steep wall up against them. We would strongly advise investors to only deal with financial firms that are authorised by the FCA.
We would urge social media users to never part with money when they are dealing with somebody they don't know. Sometimes it’s just a case of a doing a simple reality check and a little common-sense research. Who is behind the person or company, are they properly registered, have you looked at on-line testimonials or reviews? Before clicking the ‘go’ button, if you are in any doubt whatsoever, show everything to a close relative or trusted friend for a second opinion.
January 2021 market Commentary
A New Year, a new President and a new trade deal; how much has changed and what does it mean for investors?
2020 surprised everyone, financial markets largely ignored the worst economic collapse since World War II. The year continued with an abundance of uncertainty only to be surpassed with an attack on US democracy. It was a year that was impossible to predict and kept us hanging on right until the end.
As we start 2021, the global recovery hangs in the balance. The markets are currently enjoying the spill-overs from last year which has seen the evaporation of some long-standing uncertainty – the end of Brexit negotiations, the handover of power in the US after all the Trump ignominy and the mass vaccination programme. It seems hard to believe that Mr Trump is deemed unfit to run his Twitter and Facebook accounts yet has been left in control of the nuclear Armageddon red button!
Clouds of uncertainty do still exist over vaccine timings and the effects of monetary and fiscal stimulus, as well as earnings growth and unemployment numbers. These factors may cause pockets of market volatility in the months ahead. The return of severe public activity restrictions in the wake of exponentially rising rates of COVID infections seem to paint a very different picture for the shorter term. And yet, despite the economic hardship these will inevitably – and often arbitrarily – bring for different parts of the economy, the medium-term outlook of markets is far more driven by the ramping up of the vaccination campaigns than the short-term pressures on the economy. Compared with the 2020 lockdowns, governments are once again making considerable efforts to prevent the worst for their respective economies, while the vaccines should lessen the need for the most stringent restrictions over the coming months, and thereby support improvements in earnings expectations.
On a lighter note, for sports fans there is the prospect of the much-anticipated football Euros tournament starting on 11 June, to be held across 12 countries in Europe; and hopefully, the Olympics will finally get under way in Japan on 23 July. Personally, and like many of you, I am looking forward to a foreign holiday once again (maybe) and the chance to see my beloved Genesis in concert following the postponement from last year.
We are all waiting for this Covid nightmare to stop, so that we can dispense with the masks and go and see Grandma whenever we feel like it.
After a year in which social factors featured highly on government and corporate agendas, climate change looks set to be the sustainability priority in 2021, fortified by the EU’s Green Deal and by US President-Elect Joe Biden’s evident support. Expectations are high about what could be achieved to speed up decarbonisation at the UN climate change summit in late 2021. Here at Pension Drawdown, environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations are already integral in our approach to portfolio fund selection, and we are keen to support companies that do the right thing.
Portfolio diversification will be even more relevant as assets and geographical performances will undoubtedly vary around the world depending on how different governments manage the control of the virus.
Aside from the US and Europe, other regions have coped better with the pandemic with their citizens generally embracing their Government guidelines without the minority who have been casually flouting them. I can only imagine that this is due to stricter controls and tougher consequences.
The rising Covid-19 case numbers make it difficult right now to envisage a return to normal. Yet as the pandemic drags on, the global economy has proven remarkably resilient, so far. As things stand, it seems like we are in no-mans-land but as Spring starts to appear on the horizon, let’s hope the sun will soon be shining on us all again.
Client Services Manager
Disclaimer: As ever, please do not take this as specific advice to buy or sell into any particular fund or market theme. The value of investments will fluctuate up and down and you may not get back all that has been invested.
How often do you review your pension?
The answer is probably not often enough but events of the past year have been a stark reminder of how precarious one’s finances can be. This is particularly apparent given the rising number of redundancies in the UK.
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics paint a grim picture of the labour market, with redundancies reaching a record level of 370,000 between August and October last year. The furlough scheme has yet to end so it is unlikely that these figures will improve any time soon.
It may be tempting to eye up the capital held your pension but with hundreds of thousands facing financial turmoil, the resounding narrative from the professionals is clear — seek advice before embarking on any potentially life-changing decisions.
We would urge those facing redundancy not to panic and avoid taking money from their pensions without understanding the implications. There is help out there.
Additional decisions are thrown into the mix with the prospect of a partially tax-free cash redundancy payment – how long will it last? Will I get another job? What savings do I have to fall back on?
Another option that people made redundant are looking at, is using their defined benefit, or final salary-style pension, as this can be a substantial asset. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has repeatedly taken the stance that defined benefit transfers, are not actually suitable in the vast majority of cases. It follows many cases in recent years in which people were incorrectly advised to leave the schemes and consequently lost the benefit of a guaranteed income. A transfer involves converting the benefits of a defined benefit scheme into a cash sum, known as the transfer value, and investing it into a personal pension. It’s easy to look at a transfer value and be tempted by the cash value. However, at a time when you are already going through significant change in being made redundant, one should not be making huge decisions about the future without seeking quality advice. Final salary transfers are one-way ticket and cannot be undone.
So, what of those, for whom a transfer would be most suitable when faced with the prospect of redundancy? The question advisers will be asking for clients is: do they stay put in the final salary scheme and let the benefits accrue under the scheme rules, or do they look at the viability of a transfer out? The answers are not straight forward but any qualified Pension Transfer Specialist will be able to provide them, and also come up with a sensible and appropriate retirement plan. Transfer values are still generally at all-time highs, certainly they are more attractive than they were only two years ago. It is worth seeking advice on what to do with an existing defined benefit scheme if only for the peace of mind of knowing that all avenues have been explored and one is in a fully informed position.
For further information see https://www.gov.uk/pensions-advisory-service
As we edge towards Christmas, some people will be glad to see the back of the annus horribilis of 2020. For many, it will be remembered as the ‘Covid-19’ year and will stick in the memory like 9/11 in 2001, and the long hot summer of 1976. There have been numerous challenges throughout the year both in terms of human well-being, economics and politics. As we know, some individuals and businesses have coped better than others.
Here at Pension Drawdown, we have been well placed to deal with the various headwinds and the graph below illustrates just how our funds under management (FUM) – and your portfolio - bounced back after global markets retreated in the spring. We are delighted to see our FUM reach the £300m threshold, the highest they have ever been. This is no accident and has been achieved by a combination of sound portfolio management, considered fund selection, and regular new client referrals. We are very appreciative of all the new business you have referred to us as well as the kind testimonials given.
As always, it is a team effort here, and we take great care in all that we do for you.
In the summer we said good-bye to Ben Smith and more recently, Sarah Heal who have moved on to pastures new, and we wish them both well. To fill the gaps, the team has been strengthened by the recruitment of some new employees with a mix of experience and youthful exuberance. We are delighted to welcome Nigel Heald, Shaun Dummett and Toby Clements. Nigel is fully qualified and has years of experience behind him. Shaun is currently studying for his financial services qualification and is making good progress towards his diploma. Toby is newly qualified and will be working mainly with Suzanne Walker in Surrey.
We hope that they have long and successful careers with the firm.
We are looking forward to 2021 and beyond with a degree of optimism. The Coronavirus vaccines will set us on a path to normality and a less restricted life, but this will not happen overnight. Some analysts are predicting the advent of a modern day ‘Roaring Twenties’, others are tempering this thought because of the rising unemployment and economic uncertainty across the UK and other countries around the world, especially in the leisure industry. The road to recovery is still likely to be subjected to the occasional ambush along the way by volatile markets.
Despite the Brexit ‘game of chicken’ which has unfolded in the last few weeks, (as I write this, yet another extension has been agreed and talks continue) the markets have digested the near-term economic developments in the context of better times to come finishing the year reasonably strongly and relatively calm. We may look back and see November as a turning point.
The office will be closed for the Christmas break at 5pm on 23rd December, re-opening at 9am on Monday January 4th 2021.
From myself, Jonathan and the rest of the team, we wish you and your family a safe and peaceful Christmas and a more agreeable 2021.
Have you transferred your final salary (DB) pension into drawdown?
The ongoing legal battle brought by members of the Lloyds Banking Group final salary pension scheme reached another important milestone on Friday.
Defined benefit (DB) schemes that provide GMPs must revisit and, where necessary, top-up historic cash equivalent transfer values (CETVs) that have been calculated on an unequal basis, a landmark court judgment said last week.
The judgment in the second instalment of the GMP equalisation litigation involving Lloyds Banking Group's DB pension schemes was handed down on Friday (20 November) following a court hearing back in May and two additional court hearing days in October on the question of past transfers-out. It also stated that trustees that did not calculate a GMP when making the transfer may have "committed a breach of duty" if they made an "inadequate" payment.
Justice Morgan held that the trustees of Lloyds' schemes are not discharged from the need to top-up historic CETV payments by any statutory provision, any rule of the schemes or by any agreement with the transferring member.
At the same time, he noted that the trustees' duty to correct inadequate transfers is not time barred or forfeited, either under the rules of the Lloyds' schemes or under the Limitation Act 1980.
This ruling is likely to affect every DB scheme in the UK that provides GMPs accrued between 17 May 1990 and 5 April 1997. It means that trustees of such schemes are required to revisit cash equivalent transfer values paid to former members and make a top-up payment where a member has not been paid their full entitlement. Of course the devil will be in the detail and the decision gives rise to lots of difficult practical issues. For example, typically, schemes are only required to keep transfer payment records under the scheme administration regulations for a minimum of 6 years, so many schemes may simply not have enough information to correct the transfer payments.
All in all, whilst it will be a while before payments are actually made, this is more positive progress and clarity towards the equalisation of male and female pension benefits.
Source: Professional Adviser
November Market Commentary
Investors have enjoyed a very good month so far. Optimism had already returned with the US election eventually delivering a clear verdict. Then last week brought the news that literally everybody had been waiting and hoping for - that the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine candidate had not only generated immunity against the virus, but also at an astounding efficacy of over 94%. The effect had stock markets switching from optimism to practical euphoria.
Stock markets around the western world jolted upwards by 5-8% on the day of the announcement, which saw them not only erasing the declines of late October, but in most cases also returning to previous highs from the summer. Compared to the pattern of the recovery rally from late March, the market action this time was distinctly different. Those sectors and companies that had been hardest hit over 2020 by the risk that vaccines may never offer a remedy to the COVID-19 virus (‘lockdown losers’) rallied most. On the other hand, the ‘virus victors’ of the lockdown economy – especially the US tech giants – lost ground on the news.
Whilst there is finally light at the end of the tunnel (which isn’t the headlight of an out of control express train heading towards us), the tunnel is still very long. Widespread deployment of a vaccine will take time and not likely reach critical mass until mid-2021. In the interim, many countries are experiencing a rising number of infections and social restrictions heading into the northern hemisphere winter.
In market terms, near-term anxiety and additional pressure on economic activity over the coming months will compete with the natural tendency among investors to look ahead. For this reason, we remain cautious, with the expectation of bouts of volatility at times.
Donald Trump’s insistence that he is not conceding the US election appears to have waned, and he has reluctantly acknowledged, for the first time, that Democrat, Joe Biden won. Who really thought that he would bow out gracefully and without behaving like a child being dragged out of a sweet shop? The rest of the world will surely breathe a sigh of relief to be rid of someone of such influence who regularly spouts out personal rants by tweet.
The market reaction to the US election results informs us that the outcome of Mr Biden’s victory was well received and there was little concern about any political frictions caused by the sitting US President’s obstinacy. This is especially so, given there were similar frictions domestically, as the UK approached and passed another one of its Brexit deadlines. With a trade deal in touching distance, but most certainly requiring some form of compromise, the departure from 10 Downing Street of two of Boris Johnson’s closest and most dogmatic Brexit campaign allies is a notable development and signals that change is in the air. This augurs well for the last phase of (now yet again extended) trade negotiations, and sterling’s strength over the week tells us that markets believe a deal is close.
Further afield, there is no chance of political gridlock stopping fiscal expansion in China either. Earlier this year, the administration downplayed the possibility of setting long-term growth targets. In last week’s leadership forum, according to Reuters, Xi Jinping and others laid out a blueprint for China’s five-year plan and key objectives for the next 15 years. They include a goal to turn China into a “high income” nation by 2025, with per capita gross national income of above $12,535, advancing to a “moderately developed” nation (which implies average annual incomes of more than $20,000 per person) by 2035. That would imply at least a 4% annual growth target in this plan, a level that most western nations would be delighted at getting close to.
Here at Pension Drawdown, we are delighted that our clients’ portfolios have enjoyed a relatively good year relative to the problems the world has faced. The firm has been resistant to the issues despite the staff flitting from office working to home working at various times. Currently, most of us are working from home until December 3.
The past four years since the 2016 Brexit vote have been truly interesting, if not testing, times. Perhaps we might all be grateful for a really boring 2021.
Client Services Manager
Been saving for a rainy day?
The next time it’s raining, and you don’t feel like taking the dog for a walk, it might be worth searching out your old paperwork and files. A recent study by Gretel, a firm who specialise in tracing lost pensions and shares, reckon 1 in 5 of us have lost track of a financial product. This could total a whopping £5.3bn worth of dormant investments. Nearly half of that could be in forgotten share holdings. The research estimates that lost or dormant shares have cost investors an average value of £1,250 per consumer, while £2.8bn worth of wealth and investments are in the same situation for 1m investors, an average of £2,800 each.
UK consumers are also estimated to have £37bn of lost or dormant pensions, averaging £23,125 per individual across 1.6m affected savers, while £4.5bn lies dormant within bank and building society accounts, for an average individual value of £450 across 10m adults. Staggering amounts which could make a difference to some individuals.
So how is it that people can lose touch with these valuable assets so easily? Sometimes, it’s not their fault, especially when companies merge and change their name or when the correspondence is so complex and full of jargon that the consumer fails to appreciate the true worth. Then of course there is consumer apathy – ‘I’ll look at that later’ – the envelope gets cast aside only to be buried in all the other clutter in the kitchen, never to be seen again. Moving house can add to the problem if providers are not told the customer’s new address.
Digital technology will help in the long run, when details are stored on an App or in one place, such as a smart phone or tablet - at least you will only need to remember your password.
In the meantime, I would strongly recommend that you have a hunt around in the back of the wardrobe, the loft, or wherever you keep all your old correspondence – you never know what you might find. For storing current stuff, a strong cardboard box is a good starting point unless you have a swish filing cabinet at home; I would also recommend compiling a spreadsheet of your financial products as a digital reminder. If you think you do have unclaimed assets somewhere, you don’t need to be Inspector Poirot, there are firms on the internet who will help you to trace them by doing some of the leg-work for you.
Market Commentary October 2020
Steady as she goes on a bumpy road
Amid the bleak news, foreign markets have shown some modest, steady gains and even the FTSE 100 has held up. Earlier in the month, stocks in UK companies were bolstered by an upbeat tone on Brexit from the Bank of England. On Coronavirus, Transport secretary Grant Shapps said a taskforce would look at introducing a Covid-19 testing system for travellers, which could enable UK arrivals to reduce their quarantine periods. The aviation sector was also buoyed by progress towards a $25bn aid package for airlines in the US.
However, in recent days, Brexit negotiations have once again turned sour. Boris Johnson’s self-imposed 15 October deadline has come and gone. Latest reports point to more than stalling in talks, after Johnson told the nation on Friday 16th to “get ready” for a no deal Brexit – except that capital markets appeared utterly unconvinced – rallying throughout the day as if a deal is very close.
In September, I commented on how well the fisheries negotiations were going but it seems that among other things, fishing rights remain one of the big sticking points, with Johnson and French President Macron apparently digging in their respective heels. The BBC reported that a French woman told them that ‘although the fish travel into British waters, they are actually born in French waters, therefore they are French fish’. Of course they are, mon cherie. Bizarre, but it would be a shame if the Brexit negotiations collapsed for the sake of a few mackerel.
In the US, the economy has fared somewhat better than Europe – particularly compared with the UK – throughout the pandemic. But US virus numbers lagged those on this side of the Atlantic early on in the pandemic, and it should be little surprise if Americans are in for another spike towards the end of the year. The all-important US election is now only a couple of weeks away. It was hoped that an agreement on much-needed fiscal stimulus could be reached before then – with DonaldTrump spending big to boost his re-election chances – but with the bitter partisan deadlock in Washington, that is looking increasingly at risk.
With a sizable lead in the polls, Joe Biden is now the presumptive winner for capital markets. With an expansive fiscal agenda, that looks to be a positive for growth in 2021 and beyond. But the unfortunate flipside is that we may have to wait until Biden takes office for any more fiscal stimulus as Senate Republicans seem intent on blocking increased government spending – regardless of their own president’s wishes. Going into a potentially arduous winter, if this were to happen it would be a big negative for the US economy. The resilience of the US stock market tells us that they are just as unbelieving of impeding political disaster as the UK stock markets are over a last-minute failing of Brexit negotiations.
So far in 2020, as we have seen when doing regular client reviews, portfolios have fared well in relation to the stock market which in the UK is down 18% on the year. This is testament to our strong Central Investment Process which is based upon diligent research and consequently quality fund recommendations.
Altogether, this leaves us in something of a ‘wait and see’ period. A possible vaccine, a positive US election result and a Brexit resolution are all in the pipeline. And in the meantime, businesses are holding up reasonably well. As downbeat as recent news may have been, analysts report that the case for strong growth in 2021 remains quite firmly in place. We need only to make it through intact, and without any ‘tiers’.
Pension Drawdown Company’s ethical interest
Whether or not you agree with activists like Greta Thunberg or campaign groups like Extinction Rebellion, there’s been a clear societal shift in recent years to recognise the need to tackle problems like climate change or global poverty.
The purpose of this blog is to explain how the firm is embracing the cultural shift for investors to consider the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors in their investment decisions. ESG investors want to use their money to do good, as well as generate returns.
In the past, ethical and ESG investments were not particularly mainstream or popular, as they did not perform as well as broader portfolios that included so-called “sin stocks” such as oil and tobacco companies.
But this is no longer the case and investors do not have to sacrifice returns to ‘do good’ when they invest. ESG has gone from a niche corner of the market to a major trend, with many companies considering the environmental and social effect of their business. This is not just about being ethical, but about future-proofing your savings. After all, there’s no point in having lots of investments if the planet is trashed.
Recently, as a firm, we have started to try to ‘do our bit’ whilst also looking after our clients’ best interests. We would never advocate putting all one’s eggs on one basket but here are a few funds we have been recommending which we consider having ESG-friendly qualities, as part of a balanced and diversified portfolio:
FP Foresight Global Real Infrastructure: This is a true ESG fund which only invests in companies that we feel delivers a net social or environmental benefit and meet the ten principles of the United Nations Global Compact. Through integrally incorporating the Global Company principles the fund focuses on Human rights, Labour, Environment and Anti-Corruption, all of which establish a culture of integrity, investing in companies which not only uphold their basic responsibilities to people and planet, but also set the state for long term success.
There are some strong tail winds on this fund at present. Governments around the globe are committing to sustainable and renewable infrastructure and in addition the underlying investments are beginning to be picked up by the bank and pension funds.
FP Foresight UK Infrastructure Income: Whilst the fund doesn’t currently fully meet the same ESG or UN Global Compact adherence of its global sister, the underlying investments have diverse exposure to green technologies.
Baillie Gifford: Within their Impact Fund, Positive Change, they look to invest in the very best companies, not to screen out the worst ones. There is no perfect company, and a continual point of debate is weighing up nuanced issues such as the social and environmental costs of mining battery metals which are significant. Tesla, are addressing the role of mining in its supply chain and as Tesla scales up, it continues to explore with gusto new ways to reduce their impact on the globe. Tesla and its battery supplier, Panasonic, have long sought to engineer-out cobalt from batteries, reducing cobalt content per vehicle by 60% since the early models. Other companies such as Umicore and BASF are pioneering the ability to recycle used battery materials
Royal London Sustainable Leaders: Invests at least 80% in the shares of UK companies listed on the London Stock Exchange that are deemed to make a positive contribution to society.
Here at the Rockwood House premises, we have installed two electric car charging points to provide energy for our plug-in hybrid pool cars which are cheap to run and better for the environment. We capture rainwater in water butts to use for watering the planters and maintenance such as pressure washing. Like many households and offices, we do our bit when it comes to recycling non-confidential waste such as paper, plastic and cardboard.
This is a very small drop in a very large ocean of course, but it demonstrates that we acknowledge ESG and are prepared to do what we can in a positive way.
We are optimistic that a greater, more global attitude will emerge and there are finally some encouraging signs that ESG is climbing up Corporate agendas in 2020 in the power houses of North America and China: A survey by Fidelity earlier in the year reported that 80% of analysts covering Chinese companies reported an increased emphasis on ESG at some or all of their companies in 2020, a rise from 63% last year and just 33% in 2018. In the US and Canada, the increase is also stark,with 90% of analysts reporting a growing focus on ESG, up from just 57% in 2019.
Past performance is no guide to the future and capital is at risk. Please do not take this as a recommendation to invest in any particular fund or theme, talk to your advisor first.
In these challenging, unprecedented times there is plenty of negativity around the world - be it on mainstream news or on social media. It can unknowingly gnaw away at one’s mental wellbeing resulting in a detrimental psychological effect. It is therefore very refreshing and uplifting when someone hands out unsolicited praise by way of a positive endorsement. Such an event happened today when we received the following email from a satisfied client:
I think this email is long overdue.
You have been managing my finances now for somewhere in the region of 15 years. More recently you have been managing my pension. Through the recent very turbulent times I have to say I am astounded at the growth you managed to achieve. With the recent Covid induced dip in the market the fund dropped not unexpectedly. However, the growth you have achieved since then has been remarkable.
I have promoted your company to many of my colleagues and friends as one with excellent professionalism, robust systems and astoundingly good results.
The only regret I have in terms of our financial relationship is that I did not invest with you when we first met some 20 years ago.
Please thank your team for an amazing job during difficult times.
Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon
Brexit: Things changing in January and others that remain unresolved
Many aspects of the UK and the European Union's future relationship remain uncertain - but we already know some things will change from 1 January 2021. Here are some of the most important things for UK citizens to think about, and others which still remain unresolved.
European trips will need more planning:
Duty-free shopping will return. You can take advantage of duty-free shopping if you travel to the EU from 2021. The amount of tobacco and alcohol you can bring back will be increased, but there'll no longer be tax-free airport sales of goods like electronics and clothing. VAT refunds for overseas visitors in UK shops will also be removed.
At border control, you should use separate lanes from EU, EEA and Swiss citizens. Be prepared to show your return ticket and prove you have enough money for your stay.
If you move to an EU country (except Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein or Switzerland) from January, it's unclear if UK pensions claimed in those countries will be uprated (increased) each year, like in the UK. Also, some benefits may only be paid for a limited time.
The government says it's seeking to maintain arrangements in some areas, but rules are still to be finalised.
If you're already living in the EU, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein or Switzerland by 31 December, the situation is clearer.
You'll be covered by the withdrawal agreement and will receive any UK benefits and state pension increases as long as you stay living in the same country. You'll also be able to start claiming a UK pension from 1 January.
Income from a private pension should be unaffected.
Meanwhile, British people living in the EU with UK bank accounts should check for changes from January. BBC Radio 4's Money Box says many expats have been told their accounts will be closed if they don't have a UK address.
For people who are already studying in an EU member state by the end of December, you should still be entitled to broadly the same ongoing support as students from that country.
