Archive | January, 2013

Pension Drawdown Receives A Boost To Income Limits From March 2013

26 Jan

Pensioners in drawdown will be able to take an increased income from 26 March 2013.

The Government surprised many in the Autumn Statement, the maximum drawdown limit on income that can be taken in capped drawdown was increased from 100% back to the 120% level. However, investors currently in a drawdown year will remain on the 100% GAD rate until their new drawdown year starts. 

Drawdown allows retirees to keep their pension fund invested and take an income from it each year. The amount of income that can be taken from an income drawdown policy is based on calculations made by the Government Actuary’s Department (GAD), known as GAD rates.

These GAD rates are linked to the annuity rates offered by insurance companies, which have fallen dramatically. This meant that drawdown income falls and so the government decided to decrease the amount of income that could be taken from 120% of the GAD rate to 100%.

The last few years have been difficult for many drawdown clients and some may be tempted to simply push income back up to the maximum 120% as soon as allowed.


However, it is important to tread with caution. Taking maximum income each year runs an increased risk of quickly eroding capital. Investors must consider, if this is the case their ‘capacity for loss’. This is so clients can cope with any nasty surprises.

Drawdown members are facing unprecedented times, with many seeing their income drop by over 40%. The reduction in the maximum allowable income was not the only reason behind this drastic fall. Pushing income back up to 120% of GAD rates would only cut the income drop to a ‘mere’ 20% or so.

The cause was a combination of many factors – 

Low gilt yields played a part, as did the high income levels some people were stripping out of their drawdown pots. Taking 120% each and every year means people need high investment returns to maintain that income. This is  where the client’s capacity for loss becomes crucial.

A client’s capacity for loss (their ability to absorb falls in the value of their investment and associated pension income, is a key focus. This needs to be considered separately from attitude to investments and their associated potential risks.

There are two things to consider. One is around the type of investment needed to try to achieve a higher yearly return and how this fits with a client’s attitude to investment risk; and their capacity for potential losses.

Bare cupboard (cartoon) - Income drawdown: the pension that could leave you penniless

Investment performance, risk and volatility suitability and portfolio stress testing must be reviewed (in my opinion) on a regular basis, taking into account changes in the customer’s health and personal life, as well as what has happened to their pension and other investments. In that way clients are more likely to understand, and be able to deal with, any drops in income and the portfolio can be managed and adjusted as required.

I believe income drawdown is undoubtedly a good contract which can be hugely beneficial for some clients.

Recent history has shown that drawing 120% income comes with repercussions – higher investment returns are needed to maintain that income, and, for most clients, investments have simply not achieved these high hurdle rates over the last five years.

Relying on critical yields to work out whether investment returns are acceptable is unlikely to be a good strategy. Instead, using some form of cash flow modelling along with regular scrutiny of whether a lifetime annuity or investment linked annuity may be more suitable, could pay dividends for both adviser and client.

A possible strategy is to take an income no more than the natural yield generated from the underlying investments is the optimum way to protect a drawdown fund over time. 

Experts Predict Zero Or Negative Growth in Property Valuations in 2013

18 Jan

The performance of the UK property market was disappointing in 2012, with growth of just 1% by the Land Registry’s measures. Strong growth in London and the South-east helped to offset losses in most of the UK.

Even prime central London may be on the brink of retreat as property specialists claim tax reforms could hit the market in the coming year.

Knight Frank, which currently places the UK in the middle of the longest housing market recovery on record, says it expects the prime central London market will undergo no further price moves in 2013. It attributes this impending slowdown primarily to tax changes; namely the introduction of a 7% Stamp Duty Rate on properties valued at £2 Million or more in March as part of the Budget.

This view is shared by property agents Savills, although its research shows the prime central London market has already started to slow. 

World research director Yolande Barnes says: “Buyers should now expect price growth to hover around zero in 2013, particularly as the prime central London market absorbs the impact of increased taxation.

