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Investment Bulletin – September 2014

30 Sep

 

2014 year to date has behaved more or less as expected, trading in a range with the FTSE 100 bouncing from (circa) lows of 6450 to highs of 6850 (data until 15.09.2014).

 

We have made good returns, especially relative to the market – so far in 2014. 2 January 2014 to 15 September 2014, the FTSE 100 Index rose 1.2% in total (and 16 September 2013 to 15 September 2014 rose 2.7%). If we keep this as a consideration of market performance – this explains my opinion.

 

Our forecast of challenging markets has been correct and our approach of diversity is serving us well and I expect positive relative performance for the remainder of the year and beyond. Markets change, the risks and potential outcomes of these markets will change. This will lead to our further discussions around funds selected and asset allocation – I expect that this will lead to some fund selection recommendations and changes.

 

Our portfolios are well diversified, but we are carrying out in-depth risk return analysis and taking into account your outlook to investment risk linked to your investment portfolio(s).

 

Market Outlook

Our plan is for your portfolio to combine growth stock, with income/yield generating assets and defensive assets to help protect the capital value during periods of market decline.

 

Our prediction based on the market so far, and our asset allocation and expectations are on track. The market will remain weak and trade within a range, we will see subdued economic growth globally, but with pockets, countries and some economies slipping into negative figures and possibility returning to recession.

 

I expect the remainder of the year to be beneficial from an investment perspective, leading to high hopes for 2015. So far, there has not been any unexpected fears entering the market and the optimists have not been able to lead a break or up-surge through market barriers. The UK economy continues to exhibit signs of sustained recovery, however, interest rates are now widely tipped to rise – and signs of dissent among Bank of England policymakers have fuelled speculation about the timing and scale of such an increase.

Market Round-Up

Signs of growth within the US economy has supported the idea that one of the world’s largest economies was on the path to recovery. Further ammunition was provided by the US Federal Reserve’s (Fed) statement that it would do whatever it took to be accommodative until economic data showed significant improvements.

 

Asian markets are becoming quite attractive, in part this is due to valuations and associated negative performance, especially in 2013. It seems reasonable to assume that many associated economies have bottomed out (key anticipated markets are possibly India, Indonesia and possibly China).  Outlooks are starting to improve – or so we believe.  In the long run, it is a common belief that these economies have better growth potential than developed economies.

 

When looking at sectors with the best growth potential, this seems to favour technology, small cap, commodities, Europe and healthcare. True, this is assuming that the overall economic global growth story continues, at least as strongly as predicted – now that is a big assumption.   There are vulnerabilities to the scenarios and is a key reason why we combine asset classes and consider both positive and negative associated correlation.

 

On the macro side, economic data remained mixed. Inflation in the eurozone

slowed further, unemployment remained constant. GDP figures showed the German economy shrinking, France’s stagnating and Italy falling back into recession. Yet, fundamentals remain constructive. Lead indicators still point to expansion in the eurozone, albeit at a slower rate. The fiscal drag in Europe has been significantly alleviated and the economic revival in some peripheral countries is still well on track. In Spain, latest total mortgage lending

figures showed a growth of 13.2% year-on-year. Corporate earnings have also improved in Quarter 2 and are set to grow in 2014, helped by a pick-up in global economic activity. Despite the latest headwinds, various economic forecasts still imply a strengthening of activity in the eurozone going into 2015.

 

Your portfolio is being monitored closely and should there be fundamental movements, economic date or expectations away from the planned – I will be in contact and changes where suitable recommended.

This bulletin provides information, it is not advice. Any opinions are given in good faith and may be subject to change without notice. Opinions and information included within this document does not constitute advice.

 (If you require personal advice based on your circumstances, please contact me.)

 

 

Investment Bulletin January 2014

6 Feb

Market Outlook

This may be the first year since 2007, where the market’s attention is not being dominated by a major tail risk. No double dipping, no fiscal cliff, no life or death moment for the Euro. It seems that the risks are more mid-term as in the problems bubbling away underneath the surface of the Chinese financial sector but this is not generally believed to be an imminent threat.

