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Retirement Planning and Retirement Income Options

1 Oct

This article focuses on Money Purchase Schemes – so, schemes where you save up a fund to buy your retirement income e.g. Personal Pensions, SIPPs, SSASs, Stakeholder Pensions, Defined Contribution Workplace Schemes

Key Points

  • You do not have to accept the pension income offered by your pension scheme. You have the right to take your retirement income from a different provider – this is called the open-market option (OMO).
  • Your scheme may not offer the best deal for your money when you retire, so check whether you can get more for your money by using the open-market option.
  • In difficult economic times, your pension fund may be worth less than you expected, so getting the best deal is even more important.
  • Choosing how to take your retirement income can be a complicated decision. I always recommend that you take professional advice from a suitably qualified Independent Financial Adviser authorised by the Financial Services Authority (FSA).

Making your retirement choices and always think before you choose 

Things you should know :-

  • Your pension scheme should send you, no later than 6 months before you are due to retire, details of the choices you have.
  • This information will discuss buying an annuity (an arrangement which provides you with a pension income for the rest of your life).
  • Your pension scheme must tell you that you have the right to shop around and about the different types of annuity that are available.
  • You do not have to accept the annuity quoted by your pension scheme and you can shop around to find the best deal – this is called the open-market option.

Your income in retirement will depend on 4 main things:

  • how much money you and your employer have paid into your scheme;
  • how this money has been invested;
  • how much of this money has been used to pay any charges; and
  • the decision you make now on how you take your retirement income.

If your pension fund rises and drops in value (for example, all or some of it is linked to stocks and shares), you may want to consider switching your fund into a lower risk investment to reduce uncertainty in the run up to retirement. Check with your scheme whether this option is available and whether there is a charge for switching your money.

Making your retirement choices
You may get better value for your money if you shop around using your open-market option.

Before you make any decision, you need to consider:-

  • your overall financial situation;
  • what you might need financially in the future; and
  • how much tax-free cash you want to take (i.e. a pension commencement lump sum).

There are limits on the amount of cash you can have as a lump sum – typically, up to 25% of your fund. The cash you take will affect how much money is left over to buy your pension income.

I would recommend that you take qualified financial advice

What is an annuity?
An annuity converts your pension savings into a series of payments – the pension scheme pays your pension savings to an insurance company who, in return, agrees to pay you a regular income for the rest of your life. This is often called a lifetime annuity.

What affects the cost of an annuity?

  • Type of annuity
  • Age – annuity rates tend to get higher the older you are
  • Sex – annuities for women currently cost more. This is due to a change which will apply from December 2012.
  • Health and lifestyle
  • Prices vary from provider to provider just like any other goods or services you buy, which is why it is so important to consider shopping around.

How does the open-market option work?

You have a choice of who provides your retirement income when you retire. Your pension scheme will normally offer you an annuity but you can also shop around so you can choose the annuity that best suits your needs. Shopping around using your open-market option helps you to:

  • find out how the cost might vary between providers;
  • identify different features which may help you find the annuity which best suits your circumstances and how these features can affect the cost of the annuity or how much pension you get; and
  • decide if you want to choose another option instead of buying an annuity if your scheme allows this.
  • to find out if the annuity offered by your scheme is competitive;
  • if you are in poor health as this may mean you can get a higher annuity; and
  • if your lifestyle may qualify you for a higher annuity, for example, if you smoke or do a particular type of job.

Even if you have been very happy with your pension scheme up to now, consider the open-market option to check that it is offering the best deal for you when you come to retire.

What types of annuity are there?
There are 2 basic types of annuity – a single-life annuity and a joint-life annuity. There are other features that you could choose to include in the basic types, to suit your needs and circumstances. Check which features are included in the annuity offered by your scheme.

Single life – This pays an income to you for the rest of your life.
Joint life – This pays an income to you for the rest of your life. And then, when you die, it continues to be paid (possibly at a reduced rate) to your spouse or partner until they die.

Options you may be able to include:

Level – the pension income you receive stays the same throughout your life.