Nationwide chief economist Robert Gardner suggests an improvement in the overall situation in the Eurozone could also present a contributing factor since the prime central London market has benefited so prominently from foreign capital inflows.

He says: “Part of London’s out-performance is reflected in safe havens of money flows from the Eurozone, which has disproportionately benefited London, especially the top of the market. Whether or not that is maintained over the next year will depend on the developments in the Eurozone and the market stability of other EU states.”

There is optimism for the super-prime property market and growth is expected to continue, the prime London property market is expected to stall (at least for 2013) and the majority of the rest of the UK is expected to see nil or negative growth. Regional factors will affect the housing valuations, such as corporate failure, Public Sector shrinkage and weakness in demand and the valuations could see serious declines.

If property is your investment focus expect poor returns in 2013.

HMRC Focusing On Tackling Tax Avoidance by the Wealthy

17 Jan

HMRC Letter 480

It’s official, HM Revenue & Customs is doubling its team tackling potential tax avoidance of wealthy individuals. The number of inspectors has increased to over 200 inspectors.

The Affluent Compliance Team is to begin recruitment of 100 additional inspectors. The focus of the unit has expanded from those with annual incomes from £150,000 and accumulated wealth of £2.5 Million to £20 Million; to include those with wealth above £1 Million.

HMRC has reported that the unit had received additional tax receipts of £75 Million (by the end of December 2013). This is expected to rise to a target of £586 Million by the end of 2015.

Exchequer Secretary David Gauke says: “The team has made a great start by bringing in £75m in additional tax that would otherwise have been lost to the country…… Dodging tax is immoral, illegal and unaffordable and the minority who cheat are increasingly finding that, thanks to the work of the Affluent Team, they have made a big mistake.”

Director of the Affluent Team Roger Atkinson says: “Good quality intelligence is central to catching the cheats and so we are expanding our Affluent Intelligence Unit fourfold. This is very good news for all honest taxpayers.”

Bill Mott and Neil Woodford Issue Warnings For 2013

15 Jan

Neil Woodford has warned investors to expect further downgrades to profits forecasts for those companies more sensitive to the economic cycle.

Neil Woodford (manager of the Invesco Perpetual Income and High Income funds) paints a pessimistic story for the rest of 2013. He has grave concerns pertaining to the existing problems (eg the ongoing crisis in Europe, a possible slowdown in the US and reductions in borrowings across the western world) will limit the pace of global economic growth. Conversley, in his monthly update, he states he believes there is a “population of stocks that can grow consistently through this difficult period”.

Bill Mott (manager of the Psigma Income fund), has always raised his concerns over the effect of central bank policies,  he has warned that these have raised the chances of increasing inflation by continually introducing unprecedented policies into the market. He believes that these have increased the expectation of a growth in inflation.

“To some extent, inflation is already with us. The Bank of England has exceeded the middle of its target inflation range for 38 months in a row. What is remarkable is that despite this persistent inflation, the UK gilt market is trading at such low yields. Real interest rates on bonds have been negative for some time. Are low gilt yields telling us that the bond markets are relaxed about the inflation numbers? Or is it rather that the same target-busting Bank of England has been the most enormous buyer of gilts and has successfully subverted all price signals?”

Bill Mott has avoided investing in bank shares through the portfolio he manages, Psigma Income Fund. This has caused poor returns (short-term) against his peers. Time will tell if his decision is correct, as there has been a recent period of price rallying in this sector but is this a “true” rally or rather a “relief” rally. The latter will see the prices collapse, or could the pricing be sustainable?

Personally, I have concerns over the banking sector as there are several unknowns which carry a huge risk and could derail the recent optimism, One major issue with this sector is the lack of clarity of information and the continual fiascos constantly being unearthed. I see the comments about RBS and Libor, where the fines could be significantly worse than those suffered by Barclays (but expected not to be as large as those suffered by UBS). This is just an example and who knows what next?