I agree it is the key medium-term risk to monitor in the global economy but this should not prevent you from being a bit optimistic currently. Instead, the relative normality in the global economy as we begin 2014 means developments in the good old belly of the probability distribution, rather than excitement or doom in the tail, are what matter for the markets.

Okay, fair to say, the markets are well poised for a short-term correction in the first half of this year but I believe we are prepared for this through your portfolio structure, asset allocation and funds selected. Although, as always, “watch this space” as I am constantly reviewing our assumptions, stress testing portfolios and recommending changes as and when suitable.

What Are The Important Questions for 2014?

1.  Will US capital expenditure (capex) pick up from its weak trend so far during the recovery?

The consensus expects US consumption to accelerate in 2014 and capital expenditure to modestly improve.

2.  Will forward guidance stop working?

It makes sense to us that the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England are cautious by maintaining low policy rates as economies continue to normalise over the course of the year and this is reflected by current policy.

However, the crucial question is – will Janet Yellen and Mark Carney be able to convince markets that the Fed and the Bank of England are themselves not moving towards pre-emptive inflation fighting mode? This is crucial for equity markets.

3.  Which of the so called ‘Fragile Five’ emerging markets (India, Indonesia, South Africa, Turkey and Brazil) will adjust relatively smoothly in 2014 to tighter financial conditions and which won’t?

India is making the best progress so far with the current account deficit falling and its superstar central bank head Raghuram Rajan is following enlightened policy to help the adjustment. In Turkey and South Africa, however, things are looking potentially uglier. All five countries have political elections in 2014, which look likely to act as catalysts.

4.  Where to for the Yen exchange rate?

I expect further Yen depreciation while we are this side of 120 Yen to the US dollar. The rationale being I believe that Yen depreciation and higher inflation are the core components of Abenomics, and still have much more work to do.

Market Round-Up

So it seems fair to say, there seems to be encouraging signs that Europe is now in a recovery phase (maybe), the UK economy is clearly on the mend, the US is seeing possibly a return to productivity; with Asia and Emerging Markets seeing a more contrived situation.

My guess is, we will see periods of expectations running ahead of reality – although the general outcome still potentially looks positive overall but with more volatility and clear periods of panic and decline; and of course the reverse, with signs of underlying growth and optimism.

Probate Fees and Executors – Know Your Rights and What To Expect !

7 Jun

I feel there is a need to write this article as I have recently been involved in an estate, where the fees charged are wholly not reflective of the work carried out by, in this case, a local solicitor – we will call the “professional” in question Warrell Card to give the person a name. (This is not their name and in actual fact, the in question which has inspired this article is actually female. So, any similarity to any known person alive, dead and some alternative is simply coincidence and nothing more.)

Please do not be afraid or concerned getting legal advice, if selected as executor, and in most cases the work done and the fees charged are fine. I have had dealings with many solicitors over many years where their involvement was appreciated. As with all of these situations, in most cases the solicitors provide an excellent service for a fair price but as always there are a few exceptions.

Also, to all those who think it may be  better to seek the services of a Will Writer, in my opinion, don’t. I personally believe that the role of Will Writing should be carried out by a suitably qualified solicitor. My experience has been poor where Will Writers have been involved.

As for applying for Probate – worse so – yes, you can do this yourself but depending on your wish to complete the process personally or delegate the responsibility, your financial aptitude and the complexity of the estate….

Just take care and remember, you are the executor so you are “in control” – you are employing others to complete a job – so take care and make sure you are happy with the work and price for what is being done and has been done. If you were re-turfing your lawn you would ask how much and what is being done. This is the same – you are paying for a job to be done – start to finish.

Probate Solicitors Fees

Probate is the process of obtaining the official approval of a last will and testament. What is Probate? This is the process of administration of your Will when you die. It’s a detailed process and solicitors charges can be substantial.

You can avoid the probate fees that solicitors charge by gaining probate yourself. However many people find bereavement a stressful time, and some would rather not learn the intricacies of administering the estate when they are feeling the loss of someone close to them. Most choose to employ a probate solicitor or other professional. Please make sure that you use a solicitor specialising in Probate, otherwise you run the additional risk of higher fees through inexperience of the “professional” and the point that all activity and time will be fee charging.