Source: BBC News
September Market Commentary
A time for caution
At the time of writing, we are at the Autumn Equinox which according to the astronomical calendar, the seasonal transition occurred on September 22. Up until then, stock markets had stabilised and started trading sideways, in a sign of healthy consolidation following their extraordinary recovery rally since late March. Judging by the start to this week though, we are hoping that this isn’t also the emergence of another market transition as well.
Mainstream news channels have started to revive coverage of political anxiety over Britain’s post-Brexit trading conditions with the European Union (EU) but in reality, things have calmed over the last week. For one, reports have emerged of negotiations progressing on one of the two remaining Brexit trade deal sticking points – fisheries. Full sovereignty over state aid decisions, the other make or break issue, also appears far less unsurmountable, since it transpired that with the previous week’s free trade agreement with Japan, the UK government has already agreed to more stringent constraints on state aid than are currently the bone of contention with the EU. The largely unreported agreement with Japan is the UK’s first major trade deal as an independent trading nation and will increase trade with Japan by an estimated £15.2 billion. The deal is tailored to the UK economy and secures additional benefits beyond the EU-Japan trade deal, giving UK companies exporting to Japan a competitive advantage in a number of areas. It will help to create jobs and drive economic growth throughout the whole of the UK.
Countries are slowly returning to a ‘new normal’, but a huge amount of uncertainty remains on the timing and shape of the economic recovery. There are signs that earnings and growth may recover by 2021, but GDP growth forecasts continue to be revised lower and economic activity is likely to remain subdued. Unfortunately, and despite these positive developments, the mood of UK private investors may well have become quite clouded again, due to the reintroduction of wide-ranging coronavirus constraints and concerns over what this may mean for the economy and stock markets.
Much will depend on the future trajectory of the virus. There has been some resurgence even in countries that have handled the virus well, though in general those countries that tackled the virus earlier, and with vigour, have seen their economies recover more quickly.
Equally, even when the impact of the virus diminishes, there will be other considerations: a potentially fractious and uncertain US Presidential Election, continued weakening in US/China relations, an untidy Brexit and the impact of the end of furlough. These are all, we believe, reasons for caution in the current environment.
As we see it, markets may have come through the easy part of the recovery and may not reflect the level of uncertainty that we believe still exists. Nevertheless, there is significant variation between individual sectors and companies with some experiencing tricky headwinds and others enjoying helpful following winds. Our aim is to continue to add value to your portfolio by our careful management and diligent selection of diversified, quality funds.
Finally, rumours are once again swirling around the future of pensions tax relief. With the nation having a £300 billion financial hole to fill, scrapping higher-rate tax relief could be an option for the Chancellor, especially as it involves a potential tax haul of £10 billion for him. The effect of dampening retirement savings incentives would impact younger people - a 30-year-old higher-rate taxpayer saving £500 a month in a pension could end up with a fund worth £140,000 less by the time they reach age 65 if tax relief is limited to the basic-rate for example. If you are a higher rate tax payer, and are thinking of making a pension top up, time may be running out, so do talk to us about it.
Government confirms plans to raise private pension access to 57
The government has confirmed plans to raise the age individuals are allowed to access their private pensions from the current age 55 to 57 by 2028.
The reforms were first mooted back in 2014 but no legislation was ever passed, leaving many across the industry to question whether the change would ever go ahead.
Under current pension freedom rules, which were introduced in 2015, individuals aged 55 and over can choose how and when they can access their pension savings.
In a written response to parliament on Thursday, economic secretary John Glen said the government will legislate for the pension freedom age amendment "in due course".
This latest announcement confirms that the changes are going to happen and will mean that those retiring in the future will have to wait for two more years to access their pensions. The age switch from 55 to 57 will apply to pension holders who wish to start taking an income or who wish to unlock some their tax-free cash from their retirement fund.
August market commentary
Markets were mostly steady - if a bit on edge - this last week, as they have been for most of August and doing what they typically do in the summer holidays, bouncing around like a 5-year old on a trampoline. The FTSE100 slipped back below 6,000 again, disappointingly after the latest round of Brexit negotiations ended seemingly no closer to a deal than before. That took Sterling down as well.
Despite this, there are still mildly positive risk sentiments around and abundant liquidity from the world's central banks. Andy Haldane, the chief economist at the Bank of England, recently commented that he thought the UK is on course for a rapid recovery from the Covid-19m crisis. He said that strong consumer spending had already helped the country claw back as much as half of the losses resulting from the economic shock caused by the pandemic. He went on to say that 'economic activity in the UK is not falling like a stone, in fact it has now been rising for more than three months, sooner than anyone expected. It has also recovered far faster than anyone expected'. His optimism led to him using the line 'now is the time to see the economic glass half full rather than half empty'.
His positive comments came after it was confirmed that Britain, as expected, had plunged into deep recession, with the economy falling by a record 20.4% in Q2 of this year. One could argue that they were well timed and maybe even might have known what was coming! Looking forwards, which is what we all really care about now, published data shows that the UK workforce is heading back to the office, a factor that has also been key in driving the US economic recovery.
For the next few months, and in the run up to Christmas, employment will be crucial to the recovery. The fall-out from the end of furlough and the economic recovery will hit some businesses hard and unemployment will rise. This is a concern. Eyes may turn towards the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, to see if he has any more innovations like the successful August 'Eat Out to Help Out' scheme up his sleeve. The UK public loves a deal, so this scheme may provide a template for future targeted stimulus. The house builders will be watching it closely, particularly given the proposed relaxation in planning laws. The next few months will definitely be about the “survival of the fittest” across the UK economy.
Back to Coronavirus and Russia's announcement that they have become the winners in the race to licensing a COVID vaccine has to be taken with the same pinch of salt that we now apply when looking at sporting achievements by Russian state athletes. It is also slightly disappointing that they will only begin mass-production of the drug now, while most other leading vaccine developers that follow the due safety test protocols of the profession like Astra-Zeneca, have already put their vaccines into mass production, valuing mass inoculation of the global population the more important objective than the PR stunt success.
In personnel news here at Pension Drawdown, our colleague, Ben Smith has left the firm to pursue his career elsewhere. In his 5 years of service he made a significant contribution towards the development of our central investment process and got on well with clients and staff alike. We wish him every success in the future. So far, we have appointed two additional staff by way of a replacement – Nigel Heald joins us from a local IFA firm and a trainee financial adviser is currently working his notice; we are interviewing two others to add to our staff resource. Further details to be announced.
Underpaid state pensions: more women advised to check as millions of pounds already refunded
It is considered 'bad form' and impolite to ask a lady her age. However, if you consider yourself to be 'an older woman' then read on. During lockdown, a report was published by pension consultants Lane Clark & Peacock posing the question 'are tens of thousands of older women being underpaid state pension?'
Since then, over 160,000 people have visited LCP's website to take advantage of their calculator; questions have been raised in Parliament, and several million pounds has already been refunded by DWP to women affected.
LCP is now encouraging a much wider group of women to come forward to get their state pension checked.
The central issue is that under the old state pension system, married women could claim a basic state pension at 60% of the full rate based on their husband's contributions where this would be bigger than the pension they could get, based on their own contributions.
Since 17th March 2008, this uplift to 60% should have happened automatically, whilst before that date a married woman had to make a 'second claim' to have her state pension increased when her husband turned 65. The initial paper estimated that tens of thousands of 'post March 2008' women had not had their pension automatically increase and tens of thousands of 'pre March 2008' women had not put in a claim to have their pension increased and had therefore missed out for more than a decade.
The average refund has been a little over £9,000, but some are in excess of £30,000. As a result, LCP estimates that DWP has already refunded several million pounds to hundreds of women. DWP Ministers have urged those who think they are being underpaid to come forward, whilst the DWP press office says that the department is 'undertaking a check of its records' to find more cases. Refunds of state pension received now are not taxed in the current year; instead they are treated as if the pension had been paid on time, which means many women will not have to pay any tax on their refund. In addition, heirs and successors of women who have been underpaid are entitled to receive any backdated pension refund, and those who turn 80 should receive an £80.45 'category D' pension automatically, provided that they satisfy a basic residence test and were already receiving some level of state pension before they turned 80.
The LCP report identified six groups who may need to contact the DWP to get their state pension reviewed:
Whilst it is good news that the DWP is checking its records, many groups of women, including widows, divorced women and the over 80s will not get a call from the DWP, so we recommend that you ring up and ask for your state pension to be checked if you think you are being underpaid. Don't miss out on a pension that is rightfully yours!
July market commentary
We begin the second half of 2020, leaving behind us two of the most extraordinary calendar quarters in history. But the difference in experience from an investment perspective versus the general public and most of the economy, could hardly be in greater contrast. Capital markets suffered the most rapid and one of the deepest bear markets in Q1, only to be followed by one of the highest ever recorded quarterly stock market gains in history. With all that's been going on, you would probably agree that as things stand right now, your portfolios have experienced a much better time than you may have had personally!
After three months of shutdown, Britain is slowly but surely opening up. The government has been keen to stress that this process is only possible because of the steadily falling infection and death rates across the country, but clearly the relaxing of restrictions is also prompted by economic concerns. With pubs, clubs, shops and many other businesses shuttered since the end of March, the UK economy has been on life support. For many businesses, the government's furlough scheme and emergency loan measures have been the only thing keeping them afloat. These policies have only been possible through the extraordinary fiscal and monetary stimulus measures from Whitehall and the Bank of England respectively. Future recovery rates, to a large extent, now depend on whether those sectors of the economy that depend on social proximity for earning a living – pubs, tourist attractions, hairdressers – can return to normal sooner rather than later. These businesses make up a considerable proportion of western economies. From my own observations, millennials have not been particularly good at social distancing but maybe they will help the situation by eating and drinking the country back to economic prosperity!
As I have previously mentioned, the market is caught between fears of a second COVID-19 wave and improving (economic) data. Financial conditions are easing, and it is worth recognising that much of the data relating to activity in May and June in the US and Europe was surprisingly positive. China's recovery also appears to have remained solid, judging by the strong PMI business surveys for June. However, with case counts back on the rise in places such as the USA, Mexico, Iran and South Africa, a full recovery is set to take some time yet. Much rests on when the following conditions are met: Covid-19 numbers are low and staying low; authorities have proved they can quash any new outbreaks quickly and successfully; or a vaccine is ready – and in many parts of the world, we simply aren't there yet on any of these fronts.
In other news, a few weeks ago, our regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced a change to the way firms such as ours are allowed to provide advice to anyone wishing to transfer out of their final salary (DB) pension scheme. This has no effect on existing clients, but anyone new to the firm after October 1st will be required to pay an initial fee upfront, rather than waiting until the end of the transfer process. In addition, if we advise a client to remain in their DB pension, then we will be obliged to collect the same fee as if we were advising them to transfer from it. We feel that this is a retrograde step by the FCA which may restrict freedom of choice for some individuals. If you are aware of anyone who is considering their retirement plans in connection with a final salary scheme, now would be a good time for them to have a chat with us.
Finally, it is always nice to have positive endorsements from clients, and recently we are delighted to have received several glowing testimonials. In these challenging times, it gives the team a real boost, so thank you for your kind comments. Here are just a couple:
1. Just a brief note to say 'Great Work!' with my pension fund performance. Having joined you in June of last year, I had a target in mind for 2019 year-end that you achieved.
No-one could have predicted what happened in March. My fund fell approx 16% from peak to trough (fingers crossed there'll not be another!) and approx 14% from initial funding level. For it to now (close of play 20 May) to be back at 97% of initial funding level (net of almost 12 months' fees) and 93% of peak is a great performance - in context, the FTSE is still only at 79% of 12 month peak, perhaps not the most relevant comparison but a reasonable yardstick.
So, 'Great Work!' by you, the team around you, the fund managers and funds you pick. Keep it up and let's keep this positive momentum going. Many thanks,
2. I was recommended to the Pension Drawdown Company by a colleague and planned to see a number of advisers before making a decision on who to trust my financial future with.
My wife and I met Suzanne Walker and were so impressed with her professional approach. She took the time to get to know us, understand our goals and ambitions both inside and outside of work and tailored her advice to our unique needs. We quickly decided that we didn't need to speak to anyone else.
We have not been disappointed since. Jonathan, Suzanne and the team are always on the end of the phone when we need advice and to guide on investment choices.
We took the opportunity earlier in the year to visit the Offices in Torquay to see how they work together. We Were able to review our Portfolio with Jonathan and also spent some time to take in the beautiful surroundings offered by Torbay.
Their professionalism and support through the Covid 19 Pandemic has been exceptional. Clearly for investors this was, and still is, a worrying time but you feel you are in safe hands with a team who will expertly and actively manage your portfolio to minimise potential losses whilst always looking at opportunities to grow your funds.
I have every confidence in Suzanne and the company as a whole and have been pleased to be able to recommend friends and colleagues.
The Chancellor that keeps on giving, for now
The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak delivered his Summer Economic Update on Wednesday 8th July which is his plan aimed at getting the economy moving again after a period of economic hibernation. He announced a package of support measures including cuts to Stamp Duty to boost the housing market, lower VAT for the hospitality industry and a Job Retention Bonus to help firms retain furloughed staff.
Pensions tax relief and the triple lock have once again been spared, although changes to these costly policies are expected down the line.
There was speculation from the industry that the Chancellor would look to either scrap or reform the pensions triple lock to remove the earnings link to mitigate any extraordinary rises that may occur as a result of coronavirus and pay off any debts.
Under current rules, the state pension is increased by the triple lock, which is the highest of earnings growth, price inflation or 2.5 per cent a year.
Therefore, as inflation is currently low — a mere 0.5 per cent in May — the state pension is likely to be increased by a minimum of 2.5 per cent or earnings growth.
As a result of the furlough scheme there could be a sharp decline in average earnings this year, followed by a quick and full recovery next year, causing a double-figure increase in 2022. However, it is encouraging to see the Chancellor again supporting auto-enrolment, by allowing employers who take on new employees under the Kickstart scheme to also claim NI and pension contributions. While it is only those aged 22 and over who an employer needs to auto-enrol, this is a helpful way of kick-starting not just employment but saving for retirement.
Mr Sunak also remained silent on whether he was looking at reforms to the pensions tax relief system.
When paying into a pension, savers receive tax relief on any contributions they make, and under the current system tax relief is paid at the individual's highest rate of income tax, often as much as 40%.
This policy costs the Treasury almost £40bn a year in lost income tax revenue, which could be used to pay off the government's increasing Covid-19 support debt.
In February, it was reported that former Chancellor Sajid Javid was looking to make the system fairer for those on lower incomes, by cutting high earners' relief to 20 per cent, or at least making one rate for all.
It remains to be seen whether the triple lock and tax relief policies will get off so lightly in the Autumn Budget.
In these unusual times, with seemingly so much negative press comment, it is nice to receive such a heart-warming endorsement of our services and we are grateful to the client for taking the trouble to write this:
I was recommended to the Pension Drawdown Company by a colleague and planned to see a number of advisers before making a decision on who to trust my financial future with.
My wife and I met Suzanne Walker and were so impressed with her professional approach. She took the time to get to know us, understand our goals and ambitions both inside and outside of work and tailored her advice to our unique needs.
We quickly decided that we didn't need to speak to anyone else.
We have not been disappointed since. Jonathan, Suzanne and the team are always on the end of the phone when we need advice and to guide on investment choices.
We took the opportunity earlier in the year to visit the Offices in Torquay to see how they work together. We were able to review our portfolio with Jonathan and also spent some time to take in the beautiful surroundings offered by Torbay.
Their professionalism and support through the Covid 19 Pandemic has been exceptional. Clearly for investors this was, and still is, a worrying time but you feel you are in safe hands with a team who will expertly and actively manage your portfolio to minimise potential losses whilst always looking at opportunities to grow your funds.
I have every confidence in Suzanne and the company as a whole and have been pleased to be able to recommend friends and colleagues.
Paul & Clare Meredith
St Leonards On Sea
Do you know what pensions you have?
Being in lockdown should have given some of you the opportunity to review your finances – particularly your pension provisions. The trouble is though, have you ever scrutinised your pension statements recently? Would they make any sense to you if you did?
You may be one of the many people who simply file them in a cardboard box somewhere or else on beside the microwave in the kitchen with all take-away menus and random receipts. It's so easy to think “I'll read that later” knowing full well it's never going to happen. Retirement planning should not be neglected as a good pension may be vital in maintaining your lifestyle in retirement, or just being able to retire early. On average, we'll build up 11 different pension pots during our working life which makes it tricky to keep track of our savings. Furthermore, some may get forgotten in all those house moves. In the UK it is estimated that £20bn in pensions is 'missing' (Source, The Pensions Policy Institute).
Pension statements are notoriously complicated, and some providers definitely need a lesson in plain English. Factors such as the plan value, working out what you might actually receive in retirement, charges, investment strategy, death benefit wishes are all too often unclear and occasionally mis-leading. Pension company mergers and take-overs can add to the confusion. Sometimes you may have different types of pensions from the same employer.
A solution is on the horizon. The so-called 'pensions dashboard' has been proposed as a one-stop shop for all your retirement information. The plan was first mooted in the 2016 budget, but I get the feeling it is still very much on the drawing board as a prototype is not expected until 2021 at the earliest. The idea is that you will be able to see all your up to date pension information in one place on-line. For now though, the onus is on the individual to check that everything is on track.
Your financial adviser can help here, although there may be a charge for their services – check with them first. Alternatively, you could do some investigations yourself. There are helpful on-line sites such as the Pensions Tracing Service and pensionwise.gov.uk. Often all you will need is the name of the employer and your national insurance number.
June market commentary
Global markets continued their upward trend during May as successful exits from lockdowns are allowing more and more economies to re-open as infection rates continued to fall. In terms of the FTSE 100 index, the highest point reached this year so far was 7674 on 17th January. By the 23rd March it had plummeted by 35% to 4993. At the time of writing the FTSE 100 stands at 6484 a rebound of nearly 1500 points or 30%. The rally has continued into June and last Friday markets were given a further boost after US employment data smashed forecasts with 2.5m jobs added in May, confounding expectations of an 8m fall amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Commentators, however, remain wary of a re-emergence of volatility, which has been less apparent lately since the dark days of March. Two questions spring to mind - are the markets becoming detached from economic reality? Will there be a second coronavirus spike?
The coming weeks and months will reveal the size of the economic problem facing us. Big companies have rolled out global restructuring plans to cut employees and costs, whilst small businesses are emerging from the enforced hibernation wondering what trading conditions will be like in the new dawn.
The conundrum now facing governments is how to balance equally enormous health and economic concerns; not everyone will agree on the safest, yet common sense way forward. Medical data still shows that the virus is waning but recent mass gatherings on beaches and in some large cities suggest that social distancing is not always being adhered to.
Politically, May was as fractious as ever. The Chinese government moved to effectively end Hong Kong's autonomy, dramatically heightening tensions between China and the US. At the end of the month, racial tensions in America kicked-off and triggered widespread protests across the US – and indeed the world stirring up public anger. This, together with typically inconsistent responses from Mr Trump has led to scenes that none of us expect to see in democratic nations.
So why are the markets behaving like this? First, the unprecedented support measures from governments and (particularly) central banks have left the financial system awash with liquidity. The abundance of capital to spend has drastically lowered the risk premium (the return investors demand for a given level of risk) across all asset classes – with equities still offering one of the highest. Second, we have seen a substantial increase in demand for capital investments from retail investors. The public is putting its lockdown savings to work, adding further to global liquidity. Pent-up spending demand will stoke the economic fire in a positive way. If only the news channels (BBC, Sky, ITV and C4) and social media would see it that way too. Is it just me or do they seem to relish in running the country down?
In summary, better news for now as far as the markets and your portfolio is concerned. We have always had confidence in the providers we use and take great care in selecting the funds recommended within those platforms.
We would like to acknowledge your patience over the last few months and for trusting in our judgement. Several of you have provided very kind testimonials about our stewardship in these challenging times and you continue to refer new clients to us, based upon your positive experiences.
This is very much appreciated, thank you.
Contingent charging on Final Salary (DB) pension transfers
Well, we knew it was coming and on 5th June, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced a ban on contingent charging - except in specific circumstances - from 1 October 2020. The FCA also published an update on its work on DB Transfer suitability, in which it makes it clear that it believes that the incidence of unsuitable advice is still too high.
This is huge news for advisers who undertake defined benefit transfers - and even for those who don't. After months of consultation and deliberation, this is a significant intervention into the advice market by the FCA. Their aim is to attempt to restore trust in post-pension freedoms advice, which has been tarnished by a few rogue advisers, particularly those who gave advice on British Steel transfers in South Wales.
When the proposals are implemented in October, firms (like the Pension Drawdown Company) will no longer be able to offer so-called 'contingent charging' models where they are only paid if a client decides to transfer their money from an existing pot such as a final salary employers' pension scheme.
Unlike some of the 'newbies' who have jumped on the pension freedom bandwagon since 2015, we are a long-established firm with an exemplary 21-year track record of giving pension transfer advice. We now feel somewhat aggrieved that we are being penalised by the actions of a minority that have not followed a robust process or displayed the same high levels of integrity and professionalism as we do. Despite putting up a thorough and comprehensive argument to retain contingent charging, our case appears to have fallen on deaf ears.
The regulator will also implement proposals allowing advisers to provide an abridged advice process that was designed to help consumers access initial advice at a more affordable cost. It is still unclear how this will operate in practice so unravel that one if you can!
This all comes at a time when the reported deficits in the UK's 5422 final salary schemes have increased by 37 per cent to £176.3bn at the end of May 2020 (£128.5bn in April). This represents two thirds, 3,621, of all DB schemes, compared with 58.6 per cent (3,178) of DB schemes this time last year. DB schemes benefit from the safety net of the Pension Protection Fund, so even if the scheme sponsor faces liquidation you should still get a significant chunk of the pension you were promised. This begs the question, how strong and reliable is that 'guarantee'? Furthermore, if you are concerned about your scheme's deficit, we believe that the FCA's new rules will inhibit your ability to break free from them.
As a consequence of this ban, in our opinion, there will be the risk of further reducing access to advice on DB transfers at a time when the coronavirus pandemic means for some individuals, it is needed more than ever. Choice is being unwittingly taken away from consumers. Whilst we fully support the FCA's desire to ensure DB advice is of a consistently high quality, it is a pity that the FCA could not come up with a better way of addressing this conflict.
At the risk of being accused of banging one's own drum, I wanted to illustrate the importance of doing a good job for a client, together with making the right investment decisions at the right time.
This week we have received two glowing testimonials from clients, both of which I felt were worthy of posting here. It is always pleasing for the team to receive an endorsement and an appreciation of their work. The other key message to take from these comments is that when times are challenging, be patient and trust the judgement of your adviser. If you are already in the market, the advice is to stay exactly where you are because nothing is a loss until you crystallise it.
Jonathan and Suzanne,
I trust you and your families are keeping well?
Just a brief note to say, 'Great Work!' with my pension fund performance.
Having joined you in June of last year, I had a target in mind for year-end 2019 that you achieved.
No-one could have predicted what happened in March. My fund fell approximately 16% from peak to trough (fingers crossed there'll not be another!) and approximately 14% from initial funding level. For it to now (close of play 20 May) to be back at 97% of initial funding level (net of almost 12 months' fees) and 93% of peak is a great performance - in context, the FTSE is still only at 79% of 12 month peak, perhaps not the most relevant comparison but a reasonable yardstick.