Investment Bulletin – My Views For 2013

7 Jan
Fireworks explode over Times Square as the crystal ball is hoisted before New Year celebrations in New York December 31, 2012. REUTERS-Joshua Lott
What a year 2012 has been. It has not been an easy year and with the Christmas & New Year break, life has been put back into perspective and some sanity has returned. 2012 has ultimately been a good year for my clients and despite the challenges, we have made good gains. The challenges that faced the markets have been considerable:-

  • Disappointing economic growth and corporate earnings
  • US Presidential Election won comfortably by Barak Obama
  • Worrying geo-political developments, such as, in the Middle East and China
  • The ongoing debt crisis in the Eurozone (at times threatening the very existence of the Eurozone)
  • Easing political risk in Europe but still minimal Eurozone growth
  • Consumer confidence growing in the US
  • Relatively successful Chinese growth expected in 2013

Looking ahead, we’re beginning to see signs that a more positive outlook is developing. In the US, in particular, the recovery we see in the housing market could have a meaningful impact on growth prospects. Does this mean that the 30-year bull market in bonds is coming to an end? And should we be braced for an imminent increase in interest rates, reminiscent of the US Federal Reserve’s 2.5% worth of hikes that clobbered bond markets in 1994? I don’t think so. The Fed has said that it won’t raise rates until 2015 and while it could do so earlier, I think that next year would almost certainly be far too soon.

The outlook for returns in 2013 will depend on where you invest, I am confident that there are still attractive investment opportunities in several areas of the investment universe. In these conditions, a flexible approach and experienced active management can really prove their worth.

Markets will worry about the Italian elections in 2013 (likely to be brought forward thanks to PM Monti’s resignation) and in Germany (likely in September 2013) and even about the stability of the coalition government in the UK.

Currently, the most likely outcomes seem to be a strong vote for Merkel and her CDU/CSU grouping in Germany and the election in Italy of a coalition with a strong commitment to the Euro but a rather weaker commitment to structural reform of the economy. 

Worries about the possibility of a hard economic landing in China in 2012 abated with a soft landing and expected growth should be robust in 2013. Although Obama’s re-election does not solve the issue of political gridlock within the polarised system in Washington, growing consumer confidence underpins hopes that the US economy is on the mend.

Above all, markets still take heart from the extraordinary support offered by central banks across the developed world, with ultra-loose policy keeping interest rates and bond yields low, providing liquidity for the financial system and helping governments finance budget deficits cheaply. There may yet be worrying consequences from this grand monetary experiment, but for now investors should think twice about betting against the tide of central bank Dollars, Pounds, and perhaps increasingly Euros and Yen that are expected to keep flooding the world economy.

Will 2013 be the year in which the world really starts to emerge from the shadow of the global financial crisis? Perhaps that is too much to hope for, but there are good signs that the healing process in the global economy and markets can continue. Growth in the major developed economies is likely to remain quite subdued – slightly more robust in the USA, but still close to zero in the Eurozone.


The Economy 

Economic developments around the world now range from tangibly-improved in the United States, through apparently-improved in China and India, to less-bad in Europe. A return to financial markets driven by fundamentals is long overdue but first we need to consider the political ramifications of 2012 and prospects for 2013 :-