A solicitor may be named in the will as an executor – in which case, they will generally administer the estate and the cost of probate will be charged according to their scale at the time.

The executor’s job is to gather in all your assets, and after paying off any debts, they obtain a ‘Grant of Probate’ on your estate. Finally they pay out the money from the estate according to the Will’s instructions.

What are the average probate fees?

Banks charge consistently higher fees than solicitors fees – and, in turn these are often undercut by will-writers. To confuse matters, some charge a percentage of an estate’s value, others charge for work done by the item or hour, and many charge for both.

Bank’s fees for probate can generally work out at between 4% and 5%, so in my opinion are generally not good value.

Solicitor’s Probate and Associated Administration fees are usually based on guidance from the Law Society which sets an initial fee of up to 0.75% of the value of the property, plus up to 1.5% of the value of other assets, and other charges on top of that. After totalling up all the costs, a large estate may work out closer to 0.75% to 1.00% – that’s say up to £10,000 on an estate of £1 million, while smaller estates could amount to a larger proportion. Average fees for probate and estate administration work hover around £2,500. But even for smaller estates, the probate fees don’t often to go below £2,000.

While these figures provide a guide, it is important to ask around and get prices. Lawyers can charge from £100 per hour to £250 per hour or more for probate work, depending on the seniority of the person on your case. If a simple estate took 10 hours it would be much cheaper than a more complex will taking 20 hours’ work – and a solicitor would have to quote depending on your circumstances. What’s more, solicitors’ probate fees in London can be prohibitively high. It’s certainly worth shopping round and checking out specialist firms or at least ensure you only deal with the specialist within the selected Law Firm.

The big variables in the level of fees are when a Will gives rise to a particular issue or where there is a mistake or an omission. The Will might be contested by disgruntled family members who feel they have a right to a share in the estate.

Sometimes beneficiaries cannot be traced – or assets cannot be found. If there is no will to be found, the deceased is regarded as dying ‘intestate’, and the Govenment’s rules on intestacy come into play. This too, can increase the costs.

How do you save on a probate solicitor’s fees?

First, get a fixed quote after your first meeting. Prepare well for any face to face meetings and have as much information and details to hand. Remember that letters take time, so ensure that correspondence is kept only to that which is essential. If you want, you can do some of the work yourself rather than leaving everything to the solicitor.

Lastly, if you are having your Will drawn up, there is no need to pre-pay for probate services at that point. Some will-making companies have been criticised for charging large sums in advance for services that may not turn out to be as useful as their advertising claims.

Gold – the ultimate hedge, or an increasingly irrelevant asset?

4 Jun

Whether or not you are a gold bug, as followers of the yellow metal are sometimes known, the reality is that gold remains a popular investment asset. More than any other precious metal, gold is where investors turn at times of economic, political and social unrest or as a hedge against currency crises and stock market weakness. Just recently the returns have been less than golden, but opinion is as divided as ever over what the future may hold in store. 

However, the swift reversal in the fortunes of gold – down from a high of over $1900 in 2011 to just above $1,300 this year – has led to technical analysts calling a new bear market. Yet conditions around the world – conflict in Syria, problems with North Korea, continuing concern over economic strength and low-interest rates – set a scene that many would consider conducive to continuing demand.

The recent collapse in the gold price owes much to the increasing level of speculation that surrounds this asset, an approach made easier through the introduction of sophisticated instruments allowing exposure and the use of futures contracts and derivatives. The severe fall in April – the largest for 30 years – was put down to margin calls brought about by recent weakness in the price, thus triggering a further wave of selling. Hedge funds, which are often active in this market, bore the brunt of the blame, though there was some speculation that Cyprus might have to sell some of its reserves as part of the restructuring demanded by the providers of the bail-out fund, perhaps setting the scene for other indebted nations to sell.