Yearly increases (escalation) – the pension income you receive increases each year, in line with inflation (the Retail Prices Index (RPI) or the Consumer Prices Index (CPI)), or at a fixed rate, for example, 3% or 5% each year.

Guarantee period – your pension income can be guaranteed for a set period, usually 5 or 10 years, so that it continues to be paid (usually to your widow, widower, civil partner, or to your estate) for the rest of the guarantee period if you die before the period ends. If you include a guarantee period, it may involve a small reduction in the amount of your annuity.

Lump sum on death – if you die, the annuity will pay out a taxable lump sum, equal to the cost of your annuity less any income you have already been paid.

Investment-linked annuities (including with-profit annuities) – these annuities offer the potential for you to receive a higher income but rely on stock-market performance. As a result, your income could go down as well as up.

Impaired life annuities – these annuities can pay a significantly higher income if you have a health problem that threatens to shorten your life. In cases of serious ill-health, where a registered medical practitioner confirms that your life expectancy is less than a year, the law may allow you to take the whole of your pension fund as a lump sum.

Enhanced life annuities – these annuities can pay a significantly higher income if your lifestyle may shorten your life.

What alternatives are there to an annuity?
When you retire, you may decide you do not want to buy an annuity.

Some of the alternatives we describe below may only be suitable if you have a large amount in pension savings or other sources of income and are comfortable taking some risk with your pension. Not every pension scheme offers all or any of these alternatives.

Again, before making a decision you should take qualified financial advice.

Make sure you are comfortable with the risks of choosing one of the alternatives to an annuity.

Cash lump sum – for smaller funds (this is sometimes called trivial commutation). 
If you are at least 60, you may be able to take all your pension savings as a lump sum. You can usually only do this if the total value of all your savings in all pension schemes is less than £18,000. If your fund value in an occupational fund is less than £2,000 then you can take it as a cash lump sum if your scheme rules allow, even if all your pension savings are more than the minimum amount of £18,000.

You usually pay tax on part of these lump sums.

Phased retirement – you can use your pension savings to buy annuities at different ages in the future.

Drawdown pension (sometimes also called income withdrawal or drawdown) – you take an income directly from your pension fund.

Short-term annuities – you can buy a series of annuities each lasting for a fixed term (usually up to 5 years). You can then leave the rest of your savings invested or use them to buy a lifetime annuity.

Putting off buying an annuity
Your scheme rules may allow you to put off (postpone) buying an annuity, whether or not you stop working. By postponing buying an annuity (either for a limited time or indefinitely), you may get a higher annuity because your pension savings will have been invested for longer and you will be older. However, annuity rates and investments can go down as well as up. Check whether you may lose any guarantees or have to pay any charges by putting off taking your pension income. It may also be possible for you to be paid your tax-free lump sum but delay taking any income.

Other ways
There are new options now available which pay a regular income and offer protection and/or guarantees of either investment growth or the amount of pension fund you will have left to buy an annuity later on. They vary in:

  • what they’re called;
  • the guarantee/protection they offer; and
  • the charges they make to cover the cost of the guarantee/protection.

You generally have to give up some investment growth potential to pay for the guarantee/protection.

What things should I keep in mind if I shop around?

  • If you use your open-market option and decide to buy your annuity from another insurance company, your pension scheme might take charges from your fund. You need to get an estimate of the value of your fund (less any charges) before you can ask insurance companies for a quote for an annuity.
  • Make sure you compare like with like. For example, don’t compare a level annuity with one that increases.
  • Make sure any annuity you choose fits with your circumstances. (For example, do you need an escalating annuity or do you qualify for an enhanced annuity?)
  • Check whether you will lose any benefits (for example, the option to buy an annuity at a guaranteed rate) or pay any charges if you don’t take up your pension scheme’s offer.
  • Quotes for annuity rates are often available only for a limited time, usually seven to 28 days. Also find out if there is a ‘cooling-off’ period during which time you can cancel any choice you make.
  • You may find it difficult to shop around if you have a small pension fund (less than £30,000) as some firms will not provide an annuity.
  • Not all companies will deal with you direct and only offer products through financial advisers.
  • If you use the open-market option, the adviser can be remunerated through a commission paid by the insurance company (you may prefer to pay via an agreed fee amount).