  • Risks from the Middle East are higher
    • displacement of US influence in Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood
    • civil war in Syria
    • this clearly fragile balance of power leaves the region less stable than a year ago
  • Elections were a feature of 2012
    • two in Greece
    • France (with the arrival of a wave of socialism, which already appears to be on the wane)
    • Barrack Obama’s re-election in the US
    • Re-election of Shinzo Abe in Japan.
  • Risks from the Eurozone are lower and falling
    • It appears very likely that Angela Merkel will be re-elected in Germany
    • The Italian election, which must be held by April 2013, will determine whether the reform process Mario Monti was able to begin during his tenure continues or whether it reverses
  • The time for forgiveness is late 2013
    • The German election will likely coincide with Greece’s return to primary surplus. 
    • This could mean that Greece’s debt could only be forgiven if it defaults, and thereafter no more fiscal transfers would be possible. The appeal for the creditor countries is that it reduces the risk of political extremists gaining power and forcing the long-feared Grexit – an event which carries unquantifiable risk to the broader financial system.
  • Will profits matter more than politics?
    • The chances of markets being driven by fundamentals, rather than politics, are clearly higher for 2013 than they were for 2012.
    • I expect equities to trade according to their earnings growth.
  • In the UK, general share capital growth is expected to be positive, combined with attractive potential dividends
  • In the US, stronger earnings growth but a lower yield and a slight softening of the dollar will mean a more sedate return in sterling terms.
  • European companies seem well placed to capitalise on the region’s export performance. The modest valuation of European shares offers an attractive yield, and positive trade dynamics are supportive of further gains.
  • Japanese equities are currently heavily overbought and I expect profit taking might be in order. With the country back in recession, I expect modest total return from Japanese shares.
  • The rest of Asia, however, looks set to enjoy robust earnings growth which encourages me to think positively about the potential for strong equity returns.

Investors must clearly treat these opinions with caution, as equities are volatile. I am an advocate of asset combining to take advantage of the differing asset performance related correlations, helping to manage both risk and volatility. I believe, however, that the potential for markets to reflect fundamentally attractive valuations should give investors optimism about the prospects for 2013.

How RDR Impacts Investors

2 Jan

The Retail Distribution Review (RDR) comes into force from Monday 31 December 2012, but what does this mean for those who are paying for advice?

There has been an overhaul of the disclosure of what you pay, how you pay and the advice (at point of sale and ongoing). The idea being that the advice received is suitable, you are aware of any restrictions i.e. independent or restricted; and the associated costs. 
I am an independent financial adviser (IFA) under the old and new regime. The service provided has always been detailed with an ongoing service as the advice process starts with the purchase of a financial product and on-going advice is paramount (in my opinion). Make sure you receive what you are and have paid for – 
Lord Turner FSA living wills proposals
The Financial Services Authority (FSA) outlines the changes which will directly impact – and hopefully benefit – the everyday investor:
1. Know how much advice costs
“Advice has never been free. You may not have realised but if you received financial advice before our changes came in you probably paid ‘commission’ to your adviser.”
“This generally came from the company providing the product paying your adviser a percentage of the sum you invested.
“Instead of you paying commission on new investments your financial adviser now has to be clear about the cost of advice and together you will agree how you will pay for it.”
“This way you know exactly what you are paying and that the advice you receive is not influenced by how much your adviser could earn from your investment.”
“Your adviser now has to clearly explain how much advice costs and together you will agree how you will pay for it. This could be a set fee paid upfront or you may be able to agree with your adviser that they can take the fee from the sum you invest.”
2.  Know what you are paying for
Is this a transactional item, on-going advice and defined service to be provided.
While many advisers are remaining independent, some have changed their business models so that they only give “restricted” advice.
“Financial advisers that provide ‘independent’ advice can consider all types of investment products that might be suitable for you. They can also consider products from all firms across the market.”
“An adviser that has chosen to offer ‘restricted’ advice can only consider certain products, product providers or both.”
“Your adviser now has to clearly explain to you whether they offer one or the other.”
Get improved professional standards“Some investments can be hard to understand. So the minimum professional standards of qualification have been increased….”
“Financial advisers also have to sign an agreement to treat you fairly.”
3.  What should you do now?

“Next time you see your adviser you should ask how much you have been paying for their advice and how much that same advice now costs.”
“They should also be able to explain how the changes to the way you get and pay for financial advice affect you, and whether they offer independent or restricted advice.”
Happy New Year and good luck investing in 2013