So, 'Great Work!' by you, the team around you, the fund managers and funds you pick.
Keep it up and let's keep this positive momentum going.
What a big decision it was to make between a blue chipped Banks' gold-plated final salary scheme or a venture into transferring out the pension to an investment portfolio with all the risk and rewards to balance.
Banking habit made me weigh up very carefully the decision to consider transferring it away from the Bank and then secondly with a full market-place who to choose to manage it.
I did not want a small firm, as continuity was important to me, yet equally I did not want to get lost as a number in a large firm. The Pension Drawdown company came to my notice by a colleague and after detailed research and comparison with other like firms I made the decision to go live with them in July 2018.
With the benefit of hindsight my reasons for choosing them have indeed been most positively endorsed - not least in following key ways:
1/ An excellent personal relationship with a number of the team who are each able to help and communicate well - my relationship adviser Suzanne has been really proactive and a great aid to help my portfolio grow as well as add value and help along the way with other life events such as powers of attorney
2/ I keep comparisons with other like advisers and the performance of my portfolio has performed well against such since starting in July 2018. This has been aided by their regular reviews and switching between funds and even at times pulling back into cash only to invest again when market lower.
3/ The recent test to the market with the pandemic of coronavirus saw my portfolio shrink from my initial sum invested to its lowest point by 11% after all charges, whereas the FTSE 100 was down at the same lowest point in March 2020 by 30%. While the FTSE has still a long way to recover still down 18% my portfolio has now regained its initial value even after charges.
A big thank you to Suzanne and the team!
Early-May market commentary
At the start of the year the UK and global economic environment could be likened to a British summer's day - reasonably bright, but you can never be sure it isn't going to rain. To begin the year, the sun shone as forecast; strong fourth quarter earnings led the American S&P 500 index to a new record high on the 19th of February. Many other markets were happy to bask in the political and economic sunshine too.
But then the rain came and boy, did it pour.
The coronavirus pandemic has been the very definition of a "Black Swan event" – an event unexpected in its arrival and unprecedented in its effect. In March, equity markets endured their worst 3-week period in history. Interest rates were cut to near zero and governments in the UK and the US were forced to inject "wartime levels of investment." In the modern day at least, there are few parallels to the current economic environment. Unemployment is forecast to reach levels akin to the Great Depression, while second quarter earnings are predicted to fall by 15-20%. As new cases of the virus level off, however, both measures are expected to bounce back before the end of the year.
So, what will happen next? Predicting the markets' course through these unchartered waters will not be easy. There has been a lot of debate among economists on the "shape" of the economic recovery, once the Western world emerges from its "lockdown". One outcome is a "V" shaped revival, with a sharp decline in GDP in the second quarter largely reversing by the end of the year. This is based on what is being observed in China, where the economy is returning to normal as cases of the virus decline. In such circumstances, markets would likely follow a similar pattern. More likely though, especially if the recovery is slower, will be a "U" shaped recovery. An alternative is a "W" shaped pattern, where a return to normal gives rise to a second wave of infection, leading to a further contraction in the economy. While the "U" or "V" shaped scenarios tentatively appear most probable, investors should be attuned to the risks; restarting the economy without a surge in new cases will take a delicate balance.
Foreseeing the future of economies is, at best, inexact and any predictions should be taken with a pinch of salt.
In the words of the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith: "The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable."
The Bank of England's new governor Andrew Bailey, came out with quite an upbeat statement last week, saying 'the UK economy will recover "much more rapidly" from the coronavirus crisis than it did from the Global Financial Crisis'. He added, "nonetheless, we expect that the effects on demand in the economy will go on for around a year after the lockdown starts to lift. We expect that there will be some longer-term damage to the capacity of the economy, but in the scenario, we judge these effects to be relatively small. The role of monetary policy, alongside other government policies, is to support the economy through the next phase and beyond.".
Meanwhile, across the pond, the US has enjoyed days of Trump tantrums following his ill-advised suggestion (that's putting it lightly) that Americans guzzle or inject themselves with disinfectant to treat the virus. Since the commander-in-bleach made the comments he has faced criticism from many quarters. I do not suppose for one minute that this will be the last controversy to come out of the White House before lockdown is over – we'll be on to 'imbleachment' trials soon!
Though it might still be metaphorically raining for the moment, skies are clearing, and we know that summer will come. Nevertheless, we are entering a different phase in the days ahead. The loosening of lockdowns means a partial restarting of the wider economy, but also the chance of rises in reported cases. That may increase the risk of restrictions being tightened again. As such, markets could find the going to be quite a bit heavier – they may have to transition from not worrying too much about the present to having to gauge the likely speed of recovery once extraordinary support measures are gradually withdrawn. For this brave new experience to be successful, good behaviour – and a commitment to ensuring everybody 'stays safe'– will be required from the public, communities, employers, and government.
If you would like to discuss your portfolio with one of our advisors, please call our usual office number – 01803 211214
Financial and pension scams during coronavirus lockdown – how to stay safe
It is abhorrent that fraudsters are using the current crisis to trick people into handing over their money. But recent weeks have seen several new scams surfacing designed to do exactly that. Just this morning, Action Fraud, the UK's national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime said con artists were advertising online with pictures of pets to buy and asking for a deposit.
This was followed by demands for payment for other services such as delivery, but the sales were fake. Victims have lost more than £280,000 in two months, it said. So far, 669 people have reported losing money, after putting down deposits for pets they had seen advertised on social media, general online selling websites and also specific pet selling platforms.
Scams can come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from cold calling and texting to cyber fraud, including insurance, investment, pension and charity scams. Online shopping fraud, romance fraud, charity and lender fraud are all common. It's important to stay financially safe and be aware of potential scams at all times. In the two months or so between 1 February and 18 March 2020, Action Fraud has confirmed that losses from coronavirus-related fraud reports, reached nearly £970,000.
Fraudsters are pressuring people to transfer their entire pension savings into 'safer' financial options in order to protect from future economic depression, employer insolvency or to be able to access them earlier. Scammers often charge extremely high transfer fees, leaving retirement prospects of victims in ruins.
The financial regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is urging people to be vigilant, something which we strongly endorse.
Here are some useful tips to help in the fight against financial fraud:
If you've been defrauded or experienced cybercrime you must report it to Action Fraud either online or by calling 0300 123 2040.
You should also report what's happened to the FCA either online at https://www.fca.org.uk or by telephoning 0800 111 6768.
April Market Commentary
We hope you are keeping well in these challenging times, and hope that you have found our ongoing communications helpful in keeping you informed and up to date.
The post-Easter period has brought some much-needed relief for long-term investors, with a consolidation of the recovery from previous weeks. Investors who bought in the dip and took advantage of low unit prices have seen their portfolios achieve 9.9%. Similarly, those that have sat tight, are seeing meaningful recoveries.
The UK's inflation rate fell to 1.5% in March (from 1.7%), largely driven by falls in the price of clothing and fuel ahead of the coronavirus lockdown.
Market analysts consider that two scenarios remain rational and entirely possible, namely, a) new lows may lie ahead and b) the worst is behind us and investors at large now consider holding equities to be the preferable long-term position compared with holding cash or low risk assets.
The latter scenario (b) might just have the edge, as we start to see activity in the Far East and parts of Europe shift from full lock-down constraints to a gradual re-opening of public life. This is echoed by a combination of falling new hospital admissions, and reports of coping healthcare systems which thankfully, so far, have not been overwhelmed.
While it is still very early days to assume that the peak of the global COVID-19 epidemic has passed earlier than modelled, it is increasingly reasonable and rational to believe that the key reasons for full lockdowns are beginning to dissipate. The statistical evidence has confirmed that the infection is most dangerous for the elderly and infirm, who are at an elevated risk of infection when the virus spreads uncontrolled through communities (In most regions, fatalities among the over 60s accounts for 95% of all loss of life due to Coronavirus). Once this group has been shielded from wider community contact – as has been the case in the UK after communal contact peaked on Mother's Day (22 March) – hospital admissions and fatalities reduce. To date worldwide, over 727,000 people have recovered from the disease. (Source: Worldometer)
But dangers persist. The broader, younger population evidently suffers severe illness to a lesser extent but can still fall victim to the virus without it being entirely clear what factors beyond pre-existing heart and lung conditions are determining this. The understandable fear of this risk would prevent a wider return to pre-virus daily routines for the working age population - unless a vaccine or effective treatment becomes readily available. Despite some positive reports, a widely distributed vaccine looks unlikely to appear before 2021. Therefore, it is understandable why so much (market) hope and excitement is attached to any positive news from the antiviral drug tests.
Hope is powerful but can lead to over-optimism. We cannot be sure whether the latest developments are reason enough to follow China's example and end the blanket restrictions of free movement across society. The experience of those countries across Continental Europe who are now daring to ease their national lockdowns will be a useful indicator for countries like the UK who are a few weeks behind in the epidemic cycle.
We will keep these commentaries coming as we progress towards the new normal, whatever that may be. Our advisors are just an email or phone call away ready to offer their support and answer any questions that you have about your portfolio or our services.
Working from home
We are all having to adapt to new working practices, being furloughed, or just passing the time in isolation. While working from home is something many firms already accommodate, the fact that everyone is now operating from their place of residence is obviously out of the ordinary.
On the plus side, after blissfully waking up at 8am with plenty of time to spare before work, my 20 minute commute now takes less than 20 seconds which is roughly the time it takes me to cover the distance from the bedroom to my study. With the wonders of modern technology, it can be pretty much business as usual for many of us, but I appreciate that is not the case for all organisations. Coping efficiently in these challenging times can be tough for some. One of the things I miss is the office buzz, sharing best practice ideas, or the quick chat with a colleague in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil - that's not the only thing that needs to let off steam from time to time! The personal contact involving recognition for good work by way of a metaphoric pat on the back, or an arm round the shoulder in times of strife, is tricky when done remotely. The need to keep the energy flowing and maintain connectivity for the team is paramount which is why regular communication is key. Working from home can have security implications too. There have been several reports of unsavoury hacks on video conferences via media such as Zoom and Houseparty. Some have been subject to other types of unexpected interruptions as well. I was speaking to a client the other day who works for a bank. He has daily video conferences involving a number of team members. Without fail, at some point during the call, someone's toddler will innocently wander into the room and video-bomb the event to the amusement of the other participants. I think they have started a sweepstake on it.
What a different picture it would have been though, say, 20 years ago when to get onto the internet at home, it was necessary to use a dial-up wire system and the latest mobile phone was a push button type. In some ways we are so fortunate that smart phones and devices give quality access to the web and enable teleconferences and video calls to made at any time of day or night. Thank goodness we no longer rely on faxes!
With everyone having to deal with individual challenges around family well-being, home-schooling and social isolation it's absolutely vital that we work as flexibly as possible to keep the cogs turning. We are extremely proud of how well everyone at Pension Drawdown is rising to the challenges, keeping focused and, above all, being positive about the future.
Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives.
Good health to all.
March 2020 end of month commentary
Given the current situation with Coronavirus and the recent Government announcements, we wanted to let you know about the practical measures the firm has put in place during this restricted period.
All staff are successfully working from home, and incoming post is being picked up from Rockwood House every few days and is being scanned and distributed as usual.
We are taking phone calls as normal via a divert system to mobile phones or laptop devices. The aim is to minimise the impact to you as a valued client and to keep our service running as smoothly as possible.
The week's headline is that over the course of March 2020 we experienced considerable ups and downs in market conditions with falls in excess of 20%, but also rising market conditions with some stock markets last week rising in excess of 20% over three successive days of recovery.
Despite the extraordinary events of the week, history will remember the last week of March 2020 for different reasons. For the UK public the (soft) lockdown came in force and at 10 Downing Street, our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson and key cabinet members and medical officers, have had to quarantine themselves as well.
From an economic perspective, since our last update, we have experienced governments and central banks taking action and doing their best to quell the worst of existential fears spreading through businesses and households, while hospital staff around the world are fast becoming the unintended heroes of the 2020 coronavirus crisis.
The ultimate learning point of the week, however, was made by those investors who had abandoned their long-term investment plans and beliefs and switched their portfolios to cash in a bout of panic and apocalyptic vision. Of course this is natural human behaviour - when faced with a looming danger of unknown scale we feel the immediate emotional need to do something. At Pension Drawdown, we are relieved to observe that very few of our portfolio holders have actually done this, and we would hope that conversations with our highly-skilled advisors and our regular flow of updates and insights contributed to this. However, the rapid 20% recovery is evidence that unless investors have some innate ability to know when the bottom of a bear market is reached, then converting holdings into cash is of not much use. The recovery is likely to happen so unexpectedly and vehemently that most will miss it, leaving those outside of the market nursing crystallised losses, while those who stayed put will find themselves rewarded for their patience.
This is what happened during the financial crisis of 2008/9: On March 9th 2009 the FTSE 100 went to its lowest point of the financial crisis – 3,460; by the 9th March 2010, it had rebounded by 60% to 5,563.,
Our portfolios invest in good funds whose investment managers in turn invest in companies with strong balance sheets. With their diverse multi-asset profiles, they are well placed to weather the current storms and to bounce back when we are through this. To demonstrate that, the following table shows how the top 11 funds that we commonly use have performed since March 17th 2020:
For now though, we are likely to be entering a stabilisation phase which is good news as far as limiting losses go, but it will be a long and bumpy ride before things eventually get back to normal. One problem is that the potential for significant economic damage – the 'tail risk' – is extremely difficult to estimate. At the moment, investors still seem to be taking a risk-averse approach.
While we cannot know when the bottom of the market will come, it may be that policy actions are already reducing the chances of the worst outcomes. We may have stopped panicking and started to deal with the changed landscape.
Unfortunately, many of the news channels are focusing on the cascade of bad news but to date, 170,000 people around the world have recovered from Covid-19.
Indeed, it is pleasing to see that in general, the public are taking self-isolation seriously and in China, life is gradually getting back to normal as evidenced (ironically) by the return of traffic jams and air pollution.
In the coming weeks and months, we sincerely hope that you and your loved ones stay safe and well.
NHS Pensions update
As the volume of overtime undertaken by frontline NHS staff increases exponentially in response to the Coronavirus crisis, we think an update on the pension issues potentially impacting doctors is timely.
Changes to the tapered annual allowance announced at the March 2020 Budget and expected to lift all but the highest paid out of the "taper trap" are due to take effect from 6 April 2020. In view of the impact the exceptional amount of additional shift work is having on the threshold income of healthcare professionals right now, it's worth remembering the interim measures put in place for clinicians who may face an annual allowance tax charge in relation to tax year 19/20.
We've not yet seen a Government response to its 2019 consultation on increased flexibilities for the NHS pension scheme, although the Chancellor has confirmed that proposals to allow senior clinicians to receive extra pay in lieu of pension contributions will not be taken forward.
It may be that the dust gets brushed off some of these previous proposals, if it turns out that the overhauled tapered annual allowance doesn't go far enough to protect the most dedicated NHS staff working the longest hours from an annual allowance tax charge.
In a widely-anticipated move, the Government is encouraging retired health and social care professionals to return to the NHS to join the fight against Covid-19. In order to prevent post-retirement employment having disadvantageous consequences for the pension income of such individuals, emergency amendments to NHS pension regulations have been tabled.
These form part of the Coronoavirus Bill 2019-21 which received Royal Assent on 25 March 2020. The amendments (which the Government will have the power to implement immediately or retrospectively) apply across the United Kingdom and have 3 effects:
There is no proposal to amend regulations prohibiting pensionable re-employment of 1995 section retirees. Any clients who have retired and drawn 1995 section benefits will therefore be able to return to the NHS, but will not be able to resume pensionable employment under the NHS pension scheme. Employers will need to enrol returners who are eligible workers into an alternative pension scheme.
Please also note that these measures are temporary. The Government has stated that a six month notice period will be given to staff and employers before they are disapplied.
Recent social media chatter suggests there's concern amongst health care professionals who have made taxation-related decisions to opt out of the NHS Pension Scheme, that their loved ones will no longer be entitled to any scheme benefits in the event of their death. So clients need reassurance that this is not the case.
Although the loved ones of individuals who've opted out will no longer be entitled to death in service benefits if the deferred member passes away, they remain entitled to death in deferment benefits. These include a lump sum death benefit and both eligible adult survivor's and eligible children's pensions.
For further information and clarification on individual circumstances we suggest you contact your NHS HR dept.
Source: Royal London
Spring Budget 2020
The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak delivered his first Budget on Wednesday 11 March 2020.
The measures affecting private pension scheme or protection provision weren't nearly as profound as recent years. The biggest surprise was probably this morning's announcement about the reduction in the Bank of England base rate. Arguably, that will affect people the most. If you have a variable rate mortgage or business loan then happy days, if you are saver, the low interest rate environment of the last decade will continue for quite a while longer. At least inflation is very low.
There was very little new announced regarding tax thresholds and annual pension allowances. We already knew that the Lifetime Allowance will increase from £1,055,000 to £1,073,100 for 2020/21 on April 6th.
Capital Gains tax allowances are rising from £12,000 to £12,300 per individual in the new tax year.
The adult ISA annual subscription limit for 2020/21 will remain unchanged at £20,000, but the junior ISA (JISA) annual subscription limit for 2020/21 will be uprated from £4,368 to £9,000. JISAs are tax-advantaged accounts for children, designed to encourage a long-term savings habit. This is good news for those of you who wish to shelter money from tax and provide efficiently for your offspring.
Personal Finance Society chief executive Keith Richards said it "was great" to see the change, adding: "However, the government needs to do more to encourage a long-term savings habit for consumers of all ages."
Coronavirus market commentary update
While most people spent the weekend dealing with the prospect of the COVID-19 epidemic taking hold of UK life, the financial community woke up this morning to another, different – even if slightly more familiar – type of upset: an oil price shock that unfolded over the weekend.
Oil prices have plunged by more than 30% since last week. Together with recent declines, this means that the price of oil has more than halved since the beginning of the year. At the same time, a flight to the perceived safety of government bonds has pushed up bond prices, leading to the lowest yields ever seen on US Treasuries as a result of the inverse relationship between bond prices and their yields.
As a consequence of the double whammy, the already highly nervous stock markets have reacted with what can only be described as panic selling. After falls of around 5% in Asia, European stock markets opened down by at least as much and in some cases more. Paradoxically, a halving of the oil price, together with a significant reduction in the cost of borrowing, constitutes a significant stimulus for the global economy and in particular emerging markets, which will additionally benefit from an accompanying fall in the US$.
Altogether this news flow will lead many to feel slightly apocalyptic – or at least as anxious as they might have been during the darkest days of the financial crisis back in 2008/2009, savers need to remember that they are not just invested for a few weeks or even one year or five, but typically for a decade and more. This is why we build balanced portfolios which include funds that are capable of standing up well in light of the recent setbacks.
At times like this, the temptation can be to join in with the panic, however history shows that moments that have created shocks like this do eventually lead to a recovery. (Please click here to see the Vanguard chart). By all means worry about getting ill, school closures and airlines going bust, but don't panic about the stock market, the world will keep on turning.
This advice may not help with sleepless nights, but it makes market crashes seem less significant and at least we can all look forward to lower petrol and diesel prices.
If you would like to discuss your portfolio, please give us a call.
Coronavirus market commentary
Global equity markets have taken a significant hit this week, as investors started to take news of COVID-19 spreading beyond China to the rest of the world more seriously. Given the news coverage around this, we would like to address any concerns that you may have.
The overall message remains the same as during any other periods of heightened market turbulence. Asset-based investments (such as pension investments and stock & share ISAs) have a medium to long-term investment horizon. Short-term fluctuations in their investment values are to be expected from time to time and are a normal part of any long-term investment cycle.
Investors should be wary of the dangers of trying to time the markets. By disinvesting or delaying investment decisions simply because of market downturns caused by this week's headlines, there is a real risk of missing out on growth or crystallising investment losses unnecessarily. Our portfolios provide investors with a diversified portfolio of both growth and defensive assets and are selected in accordance with your agreed attitude to risk profile, term and investment objectives.
In other words, your portfolio will remain suitable for longer term investment and there is no reason to automatically assume that any short term market volatility caused by Coronavirus concerns or any other market headwinds will result in long-term results significantly outside of the range of given potential outcomes.
The spread of Coronavirus is by no means the first time that global stock markets have been affected by such an event. The chart below (from Alpine Macro and Charles Schwab) shows when those episodes occurred in relation to global equity market returns. The data suggests that past epidemics have not resulted in any significant or long-lasting damage to global stock prices. While certain economies and markets have been negatively impacted for short periods, most of these potential worldwide pandemic threats have proven to be just that – potential.
In comparison to those flu-type outbreaks, the news coverage and the extent of preventative action from governments have been of a different order. Indeed, it is the preventative action that mostly affects economies and financial markets. Global manufacturing supply chains have been affected by much of China's extended lay-off since the beginning of the year. That said, the clearest global impact of the COVID-19 outbreak so far has been on travel and events. The Six Nations Championship rugby match between Italy and Ireland (due to be played in Dublin on 7 March) has been postponed, as has the Chinese Grand Prix in April. Several Serie A football matches in Italy are likely to be played behind closed doors. Conferences a month from now, especially those involving international participation, have been cancelled. There are even questions being asked as to how the Tokyo Olympics in August might be affected.
The revenues and profits of many companies will be lower in the coming months. Today, Diageo (the world's largest producer of beer and spirits) has warned investors that revenues will be lower than expected for this fiscal year, a decrease of about 1-2%.
Some highly leveraged companies are particularly vulnerable. The most obvious ones are in the logistics, travel and airlines industries. Energy and resource companies, which were stressed by slow global growth before the outbreak began, are facing even higher financing costs.
However, while bank share prices have fallen slightly more than the overall markets, they are not yet signalling fears of a systemic credit issue. Indeed, government bond yields have experienced a sharp fall, accompanied by a growing expectation of interest rate cuts and monetary intervention from central banks. Institutional investors now see a high likelihood that US rates will be cut by 0.25% within two months.
The probability of policy action to offset economic weakness is likely to support markets in the short-term and potentially provide fuel for a sharp bounce in future activity, most likely in the second half of 2020. That, in turn, should see company earnings expectations return to the levels that were expected a few weeks ago, and perhaps surpass them.
Yes, COVID-19 is worryingly contagious. However, most flu-type viruses are seasonal, dissipating through spring in the northern hemisphere. Despite the widening of the infected area in recent weeks, the rate of infection has slowed overall and the WHO has not changed its view that COVID-19 will follow this path, even if it may yet be classed as a pandemic. Action to prevent its spread will continue and will be a necessary burden on the global economy. Markets may be both hurt and supported by those actions.
China provides a lot of reasons for optimism, having taken those actions. Activity is rebounding across the country already, while infection rates have declined substantially. This positive news has been overwhelmed by cases from other countries but does suggest that the impacts can and do pass if robust action is taken. This bout of volatility will take some time to pass, and further stock market falls are certainly possible, even likely given the nature of the news flow.
As a Chartered firm, we always aim to keep abreast of current risks but recognise that long-term investment must mean not over-reacting to them. In fact, for any clients holding cash in their portfolios, we see now as a good buying opportunity – please contact your adviser if you would like to take advantage of this.