If you are comparing annuities under the open-market option, remember to compare like with like.

Frequently asked questions
What if I have a defined contribution fund in more than one pension scheme?
You may want to get financial advice. For example, you may be able to combine the money from all your schemes and use it to buy one annuity rather than buy a different annuity for each scheme. This may give you better buying power.

Do I have to pay tax on my pension income?
Yes, your pension income counts as earned income for tax purposes. Remember that most schemes will allow you to take a part of your fund, normally up to 25%, as a tax-free lump sum, as well as receiving an income.

What if I am contracted out of the additional State Pension (the State Second Pension)?
Your employer’s money purchase scheme will be able to tell you if it is contracted out of the State Second Pension (S2P). (This used to be called the State Earnings Related Pension Scheme (SERPS).) If so, you must currently use part of your pension fund to buy a ‘protected rights annuity’.

How will I know how much I have available to buy an annuity?
You can get an estimate of the value of your pension fund (less any charges for using the open-market option) from your pension scheme. Your pension scheme should send this to you before your retirement date, so you can start to shop around. You should then take off any amount you plan to take as a tax-free lump sum when you retire.

Will the stock market affect the value of my pension fund?
If you are invested in a fund which rises and falls in value (for example, it is invested in the stock market), the value can change. You may want to investigate whether you have the option to switch into a lower risk fund to reduce uncertainty in the run-up to retirement.

Who regulates annuities?
The Pensions Regulator, regulate workplace pension schemes. However, you will usually buy your annuity from an insurance company and these are regulated by the Financial Services Authority (FSA).

If an insurance company cannot pay all amounts due, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) may be able to help you.

Important Points to Consider

  • Once you have bought an annuity, you cannot normally change your mind. So, it’s worth making sure you get the right one.
  • In difficult economic times, your pension fund may be worth less than you expected.
  • Take qualified advice as the implications can last a lifetime.
  • If you want to delay taking your pension income, check for charges or penalties which might apply.
  • Do you want to change funds before you retire?
  • Do you want to take tax-free cash from your fund before you take an income? (Remember the Pension Commencement Lump Sum is only available at the date you take pension benefits and not afterwards – “a use it or lose it” benefit)
  • What annuity options are available from your scheme?
  • Compare what your scheme offers with the open-market option.
  • Do you qualify for an impaired life or enhanced annuity?
  • Would one of the alternatives to an annuity be suitable for you?

Where to get more information
You can get more information from the following organisations.

The Money Advice Service – also produce a range of free guides, available from its website.
Helpline: 0300 500 5000
Typetalk line: 18001 0300 500 5000
Website: http://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
Phone: 0845 606 0265
Textphone: 0800 731 7339
Website: http://www.direct.gov.uk

Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS)
The FSCS helps protect consumers against financial loss when firms authorised by the FSA cannot or are unlikely to pay claims against them.
Phone: 0207 741 4100 or 0800 678 1100
Website: http://www.fscs.org.uk

The Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS)
TPAS is an independent organisation which can help with questions about your pension and annuities. You should also consider using the annuity planner on the TPAS website homepage.
Phone: 0845 601 2923
Email: enquiries@pensionsadvisoryservice.org.uk
Website: http://www.pensionsadvisoryservice.org.uk

The Pension Tracing Service
The Pension Tracing Service can help you track down pension schemes you have been a member of in the past. Their tracing service is free – you can either phone them and ask them for a tracing request form or you can use their online form.
Phone: 0845 600 2537
Textphone: 0845 300 0169
Website: http://www.direct.gov.uk

Your trustees or your scheme administrator
You’ll find their contact details in your scheme literature.

A suitably qualified independent financial adviser

So What is Secured Income?

This is the traditional route of Pension Annuities – there are more options available from permanent and temporary annuities but this is fund and age dependent.