However, it is hard to view such concerns as being the reason behind gold’s fall from grace. Cyprus’s stock of the metal is small in international terms, while some governments, such as Sri Lanka, have even indicated that they could take advantage of the decline to add to their reserves. Perhaps a more credible explanation is that the price was driven higher through the availability of cheap money from central banks – itself a response to the financial crisis which gripped the developed world which was just the kind of background that has investors flocking to buy gold as a hedge against uncertainty – and that this will come to an end at some stage.

 

What is the reason for holding gold as an investment?

Make no mistake, gold is currency in its purest form. Until comparatively recently many currencies were convertible into gold – the so-called “Gold Standard”. Globalisation and competitive exchange rates have rendered this particular aspect of gold as an investment largely irrelevant, but it is worth remembering that convertibility into gold was only abandoned by America in 1971.

Perhaps one of the principal reasons for considering gold as a potentially important investment is the limited quantity of it around. It is estimated that all the gold ever mined totals only around 160,000 tonnes – a quantity which veteran investor Warren Buffett once remarked could be held in a cube with sides measuring just 20 metres. The reality, though, is no-one knows for certain how much gold is around, though its durability and the fact that central banks hold a lot of it suggests that most of the gold ever mined is still around in one form or another.

 

Because supply is relatively inflexible (which itself creates a reason for wishing to hold it), price fluctuations are most likely to occur through changes in sentiment. Two macro aspects will influence the price on a regular basis, though. Because gold does not pay dividends and actually costs money to store, interest rates can affect demand, with high interest rates likely to depress the price and low to encourage investing. Recent low-interest rates will certainly have helped the price, with fears that at some stage quantitative easing must come to an end a reason to turn a seller.

 

Similarly, the value of the dollar influences sentiment. Gold is priced in dollars – as is oil, which arguably enjoys some correlation with the gold price – so a weak dollar encourages a rising gold price, just as the recent reversal of the fortunes of the greenback could well have added to the selling pressure. However, gold’s position as a global currency means that some holders will always wish to retain a physical holding in case local upsets render their other assets of limited or unrealizable value. Gold is the ultimate hedge against fear.

 

How might investors gain exposure to gold?

The options available today are far wider – and arguably purer – than those which investors could utilise in the past. Back in 1974, when a global economic and financial crisis on a scale not too far removed from that which gripped the developed world recently brought our stock market to its knees, renowned investor Jim Slater remarked the ideal investment portfolio was shotgun cartridges, tins of baked beans and Krugerrands. This South African minted gold coin closely followed the gold price in value and was much in demand by investors during these difficult times

Gold coins remain an option today, as do bullion bars for the seriously wealthy, but Exchange Traded Funds are now arguably the easiest option for an investor seeking exposure. The first of these to be issued – SPDR Gold – is one of the largest ETFs available, worth around $50 billion. It is also possible to purchase gold certificates, which demonstrate ownership without the costs associated with storage, while derivatives, including CFDs, also provide an option. Gold can easily be included in a portfolio if so required.

 

What about gold mining shares?

One of the less easy to understand aspects of gold investment is that gold shares often do not move in line with the price of the metal. Mining shares, for example, peaked ahead of the gold price and have suffered a torrid time of late. The best known fund, BlackRock Gold & General, includes the term “General” in its title at the insistence of the first manager, Julian Baring. He contended that, while opportunities to profit from gold shares would arise, at times they should be avoided en bloc – hence the ability to purchase other mining assets.

Just recently there has been evidence that the surge in the price encouraged some mining companies to develop higher cost options, which the recent fall in the gold price has rendered uneconomic. Comparing valuations of gold mining shares with those of companies extracting other minerals suggests that this sector of the market’s problems may not yet be over. However, the most important point to make is that mining shares do not automatically confer performance of the gold price to the investor and need to be considered totally separately.

 

Is the future direction of the gold price any easier to forecast than for any other asset?

This is an easy question to answer on the face of it, though what is happening elsewhere in the investment world can give an important steer to how the price might behave. The performance of gold, like any other asset, cannot be forecast with any degree of accuracy. Gold remains an option for those seeking a hedge against the uncertainties that can develop both financially and geopolitically, but is hardly an appropriate investment for anyone seeking income.