What is certain is that when this crisis is blown over (and we have every reason to assume it will), the world economy will be left with plenty of monetary and fiscal stimulus, and much reduced interest rates. The global economy started this year with expectations of positive growth, and we expect that this will still be the case even if it faces a delay.
February market commentary
January ended with a loud sneeze and global markets endured a turbulent start to February as concerns over the spread of the Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) hit the Chinese stock market hard as it reopened.
On Monday 3 February the Chinese stock market saw its biggest fall in four years as it reopened after the Lunar New Year Holiday. The Shanghai Composite Index fell around 8%, despite the People's Bank of China announcing a series of measures over the previous weekend in an attempt to mitigate the impact of the outbreak on its economy, including plans to inject around $173bn (£132bn) of liquidity into the markets. The Chinese stock market had been closed since 23 January, a period in which the number of people affected with the virus exceeded the total infected with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003. However, to put this into context, while the coronavirus has more than 45,000 confirmed cases around the world (as at the time of writing), resulting in more than 1,100 deaths, the figures pale in comparison to normal seasonal flu epidemics that the World Health Organisation estimates to be between 290,000-650,000 respiratory deaths every year.
It is perhaps unsurprising then, that the Chinese stock market would stumble as it catches up on recent events, which have also seen global markets twitch as the economic fall-out looks unlikely to be confined to China. From a human perspective, the rapid spread and number of deaths from the coronavirus are very worrying and this is being reflected in the prices we have seen in investment markets. The big question now is when is the peak in new infections, and how bad is the mortality rate? While it sounds dispassionate, these are the two key factors in determining the impact on global supply chains and local demand.
Monique Wong, senior portfolio manager at Coutts commented: "The market is looking through these virus disruptions - we had the SARS epidemic in 2003 and a lot of investors saw that was a temporary disruption to global growth before things returned to normal. Economic fundamentals are good - jobs data will show us that the US economy is in good health."
That said, it then took just the first four trading days of February to turn the tide in favour of equities once again. It seems bizarre that stock markets recovered so swiftly from the virus scare, while the wider global public is still being bombarded with distinctly scary stories from China.
The next two weeks will be crucial, not just for China's people and economy, but the global economy at large. Should the rate of new infections not decline, then the Chinese authorities will be unable to lift the travel bans next week as envisaged. That means that factories will not reopen as planned and the global supply chain dependencies will begin to bite. Since the China Lunar New Year is a reoccurring event, manufacturers elsewhere will have held increased inventory levels in order to bridge this period – up to the end of February if they planned prudently.
We expect a return of market volatility over the coming fortnight, as the world watches with bated breath whether China returns to work or remains quarantined.
The broad consensus is that the Coronavirus disruption will depress data flow, sentiment, and put a dent into the first quarters economic progress. Against this, commentators we regularly consult with over these matters have not changed their view, that 2020 will witness an improvement in the global economy. Indeed, the Coronavirus episode has increased the conviction that the economy will take a turn for the better, given that the Chinese leadership will now be forced to unleash a far more substantial stimulus programme than had been expected for this year. Unfortunately, this may well come at the price of a one quarter delay for the pick-up in global economic growth.
Coronavirus – Where do we stand today (Friday 31 January)?
On 30 January, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) over the new coronavirus epidemic. The WHO flagged the risk of the coronavirus (so called because of its spiky, crown-like appearance under a microscope) spreading to countries outside of China with weaker health systems which have less ability to deal with it.
As of this morning (31 Jan), 9,692 cases of novel coronavirus (nCoV) had been confirmed worldwide with at least 82 of those outside China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau (including 2 cases in the UK). In addition, there are a further 15,238 suspected cases in China, suggesting the number of confirmed cases will continue to rise. Declaring a PHEIC is an important symbolic step which, in practical terms, makes it easier for the WHO to co-ordinate the responses of governments around the world.
Source: Financial Times, 31 January 2020
We should be wary, but we shouldn't panic. So far 213 people have died from the disease, a far cry from the roughly 400,000 deaths a year caused by flu. nCov is, however, more deadly than flu, with an estimated mortality rate of 2-3% vs flu's less than 0.1%. Whilst serious, that 2-3% is lower than the roughly 10% mortality rate of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS (another coronavirus which killed 774 people in 2003) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome's 34% mortality rate (a coronavirus outbreak that erupted in 2012). It is also certainly less than the 10-20% mortality rate of the last truly serious global pandemic, the 1918 Spanish Flu which infected about 500million and killed between 50 and 100 million.
What is troubling is that nCov is obviously quite contagious, about as much as flu, with each new case infecting on average about 2.5 other people, so it's important that it is contained. This has been made more difficult in China because it emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan at a particularly unfortunate time, just before Chinese New Year which sees a mass migration of people back to their family homes to celebrate.
Source: Financial Times, 31 January 2020
There are some important unanswered questions though which affect how easy it will be to contain, such as how long the virus incubates for and whether it can be passed along before symptoms show.
But there are only a few cases outside China, and, after a slow start, China itself has clamped down heavily on travel, as have other countries. Advances in medical science mean that the virus's genetic makeup could be rapidly analysed and shared with laboratories around the world. That should help with containment and development of a vaccine. Cheap face masks probably aren't that effective, but frequent hand washing (and not touching your face) is actually remarkably effective in terms of prevention (with the added advantage of helping prevent regular colds and flu, a far bigger risk to those outside China).
It's difficult to completely disaggregate the causes of market moves, but fears about the virus have certainly been a large factor in the recent pullback in global equities. So far this is only a mild sell-off, but beneath the headline figures individual stock prices have moved more materially with defensive sectors (utilities, healthcare, tech, quality as a style in general) rallying, and more cyclical sectors (autos, resources, value as a style in general) as well as China-exposed travel and luxury goods retailers selling off.
Source: Financial Times, 31 January 2020 (measuring the Europe's Stoxx 600 index)
This flight to safety has also been evident in bond markets, which have rallied strongly over January as fears have risen, and yields have fallen. This also briefly led to a US yield curve inversion on Thursday 30 Jan (10-year maturity minus 3 months maturity) - yield curve inversions over an extended period have historically been a reasonable indicator of recession, so they are closely monitored.
We don't know for certain. In previous outbreaks (such as SARS), economic damage wasn't really caused by the primary effect of the disease (people getting sick & dying) but by the secondary effects of the fear of the disease (people hunkering down and not travelling, shopping, interacting with other people, all of which affects company profits and economic growth). Given China is such a strong engine for global growth and the virus is centred there, the secondary effects are particularly worrying. SARS managed to knock 2% off China's economic growth in Q2 2003 so it's likely that the virus will have a measurable effect on global growth in 2020, although any dip is likely to be temporary, as long as the disease is contained.
As for markets, in previous outbreaks like SARS, the market sold-off sharply but then bounced back even more strongly once the outbreak started to peter out. Selling out of the market is thus risky as it risks locking in losses but not being present for the rebound.
Source: John Authers, Points of Return, Bloomberg
Every outbreak over the last 100 years has been contained and so has had little effect on the market, so the virus petering out remains the overwhelmingly the most likely prospect here. But it's impossible to completely rule out the incredibly serious tail risk of a global pandemic. This should definitely concern us, but careful action such as that being taken by the WHO and global governments is the correct response, rather than panic.
Coronavirus is a classic 'black swan' – an unexpected but high impact event. Having a well-diversified portfolio is typically a sensible way to prepare for such unexpected black swans and we have always believed that it's best to prepare for them in advance by building robust portfolios, rather than trying to react after the event. The media storm over the spreading of the coronavirus made it an unnerving week for investors and this was certainly reflected in stock market activity. However, beyond the noise, analysts noted numerous improvements on previous concerns and headwinds which tell us, that once calm returns over this latest flu scare, the underlying economic and market picture is continuing on its improving path.
It is likely, however, that markets will be volatile for the next few weeks as we learn more about how serious this strain of coronavirus actually is.
January Market Commentary
Well, it was all going so swimmingly after the General Election.
I had planned to write that it was a quiet few weeks and following the convincing Conservative victory and the subsequent 'Santa Rally', pension portfolios and investments benefitted from market rises.
Christmas is a fading memory and the New Year had some positive news on US-China trade relations, helping markets edge higher.
A return of confidence led to an ongoing rally in the markets and the reduction in US-China political risks had created a large flow of cash into riskier investments.
However, then came the biggest geopolitical act in months: a US drone airstrike killed Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Quds force, on the streets of Baghdad. It is hard to overstate how important a figure Soleimani was in Iran. He was accepted as Islamic Republic's second most powerful leader, ahead of President Rouhani and behind only the Ayatollah. This is a massive step up in tensions between Iran and the US, and a significant increase in near-term global risks.
Now, markets have been "re-sensitised" to political shocks and all geopolitical news is able to create reaction. President Trump announced the drone strike by simply tweeting an image of the American flag, and escalating tensions further. Global oil prices spiked more than 4% up in the wake of the news, equities fell, and fixed-income bonds saw reversals of the sharp losses experienced during the quiet period – evidence of the impact such events have on markets. Safe havens such as gold showed gains. This is a timely reminder that volatility is never far away.
Initially, Iran's response was like that of a grumpy dog, growling and snarling and happy to bite the nearest postman. Thankfully, 'the dog' has settled down again, let's hope that it and Mr Trump (and the markets), stay calm and there is no resumption of military hostilities.
Compared with this 'brink-of-war' geopolitical shock start to the year, last week has brought relatively positive economic news, with not much to upset global markets, even if the general news flow was tragic from a humanitarian and environmental perspective. At the moment, no new bad news is good news for investments.
At home, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid has announced the next Budget will take place on Wednesday 11 March. Mr Javid is expected to announce plans to "open a new chapter for the UK's economy and prepare it for the decade ahead", "deliver on the government's promises on tax, to help tackle the cost of living for hard-working people" and "make good on the commitment to level up and spread opportunity, including by investing billions of pounds across the country". The government has said the Budget will prioritise the environment, public services and the cost of living (Source BBC). According to the Pensions Expert publication, the government is also expected to look at pension tax, particularly the tapered annual allowance, which has dominated headlines in relation to senior National Health Service clinicians. The Conservative manifesto promised to put an end to the problems faced by doctors, while the Treasury pledged in August to review the impact of the taper. With the Budget being on March 11, that leaves very little time to implement major structural reform on pension tax relief – such as scrapping the taper – by April 6.
We will have to wait and see.
Planning ahead for the tax year end
April 5th will soon be upon us so make sure that you don't miss out on maximising your annual pension and ISA allowances before the end of the tax year. These are the current pension allowances:
|Standard Annual Allowance||£40,000||£40,000|
|Money Purchase Annual Allowance||£4,000||£4,000|
|Tampered Annual Allowance||This applies to those with 'adjusted income' of more than £150,000 and 'threshold income' of more than £110,000||This applies to those with 'adjusted income' of more than £150,000 and 'threshold income' of more than £110,000|
|Lifetime Allowance||£1,055,000 increased in line with CPI inflation||£1,030,000|
Standard Annual Allowance: The amount you can contribute to a personal pension plan each year. It is capped at the maximum amount of your relevant earnings though. If you are not earning, you can still contribute up to £2,880 net, which is grossed up to £3,600
Money Purchase Annual Allowance: This is the amount you can contribute to a pension without a tax charge if you have already flexibly accessed your benefits (ie if you are taking an income from your pension)
Tapered Annual Allowance: For the taper to apply, the limits on both must be exceeded. This reduces your Annual Allowance by £1 for every £2 of adjusted income above £150,000 subject to a maximum reduction of £30,000. The minimum reduced allowance is £10,000. The level of adjusted income at which the maximum reduction in the annual allowance is reached is £210,000
Lifetime Allowance: The Lifetime Allowance is a limit on the amount of pension benefit that can be drawn from a pension – whether lump sums or retirement income – and can be paid without triggering an additional tax charge.
Individual savings Allowance (ISA)
Don't forget, you can also invest up to £20,000 per tax year into an Investment or Cash ISA. As with many allowances this is one where you 'use it or lose it' as unused ISA allowances cannot be carried forward.
For further information, advice and guidance, please speak to your advisor.
Details correct as at 16 January 2020
People 'twice as likely' to insure their pets as themselves
We all know that as a nation we love our pets and this is not the first time we've heard this barking mad statistic. And it's not just pets – a recent survey of more than 2000 UK employees found that a third (33%) of people - rising to 38% of women - said they have, or would take out, pet insurance to cover them in case they need medical help, while a further 30% said they would take out mobile phone insurance. These figures are significantly higher than three years ago, when 21% and 16% said they would insure their pet and mobile phone respectively.
However, despite this, interest in income protection (IP) has remain stagnant, with only 17% of employees in the UK saying that IP is something they have or would have. In most households, it is the human being that is generating the cash to pay for everything else so doesn't it make sense to start there?
Insuring your income, in case illness or injury prevents you from working is still low on the agenda. The fact that double the amount of people would choose to insure their pets rather than themselves, sadly highlights a questionable choice of priorities. Falling ill or being too injured to work can be stressful at the best of times and that is without considering the financial implications, which can result in people trying to return to work even if they are not really fit enough to do so - potentially creating even more distress.
Apart from anything else, protection presents a remarkably good news story for clients, certainly when looked at from a claims point of view.
Figures from the Association of British Insurers and Group Risk Development (GRiD) showed payouts in 2018 of more than £5.3 billion and a £200 million increase year-on-year.
The claims paid surpassed 200,000 for the first time ever and an impressive 97.6% of claims were met.
If you have a family, with children at school, a good job, assets, a mortgage or loan, now would be a good time to review what protection cover you have in place to check that it is fit for purpose.
Source: Professional Adviser
In the last month, of the last year of this decade, the Brexit log jam is finally clearing. After three and a half years of stalling tactics by opposition parties, the impasse is broken as the UK electorate takes control and delivers a strong majority for Boris Johnson. The General Election result is decisive and produces a government which is capable of making and implementing decisions. This will significantly reduce the levels of uncertainty that UK businesses have faced and those who trade with them abroad, which had subdued activity levels and led to a slowing in business investment.
That's good news for investors, both inside and outside the UK.
After a few wobbles at the beginning of December, market sentiment has improved over the last week and not just on the decisive UK election outcome. It was also aided by President Trump indicating that a US-China phase-1 trade deal would be signed imminently. This is a big leap forward for the global outlook, although the news has mostly been buried in the UK by the election news flow. Nonetheless, it will be extremely important to the large number of UK businesses exporting goods and services. Incidentally, it also explains the recent bounce in Asian stock markets.
The UK domestic picture now has less risk for investors and business leaders, and we can expect an initial economic activity bounce, spurred on by pent up business investment, but the longer-term perspective on post-Brexit Britain will depend on its future relationship with the EU.
With best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a peaceful, prosperous 2020 from all at Pension Drawdown Company.
Pensions and the General Election result
I had to give a wry smile when I learned that Work and Pensions Committee (WPC) chair Frank Field, who pushed for a ban on contingent charging (something we do not support) on defined benefit (DB) transfers, had lost his seat. In an election that saw the Conservatives secure a majority of 76, the former Labour party turned independent MP lost his seat in Birkenhead to Labour's Mick Whitley, who won the seat with 24,990 votes compared to Field's 7,285. The defeat means a new WPC chair will be elected in due course.
The Conservative win means the party can implement its pensions manifesto pledges announced at the end of last month, which stated it will hold reviews of the tapered annual allowance and net-pay schemes. It also outlined plans to reintroduce the pension schemes bill and raise the National Insurance threshold.
Suspension of dealings in the M&G Property Portfolio and M&G Feeder of Property Portfolio
You may have seen in the financial press this week that M&G Property Portfolio and M&G Feeder of Property Portfolio have suspended trading in their funds. This follows a prolonged period of withdrawals in the sector as Brexit-related political uncertainties continue alongside ongoing structural shifts in the UK's retail sector. M&G admitted it had been unable to sell commercial property fast enough to fund the rush for the door by investors, leaving it with no choice but to block further withdrawals.
The fund's biggest holdings include shopping centres such as Fremlin Walk in Maidstone, Kent, where House of Fraser is one of the biggest tenants, the Gracechurch centre in Sutton Coldfield, where stores include House of Fraser, Topshop and New Look and the Wales designer Outlet in Bridgend, home to retailers including Marks & Spencer and Next.
Instructions to buy or sell units in the M&G Property Portfolio or the M&G Feeder of Property Portfolio will not be accepted until the temporary suspension is lifted. It does not mean the fund is closed or that you have completely lost access to money in the fund, as once the suspension is lifted, full functionality will resume as normal.
In recent months, continued political uncertainty and ongoing structural shifts in the UK retail sector have created further uncertainty in the property sector. In the short term, the suspension is designed to protect investors in the fund by avoiding the need to sell properties at unfavourable prices to meet liquidity demands. This is a developing situation.
We are unable to say how long the suspension will last, but M&G is in regular dialogue with the FCA and will continue to work with them to protect our clients' interests.
A successful portfolio of investments contains a mixture of assets all designed to perform differently to spread the risk of being invested and smooth returns. Successful diversification is achieved through low and negative correlations between assets; property, like high quality corporate bonds and gilts, typically behaves differently to equity markets (i.e. it has a low, sometimes negative correlation).
In line with our active management, our portfolios have been underweight in property for some time to manage this risk, but it is important to keep a portfolios diversification intact and so it has not been removed all together. After all, there is no crystal ball and we do not wish to sell an asset only to have to buy back in at a higher price in order to put the portfolio back together.
They may well do as there are concerns that the sector could be poised for another run on funds as it was in 2016. This happens periodically with these type of asset-backed investments. Royal London have said that 'they are comfortable with the levels of liquidity' and for the time being have no plans to put any trade restrictions in place.
November market commentary
The UK equity market is somewhat in limbo at the moment as investors await the outcome of the General Election. This is typical of such a period, but we may see some volatility if the polls shift when the manifestos are published. We hope that voters are given a reasonable period of time in order for the important policies to be flushed out. We don't want a rushed approach as occurred during the Parliamentary Brexit debate as this is the main reason why we are where we are. Parliament wasn't given sufficient time to scrutinise the Brexit deal resulting in stalemate and hence the General Election.
The opinion polls continue to point to a sizeable Conservative lead over Labour with less than a month to go before the vote. The leave/remain issue does muddy the waters in terms of overall polling, though with sterling rallying last week it appears markets are seeing more likelihood of a Conservative majority, which in theory would be the quickest path to some certainty on the Brexit process.
The economic data has been dominated by releases from the UK. Growth figures for the third quarter showed the UK economy to have grown by 0.3% in the three months to the end of September, a level below expectations but an improvement over the second quarter, when the economy shrank by 0.2%. The UK economy was 1% larger than the same period in 2018; this represents the slowest rate of growth since early 2010. We also saw UK unemployment data, and while the unemployment rate fell marginally to 3.8%, the wage growth data fell back, albeit to a still reasonable 3.6% for the three months to the end of September when compared to the same period last year.
This month has seen mixed returns for foreign equity markets, with the US at record highs whilst European equities have held their own. The major underperformers have been Spain, in the aftermath of the general election last weekend, and Hong Kong, where further violent protests have taken place. Meanwhile, government bond prices have continued to retreat from the highs seen earlier in the year, with yields continuing to gently rise as investors take a more positive view on the outlook for risk assets at the expense of 'safe-havens'.
In the US, the upcoming election significantly reduces the chances of a recession. Indeed, Q4 is often a strong period for US markets. Of course, much still depends on the outcome of the on-going trade deal saga between the US and China as well Central Bank liquidity.
Some commentators we engage with are quietly optimistic about world economic prospects for next year; others harbour concerns about the economic and corporate outlook. Typically, at this time of year seasonal feel-good factors such as the 'Santa rally' can affect markets in a positive way but last year this failed to materialise.
As I said at the start of this commentary, much is in limbo so we will have to wait and see.
Source – BMO Multi-manager People's Perspective and Fidelity International
Explaining how pension withdrawals are taxed
The Government says that 'tax doesn't have to be taxing' but when it comes to making an income withdrawal from your pension, HMRC shoots first and asks questions later. Because you get tax relief when you put money in, you usually have to pay income tax when you take it back out. After all, it's an income – just like anything else you've earned during your life.
The way tax is applied from private pensions is similar to the way in which wages and salaries are paid by an employer. This means it is taxed under the Pay as You Earn (PAYE) system before it is paid to you.
If you are requesting an income payment from your pension for the first time, this is where you could be heavily taxed at the start, requiring a reclamation of the tax via your local HMRC tax office.
Unless your pension provider already has a tax code for you (unlikely for the first income payment request), then it will use an emergency tax code. The tax problem is exacerbated if you are taking, say, a larger lump sum. The Revenue, in their wisdom, will think that your one-off withdrawal is going to happen every month with the result that in their eyes, your 'annual income' is propelled to an inflated sum with the consequential punitive tax. You can get the over-payment back of course but it requires jumping through a few hoops and may take a couple of months for the refund to arrive in your bank account.
One way around this is to let your pension provider have your latest P45 if your employment ended in the current tax year.
Tax rules in the UK are probably unnecessarily complex. With pensions you usually have to pay tax on income you receive that is above any tax-free cash you're entitled to (usually 25%); how much you have to pay depends on your total income, personal allowance, and the tax rate that applies to you. The good news is that you do not have to pay National Insurance on income from a pension.
If you are thinking of starting withdrawals from your pension, it's worth planning ahead, talk to your adviser or a tax expert to determine the most tax efficient way of doing it before making any decisions.
Earlier in the month, there was delight in Downing Street that they had overcome expectations and agreed a deal with the EU. But that euphoria soon fell away when MPs booted out the timetable to debate and pass all the new laws that would actually make Brexit happen. So, as we approach yet another 'deadline' (October 31st), it would appear that the only thing happening on that day will be Halloween. The political nightmare for the British public trundles on.
The stock markets and currency markets continue to be spooked by global trade conditions, sentiment, and of course, political uncertainty. This month they have had 'good days' and 'bad days' and the overall position still appears to be 'let's wait and see' – unsurprising really. Apart from a deal, there are a number of scenarios that could play out, such as another vote on a revised deal, no deal, an extension, a second referendum, and/or a General Election.
In optimistic mood, Sajid Javid, The Chancellor, announced that his first budget "after leaving the EU" will be on 6 November, this has since been pulled on the expectation that there will be a General Election on December 12th. At the time of writing, confirmation is still awaited. It is evidence though, that the Treasury will need to turn its focus to giving immediate support to the economy, businesses and households. Whatever the outcome, the effect on the markets is likely to be bumpy.
Whilst Brexit is a relatively recent phenomena, there have always been times when the markets get rattled. These will continue to test investors' nerves and you may be tempted to sell out of the market. However, ditching investments during turbulent times may only serve to crystallise any losses and means investors could miss out on any subsequent recovery.
We advocate focusing on the long-term and the reasons you invested in the first place is one way to prevent knee-jerk reactions when markets are choppy. Of course, there are no guarantees that you'll be rewarded for sitting tight, so you must be prepared to accept dips in the short term. On the plus side, there will be winners and losers from the Brexit fall-out.
Sterling has been on a roller-coaster ride since the Brexit vote in 2016, swinging in value depending on the mood of markets over the prospect of an exit deal between the UK and EU. Yet, a weaker pound doesn't have to be bad for the UK stock market.
Many of the UK's large, multinational companies listed on the FTSE 100, gain a large part of their revenue and profit from overseas. A weaker exchange rate is of benefit to these companies, and their investors, boosting their profits when they are moved back into sterling.
