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Pension flexibility two years on – the report card

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has examined the impact of pension flexibility and is worried about the lack of advice.

Pension flexibility came into effect in April 2015. In theory, since then it has been possible from age 55 onwards to withdraw your entire money purchase pension fund as a lump sum, albeit generally 75% would be taxable as income. When the proposals first emerged there were concerns expressed that the temptation to take a pot of cash and spend it would be too great for many. The FCA has been examining what has actually happened since 2015 and in July published an interim report on its findings.

The FCA found that over half of the pension pots accessed since April 2015 had been withdrawn in full. While this grabbed the headlines, it does not tell the whole story: 60% of those pots were worth less than £10,000, while another 30% were below £30,000. That does not suggest the worries about people blowing their pension funds on a new Lamborghini have been realised. Indeed, the opposite seems to have happened: over half of those who fully cashed in their pension reinvested the proceeds in other savings or investments. However, as the FCA noted, such a move can “…give rise to direct harm if consumers pay too much tax, or miss out on investment growth or other benefits”.

Bypassing advice

That danger highlights another FCA concern: that many people are failing to take advice about their pension flexibility options. In the FCA’s words, they are choosing “the path of least resistance” and opting for drawdown with their existing pension provider. The regulator says that the lack of shopping around this implies “may result in [the unadvised] achieving poorer deals”.

If you are considering drawing money from any pension arrangement, you should pay heed to the FCA’s emphasis on the benefits of shopping around and taking advice. DIY pension planning can turn out to be an expensive option, even if at first sight it looks the easiest.

The value of tax reliefs depends on your individual circumstances. Tax laws can change. The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate tax advice. The value of your investment can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.

China becomes an emerging market as MSCI finally opens up

China-listed shares are finally to be included in the leading emerging markets index.

As we highlighted in May, China has the world’s second largest equity market, but at present shares listed on the Chinese stock exchanges don’t figure in the MSCI Emerging Markets Index. The MSCI index is the most important equity index for emerging markets, with an estimated $1,600 billion of funds using it as a benchmark. While the index already has a 28% China weighting, this relates to Chinese companies listed on stock exchanges outside China, notably Hong Kong and in the United States.

For each of the last three years, MSCI has reviewed whether conditions in the Chinese stock markets were appropriate to warrant including shares listed on them in the emerging markets index. In 2014, 2015 and 2016 the answer was no. Various technical reasons were given and each time the Chinese authorities made adjustments in the hope that next year MSCI would change its mind. Last month, the answer finally switched to yes.

Look out for May 2018

The change will not happen overnight: adding such a large market to an index in a single move would be too disruptive. Instead, MSCI has set out a gradual approach. In May next year, MSCI will add shares in the largest 222 listed Chinese companies to its index, with an initial 5% weighting. The weighting is expected to rise over time until it reaches the full 100%, at which point Chinese-listed shares will represent about 15% of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index and total Chinese content, including the existing non-China listings, will approach 45%. Other smaller Chinese listed companies may also be added in the future, further raising the Chinese exposure of the index.

MSCI’s decision has been widely seen as a coming of age for investment in China and, on some estimates, could produce $500 billion of inflows over the next five to ten years. If you want to increase your exposure to China ahead of that predicted rush, there are a variety of options available which we would be happy to discuss.

The value of your investment can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Investing in shares should be regarded as a long-term investment and should fit in with your overall attitude to risk and financial circumstances.

Auto-Enrolment schemes with NOW

“Interesting development for Auto-Enrolment schemes with NOW: Pensions being removed from The Pensions Regulator’s approved list: http://www.thepensionsregulator.gov.uk/press/now-pensions-removed-from-the-master-trust-assurance-list-at-its-own-request.aspx

 

No summer Budget, but…

The general election left the future of many spring Budget announcements up in the air, but that situation may soon change.

When Theresa May announced her snap election in April, it threw a major spanner in the previous month’s Budget. There was no time to pass the 776 pages of Finance Bill before parliament shut down. The result was that about 80% of the Bill was removed and its uncontroversial residue passed through parliament in a few days. At the time it was anticipated that following the election the Chancellor – not necessarily Mr Hammond – would reveal a Summer Budget, just as his predecessor did in 2015. The second Budget of the year was expected to reinstate the lost measures and add a few more that were best left until after the polls closed.

It did not quite work out that way, as we all know. Mr Hammond has remained in place at 11 Downing Street and in June told Andrew Marr “…there’s not going to be a sort of summer Budget or anything like that, there will be a regular Budget in November as we had always planned…”. Shortly after that appearance, the background notes to the Queen’s Speech revealed that there would indeed be a Summer Finance Bill, even if there was no Budget.

A tight timetable

The new Bill will incorporate “a range of tax measures including those to tackle avoidance”, but precisely what those measures will be or when the Bill will emerge is unclear. The Treasury has a record of stretching seasonal limits when it comes to publications and will not be helped by the parliamentary timetable, which arrives at the summer recess on 20 July. Parliament resumes on 5 September, but only for nine days before the conference recess, which runs until 8 October.