That said, there will always be gold followers and gold traders. Watch interest rates and the dollar if gold is an area you seek to follow, but do not expect any silver bullet when it comes to knowing when to buy and when to sell.

Remember, diversification should always be the wise investor’s mantra. So be a gold follower or not, remember not to rely any specific asset class, single strategy or geographic region too heavily – otherwise you risk a higher potential to losses. You could also argue, a higher potential to profits – true but I believe the art of investing is to minimise market losses and enjoy fair potential to market gains. All I would say, is this is a more defensive strategy and has been a successful approach over the last decade or two (showing my age now).

 

So What’s All This About Adviser Charging

29 Apr

Okay, I think it is important to talk about this. From the beginning or 2013, how advisers charge for the services provided has changed; and the service provided has now changed. There is now Independent or Restricted Advisers.

There has been so much focus on what is paid and the general terms are typically, either an hourly rate (average from what I can see around £175 per hour) or where investment advice takes place it’s typically 3% initial (based on the investment amount) and an ongoing servicing fee circa 1.0% (but some institutions will charge more and few less).

business man writing investment concept or investment plan on white board Stock Photo - 13224684

Personally, I believe the big issue is – a fair price is charged for the work done or being done –  what you receive for what you pay. Should Restricted Advice charge the same as Independent Advice? The answer to this is in the detail – so what is the difference?

What is Independent Advice?

The rules set out a new definition for independent advice, which is unbiased and unrestricted, and based on a comprehensive and fair analysis of the relevant market. This is designed to reflect the idea of genuinely independent advice being free from any restrictions that could affect their ability to recommend whatever is best for the customer. To reflect the range of products that a consumer would expect an independent firm to have knowledge of, and in line with work the European Commission has undertaken.

What is Restricted Advice?

This advice that is not independent and will need to be labelled as restricted advice; for example, advice on a limited range of products or providers.

Where a firm providing restricted advice chooses to limit their product range to certain range of investments or providers, there will be clients for whom this is not suitable. It is not acceptable for a firm to make a recommendation for a product that most closely matches the needs of the consumer, from the restricted range of products they offer when that product is not suitable.

I am an Independent Financial Adviser and have specialised in investments and tax planning with the focus on a high level of service, expertise and support. My view on the argument between the different advice type is simple but then again I am very technically focused targeting tax mitigation and investment returns, profitability and success.

My question to you is should you, as the consumer, pay the same for a Restricted Service as for an Independent Service? 

The first point is be aware of the service being provided – make sure if you are paying for the service being provided and in my opinion that should be a fully comprehensive service. Restricted advice is simply that “Restricted” and Independent is “Independent”. An IFA – Independent needs to take into consideration all available contracts, both packaged and unpackaged, available in the UK Markets – assess, consider, review and recommend from every available structure; whereas a Restricted Adviser will sell you a contract from their permitted range.

Clearly, the time and effort and expertise required under both designations should carry a cost reflective to the service provided. I personally believe that the charge for Restricted Advise should be the less expensive option. It seems that many institutions are not differentiating – I assume they are hoping/expecting the consumer not to notice the difference.

Perhaps also worryingly, a number of institutions and banks have declined to disclose their adviser charges with some saying they would not make their limits public (as reported by Citywire, Investment Adviser, Money Marketing, The Telegraph, Financial Times, amongst others).

Of those who have disclosed mandated adviser charges, there is a typical initial charge of around 3% with ongoing charges ranging up to 3% per annum.

I did think of putting together a list of the institutions and the fees paid but felt that this is not constructive. I believe it is wiser to weigh up the pros and cons of what is being offered and the price you are being asked to pay.

Remember, now you agree to a contractual fee arrangement and as with all contracts the terms are binding both ways. If you are paying for annual reviews, on-going investment advice, portfolio stress-testing and your adviser is remunerated relative to their level of success….make sure you get what you pay for. I know my clients do…and it creates very close and personal relationships where my financial interest and their financial success are aligned i.e. I need my clients to be successful and see positive returns on their investments.

All I suggest is take care and consider your options – what you receive for what you pay.

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.”