Conversely, a strengthening pound may result in profits made overseas by UK companies are reduced when shifted into sterling. Portfolios continue to hold both international and domestic assets as a hedge against all possible outcomes and we continue to think the best defence against future uncertainty remains diversification of assets and selecting funds from the top fund managers.
Perhaps we'll all know more by Christmas (I'm not saying which Christmas).
Q3 2019 Market update provided by Nic Spicer of PortfolioMetrix
In addition to our regular market commentaries, here is a short video showing the highlights of the last quarter. The material has been kindly supplied by our strategic partners and friends at PortfolioMetrix.
Free Wills Month – are your affairs in order?
For the month of October, a group of well-respected charities offer members of the public aged 55 and over, the opportunity to have their simple Wills written or updated free of charge by using participating solicitors in selected locations across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
If you're aged 55 or over, you can make, or update your will with a local solicitor for free.
Simply visit https://freewillsmonth.org.uk/ and enter the postcode to view details of participating solicitors. Appointments can be booked directly with the chosen solicitor, mentioning 'Free Wills Month'.
Appointments may be limited, so book early to avoid missing out. A discretionary gift to a participating charity is normally required (by immediate donation or bequest) but this can be cheaper than the usual cost of a will.
If you die without having made a will you could be leaving behind significant financial problems for the people you care about. Worryingly, research suggests that half of adults don't have a will.
A will can be an important way to protect your family and loved ones. It can save on inheritance tax and head off family disputes about how your possessions should be divided. Crucially, no will means you have no say over what happens to your money and worldly goods (known as your 'estate'). It is a legally-binding document which makes it much easier for your family or friends to sort out everything when you are gone. As well as naming your beneficiaries (the people who benefit from your will), a will appoints executors - the people who look after the financial process after your death (who 'execute' your will). If you don't leave a will, your estate is shared out in a standard way defined by law (the 'law of intestacy') - which might not be in line with what you would have wanted.
In particular, if you're not married to your partner (or in a civil partnership) they would have no right to anything. If you are married, your spouse would get most or all of your estate - but this could mean your children getting nothing. And then what about your favourite charity, grand children or your friends?
Even if you are under 55, making a will is a sensible piece of financial planning to consider. A couple of other tips – some trade unions offer a free will making service so if you are a union member it's worth checking with them. Secondly, if you have a pension, have you checked that your pension provider has an up to date 'Expression of Wish' – the form that outlines your instructions as to whom will benefit from your pension in the event of your demise. This could be significant if you are say, in a new relationship.
For further guidance, and full terms and conditions, please refer to the (participating) solicitor.
Annuities remain out of favour
In the year between April 2018 and March 2019 the number of annuities purchased with pension funds continued to decline. During this period, some 645,000 pension plans were accessed to buy an annuity, move into drawdown or take a first cash withdrawal. Of those, 350,000 pension pots were fully withdrawn at the first time of access - 90% of which were less than £30,000 in value.
The number of individuals fully withdrawing their pension decreased as the size of their pension increased. Some 316,605 individuals with pots valued below £30,000 fully withdrew their pension, compared with just 355 individuals with a pot valued at £250,000 and above. This further demonstrates that most retirees take a sensible approach to their retirement savings and don't blow it all on something frivolous like a Lamborghini.
Meanwhile the share of those using plans to buy an annuity has continued to decline. In 2016/17 the number of annuities purchased was more than 76,000, while the latest data from the regulator has shown that figure has dropped to less than 74,000.
Across various age groups, drawdown proved to be a more popular option than purchasing an annuity. Those aged between 65 and 74 appeared to find purchasing an annuity the most appealing, with 38,157 individuals choosing to do so. No surprise here as annuity rates go up the older one gets. However, drawdown (42,308) and fully withdrawing their pot (77,245), were still more popular options.
These figures show the ongoing popularity of the 2015 pension freedoms, with almost three people taking a regular income through drawdown for every one person buying an annuity. This represents a monumental shift in retirement behaviour, the impact of which will be felt across the UK economy.
Source of statistics: FCA
September market commentary
Welcome to September's market commentary which is sent to you amid untold levels of turmoil in the world around us and especially closer to home in Westminster. Politics, more politics, the economy, oil supplies, Marks and Spencer – all uncertainties which create an interesting dilemma for the markets and investors. The only certainty is that Christmas is coming, I know that's true because my local DIY store has started putting out their yuletide merchandise.
Before then though, we may, or we may not, get some sort of Brexit. We all wait with bated breath!
On the high street, the turmoil is best illustrated by the news that M&S, once Britain's top retailer, has fallen from grace and is about to drop out of the FTSE 100 index of top UK companies.
If no-one really knows what's going on politically, then the markets have been just as contrary in their performance. Last week saw a rise in equities all over the world, despite no clear improvement in the underlying economic data. Even though we have not seen improvement yet, however, the rally suggests that capital markets see light at the end of the tunnel.
Certainly, the modest uptick in equities cannot have been due to company earnings. We saw an ever-so-slight pickup in earnings expectations for this year and the next – mainly for US businesses – but you would have to squint hard to see this as a trend. Rather, investors seem to have decided that equity markets have been right and bond markets wrong over the summer and now is the time to put their money to work – before the actual economic data improves and they miss the boat.
Whilst many areas are displaying peculiar characteristics, the US-China trade war – one of the biggest concerns for investors for nearly three years – looks as though it may be cooling down. Equities reacted positively to the improved tone of discussions between the world's two largest economies. In particular, Trump's removal of former US National Security Advisor John Bolton – an unapologetic war hawk and China hardliner – was taken well. And sure enough, shortly after his departure from the White House, the Trump administration announced delays to scheduled tariffs on China.
Politically, the timing is looking better for a trade deal. Trump is desperate for good news to bring to the American people (his approval ratings are as low as they have ever been); and the continued weakness of the Chinese economy means Beijing will be eager to join the negotiating table.
For the time being, we are pleased that 2019 investment portfolios have delivered positive returns for our clients. We continue to manage portfolios carefully with quality fund choices and diligent platform recommendations.
As the market sentiment roller-coaster over the summer months has shown, the returns picture will remain volatile until it becomes more evident that improvements in risk asset valuations are founded on actual earnings improvements through economic growth, rather than on hopes and dreams that politics will finally end its sabotaging of the economy. It remains to be seen if the ongoing slowdown is just that, another mid-cycle slowdown and not the beginning of the end of this long-in-the-tooth cycle.
Pension Drawdown Company news:
We are delighted to welcome Steve Stobie to our advice team. Steve is a fully qualified financial adviser and pension transfer specialist and joins us from a firm of IFAs based in the south of England.
Following on from last year's success at the South Devon Business Awards (Gold award for Business Growth), we are very pleased to have been short-listed again this year, for an award at next month's gala event.
Asia packs a punch
Despite its growing economic and political influence, Asia as a region still remains generally under-represented in both market indices and overall portfolios. So, is now the time to review, rethink and reallocate to the world's most compelling long-term structural growth story?
With over half of the world's population, ongoing urbanisation and a rapidly growing middle class, Asia already powers around 46% of the global economy at purchasing power parity. The facts, stats and numbers below highlight the sheer scale of the Asia's growing influence and its long runway of growth.
The main countries making up the Asia Pacific region are typically regarded as China, India, Korea, Hong Kong, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Indonesia.
Source: Fidelity – Revisiting the case for Asia
Here at Pension Drawdown, we acknowledge the potential of investing in Asia but are also aware that this can sometimes mean a bumpy ride. We therefore have various tactical allocations to funds in Asia and other emerging markets as we search for opportunities for growth to enhance returns. Some of the exposure to Asia is from funds that focus directly on a specific country such as China or India; other exposure is derived from broader based funds such as a global multi-asset fund. This adds diversification in geographies and themes which we feel represents better value than traditional equity holdings (i.e. UK).
Investing in Asia is not necessarily for the faint-hearted but certainly worth considering for the benefits of the long-term growth prospects.
We like to build client relationships for the long term and Asian exposure is often an important part of our Bespoke financial planning.
Markets can fall as well as rise...
Never was that statement truer than in August, when virtually all the major world markets headed down, led by the plunging stock market in the USA.
It is, however, important to keep the dramatic rises and falls in some sort of perspective. If August emphasised anything though, it is that investing is a long-term commitment – not a short-term gamble.
"Sell in May and go away," as the old-time investors used to say – although that mantra had more to do with spending the summer at Lords, Ascot and Henley than it did with investment. Nevertheless, it would have been sound advice in July. Over the last decade, it has become clear that needs to be updated with falls in every one of the last 10 Augusts. This one was triggered, some might argue, again by Donald Trump, after he announced a fresh round of tariffs on China. Screens soon started to flash red after as it looked like there would be a permanent trade war between the world's two largest economies, with all the damage to supply chains and company profits that would imply. The UK market followed the rest of the world, with the FTSE 100 falling by 7.5% at its low point in the month, to hover at around 7100 having come close to dropping below 7,000.
Nervousness is growing about a hard, no-deal Brexit and the prospect of Britain falling back into recession.
The second part of the old mantra is "Don't come back until St. Leger day", which this year is on September 14th. Well, I'm not so sure about that, no-one knows what September will bring. We can only assume the 'trampoline effect' will continue as the markets bounce up and down. We do know that there are significant headwinds to face and if it hadn't been Mr Trump's deranged late-night tweets, it would have been something else. August is renowned for this. (The really good months, historically, just in case you are wondering, are March and July) Source: Daily Telegraph.
Bouts of volatility are nothing new and they provide buying and selling opportunities. It is interesting to note that nearly 20 years ago, in December 1999, the FTSE 100 was at 6930, very similar to today's levels. Clients that have been with us during these years will know that we typically deliver returns of 5% net of charges, (give or take), year on year. We have added resource, improved our systems and negotiated special terms with our providers. The fund managers that we rely on are selected because of their skills in picking profitable companies to invest in. Utilising our expertise and guidance, together with good fund managers, means that we remain confident that our proactive approach to fund choices can add value over time.
The global economy has now entered the longest expansionary phase on record and yet some analysts believe that there is still further to go. A global recession is unlikely although some individual countries (Germany?) will inevitably fall into recession at some point. Markets are likely over-reacting to recent news and over-estimating the chances of an imminent global recession. While economies are still growing, they are doing so at a slowing rate. Source: BMO Global Asset Management.
5 million pension savers could put their retirement savings at risk to scammers
I have written may times before to warn readers about potential pension scammers. Unfortunately the practice is still rife and people are readily being taken in by offers of exotic, high-performing investments and promises of early access to cash.
New figures show that the fraudsters are regularly cold-calling (despite this being banned in the UK) and they are using very persuasive tactics to make you part with your money.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and The Pensions Regulator (TPR) are joining forces again this summer to warn the public about fraudsters targeting people's retirement savings. This warning comes as new research suggests that 42% of pension savers, which would equate over 5 million people across the UK, could be at risk of falling for at least one of six common tactics used by pension scammers.
The research also found that those who consider themselves smart or financially savvy are just as likely to be persuaded by these tactics as anyone else.
Alarmingly, 23% of all those surveyed said they'd talk with a cold caller that wanted to discuss their pension plans, despite the government's ban on pension cold-calls this January. Nearly a quarter said they would ask for website details, request further information or find out what they're offering, even if the call came out of the blue.
Just to be clear, unless you are in serious ill health, then you cannot usually access your pension until you are 55. Even then, it may not be in your best interests to do so and you should seek advice from an independent professional. Ideally this should be someone you know and trust, or who has been recommended to you by a trusted friend or relative.
Victims of pension fraud reported in 2018 that they had lost an average of £82,000. Pension fraud can be devastating, as victims can lose their life savings and be left facing retirement with limited income. As a result, the regulators are joining forces to urge pension savers to be ScamSmart and to check who they are dealing with before making any decision on their pension. Last year's ScamSmart campaign resulted in more than 370 people being warned about unauthorised firms. This year's campaign is currently running on TV, radio and online.
Q2 2019 Market update provided by the multi-award winning PortfolioMetrix
In addition to our regular market commentaries, we are delighted to present a short video showing the highlights of the last quarter. The material has been kindly supplied by our strategic partners and friends at PortfolioMetrix.
Can investors learn from England's World Cup victory?
Cricket is one of the most loved sports in the world and is often referred to as the perfect metaphor for life. Cricket reflects that life is unfair (ask a New Zealander), that there are ups and downs, it teaches us to never judge a book by its cover, and it shows us the importance of innovation. It involves the physical and mental resilience of a boxing match, coupled with the psychology, patience and tactical skills of a game of chess.
England started the Cricket World Cup as clear favourites to win the tournament and they were playing on home soil. In the end, of course, it was a mightily close-run thing. After a couple of disappointing results against supposedly lesser teams and a spanking from Australia, England spent the latter half of the tournament having to win every match or face elimination. They duly did so, heading into Sunday's final on a high after turning the tables on Australia with a defeat as similarly one-sided as the one they had earlier suffered.
The outcome of the final swung from one side to the other - especially towards the nail-biting end.
Those narrow margins also emphasise the role luck can play - again, in investment as much as in sport or anything else. In investment, when we buy a fund and it goes up, that could well be down to luck or to good judgement or to a bit of both.
Of course, the inverse is also true. Maybe the fund we bought went down because we made a mistake - or maybe we were the victims of an extremely unlikely yet extremely unfortunate outcome. Typically, it may be a global event beyond our control that influences market prices – just like a rain-interrupted cricket match. What matters is having a consistent, objective and repeatable process so we can be confident that, if we took the same course of action say a 100 times, things would have worked out better, more often. Preparation and research are key along with diversification. After all, there's no point in having a team full of fast bowlers, if none of them can bat.
When these things come together, and there is reasonable opportunity, then there is a good chance of a successful performance as England so magnificently demonstrated.
Should I consolidate my pensions?
If you have several pensions, consolidating them can be a good way to get on top of your retirement saving.
Back in the 1970s and earlier, jobs were considered 'for life' which meant you typically only had one pension scheme to worry about. People now have an average of 11 different jobs in the course of their careers, and it's common to start a new pension at each workplace. This means that you may end up with pensions scattered around with different providers, and it's difficult to get an overall picture of your retirement savings, including how your funds are performing and what fees you're paying.
Consolidating your pensions means bringing them together into a new plan, so you can manage your retirement saving in one place. This may or may not be the right thing for you to do, we will try to help you decide.
Check for hidden exit fees, especially on older pensions started before 2001, and pension plans called 'with-profits'. Even if you're going to pay exit penalties, it may still be a good idea to consolidate your pensions. If your new plan is cheaper to run, this may offset the amount you lose, particularly if you still have a long time until retirement.
Before you decide to consolidate your pensions, you should also consider whether you'll lose any benefits tied to your old pensions. This is particularly the case with final salary schemes, often called defined benefit pensions, where valuable guarantees are often a feature.
A financial adviser can help with this. Once transfer values are obtained, together with details of your pensions, they will make an assessment as to whether it is in your interests to transfer and consolidate. They will ask you about your objectives and goals. As part of their advice, you should receive a written report pointing out all the advantages and disadvantages of the transfer. The report will put you in an informed position and will also outline the charges and fees involved. If you decide to proceed, the new pension provider will contact the old provider to facilitate the transfer of funds into your new pension plan for you.
Market commentary June 2019
After a good start, June has carried on in a positive way for investors. Over the past week stock markets consolidated their gains, while bond yields stopped falling. Following the rapid deterioration of US manufacturing data, some positive data releases confirmed the ongoing optimistic disposition of consumers and the upbeat sentiment of smaller businesses and the services sector. Bad economic news the week before did little to dampen spirits and it even led to an overwhelming belief that this would force central banks to cut rates, or at least ease monetary conditions and thereby revive the effect of central bank's stimulus for stock markets.
This stabilisation of market sentiment is perhaps evidence that we are experiencing a period of fine balance. A balance between the fear that the global manufacturing slowdown will worsen through a proliferation of Trump's trade wars, and the hope that the resilience of consumer sentiment and service sector momentum will carry the economy over this precarious period of potential instability.
In the UK, economic news was not so encouraging. GDP growth came in negative for the month of April and growth in industrial production was not only negative for the month, but also year on year. UK stocks took it in their stride, because a setback after the 'March 2019 Brexit' stockpiling frenzy had been widely expected – although proved to have been underestimated.
The coming weeks will be of crucial importance to the future course of financial markets in 2019. Markets are still uncomfortably exposed to political derailments and who knows where Brexit will end up, and when. I have a friend who has placed a wager on Nigel Farage becoming Prime Minister within the next 10 years – we'll see!
As ever, you can expect us to keep a very close eye on developments and carefully manage our clients' portfolios accordingly.
Finally, you may be aware of the financial headlines on TV and radio about the Woodford Equity Income Fund which was suspended to all trading on 3 June. Mr Woodford has long been one of UK's best-known and successful stock pickers and whilst the City watchdog and various other advisers 'missed Neil Woodford fund warning signs' (Source BBC), I am pleased to report that here at Pension Drawdown, we did not. Since late 2017, we have been actively switching out of Woodford funds for the benefit of our clients. We do wonder how some of the larger companies over-looked this development.
Setting the Standard
In line with the Financial Conduct Authority's (FCA) recently published conclusions about a new duty of care for financial services professionals, I am pleased to announce that our two pension transfer specialists, Suzanne Walker and Roger Easterbrook have both been awarded the Pension Transfer Gold Standard.
These awards further help to develop a healthy culture, assisting firms in their understanding of what 'good looks like'.
The award also recognises the underlying principles in providing quality advice when helping members with defined benefit pension schemes and where clients can go to get such advice. By choosing a firm with the Gold Standard award, clients can be confident that their adviser has their best interests at heart.
Happy 75th birthday from the taxman
Over the next three years, peaking in 2022, around 1.8m people will reach the age of 75. Why is this age significant? If you hold a pension plan and have yet to dip into it, then you could be in for a tax shock.
If you are coming up to age 75, then we recommend that you check your pension policies. It may be that you have worked on because you have been in good health and have simply not got around to claiming off some of your pensions. Others may be receiving a decent income from a generous final salary scheme.
Several punitive tax charges and other restrictions impact upon pensions at age 75 – particularly penalising those who have yet to take benefits from them. The 25% tax free lump sum could be lost if not already taken. You may also be obliged to pay an emergency 25% tax charge on your pot or be forced into buying a mediocre annuity. The requirement to buy an annuity was scrapped in 2011, however, that change does not apply to certain policies, with particular terms, on retirement at 75. The way round this, is that savers must move their pension money to another provider if they do not wish to be forced into their pension firm's 'default' annuity.
To be fair, pension firms are doing their bit by contacting consumers and it is imperative that you respond. These letters can be confusing so take advice if you are not sure what to do. It is important that, you declare that your retirement funds total less than the Lifetime Allowance (LTA) of £1,055,000, assuming that is the case. If you don't, then you could be levied as much as 55% in tax.
For anyone born after the Second World War, it is worth reviewing your paperwork to make sure you don't have an unwelcome tax charge looming. You should ensure that you take action in plenty of time before your 75th birthday so that you don't end up marooned in a poor-value annuity for the rest of your life.
Cash or Stock Markets?
Which one gives the best return – which one is right for you? The answer could be either or both as there are many reasons why each could be suitable depending upon circumstances and crucially, investment time horizons.
History though, favours stock market investments which have consistently out-performed cash in the bank since 1899 (Source, Barclays Equity Gilt Study 2019). Unfortunately, the majority of savers don't necessarily see it this way and are keeping their money in places where it is not doing them much good. In 2017-18 nearly 3 times as many Cash ISAs were set up than Stock and Share ISAs.
Cash deposits are great for 'short term' savings purposes such as that new car, holiday or deposit on a house. The key feature here is accessibility – being able to withdraw your cash at very short notice. The trade-off is low returns and the possible effect of inflation which will impact the ultimate purchasing power. To illustrate this, in 1970, homebuyers could expect to pay £4,975 for a house. Today, their children would not get much change from £228,000. A loaf of bread cost 9p and the average weekly wage was around £32. Today, a loaf costs £1.06 and weekly wages are about £550.
Money held on deposit at a bank or building society won't earn you much, the market average on ordinary savings accounts is a meagre 0.63% (Source, Which).
So why are stock and share investments less popular? Most people don't fully understand how to cope with stock market shocks and also have no idea just how good the odds are on shares and share-based funds performing better than might be expected. At school you get taught a lot of stuff that you will never need – like algebra and the poems of Ted Hughes, but virtually nothing about the financial facts of life. This is a shame because financial matters touch all of us at some point throughout our lives – it should be compulsory, like reading and writing. More important, the amount of wealth that you have (or don't have), will shape your lifestyle and probably your partner's and children's too. It will more than likely determine where you live, and how much you can afford to enjoy yourself. Financial ignorance is rarely bliss.
Take retirement saving for example, whenever sceptics tell me that that they think pensions are boring or that they cannot afford to save for the future, I ask them how exciting they think poverty in their old age will be.
A few lucky people will make it in the 'big time' or will inherit a fortune but for most of us we will have to build our wealth the hard way – steadily and slowly.
So, why do shares out-perform deposits in the long run? One explanation is that shareholders own most of the companies from which we buy our everyday goods and services. Shareholders are likely to benefit from improvements in efficiency and technological enhancements that occur over time. By contrast, depositors do not buy a stake in their bank but instead have to settle for the guarantee of interest payments and the fact that they will get their money back. Unfortunately, those guarantees can prove illusory, for when inflation is running at a higher level than interest rates (as it generally is now), the only real certainty that cash provides is the certainty of getting poorer. A well-managed and diversified share or fund portfolio can ride out stock market shocks and build real wealth over decades. Time spent in the markets is key – to use a food storage analogy – we don't keep all our food in the fridge – some is set aside for later by storing it in the freezer. The same principle could apply to your money – don't keep everything on deposit, think about setting some aside for the longer term and invested in a different asset class. Of course both have their own individual risks which is why you should seek financial advice from an appropriately qualified and experienced person before investing as capital values will fluctuate and you may get back less than you originally invested.
In life one has choices, you can either work for money, or you can make money work for you. Despite all the recent political noise and uncertainty, the past strongly suggests that share-based funds are the way to buy a better future.
Market commentary April 2019
For those of you that have ever frequented a football match, the Brexit saga is turning out to be the most boring of 0-0 draws – like two defensive teams slugging it out, but without much progress being made by either side. We are already well into added time but there is still a sense across the nation that people are anxiously looking at their watches and praying that the referee will blow his whistle to bring proceedings to a close. The bad news is that the stoppage time could last for months to come!
As widely expected, given all the ongoing uncertainty, the Bank of England kept interest rates on hold, they also downgraded their forecast for UK growth over 2019 from 1.7% to 1.2%. On a brighter note, UK unemployment has fallen to 3.9%, its lowest level since 1974/75 with wages rising by 3.4% year on year for January.
The US Federal Reserve (Fed) also kept rates on hold, as anticipated, and cut its outlook for US interest rate rises this year. A majority of bank officials now expect no rate rises in 2019 and only one in 2020. The Fed also updated its economic projections to forecast slower growth in the US economy this year and 2020. Bizarrely though, US jobless claims fell to their lowest since December 1969, a 49-year low. Mr Trump immediately tweeted that 'the US economy is looking very strong and USA optimism is very high', well I suppose he would say that wouldn't he?