One planned-and-abandoned/deferred measure which could be relevant to you is the reduction in the money purchase annual allowance. This generally operates when pension contributions are being made at the same time as benefits are (or have been) being drawn. If you think this might affect you, it is vital you check the current situation with us before taking any action.

The value of tax reliefs depends on your individual circumstances. Tax laws can change. The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate tax advice.

Investment round up – 2017 half-year report

The first six months of 2017 have presented investors with an interesting half year.

Index2017 Change to 30 June
FTSE 100+2.4%
FTSE All-Share+3.3%
Dow Jones Industrial+8.0%
Standard & Poor’s 500+8.2%
Nikkei 225-1.1%
Euro Stoxx 50 (€)+ 4.6%
Shanghai Composite+2.9%
MSCI Emerging Markets (£)+11.5%

 

Think about the first six months of 2017 in the UK. There were several serious terrorist attacks, Article 50 was triggered to start the formal Brexit process, the Budget less than perfectly executed and, to round matters off, a snap election was called which delivered no overall majority to the winners. A challenging half year, to put it mildly. So, what happened to the UK stock market over the period?

As the table shows, the answer in terms of the FTSE index, was a rise of just under 2½%. That number hides a rollercoaster ride with three distinct cycles. For all the movement, by the end of June the index was at much the same level as it was in mid-January. It is a reminder that at times short term “noise” in investment markets can be so deafening that what has happened over the longer term gets drowned out.

There is another lesson from the table worth noting. Although the two US indices, the Dow Jones and S&P 500, both show returns of around 8%, you would have been better off with European shares, as represented by the Euro Stoxx 50 index. The reason is simple: in the first half of 2017 the dollar fell by about 5% against the pound, while the euro rose nearly 3% against the pound. When looking at indices, never forget the currency.

The value of your investment can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Investing in shares should be regarded as long-term investment and should fit in with your overall attitude to risk and financial circumstances.

Getting our hopes up for an interest rate rise?

Getting our hopes up for an interest rate rise?

 Last month saw the first suggestions that interest rates could increase soon.

Source: The Federal Reserve

In June, the US central bank, the Federal Reserve, increased short term interest rates for the second time this year and the fourth time since December 2015. The 0.25% increase to 1.00% − 1.25% had been well signaled by Fed officials, so there was no surprise. As seems to be the case these days, the focus was more on whether the next rate rise was still three months away or might be deferred.

The day after the US interest rate decision it was the turn for the UK central bank, the Bank of England, to make its announcement. This was universally expected to be another “no change”, leaving base rate at the 0.25% fixed amidst post-referendum concerns last August. The rate did remain unmoved, but there was nevertheless a major surprise: three out of the eight people charged with setting the rate voted for an increase. According to Reuters, this was the nearest the Bank has come to raising interest rates since 2007.

Not so fast

Does that mean the Bank’s next meeting might see the first rise in interest rates in a decade? The answer is probably no. One of the trio of rate risers will have left the Monetary Policy Committee by the time of the next meeting. Her replacement is thought to be less anxious to raise rates. A new deputy governor is also due to be appointed, bringing the Committee up to its normal quota of nine. The balance of the Committee is thus set to change.

Despite some apparent differences between the Bank’s governor, Mark Carney, and its chief economist, Andy Haldane, most experts still do not see the first base rate increase happening until 2018. That is good news if you have a variable rate mortgage, but bad news if you have a deposit account or cash ISA.

The value of your investment can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.

 

Mr Carney prepares to write a letter as inflation rises

 Mr Carney prepares to write a letter as inflation rises

 The latest inflation numbers show prices rising at their fastest rate for nearly four years.

The May inflation data came as a surprise to many pundits. The expectation had been for inflation, as measured by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI), to remain at April’s level of 2.7%. Instead, National Statistics revealed that annual inflation had reached 2.9% (3.7% on the Retail Prices Index yardstick).

 

 Source: ONS

The last time inflation was at this level was June 2013, as the graph shows. Since then it has taken a rollercoaster ride to around zero for much of 2015, only to surge upwards in the past year: in May 2016 CPI inflation was just 0.3%.

At 2.9%, inflation is already above where the Bank of England had been expecting it to peak later this year. If the rate adds another 0.2% next month, then Mark Carney, the Bank’s Governor, will have to write a letter to the Chancellor explaining why the inflation target has been missed by more than 1%. It’s already clear what he would say from statements issued recently by the Bank: blame the fall in sterling since the Brexit vote.

The Bank sees little respite in the short term. In the press release issued in June alongside its interest rate decision, the Bank said inflation “is likely to remain above the target for an extended period as sterling’s depreciation continues to feed through into the prices of consumer goods and services”.

With many deposit accounts paying interest rates of under 1% (before tax), the news on inflation is a wake-up call if you’re holding more cash than you need to. A year ago money on deposit was just about keeping pace with price increases, whereas now it’s losing buying power at the rate of about 2% a year. To discuss your options in the renewed battle against inflation, please talk to us.