European data continued to be poor, but labour markets also held up well with unemployment declining to 7.8% in the Eurozone.
The International Monetary Fund's (IMF) chief economist, Gita Gopinath has described the global economy as being at a 'delicate moment, with many downside risks' although she does not predict a global recession.
Despite the apparent gloom and uncertainty, global stock markets continued their strong Q1 performance and the predominantly international FTSE 100 benefitted from this, rising from its low point of 6747 on January 28 to over 7400 this month. We are now at the ten year anniversary of a bull run that started back in 2009. History rhymes but does not necessarily repeat. It is interesting to note that more and more market commentators are suggesting that various feeble signs of not-so-bad economic data are actually the green shoots of the next mini upswing in this drawn out cycle. However, the longer the cycle lasts, the higher the nervousness that the end is near and the more pronounced the sell-off episodes become.
MSCI Europe ex UK
S+P 500 (USA)
MSCI All countries
MSCI Emerging mkts
|Bonds||FTSE Gilts all stocks
£ Corporate bonds
|Commodities||Brent Crude Oil
LBMA Spot Gold
|Cash||LIBOR 3 month £||0.2||2.9|
|Property||UK Commercial Prop||0.3||2.9|
Data sourced from Morningstar correct as at 31/3/19
For the coming months, however, there are many indications that the economy and markets are likely to follow a similar path to the various previous episodes and trade in calmer and more positive terms than what we experienced over the second half of 2018.
When managing your portfolio, Brexit isn't a catalyst for our discipline, we've always been diligent. Clients who have followed our investment strategies over time have been compensated for short-term discomfort during periods of volatility, by positive returns over the long-term. Active tactical asset allocation and sensible diversification remains one of our best tools against uncertainty so we will continue to blend portfolios accordingly.
Economic data source – PortfolioMetrix
Happy Mother's Day!
Across the country, sons and daughters will be avidly arranging that special present and card for mums, ahead of Mothering Sunday this weekend. Having a baby and bringing up children is a major event in anyone's life and is a responsibility that requires love, devotion, patience and great deal of financial resource to name but a few!
As well as the emotional and pastoral support, a detailed financial plan for their child's future is an important tool for any mother or parent. This is not just for the child's future, but also to mitigate any negative financial impacts that having a child can have on their own personal finances. Rightly or wrongly, social norms continue to dictate that women often become the primary carer when a couple has children. One of the ramifications of this is that women can suffer a 'motherhood penalty', which can result in them having less money than their male counterparts.
Here are a few financial planning ideas that may help to ease the financial burden. They can apply to any parent, regardless of gender, but they might be particularly pertinent to a mother looking to plan her own finances and those of her family.
If a mum decides to take a career break to look after her children, she needs to be aware that, unless she claims child benefit, she could end up missing out on National Insurance (NI) credits. Failing to register for NI credits could mean they do not qualify for a full state pension, which requires 35 years of NI credits. Similarly, women's pension savings can end up being smaller than their male counterparts due to a career break, so it is important to start as early as possible and try to continue to contribute to a pension even if they do not have a regular income.
Career breaks can also make mothers more likely to find themselves without a protection product in place, such as life assurance, critical illness or income protection, as these benefits are often included as part of a workplace package. If a mother is fully engaged in bringing up young children and the father is working full time to provide for the family (a little stereotypical admittedly), and she is struck down by a serious illness, or sadly passes away, it can be very difficult and financially disastrous for the working partner to juggle both their career and family duties. For single parents, whose children are totally dependent on their income, having protection in place is even more crucial.
UK families are becoming increasingly complex and this can result in it becoming harder to ensure that wealth is passed down to the intended beneficiaries. As an example, if a mother has young children and has money that she would like specifically to earmark for her children's education, it might be worth considering placing the money in trust. Doing so can help to shield the funds from misuse if she were to die or divorce, and ensure that the money is used as she originally intended. If she were to die without leaving a will, the money would go directly to her husband who might then decide to use the money differently.
Common sense if you want your children to have the best start in life. There are a range of tax efficient savings products available such as Junior ISAs and pensions. Alternatively, a parent could simply maximise their own ISA allowance (£20,000) before they invest in a Junior ISA. Contributions made to an ISA in a parent's name can still be used to fund the child's future, but the parent would retain control over when and how the money is spent.
It may seem strange to mention pensions for children but starting up a pension for your child will help set them up for a wealthier retirement, is very tax efficient and helps introduce them to the concept of long-term saving. You can save from £20 per month up to £2,880 per year into a pension for someone under 18, and it is estimated that over 60,000 children now have one, according to figures from HMRC. Of course it's worth bearing in mind that under current legislation, the money cannot be accessed until age 55.
In summary, where mums are the main carer, they are just as important as the main earner!
Market commentary and other news March 2019
Equity markets have generally continued to push higher this month as comments from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, that US interest rates were around neutral, helped sentiment. More importantly, there has been no news to disrupt expectations that the US and China are edging slowly to a resolution of their trade war. Last week China passed a new foreign investment law in a move widely seen as an effort to facilitate US trade talks. The measure is seen as a possible olive branch to the US as negotiators from both countries work to resolve their bruising trade dispute. We hope this general optimism will continue to be reflected in the markets.
Brexit has, unsurprisingly, completely dominated the headlines lately resulting in a fair bit of volatility in sterling. My favourite analogy of the week came from Martyn Boyers the Chief Executive of Grimsby Fish Market who, on the BBC news, described the current political scene as 'constitutional constipation' - will a release come any time soon I wonder?
The Chancellor's Spring Statement was completely overshadowed by other events, but we did learn about continued improvements to the public finances such that borrowing is likely to be only 1.1% of GDP in this financial year. The Office for Budget Responsibility cut their growth forecast for 2019 from 1.6% to 1.2% - this level assumes a "non-disruptive Brexit". They expect the economy to grow by 1.4% in 2020; this would leave the economy 2.7% smaller than expected back in 2016 before the referendum. Inflation is 'stable' at 1.9% with rising food and alcohol prices offset by slower price rises in clothing and footwear (source ONS).
In summary, commentators remain relatively cautious and of the view that market levels are ahead of the economic fundamentals. Worries over Brexit appear not to be having too much of an impact on markets, whilst the soothing words from the central banks continue to underpin sentiment, despite the economic data showing signs of weakness. As we wait in suspense for the outcome of Brexit, the phrase 'a week is a long time in politics' has never been more significant.
Money and Pensions Service named as the new, single, financial guidance body
This comes after Pension Wise, The Money Advice Service and the Pensions Advisory Service were merged into a single financial guidance body, without a name, at the start of this year under the leadership of chief executive John Govett.
With the new name for the body, industry experts have been quick to point out that the government has avoided its repeated past mistake of labelling a guidance service as 'advice'.
This was the case with The Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) and the Money Advice Service (MAS).
The aim is to end the irritation around false expectations due to the powerful word ' advice' being present, yet not available. I welcome these changes and hope that there are early engagements with the industry. Of course, if you require personal financial advice then you should seek the services of a qualified independent financial advisor.
Minimum auto-enrolment contributions will rise to a total of 8%
Auto enrolment is giving more savers the chance of a decent retirement as the latest stage of the planned increases to monthly contributions comes into force on 6 April 2019.
This will typically be made up of 3% from employers and 5% from employees. Current minimum contributions are 5% (2% from employers and 3% from employees).
Auto-enrolment has been incredibly successful since it launched in 2012, introducing almost 10 million more people to pension saving.
Regretfully, some parts of the media have put a negative spin on this citing 'lower take-home pay' in wage packets, or an 'extra cost'. What nonsense! This is another step in the right direction and a smart time to introduce the increase as it will coincide with increases in the minimum wage, higher income tax allowances and a common time for pay rises.
Nobody is losing out, your money hasn't disappeared, it's just been set aside in a different jam-jar for the future.
With the country's population living longer, retirement for many is likely to last for 20-30 years. For decades, Governments have worked on the assumption that there are more under 50s than over 50s and it is the 'younger' working population that pay the taxes and National Insurance to fund the health services and pensions for today's 'elderly'. However, that pendulum is about to swing the other way which is going to make the challenge of funding retirement and the NHS in older age even more immense. This funding responsibility is going to start shifting to those who are older. Saving and investment decisions for retirement are going to be crucial and people in their 30s, 40s and 50s must expect to save more for their own retirement and for it to be the everyday norm.
Market commentary February 2019
And a good January doesn't yet make a good year. However, the recent market recovery has been welcomed by investors and institutions alike. After one of the worst Decembers for global investors since the Great Depression, followed by the best January since 1987, the first part of February has started not too badly for investors. While up overall, there has been a little bit of stuttering on some days which was quickly blamed on Trump and Brexit, which admittedly are easy targets – but they have been all along.
In the UK, GDP growth slowed to 1.4% between 2017 and 2018, the weakest it has been since 2009, according to the latest ONS statistics.
The 0.2% growth recorded in Q4 is a significant drop from the 0.6% seen in Q3 and is also below the latest forecasts produced by the Bank of England.
Construction, production and services output fell in December, the first time that there has been such a broad-based fall in monthly output since September 2012.
The slowdown had been widely expected, and the magnitude was in line with economists' forecasts. But the economy actually contracted by 0.4% in December, against expectations of little or no growth. The services sector, so long the mainstay of the UK economy, grew 0.4% in the quarter, providing almost all the growth. By contrast manufacturing output fell 0.9%. But even the services sector fell in December, though the monthly data is notoriously volatile and it's usually unwise to read too much into one month's figures.
Last month I used 'Spaghetti Junction' as my analogy about what happens next. This time I would say that we, the UK, are still at the proverbial 'cross-roads', on a foggy day, and this is largely because of Brexit and the never-ending litany of highly depressing political squabbling.
That said, the stance adopted by the central banks in the US, the UK and Europe since the beginning of the year, together with more positive business and consumer sentiment levels than backward looking economic report news flow would suggest, has increased some commentators' conviction that the direction of stock markets over the coming months is far more likely to be up rather than down as in 2018 – notwithstanding the odd downward draft of volatility that will intersperse that general trend.
We mustn't get carried away though, we are still in Brexit limbo-land and it's hardly surprising that the economy isn't firing on all cylinders. Whichever way you look at it, it's clear this detriment reaches right across the UK economy.
For those of you that subscribe to the Times or Sunday Times newspapers, look out for Jonathan's entry in the 2019 Guide to the UK's Top-Rated Financial Advisers which is due to appear this weekend on 23 and 24 February. This is an independent survey run by VouchedFor which invites consumer reviews and testimonials in order to rate financial advice firms and advisers. We are delighted with our score of 4.9 out of 5 and would like to thank clients that have posted a comment.
Disclaimer: As ever, please do not take this as specific advice to buy or sell into any particular fund or market theme. The value of investments will fluctuate up and down and you may not get back all that has been invested.
Well done Bank staff
Bank staff across all Britain's main banks have been active in saving vulnerable elderly customers from scams.
An average of nearly £9,000 per case was prevented from being stolen owing to a rapid response scheme.
Bank staff have been trained to spot when customers appear to have been targeted by fraudsters pushing scams such as unnecessary home improvements.
Scams totalling an estimated £38m were prevented last year, according to trade body UK Finance.
But consumer groups say risks of complex scams remain.
Cases include that of a customer at a branch of TSB in Stowmarket, Suffolk, who tried to withdraw £19,000.
Observant staff noticed the customer was agitated and quietly asked some more questions in a private room. It emerged that the potential victim had believed they needed to pay an urgent tax bill or be fined £50,000 or sent to jail.
The fraudster had called claiming to be an "agent" from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and even suggested the victim make deposits to Bitcoin machines located in newsagents as a way of paying the outstanding bill.
No money was lost, owing to the bank staff stepping in.
Under the protocol, introduced in October 2016, staff are trained to spot the signs of a scam and can request an immediate police response. A total of 231 arrests and 4,240 emergency calls were made through the industry-wide initiative last year.
The average age of banks' customers helped by the scheme was 71. The scheme has prevented £48m of fraud and led to 408 arrests since it was introduced.
Unfortunately the fraudsters continue to exploit the vulnerable and look for ever-increasing and sophisticated ways to catch out the unsuspecting. Cold-calling about pensions is now banned in the UK, but our advice, as ever, is to be very careful who you give financial information to; don't accept unexpected random phone calls without challenging their authenticity. If you are not sure, refer to a trusted friend or relative or verify the caller's number independently. Beware, fraudsters can be very persuasive and some fake websites may appear to be legitimate.
The curse of the mother in law, or 'the dog ate my homework'
We've all been there. Having missed an important deadline, what plausible excuse can I come with which will be believed? Those of you who are burning the midnight oil in an attempt to submit your tax return before HMRC's deadline on January 31st may already be thinking along these lines.
Unfortunately this probably won't wash with the Revenue and it doesn't pay to be late.
HMRC has just released some of the lamest excuses it has received over recent years from late and over ambitious filers:
You have been warned!
Market commentary January 2019
The tide well and truly went out in December for the markets and there was no Santa rally, topping off what turned out to be a challenging 2018. Statistics demonstrate that 90% of asset classes had lost money; even in the Financial Crisis of 2008, only about 68% of assets showed negative returns.
The extent of the negative returns across the majority of asset classes is illustrated in the chart below.
Sources: Deutsche Bank; Bloomberg Finance LP; GFD. Note: Returns are in US dollars. Data for 2018 are as of mid-November.
January though, has started with a fragile recovery with the FTSE 100 for example returning to levels last seen at the end of November. Amongst all the on-going political noise, trade relations between the US and China were still firmly in focus after the Chinese Commerce Industry issued a statement saying that the "extensive, deep and detailed" three-day talks between the two countries had "laid the foundations" for their dispute to be resolved. This seems to have impacted positively on global markets. There is still some way to go but China has agreed to purchase more US goods and progress has been made in relation to intellectual property rights, but the full picture has yet to be revealed.
Closer to home, growth in the UK's economy slowed in the 3 months to November, held back by the manufacturing sector, pharmaceuticals and retail sales in the high street. Inflation has fallen to 2.1% in December, pushed down by falling fuel prices. The figure is close to the Bank of England's target of 2% meaning that it is looking less likely that interest rates will rise in the near future.
Significant Brexit headwinds and all the associated heightened uncertainties are putting businesses off investing and is damaging consumer confidence. Some analysts are of the opinion that overseas demand is faltering, from Apple to Jaguar Land Rover, they may have a point. It's a timely reminder that whatever arrangements, if any, are in place by the end of March, we may not be able to rely on our economic allies overseas to keep our factories and workshops thriving. On a more positive note, housebuilding activity grew again and the ONS said the UK economy was returning to moderate growth rates after some volatility earlier last year, in part due to the inclement weather.
After the parliamentary vote on Brexit, the country is in the middle of 'spaghetti junction' and the markets are waiting to see what happens next and in which direction we go. Over the next few months, as the Brexit story unfolds and uncertainty reaches a crescendo, we expect further bouts of volatility. In Europe, the cooling economic conditions seem to be driven by the decline in global demand, the car industry's woes and social unrest in France. To some degree, what happens after that depends on Brexit. Observers note that the consensus against a 'no deal crash Brexit' appears to be the only one enjoying a stable and growing majority in Britain's parliament. We do envisage that at some point the pent-up investment and consumer demand will be released.
Our portfolios remain well diversified, spreading investment risk in line with our clients' attitude to risk in consideration of Brexit uncertainties. We have commented before about the importance of sitting tight in these challenging times. Volatility can be a powerful force for good because these wild swings work both ways. For example, being out of the market for only the best 5 days during the past 20 years would have led to a 23% lower return. Missing the best 10 days would have reduced returns by a staggering 40%. So, while volatility may be stressful, experience shows it is better to stay invested in bumpy times. Timing the market with such precision is impossible.
Sources: Brewin Dolphin, BBC, ONS
The tax trap that's catching out thousands of new mums
I see that the Sunday Times is reporting that "tens of thousands" of women are losing years of National Insurance credits by not registering for child benefit - even if they do not need it - when they have a child. The reason for this is that some people may have to pay a tax charge if their (or their partner's) income is over £50,000 per annum so they don't bother to even register. However, this could be a costly mistake leading to the loss of national insurance credits that would otherwise have gone towards the State Pension. This is turn affects an individual's eligibility to the full State Pension because it will take longer to build up the National Insurance record to the required 35 years.
Far more women are affected than men because they make up the majority of stay-at-home parents. Once parents realise they should be registered, they can claim just three months of backdated credits. Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts said: "Unless you have the natural inclinations of a tax lawyer, it is all too easy to miss. Women already face a pensions gender gap - making the rules around child benefit clearer would help to redress the balance."
Child benefit is available if you're responsible for one or more children under 16 (or under 20 if they stay in approved education or training).
Pensioner numbers double during Her Majesty's 60 year reign
The number of pensioners has doubled in the 60 years since the Queen took the throne and 44 times as many people reach age 100.
Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions also showed people, on average, are living nearly a decade longer. There are 5.6 million more pensioners today than in 1952, rising from 6.8 million to 12.4 million.
The number of those reaching the grand old age of 100, our centenarians, has increased by 13,120, since 1952. The Queen has sent about 110,000 telegrams and messages to centenarians during her reign.
Pensions minister Steve Webb said: "In the past 60 years we have seen man land on the moon, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of the Internet and digital technology. Pensioners now make up 20% of the population and make a huge contribution to society." However, Mr Webb said the state pension age had not kept up with the changes and the current pension has trapped millions of people in "means-testing maw" for decades.
The government is set to bring forward the state pension age to 67 by 2028 and create a single-tier pension, estimated to be about £140 per week.
The DWP said a boy born in 1952 was expected to live to 78 and a girl to 83. A boy born in 2012 is expected to live to 91 and a girl to 94.
And while the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh continue their busy schedule of Royal engagements, very few people are reported as employed at aged 86 or over.
About 350,000 women aged 65 or over are in work today and some 540,000 men aged 65 or over
Should you delay taking your state pension?
This year, 330,000 people are projected by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to qualify for their state pension in the UK. For many, particularly women, it cannot come soon enough. The equalisation of the state pension age (age 65 for men and women by November 2018) means that many women in their 60s are waiting years for their pensions. Only 80,000 women will get their pension this year compared to 250,000 men. However, there are surprisingly large numbers of people of pension age who choose not to claim their state pension when it becomes due, so that they can draw a bigger pension later.
If you are in good health and expect to live for long enough to recoup the difference, then this is a piece of retirement planning that may be of interest to you. Those of you who reached retirement age before April 2016 are the big winners.
The state pension increases by 1 per cent for every five weeks the pension is deferred. This works out at 10.4 per cent for a full year. By doing so, someone entitled to the full basic state pension before April 2016 of £125.95 per week (or £6,549.40 per year) can increase their pension by £681 per year. Alternatively, they could get a one-off lump sum payment by deferring for at least 12 months in a row. This will include interest of 2 per cent above the Bank of England base rate — currently 0.75 per cent. Even if the pension is deferred for several years, the lump sum, which is taxable as income, will not push the pensioner into a higher rate of tax. A basic rate taxpayer will pay this rate even if the lump sum takes their income into the higher rate tax bracket. People qualifying for the state pension after April 2016 get a lower rate of annual increase for deferment of 5.8 per cent, but this is on a larger state pension.
Newly qualifying pensioners can get up to £164.35 a week — up to £8,546 per year — depending upon their history of national insurance contributions. Those qualifying for the full amount who defer for one year will see their annual state pension increase to £173.89 per week, or £9,041.88 per year — an extra £493.
What is the payback period? If you reached state pension age before April 6th 2016, deferring your state pension for a year only really pays off after around nine or 10 years of receiving your pension. If you reached state pension age after April 6th 2016, the payback period is around 17 years. This is a significant risk. The DWP says that the calculations are made more complex because the extra pension you earn from deferring is uprated each April in a different way from the rest of the state pension. Statistically speaking, the risk of not getting your money back and more, is lowest for those living in London and the Southeast, and the highest in some areas of Scotland such as Glasgow. The DWP says about 1.1m people are getting extra state pension as a result of having deferred their entitlement — about 8 per cent of state pensioners. This is not surprising as 1.5m people work beyond state pension age.
Who should consider deferring? You should only consider deferring the state pension if you are in good health, and do not need the money from the state pension now. It is most attractive for people who are still working or who have retirement income from a company or private pension which means the state pension would take them into a higher tax band. If your pension is in flexi-access you can turn the income off or on accordingly. The 21 per cent growth in self-employment since 2000 has been fuelled by the over-50s, who account for 43 per cent of the people who start their own businesses, according to the Office for National Statistics. By the age of 70, almost 60 per cent of those still in work are self-employed.
You should think carefully before deferring if you are receiving benefits, such as carer's allowance, income support or widow's allowance as you can't get extra state pension if you received these benefits. Deferring can also affect how much you can get in benefits.
What else do I need to do? Four months before you reach state pension age, you should receive a letter and a booklet from the DWP telling you how to claim. That is the time to do the maths and seek advice about whether deferment is worth considering for your own personal circumstances. Speak to an independent pension adviser. The over-50s can also make use of the government's free Pension Wise service although this is guidance rather than advice and can be somewhat generic. If you want to defer, you don't have to do anything. Your pension will automatically be deferred until you claim it.
Worried? You should meet Fred.
When markets are misbehaving, as they currently are, it can be a useful exercise to take a step back and remind ourselves of the bigger picture. While the headlines will always focus on the issue of the moment; what matters more to us than the exact outcome of Brexit or Donald Trump's next tweet is the quality of the assets we own and how we deal with the inevitable tough periods. To illustrate how we think about this, let's meet Fred.
(For those readers just looking for the conclusions, you can jump ahead to our checklist)
Fred retired in October 2017 after 50 years of working. A decade before his retirement, he had £100,000 in savings and after much deliberation with his adviser, he decided to invest into the stock market. Unfortunately for Fred, his timing was not the best as he chose to invest his money on 12th October 2007. This was the day global markets began falling, and the start of what would become the global financial crisis; and thus, one of the worst days to have bought shares in living memory!
A year later, the papers were declaring "Market crash shakes world" and Fred's portfolio was down a third to just under £67,000. Understandably, Fred was worried and rang up his adviser to ask what to do. Fortunately, for Fred, he had a good adviser who reassured him that he owned good quality stocks and that he should stick to his original plan of investing for the long term and his retirement. Fred agreed to leave his portfolio invested and the adviser promised to keep a close eye on his holdings.
So how did Fred do in end? Well when Fred liquidated his portfolio as planned in October 2017, he was very glad that he hadn't sold nine years previous crystallising that loss of £33,000. When he came to sell his shares, they returned approximately 144% equivalent to an annual growth rate of 9.3%. Not bad for an unfortunate piece of timing. Even after Fred had paid his fees, he would have walked away with comfortably more than £200,000.
So did Fred get lucky or was his patience prudent? Let's look at how Fred would have fared with his strategy in the other big stock market declines of the last 50 years:
Now Fred's strategy of patience isn't perfect by itself. The strategy only broke even, for example, when investors were hit twice within a decade - with the Dot Com bubble bursting and the global financial crisis unfolding some seven years later. It does, however, have a fairly impressive track record when you think that these were the four worst points to have invested in stock markets over the last 50 years. If you then supplement Fred's patience with a level headed investment manager who avoids pockets of extreme overvaluation, as we saw in technology stocks in 1999, then you have an investment strategy that has a fighting chance in all four of these scenarios of producing good returns.
Well, we know that patient investors who own sensible, diverse assets and who have managers they trust, have come through thick and thin before. What we don't know (and we'll let you in on an industry secret, nobody really does for sure) is whether the current turmoil will turn out to be another 2008 or just a natural correction in this bull market.
So if you are concerned then go through our checklist below:
Are you comfortable that you own a diverse set of quality assets?
Do you trust your investment adviser or manager and understand the advice they are giving you?
Do you have time to wait through a possible downturn?*
*How long do I need?
All investments that experience capital value volatility need investors to have enough time to allow the highs and the lows to average out and so have a good chance of achieving a positive return. While there are no hard and fast rules for how long is enough for traditional portfolios of shares and bonds, below are the minimum holding periods we recommend for clients. It is of course important to remember that nothing that hinges on the future as much as investing does, can ever be guaranteed and so is just one aspect of the process of working out whether an investment is right for you.
If the answer to each of the three questions is yes, then you can follow Fred's lead and look past whatever the current noise is.
If you are not sure then perhaps you should speak to your adviser...
RISK WARNING: The value of investments and the income derived from them may go down as well as up and you may not receive back all the money which you invested. Any information relating to past performance of an investment service is not a guide to future performance. Fluctuations in the rate of exchange may have an adverse effect on the value, price or income of non-sterling denominated investments.
Source: Robert Tannahill, Ravenscroft Group
Budget 2018 statement, Monday 29 October
The Chancellor has laid out details signalling the end to austerity in a statement delivered between key meetings in the Brexit negotiations. There's also good news if you have an unmaintained pot-hole in your road.
Despite many rumours surrounding pensions before the budget, mercifully, there were no changes materially impacting individual pension planning. There were however several items affecting the overall pensions and investment landscape, summarised below.
Reassuringly, there are no changes to pension annual allowances (AA). The standard AA remains at £40,000, the money purchase AA stays at £4,000 (with no carry forward) and there are no changes to the high income AA taper rules.
Other main points for pensions and savings:
Stay vigilant but calm
Global equity markets had a meaningful wobble last week. At Friday's close, the FTSE 100 was down 6.7% and the MSCI All Country World Index was down 6.4% (it was down 7.8% on Thursday's close). But we're reluctant to read too much into this particular bout of volatility as it didn't obviously result from either economic or geopolitical news. We have had several pullbacks in the past 10 years since the financial crisis - all have been in some way justifiable and have left investors feeling bruised and nervous. But markets by their nature settle down to find an equilibrium where the positive and negative forces are back in balance, and this normally happens quite quickly. Therefore, it is important not to lose the medium-term perspective.
Most commentators remained somewhat baffled that this time it had been positively surprising US economic data that appeared to have caused the trend reversal. In quarter two, the US economy grew strongly at an annualised rate of 4.2%. Consequentially, the search for other culprits was in full swing all week. Slowing demand from China, Trump's path towards an exploding US budget deficit – which makes even Italy look fiscally responsible – as well as the looming trade wars with China were all put forward as reasons why the 2018 US equity market rally had suddenly hit the buffers.
Unfortunately, as is usually the case, the stock market downdraft is highly contagious and so stock markets around the world were caught in the spiral. Given the other industrialised regions around the world are still operating far earlier in the economic cycle with still far lower rates of interest, bond yields and equity valuations, the $1million question is whether this sell-off will herald a change in market leadership away from the US, where growth may still be strong but also turning over.
Although unusual, falls like this do happen from time to time. In fact, this risk is largely the reason that clients are rewarded over the long-term for holding equities and investing in markets more generally. We're keeping a close eye on markets and, although we don't have a crystal ball, we don't believe this is the start of a wider market sell-off. After all, the initial reason for the sell-off was actually good economic news, not bad (it's true the US/China trade dispute rumbles on in the background, but there has been no specific new news this month).
Whilst we can't control what markets do in the short-term, we can control what makes it into client portfolios, and in this respect, we are satisfied with what clients are invested in, both from an asset class and from a fund manager perspective. Pension planning, by its very nature is long term and our aim is to promote growth to support an income. Our portfolios are not completely immune from market falls, but they are very diversified which has certainly helped.
Sources: Fidelity, Brewin Dolphin, J P Morgan, PortfolioMetrix
The South Coast of England dominates the top places to live in.
West Sussex is still the best place to retire offering pensioners the highest quality of life, reveals Prudential's 2018 Retirement Quality of Life Index. For a second year running the county has been awarded the top spot of any in England and Wales, beating Dorset which came in second position, East Sussex in third, the Isle of Wight in fourth with Norfolk in fifth.
My personal favourite, Devon, comes only sixth which I find hard to believe – we have two fantastic coastlines to choose from, two moorland National Parks, Plymouth and Exeter - two of Britain's most historic and vibrant cities, stunning rural scenery, pasties, cider, cream teas, what's not to like?
Actually, the analysis is based upon other key indicators of happiness and comfort such as access to healthcare, crime levels, pensioner migrants, pension income levels and how proactive the population is in pursuing a healthy lifestyle. The pasties and cream teas will be a negative factor then!
The West Midlands was ranked as one of the safer counties for retirees boasting the lowest crime rate per 1000 people, followed by North Yorkshire and Dyfed.
Retirees in Bedfordshire are now the wealthiest, with the best score for pensioner income, knocking Surrey off the top spot and followed by Essex and Hertfordshire.
If nice weather makes you happy, then Essex for the second year running, is the county boasting the best weather considering the annual hours of sunshine, days of rainfall and days of frost, followed by Dorset and Kent.
Over 65's in Herefordshire can look forward to their retirement in the knowledge that they were the best performing county for disability-free life expectancy with people aged 65 years old in the county expected to live 13 years on average, followed by Rutland (12.6 years) and Worcestershire (12.4 years). Those in Gwynedd, on the other hand, enjoy the best score for the number of healthcare workers per 1,000 people, followed by Shropshire and Bristol.
Dorset, for the second year running, was the county with the highest proportion of population over 65 years - accounting for over a quarter (28%) of the county's residents. In terms of the net flow (those moving in and out of a county) of over 65-year olds, Devon has the highest retention rate. Well I suppose it is a long way to go to get to anywhere else.
There are 12 million over 65s in England and Wales up by 1.4 million in 2017. Choosing where to live in retirement is an important decision and one that is often made many years beforehand as an aspiration or goal. To get the most choice when the time comes to give up work, people will benefit from saving as much as they can into pension, as early as they can in their working lives. Before taking any decisions on how to turn pension savings into an income, retirees should consider having a conversation with a professional financial adviser.
Budget day brought forward
This year's Budget is to be earlier than usual to avoid clashing with the final stage of Brexit negotiations in November.
The date of the Budget, Monday 29 October, also fits in with ministers' availability and official data releases, a Treasury spokesman said.
The Budget will also be a week after a high profile Brussels Brexit summit. Mr Hammond gave the date in a tweet, saying the government's approach to the economy was "getting debt falling".
The event will be three weeks earlier than last year and will come after a meeting of EU leaders on 18 October in Brussels, described by European Council President Donald Tusk as the "moment of truth" for reaching a deal.
Mr Tusk has also said that "if the conditions are there" an additional summit would be held in November to "formalise" a Brexit deal.
Source: BBC News
The French flag and why you should save for your retirement
Throughout our working lives, most people are typically involved in 3 basic activities. We are either working, enjoying leisure time, or are simply asleep (this includes time spent sat in a traffic jam, which could be all three!)
If life was represented by the French tricolour, the blue segment, work, generates the income for the other two sectors, white and red.
Leisure time and sleep time needs to be financed. Even during the hours of slumber, most of us are still consuming by using electricity and all the other household running costs etc. We all understand the importance of 'earning a living' which determines our 'standard of living'.
At retirement, work stops and is replaced by more leisure time (and perhaps some more sleeping), and therefore more even more opportunity to spend and consume. Retirees tell me that every day is like the weekend!
In tricolour terms the impact of the change is very apparent:
As you can see, retirement is a drain on personal resources, especially if you want to make the most of your new found free time.
If you have aspirations to retire at say, age 60, and don't have a personal pension or source of retirement income, then you will have a long wait until your state pension kicks in to replenish your work place income.
The alternative, of course, is to make sure you have stashed away enough of your hard earned income throughout your working life, by way of savings in a pension for example – this is a sensible way to plan to maintain your lifestyle in your twilight years.
Research the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests that there are still lessons to be learned about pensions. Auto enrolment has been hailed a success with over nine million people now enrolled in a workplace pension scheme. However, insights from the recently published ONS Wealth and Assets survey show much more needs to be done if we're to crack the retirement saving challenge, with figures pointing to a huge lack of awareness around auto enrolment and pension saving in general.
According to the survey, only 63% of eligible employees were aware they had been auto enrolled into a workplace pension; of those employees who said they had not been auto enrolled, 91% of them actually had been! Not surprisingly, only 42% of non-retired respondents said they knew enough about pensions to make decisions around saving for retirement. The research showed that people had different views on what they thought was the safest way to save for retirement. Almost one third would choose property investments as their preferred 'safe' way to plan for their future.
At a basic level many people don't understand how pension schemes work. For instance, they don't know how pension tax relief, employer contributions and appropriate investment strategies can boost the amount being saved into a pension over time. Addressing these issues could help people get over much of their mistrust about pensions.
In addition, as auto enrolment minimum contribution levels go up over time, people will still need to save much more than these minimum levels if they want to generate a big enough pension to give them a decent income in retirement.
On a more individual level, financial advisers can also help people get past the barriers to starting pension saving. The ONS statistics show the reasons people give for not contributing to a pension scheme. These include: a lack of trust around pension schemes, affordability, a lack of knowledge.
Financial advisers can help challenge many of the myths around these areas and help people feel more comfortable making retirement decisions. Where people prefer to use different savings vehicles – for instance property or ISAs - advisers can play an important role in making sure people understand how these work to see if that product truly meets their needs.
Statistics like these highlight the many challenges people face when it comes to dealing with pensions and also show the importance of how a good financial adviser can really make a difference and help people plan for their retirement.
C'est la vie
Source: ONS Wealth and Assets Survey August 2018; DWP Auto Enrolment Review 2017
Lifetime allowance: Three types of at-risk employee and how to help
LTA tax collected in 2016/17 hit £110m
Vicky McKeever of Professional Adviser writes:
Pension savers breaching the lifetime allowance (LTA) today are shelling out 10 times as much tax as they did in 2006 when the policy was first introduced. Here, Wealth at Work outlines three types of employee at risk of breaking the rules...
The latest figures found that some £110m in tax was collected from individuals exceeding the allowance in 2016/17, up from less than £10m in 2006. Wealth at Work, a provider of financial education and guidance in the workplace, said taxpayers breaching the LTA typically fell into one of three categories.
In the first instance, the business said many employees may be "blissfully unaware" their pension pot is valued at or above the current LTA limit of £1.03m. It said this could particularly affect those who never check their pension value, or have not done so for some time. In fact, it pointed out many employees in defined benefit (DB) pension schemes are unaware their pot is valued at 20 times their annual pension for LTA purposes. An annual pension of £30,000 would, therefore, have a value of £600,000.
If they then decided to take advantage of pension freedoms and transfer said DB scheme, the transfer value could be as high as 40 times the annual pension. In this example, an annual pension of £30,000 could have a transfer value of £1.2m and therefore exceed the LTA, it explained.
Those who mistakenly think they are a long way off from breaching the LTA was a second scenario put forward by the firm. It said this was a danger, in particular, for employees making healthy contributions into their scheme and perhaps receiving matching contributions. Positive pension fund growth, as well as a pay rise may easily push them over the LTA before they knew it, the business warned.
For example, someone aged 45 could have a pension fund of £400,000 and a salary of £50,000, saving 5% of their salary into their pension, rising by 3% per annum. If they then received employer contributions of 10%, rising by 3% per annum, it is possible for their pension fund to reach £1,670,000 by the time they retire at 65.
Thirdly, employees who have taken protection measures and opted out of their workplace pension scheme to safeguard their savings from an LTA charge could still be at risk due to auto-enrolment regulations stipulating workers must be re-enrolled every three years.
One month's contributions could invalidate a previously applied for protection without employees realising, Wealth at Work said.
To avoid or reduce the impact of the LTA, the adviser suggested employees should reassess their current situation, including their pension pot valuation and how much has been accumulated via multiple pots. Employees could also consider alternative tax-efficient savings vehicles, it said, such as an ISA or workplace share schemes.
Director Jonathan Watts-Lay said: "Reaching the LTA could be closer than many employees think. For example, they may have a number of pension schemes that when combined with their current pension provision, could exceed the allowance. The tax implications could be drastic and could lead to potentially many being hit with unexpected and sometimes unnecessary tax bills."
Source: Article written by Vicky McKeever of Professional Adviser and reproduced here by their kind permission.
Don't Be Scammed!
Very pleased to see that the Financial Conduct authority (FCA), has launched a new Scamsmart campaign with The Pensions Regulator (TPR) to raise awareness of pension scams and urging the public to be cautious when approached about their pension. Scams are increasingly sophisticated and pension savers can be targeted by highly sophisticated scammers who steal on average, £91,000 per scam. Victims can lose their life savings and be left with limited income when nearing retirement.
The group most at risk is pension holders aged 45-65. New research shows that a third do not know how to check whether they are speaking with a legitimate pensions provider or adviser. Research has also revealed that 1 in 8 pension holders aged 45-65 are likely to trust an offer of a 'free pension review' – a tactic frequently used by scammers to lure pension savers into a scam.
The FCA reviews and assesses all reports received about unauthorised pension activities which are very often linked to these types of pension scams. This year the Unauthorised Business Department commenced proceedings against 2 unregulated pension introducers involved in the transfer of at least £86 million in pension assets from over 2000 consumers. The FCA is seeking injunctions, declarations and restitution orders to prevent further breaches in schemes which were unlawfully promoted to the public using false, misleading and deceptive statements.
The new campaign urges consumers to be ScamSmart and to check they are dealing with an authorised firm if they are considering changing their pension arrangements.
The campaign launched on 14 August 2018 with TV, radio and online advertising. See https://www.fca.org.uk/scamsmart/how-avoid-investment-scams for further help and guidance.
Our message: Fraudsters can be articulate and financially knowledgeable so make sure you know who you are dealing with. Never give out your bank details, PIN or password to anyone that you don't know. If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Take time out to refer to a trusted friend or relative before making important financial decisions. If you are suspicious, please report it. You can check the credentials of an individual adviser or adviser firm on the FCA's register - https://register.fca.org.uk/
The silly season is in full swing and is commonly referred to as the slow news season. This is when news stories slow down and many news editors take their annual holidays. Journalists are looking around for newsworthy stories and trivial events that wouldn't normally attract any coverage at all, but they suddenly become hot topics, even front-page news, for want of an alternative.
Now however, one of Britain's great institutions seems to be under threat. Thanks to the seemingly endless machinations of Brexit, politicians, and the efforts of President Trump to offend everyone except a small group of former steel workers in Ohio, the silly season has come under intense pressure from actual news. With the notable exception of a story about the possibility of Great White Sharks patrolling the waters off Cornwall "in the next 30 years" the press has been parched of genuinely silly stories in recent weeks.
The financial press is no different and I see that rumours are circulating ahead of the autumn budget that flat rate tax-relief on pensions may be back on the agenda. It is probably more than two years since the subject of flat-rate tax relief on pension contributions seriously reared its head, but the Treasury Select Committee has put the topic very much back on the table in its report on Household Finances published on 26 July.
A change to tax relief is portrayed as a means of incentivising the majority to save for retirement, rather than just higher and additional rate taxpayers. With 52% of all relief paid going to individuals earning more than £50,000, it is difficult to challenge the thinking behind a fairer distribution. From the Government's point of view, a change to say, a flat rate of 25% for all, would raise another £4bn a year in revenue for the Treasury. The practicalities of delivering any changes may cause headaches for pension scheme administrators especially where employers make contributions, however I do not believe that they are insurmountable.
With the rumoured flat-rate relief back on the radar, any higher or additional rate tax-payers who are contemplating making further ad-hoc contributions to their pension pots, may wish to think about the possibility of missing out on higher rate tax relief if they delay their decision to post-budget.
Why are so many of us not saving for a rainy day?
As a City regulator starts an inquiry into ultra-low savings rates, concern grows that Britain is losing the "savings culture". Can the regulator really protect us from our own folly? The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is suggesting a basic savings rate (BSR) and under its proposals banks and building societies would have to set a basic minimum interest rate across all their accounts. The intervention is about limiting the worst deals, not about getting the best from your savings.
A 2015 study by the FCA found that there was £108bn held in easy access cash ISAs, one in five of which had been opened more than five years ago. These loyal customers were getting 0.87% of a percentage point lower than the most recent customers. The same report found £354bn in easy access savings accounts and again long-standing customers are getting a poor deal when compared with new customers. With many of us saving with the same organisation that holds our current account, are we too loyal to them or just too lazy to shop around and transfer? With rates so miserly is there any point anyway?
The problem with savings is more deep-rooted though.
After 10 years of low interest rates (which has been welcomed by borrowers), is it any wonder that people have fallen out of love with the idea of putting something aside each month? Savings aren't just about the interest rates though. It is prudent to build a cash reserve to cover those unexpected emergencies such as a large car repair bill. However, I also think that several decades of poor, or non-existent financial education in schools for young people, coupled with a general lack of parental guidance and ignorance has added to the malaise. After years of pressure on wage rises, many families are struggling to make ends meet and will cite this as a reason not to save.
I do believe that more of us could get by just fine, even during so called austerity - trouble is we have unlearnt the art of making good choices and prioritising. Funny how so many seem to be able to afford tattoos, piercings, take-aways, pets, Sky TV, smoking, drinking, all the essentials, yet still plead poverty! Frivolous or just enjoying life? Each to their own I suppose.
Fortunately, the workplace pension (auto-enrolment) has proved far more popular than the Government first envisaged, with more than 8m people signed up (July 2017) for a workplace pension since it was launched in 2012. This means that millions more will be able to look forward to a more financially secure retirement. We mustn't get carried away though, auto-enrolment has got off to a great start but contributions are for low amounts, it is not the panacea and there is still more to be done. It probably won't be enough to live on comfortably and neither will the State pension.
Commentators estimate that BSR could be worth a total of £300m a year in extra interest paid to savers. However, some are fearful of the so-called water-bed effect where pushing up interest rates for some accounts causes them to be cut elsewhere in order for the banks to balance their costs. We will have to wait and see how this pans out. As ever, anyone who wants to grow their hard-earned cash must stay vigilant, study best buy tables and be willing to switch regularly.
The Bank of England interest rate decision will be revealed this Thursday on 2 August, with a rate rise from current 0.5% to 0.75% expected. Maybe this will be the start of a longer-term trend and be a welcome tonic for savers regardless of what the FCA do.
Not married but in a relationship? Good news if your partner has a pension
A heterosexual couple have won their legal bid for the right to have a civil partnership instead of a marriage. In a civil partnership, a couple is entitled to the same legal treatment in terms of inheritance, tax, pensions and next-of-kin arrangements just like in marriage; in other words, legal and financial protection for both parties in the event of the relationship ending - as in marriage.
There has been pressure building for the Government to review the law that currently only applies to homosexual couples and thus end the discrimination for lack of formal recognition of their relationship. It is an irony that the way in which relationship equality for same sex couples came about in the 21st century had the effect of creating inequality between them and different sex couples. Was it ever fair that same-sex couples had two options, civil partnerships and civil marriages, whereas opposite-sex partners had only one option, marriage?
The ruling will be important for male and female couples who do not want to get married, but who opt for a civil partnership instead. Both partners should now benefit from the same rights as if they were married. In practice this means that the death benefits from a final salary pension for example can now pass to the other partner, whereas under current 'co-habiting' rules, often the surviving partner would not be entitled to this. If they were legally married, or in a same-sex civil partnership though, then they would be. Other advantages of this ruling will be the resolving of issues regarding lack of certainty around next of kin and inheritance. Couples also stand to gain from things like tax allowances.
The judgement does not oblige the Government to change the law, although it does make it more likely that it will act upon it according to the BBC.
There are 3.3m co-habiting couples in the UK and maybe the law is finally catching up with the reality of family life in Britain in 2018.
Time to simplify ISAs
I wrote back in April about the demise of the traditional Individual Savings Account (ISA) season in the lead up to the new tax year. Is it because ISAs have become over-complicated – like pensions? This has become an emerging theme over the last few years. Cash ISAs have fallen out of favour as interest rates have remained low and banks and building societies have trimmed back their competitiveness that they once offered on ISAs. Add to this the tax rule changes in April 2016 where basic rate tax payers are able to earn up to £1,000 in savings income tax-free, and higher rate tax payers £500, the tax efficient status of a Cash ISA is less appealing. Stock and Share ISAs remain a useful vehicle for longer term savings as there is no capital gains tax to pay, returns and any income taken is tax free and they have the potential for greater growth than ordinary deposits.
ISAs were once a very simple concept to grasp and served not only as a tax efficient way in which to save but they actually encouraged personal savings – just as they were designed to do. New rules have brought in unconventional new forms such as the Innovative Finance ISA, Help to Buy ISA and Lifetime ISA. Whilst these new ISA types mean more options for investors, as we've seen with pensions, an increasing 'complexification' could lead to fewer people saving and investing tax-free for their future. This is not in the interest of Government if it ends up footing the retirement funding bill, nor is it in the interest of individuals if they suffer a lower quality in later years as a result. Take up for the new 'house-purchase' related ISAs is low and they are not exactly catching the public's imagination just yet.
We need to get ISAs back on a simpler footing, not least in respect of the Lifetime ISA. The Lifetime ISA is a peculiar hybrid cross between an ISA, a pension and a home savings product. Up until 2017, when the Lifetime ISA was introduced, there was a simple choice between saving in an ISA and saving in a pension. When it comes to financial advice and planning, it is never a good idea to try to merge two (or even three) products with the aim of meeting one objective. Older readers will remember how back in the 1980s, pension mortgages were all the rage for a few years. Hindsight has shown that it was a struggle for some investment vehicles to grow enough to repay the mortgage, let alone have anything left in the coffers to provide for a pension as well.
For younger savers, their future planning priorities can be a complex decision making process and this is a concern because it increases the danger of them making a choice they might later come to regret. The help of a trusted independent Financial Adviser is recommended.
Part of the problem with the Lifetime ISA is that that there is a penalty of 25% if you want your money out before age 60 or if you aren't buying your first home. If the Government is serious about encouraging savings then there should be no penalties for tax-incentivised savings. Currently, you can invest £4,000 maximum per annum – but is this enough - perhaps it should be brought into line within the overall £20,000 limit offered on other types of ISAs?
Either way, a thorough overhaul of ISA products is long overdue so that we can get the ISA back to the simple product that made it successful in the first place.
Child Benefit and State Pensions – how are they connected?
Child benefit and the State pension both have to be 'claimed' in order to receive them – neither are paid automatically – and both have eligibility conditions. Eligibility for the State pension depends on having paid, or been credited with, National Insurance contributions – 35 years of contributions for the full rate. And that's another connection. One way to be 'credited' is to be entitled to receive child benefit for a child aged under 12.