 

The value of your investment can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Investing in shares should be regarded as a long-term investment and should fit in with your overall attitude to risk and financial circumstances.

FTSE at 20,000

No, it’s not a mistake, but it is not the FTSE 100, either.

The most frequently quoted index of UK share prices is the FTSE 100 index, or the “Footsie” as it is frequently described. The FTSE 100 index was launched at the end of 1983, with the aim of giving a yardstick to the value of the largest 100 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange. It started life with an initial value of 1,000 and is now about 7,500, equivalent to an average annual return of about 6.2% excluding dividends.

Two years after the FTSE 100 came into being, the FTSE 250 appeared. This captured the performance of the 250 UK listed companied that ranked below the Footsie’s larger constituents. The FTSE 250 was launched with an initial value of 1,412.6, an odd-looking number which becomes more understandable when you know that was the reading on the FTSE at the FTSE 250’s birth.

In May, the FTSE 250 hit one of those round numbers which cause a brief flurry of comment: 20,000. That is equivalent to an average annual return of 8.8%, again excluding dividends.

The difference in performance between the two can largely be explained by the difference in the industry concentrations in the two indices, as illustrated in the chart below.

Source: FTSE Russell 28/4/2017

The industry concentration is partly driven by the nature of the companies. The FTSE 100 contains many large multinational companies, including mining groups (e.g. Rio Tinto), with little more than a share listing in the UK. On the other hand, the FTSE 250 is more domestically oriented.

The gap between the two indices’ performance is a reminder that the numbers that make the press headlines do not always tell the full story and that relying on a fund tracking the Footsie may mean missing out on some of the better performing UK companies. A review of your portfolio can be a useful exercise.

The value of your investment can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Investing in shares should be regarded as a long-term investment and should fit in with your overall attitude to risk and financial circumstances.

The Bank of England has a slight change of heart

The latest Quarterly Inflation Report (QIR) from the Bank of England has been published and shows that ‘the Old Lady’ has changed her mind a little. But the market projections for short-term interest rates don’t make for helpful reading for those with cash deposits.

The QIR was published in May, yesterday the Office for National Statistics revealed that in May, CPI inflation was running at 2.9%, 0.9% above the Bank’s target. The Bank shouldn’t have been surprised to see the higher inflation number. It’s QIR projected a short-term increase, with inflation reaching 2.8% in the final quarter of this year. Thereafter the Bank’s central projection is in for a gentle decline in the pace of price increases that will still leave inflation above target in the early part of 2020.

Why isn’t the Bank raising interest rates?

In his opening remarks when presenting the QIR, Mark Carney, the Bank’s Governor, said “The projected inflation overshoot entirely reflects the effects on import prices of the fall in sterling since late November 2015 – a depreciation caused by market expectations of a material adjustment to the UK’s medium term prospects as it leaves the EU.” This explains why the Bank is not raising interest rates, which would be its usual response to above-target inflation.

There is a highlighted page of the QIR devoted solely to explaining why global interest rates are so low and likely to continue to be. For the UK, the Bank notes that the money markets are currently projecting that short-term real (inflation-adjusted) rates will still be around 0.25% in ten years’ time, compared with an average of 2.75% between 1993 and 2007. Demographics and “heightened risk aversion” are to blame in the Bank’s view.

The current combination of sub-1% short term rates and 2%+ inflation is unwelcome news if you hold much cash on deposit: the longer your money is in the bank, the less it will buy. That may be a price worth paying if you are convinced that investment markets worldwide are headed for a fall in the near term. If you are not, or are just feeling uncertain where your money should be placed, do talk to us about the many options available. 

The value of your investment can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Investing in shares should be regarded as a long-term investment and should fit in with your overall attitude to risk and financial circumstances.

And after the election…

There is unfinished business for the new government to deal with.

Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. However, when it comes to general elections, there is plenty of history to suggest that tax increases are more likely in the first Budget to occur after the polls have closed. From a politician’s viewpoint, it makes sense to deliver the medicine immediately, as that leaves the longest gap before the next election. For example, it was in the summer Budget after the May 2015 election that the new dividend tax rules, reduced tax relief on buy-to-let properties and 3.5% increase in insurance premium tax were announced.

In the post-election environment, whoever ends up as Chancellor will be presenting a new Finance Bill, probably in July. There is a raft of measures to reinstate because so many were dropped from the March Finance Bill in the rush to get it passed before parliament shut down. When reviving the spring Budget, the Chancellor will almost inevitably wish to add some new tax legislation based on what was (or, as important, was not) stated in their party’s manifesto.

Changes which were not originally in March’s Finance Bill are unlikely to take full effect before the start of the next tax year (2018/19), but even so there may be some “anti-forestalling” measures that bite immediately. One area which looks ripe for a further attack is tax relief on pension contributions. You may recall that the tapering of the annual allowance for high earners was announced in the July 2015 post-election Budget.

If you are contemplating large pension contributions in this tax year, it could be a wise precaution to make them before the new government’s first Budget.

The value of your investment can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. The value of tax reliefs depends on your individual circumstances. Tax laws can change. The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate tax advice.