Midwives give new parents a form to claim child benefit. So why wouldn't a new parent fill it in – lack of sleep, too many nappies to change – or perhaps because they'll not only have to pay it all back, but also complete a self-assessment tax return.
Since 2013, child benefit has been taxed (the high income child benefit tax charge) where at least one partner's adjusted net income exceeds £50,000. If a partner earns more than £60,000, then the entire benefit has to be repaid as tax. People subject to the high income child benefit tax charge must complete a self-assessment tax return. So wouldn't claiming child benefit just mean lots of hassle for no gain?
Not necessarily, as the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee has pointed out in a letter to the Government. They question whether it is being made clear enough to potential claimants that not claiming child benefit means that they won't be credited with contributions towards their State pension.
The Committee raised this concern over seven years ago when taxing child benefit was first mooted. The Government responded by enabling credits to continue to be provided if a person opted out of receiving child benefit. However, this provision does not extend to people who never claim the benefit in the first place. Although it is possible to both claim and opt-out of child benefit at the same time – perhaps people don't have the perseverance to reach question 68 of the child benefit form to find that out!
But that could be a costly mistake. The new State pension, which is paid to those reaching State pension age after 6 April 2016, has no spouses'/civil partners' element. Furthermore, there were no transitional protections for dependants' pensions already accrued unless the contributor was already in receipt of their State pension – the dependants' pensions just vanished. In the post-2016 world, spouses and civil partners have to make their own provision – and claiming child benefit is a step on that road.
As part of your future retirement planning, it's always worth keeping a check on how much State pension you will be entitled to – you can do this anytime at https://www.gov.uk/check-state-pension
Never mind student debt – what about over 65s debt?
Over 65s debt on track to hit £86bn by the end of 2018
Over 65s will have amassed a record £86bn of debt in 2018, up from £78 billion in 2017, according to research from the Centre for Economics and Business Research commissioned by more 2 life.
The research found that the average total debt held by 65 to 74-year olds in 2017 was also higher than expected, hitting £15,700 instead of the predicted £12,500. This is estimated to increase to £17,100 in 2018.
Worryingly, in 2018, the average mortgage debt of those aged 65 and over is estimated to stand at £86,000, which is 13% higher than in 2013.
Somehow, I don't see that generation throwing caution to the wind and running up debts to fund a lavish and flamboyant lifestyle. So what's going on?
The industry calls it the 'retirement lending market' and it is growing faster than previously expected. This is probably exacerbated by an ageing population who are buying houses at a much later stage and shrinking pension pots resulting in low retirement incomes. A divorce lawyer friend of mine has told me that the fastest growing age group for marriage break ups are for people in their 50s; he suspects that the kindling of old flames via social media such as Facebook could be fuelling this phenomena. This often means that where two people previously lived in one house, after the split, two properties are needed and consequently so is the finance to purchase them.
Of course, longevity means that a growing number of older people are having to make important decisions about how to manage their wealth over a longer period than previous generations, presenting new challenges along the way. As I have previously commented, the Bank of Mum and Dad is a significant lender in the UK and it's not all coming from savings.
Among the growing numbers of older people carrying secured and unsecured debt into retirement, some may be doing so as part of a deliberate asset management strategy, but worryingly, the research indicates that a significant minority are doing so to help manage cash flow problems and make ends meet. Products like equity release have the potential to play a hugely important role, relieving budgetary strain and offering more financial freedom. Equity release loans allow older people to get their hands on tax free cash sums without having to make monthly repayments. Instead, the advance, and the interest accrued is paid off when the homeowner dies and the property is sold. There has been criticism in some quarters about the cost of such loans, sometimes as high as 6%, so they're not for everyone and should be treated with caution. Proper advice should be taken before proceeding.
Inflation measures – Leggings in, pork pies out, as the latest changes to the inflation basket are revealed
The traditional measure of inflation in the UK for many years was the Retail Price Index (RPI), which was first calculated in the early 20th century to evaluate the extent to which workers were affected by price changes during the First World War. It has existed in various forms since then, and more recently, a further measure has been introduced called the Consumer Price Index (CPI). CPI excludes housing costs and mortgage interest payments, and unlike RPI, CPI is calculated on a formula that takes into account that when prices rise, some people will switch to lower priced alternatives.
Whatever its format, the basket of goods and services chosen is intended to reflect changes in society's buying habits and the price movements of 700 goods and services are measured in 20,000 UK outlets to calculate inflation. It is interesting to note what is, and what is not, currently in vogue, it is certainly an eclectic list!.
For example, in 2009, rosè wine and takeaway chicken were added to the basket, whereas volume bottled cider and boxes of wine were removed.
This year, women's leggings and mashed potato will now be used instead of pork pies and lager sold in nightclubs to help calculate the cost of living in the UK.
The changes are part of the Office for National Statistics' (ONS) annual review of the basket of goods used to measure the UK's inflation rate. Quiche, action cameras and soft play sessions have also been added – as have high chairs to represent nursery furniture, which has not been covered in the baskets since the removal of a cot in 1999.
So, this year, the exclusion of the humble pork pie is the result of rethinking the area of "cooked pastry-based savoury snacks", according to the ONS. The aim was to reflect the "widening collection across a range of takeaway outlets", rather than only pasties and pies in traditional fish and chip shops.
So why should we be concerned about inflation?
For your money to have the same spending power year on year, your income, regardless of whether it's from a pension or salary from paid work, needs to be at least the same as inflation. The same principle applies to savings interest if you wish to avoid erosion of the real value of your capital.
Pensions can be affected further depending on which index is used to calculate final payments. While state pensions use the CPI as a measure of inflation as part of the Government's triple lock guarantee that pensions will rise by at least 2.5% each year, many private pensions continue to use the RPI to track pensions.
However, if they were to change to CPI, this could see thousands of pensioners receiving lower pension payments than previously expected as their pension pot increase will be dramatically reduced.
One final thing to say on inflation is how it affects your own personal cost of living depends very much on what you spend your money on. So while inflation as measured by the CPI and RPI are useful indicators of the cost of living, yours may be higher or lower.
JPM Guide to the Markets - more volatility?
One of my colleagues attended JPM's guide to the markets event and here are some notes detailing their thoughts and comments about global markets. We thought it worth sharing their fascinating viewpoint. It appears they are not quite as bullish as they were in January.
Still think USA inflation and subsequent rate hikes could push USA into recession but overall still fairly constructive on equities but they have reduced their overweight
Expect to see more volatility in markets over next few days – Wall Street sold off last night and USA futures market is down this am too.
There is talk of lower than expected corporate earnings from some sectors and this is seen as a possible slowing down of USA economy.
There has been talk about the yield curve flattening or even inverting which is when short term interest rates start to rise.
The USA 10 Year Treasury Yield went up to 3% for the first time in 4 years which is also seen as bearish for equities.
All of these are signals of a potential USA recession but looks like this will be towards the latter end of 2019 and will depend very much on when / how.
The Fed increases base rates.
JPM said they had reduced their exposure to equities from a large overweight to a smaller overweight in favour of cash and structured bond funds.
They are long-term very constructive (which means they think prices will go up) on Emerging Markets and expect good growth to come from both China and India.
Of particular significance is the fact that Chinese A Shares will become part of MSCI World Index.
They expect China to grow to 45-50% of the MSCI World Index.
There was talk about the impact of the trade sanctions. 37.5 billion USD of trade sanctions is a big number but it is small in size compared to USA economy which is 19.7 trillion US$ and China which is 12.8 trillion US$ i.e. it is only 0.2% of Chinese GDP and market is oversold and should correct.
They think the biggest concern is inflationary pressures in USA market and the Fed putting up interest rates too quickly.
There has been some moderation in the Purchasing Managers Index survey figures (PMI) for manufacturing – but no warning of recession yet and numbers globally all above 50
Global unemployment rates all still falling
Markets expect rate hikes in USA throughout 2018 (2 likely in 2018 and 3 in 2019 … when they hit 3% this could cause recession in USA) .
The fiscal stimulus in USA from increased Government spending could stave off recession
In UK probably 50:50 whether they rise in May; Eurozone not expected until 2020
Whilst inflation picked up when sterling weakened post Brexit – it has now started to drop off quite quickly as the price if imported goods is now dropping with the strengthening of sterling
JPM not too bearish on Brexit. Their chief economist Karen Ward, was previously one of chief advisers to Philip Hammond at the Treasury and she is positive on Brexit especially for Financial Markets
She does not think Germany or Frankfurt want to be seen to be benefitting from Brexit as this would harm relations with the rest of Europe if Germany gets even stronger – so she thinks City of London is safe – (Perhaps she is talking her book!) Carney is now trying to back track on May hike but it is still possible. His term is supposed to end in March 2019. Could be replaced by Ben Broadbent ex Goldman man or an Ex Indian Central Banker is also in the running. JPM neutral on UK equities.
Emerging Markets they think China GDP will continue to grow at 6.8% year on year and expect it to drop to 5%
India should continue to grow at 7%
Expect further urbanisation and industrialisation in India especially
Average time spent in education in USA is 13.2 years, whereas it's 7.6 years in China and 6.3 years in India expect this trend to increase which is very positive for growth in both countries
Expect both countries to move up the value chain
China population expected to be 1.4 billion by 2050, India's population still growing rapidly and expected to grow by another 275 million by 2050
Overall they expect recession to come around 13 months after yield curve flattens but the dynamics of QE and QT are unknown and could impact on this as could the fiscal stimulus – Hedging their bets as normal!
Eurozone expect 2% growth in GDP and moderation of pace of growth – signs that unemployment is dropping and consumer confidence is growing which is positive for Eurozone equities
Expect Euro to strengthen – however the strengthening of Euro makes it harder for the manufacturing industries in Europe to continue to perform.
These notes are for information only and should not be construed as advice to invest (or not to invest) in any particular area.
Is there really an ISA season any more?
We had our usual busy end to the tax year with a flurry of last minute pension and ISA top-ups. However, the idea of an ISA season, with most ISA investments being crammed into February and March is probably a bit outdated now.
This is based not just on our own observations, but on what providers themselves tell us. One such survey by Octopus Investments conducted just after Christmas revealed that almost half of advisers - 48% - say they tend to do the bulk of their ISA planning with clients towards the beginning of the tax year. This makes good sense, the sooner one invests, the sooner one can benefit from the ISA tax reliefs.
The maximum investment is £20,000 and investment ISAs put capital at risk meaning investors may not get their full capital back. However, over the medium to long term, Investment ISAs offer the potential for greater returns when compared with ordinary deposits.
Have you reviewed your holdings recently? Don't forget that existing ISA portfolios can be easily consolidated into one simple plan without losing the tax efficient features.
2018 Spring Statement
With the move to one budget in 2018, the Spring Statement merely provided an economic update and saw the release of a number of consultation papers. None of these have had any direct impact on financial products or services. Chancellor Philip Hammond was in an upbeat and jovial mood though and predicted a bright future for the UK. He reported a higher growth forecast for 2018, and a fall in inflation, borrowing and debt.
He told MPs: "We have made solid progress towards building an economy that works for everyone."
Mr Hammond said the economy had grown every year since 2010, adding that the Office for Budget Responsibility had confirmed growth of 1.7% was achieved in 2017, higher than its 1.5% forecast in last autumn's Budget. The OBR also revised its growth forecast for 2018 up to 1.5% from 1.4%. One reason in the short term for the rise in economic growth is a robust global recovery. The stronger expansion in 2017 also meant the economy carried more of that momentum into 2018. While productivity growth over the last two quarters is the strongest since the 2008 recession, this is not expected to translate to higher growth in later years.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies is not so bullish and consider the British economy to be sluggish at best and reckon other economies around the world are doing a lot better than we are.
Still, optimism is a positive notion and some growth is better than no growth or recession. The UK economy is progressing and is back on a firmer footing compared with the dark days and chaos of 2008.
From an investment point of view, we remain cautious and advocate a diversified investment strategy until the full outcome of Brexit is known.
Asia – oh to be forever young
The developed world has a well-known ageing population problem.
Dependency ratios (the ratio of the young and very old to the working population) are rising and labour forces are projected to decline sharply across China, Korea and Taiwan (Figure 1, left-hand chart).
However, demographics are more favourable in other parts of Asia – for instance, in Bangladesh, Indonesia and India – and even more so in Africa, where the working age population of Nigeria alone is forecast to increase in size by around two thirds between 2015 and 2050 (Figure 1, right-hand chart).
However, despite these mixed demographic trends, a look under the bonnet suggests an altogether more positive story:
This receptiveness to new ways of doing things, largely a function of the demographic profile of Asia's middle class, will be crucial in shaping the future economic picture of the region.
These pro-youth trends are in stark contrast to the West, where the elderly have the best pensions, the highest disposable incomes and are asset-rich mainly as a result of the soaring value of their homes. In contrast, the young cannot get on the property ladder and are saddled with spiralling levels of university debt. Western youths may wield greater political impact (a notable example is the UK, where over 70% of under 24-year olds voting in the last General Election voted against the Conservatives, whose supporters included more than 60% of over-65-year-old voters) but they perceive themselves as second-class citizens in economic terms compared with their elders.
While youths in Hamburg want to throw rocks at G20 leaders, their Asian equivalents are embracing a world of choice with positivity and enthusiasm.
The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017 found that emerging millennials (those born from 1982 to 2004) were more confident about their economic prospects and expected to be materially and emotionally better off than their parents.
Millennial wealth is projected to more than double between 2015 and 2020 to somewhere between $19 trillion and $24 trillion. To put this into perspective, US GDP is projected to be only $22 trillion at that date and the Eurozone economy $13 trillion. Chinese millennials are clearly a force to be reckoned with.
While ageing and fabulously wealthy Asian tycoons still feature largely in the popular imagination, the real economic influence in Asia is middle class and, crucially, young.
In many ways it's just a matter of attitude and expectation. These younger consumers today are typically teenagers and people in their early 20s, who have grown up in a period of relative abundance. Their parents, who lived through years of shortage, focused primarily on building economic security. But many young Chinese consumers were born after Deng Xiaoping's visit to the southern region—the beginning of a new era of economic reform and of China's opening up to the world. They are confident, independent minded, and determined to display that independence through their consumption.
Prone to regard expensive products as intrinsically better than less expensive ones, they are happy to try new things, such as personal digital gadgetry. Teenage family members also already have a big influence on decisions about family purchases, according to the research.
The same phenomenon is evident in India where by 2020 the average age of the population is expected to be just 29 (compared with China, 37). Recent survey data show that millennials' gross income is significantly higher on average than that of the older generation, and it is no accident that 57% of all working millennials in India are the chief wage earners in their families
The more obvious effects of this rising wealth is trading up by consumers. Asians have long had a love affair with luxury brands (Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Premier Cru etc) and are prepared to spend vast amounts to get them.
More sustainably, the Chinese are trading up in areas such as home appliances, fitted furniture, kitchen equipment and tourism. Importantly to us as investors, many of the beneficiaries of this trend are domestic brands accessible via A-shares, traded in the local Chinese equity market.
More interestingly, this is a generation which feels completely at home with technology and wants to embrace it. The level of engagement is staggering. It's not just the numbers – 963 million monthly active users on the WeChat/Weixin social media service or 340 million on the Sina Weibo microblogging service – but the breadth and depth of its level of engagement.
Inevitably the here and now is dominated by China. Once the political will was there, the rest followed given the advantages of scale, economic clout and homogeneity that China uniquely possesses. However, do not underestimate the speed of adoption in other Asian markets, where the basic conditions in terms of average wealth, youthful, open-minded populations and weak incumbency co-exist.
This is clear in Asia's adoption of the internet where the potential is still staggeringly large. The situation where Eastern Asia has almost 900 million internet users but only 55% penetration, or Southern Asia which has almost 500 million with under 30% penetration is only going to resolve itself one way.
Indeed, in Indonesia, a classic "difficult" market, it is already happening. The country boasts the third-largest Facebook user base in the world, with 40 million transactions a month going through the GO-JEK app, a transport service akin to Uber, while Alibaba and Tencent are pouring in the money.
So as investors, what are the lessons? Don't write off Asia based on the simple extrapolation of demographic trends. There is a massive shift of wealth going on and the beneficiaries are young, middle class, technologically savvy and open to change. In these circumstances, valuations still matter, while there will be many losers as well as winners from the rapid changes we are witnessing. Unsophisticated investment strategies are unlikely to be able to differentiate between the two.
However, active investment should continue to provide rewards as Asia becomes increasingly a leader rather than a follower in the application of genuine innovation. It's worth keeping an eye on this area.
If you run your own business, how do you take your profits - pension or dividends?
For owners of SME companies, choosing how you take your profits can be a tricky business. The argument in favour of pension contributions has been gaining momentum over the last 2 years.
Whilst taking dividends may still be popular, recent changes to how they are taxed are driving more directors who don't need the income for day to day living to extract profits using employer pension contributions instead. From this April, the annual dividend allowance will reduce from £5,000 to £2,000 meaning that higher rate taxpayers for example, could face a further tax bill of £975, increasing the focus on the pension alternative.
The dividend option still remains a better option than salary for most directors – even with these reductions. For a higher rate taxpayer, the combined effect of corporation tax at 19% and dividend tax of 32.5% will still yield a better outcome than paying it out as salary, which needs to account for income tax at 40% plus employer NI of 13.8% and employee NI of 2%.
However, a pension contribution remains the most tax efficient way of extracting profits from a limited company business. An employer pension contribution means there's no employer or employee NI liability - just like dividends. But as it comes off the bottom line, it means a lower corporation tax bill.
Under current pension legislation, those directors who are over 55 will be able to access it as easily as salary or dividend. With 25% of the pension fund available tax free, it can be very tax efficient. Furthermore, if the income from the balance can be taken within the basic rate tax threshold, this helps even more. Beware though, by doing this, the MPAA will be triggered, restricting future pension contributions to just £4,000pa.
With the tax year end approaching, there are several reasons why you may benefit from making an employer pension contribution now:
In addition to this, there will be many companies with a financial year in line with the tax year e.g. where the company business year ends on 31st March. These companies will not be able to confirm any final dividend until after this date. If these dividends are subsequently paid in 2018/19, they may use up next year's lower dividend allowance before the new company year has even started.
As with all things related to financial planning and tax, we recommend taking professional advice before acting.
Market commentary February 2018
Earlier in the week global markets went into reverse, triggering much speculation as to whether this heralds the end of the current bull run. Many investment experts point out that volatility has been unusually low since mid 2016 and a correction was long overdue. Here at Pension Drawdown, we have long shared the sentiment that some sort of a correction was imminent.
The urge to react to short-term market events can often be tempting to clients. Our key message is one you have heard many times before – volatility is a feature of long-term investing and it's time in the market that counts, not market timing. I suggest that just as was the case during previous market upsets, the best advice for investors is to 'keep calm and carry on'. Unless this current rout morphs into a major and lasting liquidity crunch, for which there is little indication, then the upward direction of travel of the global economy and consequentially corporate earnings and dividends, set the longer-term course of investment returns.
Some commentators see this volatility as the greatest sign of real health in the markets for a long time. The tech-fuelled rally in the US had long lost any sense of reality in its valuations, the prospect of inflation remaining low forever could not last, and we have a new and untested Fed Chair. Furthermore, the correction is needed in order to quell recent US equity investor exuberance for a while longer. A 5-6% global stock market growth in a single month (without being a recovery from a previous fall) has just all the hallmarks of an overheating capital market environment which usually leads to nasty corrections.
After an exceptionally strong January in equity markets, which followed strong 2017 returns, stock markets around the world have now suffered a considerable downward correction without there having been any one particular trigger. Indeed, Monday night's 4.5% fall in the US coincided with macro-economic data releases showing both the US, as well as the European economies are in even better shape than previously anticipated. However, to give perspective, US markets still only fell back to where they were already at the beginning of the year.
Our investment portfolio strategies have, since late 2016, been more conservative than the upward momentum strength may have normally warranted. This means that our clients' portfolios are well diversified and have therefore shown good resilience in the face of these market headwinds. This means that our investors have experienced lower portfolio declines than if they were invested passively or in many instances, elsewhere. Where suitable, we are actively seeking to take advantage of potential buying opportunities as they arise. Our aim is to seek a balance between risk and reward.
What's in store for 2018
A few weeks into the New Year and before you know it you will be thinking about Valentine's Day, pancakes and Easter eggs.
One of the most significant dates in the calendar is 5 April which heralds the end of the tax year. For those of you who wish to make the most of your tax efficient allowances, this is your last chance to use your ISA allowance. You can invest up to £20,000 per person per tax year. Here are some other key dates in 2018 for you to be aware of…
This is more for the accounting side of your personal finances but we would encourage those of you who are self-employed to get organised sooner, rather than later as time is running out. This will mean that you should then avoid more financial stress and potentially a fine from HMRC. Plus the earlier this is out of the way, the more time you will have to focus on other, more interesting things.
A great opportunity for this part of South East Asia to put themselves in the shop window and for TV networks and social media to boost their revenues.
The exact date is yet to be set but draft legislation on banning cold-calling is expected to be published in the next few months. As the pension transfer market continues to grow, this new legislation is designed to protect vulnerable clients from scammers. It is expected that this will be extended to cover savings as well, good news for all but the criminals.
While we're likely to see more talk of Brexit costs in Chancellor Philip Hammond's speech, as negotiations continue to unfold, clients should listen out for changes to personal finance policy. Pension tax relief is always a speculated target, particularly as Mr Hammond resisted the temptation for any changes in the Autumn Budget.
Along with increases to the personal tax allowance, capital gains exemption threshold and Enterprise Investment Scheme allowance, the first bonuses on the Lifetime ISA are also due to be paid. What's more, the new full State pension increases to £164.35, while mandatory pension contributions via auto-enrolment increase to 5%, including the 2% employer minimum.
April 6 is also another opportunity to invest up to £20,000 into an ISA.
The bill calling for transitional arrangements for women born in the 1950s and affected by state pension changes from 1995 and 2011 legislation, is expected to go through its second reading in the House of Commons
Prince Harry is set to marry American actress Meghan Markle on Saturday 19 May.
Disappointingly, the Government has ruled out an extra bank holiday, nonetheless, the weekend wedding will likely mean street parties and a coming together of people. Additionally, the UK could benefit from a much welcome £1bn economic boost courtesy of the big day – according to the Mail Online.
Football fans will rejoice to hear 2018 is a World Cup year. The tournament will be held in Russia this time around. England, the only home nation to qualify are in Group G. Their first match is against Tunisia on 18 June, then Panama on 24 June, then Belgium on 28 June.
Depending on England's further progress, pubs and hostelries are set to benefit from televised matches. Although England have not won the World Cup since 1966, the event promises lots of excitement, passionate cheers, and plenty of pride among fans. Apologies to our Irish, Scots and Welsh clients but, come on England!
In November, the Government pledged it would release a social care green paper by summer 2018. It will set out how it will improve care and support for older people, as well as tackling an ageing population. Clients may be interested in the proposals in terms of how it will affect savings to accommodate for later life care.
Any guesswork on the Autumn Budget will only really loosely take shape following the outcome of the Spring Statement. Depending on what is outlined in the proposed summer green paper, however, care policy could be back on the agenda.
November - State pension age equalises at 65
From November, the state pension age will equalise for men and women at age 65. In the run-up to the changes, we're likely to hear more from the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign. Again, depending on the outcome of the second reading of the women's transitional arrangements bill, if this does affect you, how financially prepared are you for the changes?
With best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous year.