Investor Snapshot

29 Sep

We are in a volatile market, the news and information is conflicting (good and bad) and relevant institutions are stepping in to save the day.

Personally, I believe the current climate is the “new normal” and the data will remain weak – requiring brave and effective strategy from the ECB, IMF, US Federal Reserve, etc. I believe and expect this will happen – and my thoughts are the only solution to the debt scenario on a macro scale is time and inflation (eroding the value, if not the size, of the debt). This is not a quick solution but in time I believe will be effective.

chart provided by forextv.com

Ben Bernanke, chairman of the US Federal Reserve has announced on Thursday 13.09.2012 extending the Quantative Easing Programmes and launches QE3 – the buyback of mortgage related securities – a further $40 Billion each month. This is in addition to the $45 Billion Twist Programme already in existence. This is hoped to bolster buying by the American people as they see signs of prosperity through house valuations and a better environment. This coupled with low-interest rates and accepting higher inflation – a loose monetary policy beyond 2014 into 2015 – he plans will lead to improving prospects in 2013 & 2014.

Growth in the US economy between April and June has been revised downwards. Gross domestic product (GDP) in the second quarter grew at an annual rate of 1.3% in the second quarter, down from the previous estimate of 1.7%.

Most of the UK’s major banks sign up to the new Funding for Lending scheme, which aims to stimulate the economy by making cheaper loans available. 

The UK economy shrank by less than thought in the second quarter (0.4% in the April-to-June period), the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in its  third estimate of gross domestic product (GDP). The ONS had initially estimated a contraction of 0.7%, before revising that to 0.5% last month. 

UK service sector bounced back in July, raising hopes of an economic recovery in the third quarter of this year. The ONS said services output, covering a range of sectors from retail to finance, rose 1.1% on the month. However, this followed a decline of 1.5% in June which was affected by the extra Diamond Jubilee bank holiday. The service sector accounts for about 75% of UK economic output (GDP). Its performance is an important guide to the direction of the overall economy. All the main areas registered increases in activity in July, with the category covering retail, hotels and restaurants showing the biggest rise of 1.8%. Business services and finance output was up 1.2%.

French unemployment has topped three million for first time since June 1999, as the economy continues to struggle. 

France has unveiled its budget for 2013, avoiding big austerity spending cuts in favour of higher taxes on the wealthy and big businesses. French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault confirmed that there is to be a new 75% tax rate for people earning more than 1m euros (£800,000; $1.3m) a year. But he insisted that nine out of 10 citizens will not see their income taxes rise in the new budget. The government plans to raise 20 Billion Euros in extra revenue. That compares to 10 Billion Euros in spending cuts. The emphasis on tax rises is a policy of the new French President Francois Hollande that is against the prevailing mood of Europe where countries from Ireland to Greece are slashing spending to try to placate investors and lower borrowing costs.

Spain has set out its austerity budget for 2013, with new spending cuts but protection for pensions, amid a shrinking economy and 25% unemployment. There are expectations that the country will soon seek a bailout from its Eurozone partners. 

Spanish police ringing parliament in Madrid fire rubber bullets at protesters taking part in a mass rally against austerity. 

Spain’s banks will need an injection of 59.3bn euros ($76.3bn; £47.3bn) to survive a serious downturn, an independent audit has calculated. The amount is broadly in line with market expectations of 60 Billion Euros, and follows so-called stress tests of 14 Spanish lenders. Much of the money is expected to come from the Eurozone rescue funds, the current EFSF and the future ESM. Spain said in July that it would request Eurozone support for its banks. The Spanish banking sector has been in difficulty since the global financial crisis of 2008, and the subsequent bursting of the country’s property bubble and deep recession.

Greek police fire tear gas to disperse anarchists throwing petrol bombs near Athens’ parliament during a day-long strike against austerity measures. Greek finance minister Yannis Stournaras says the three parties in the country’s governing coalition have reached a “basic agreement” on the austerity package for 2013-14.

International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde has warned Argentina it could face sanctions unless it produces reliable growth and inflation data. 

The International Monetary Fund looks likely to cut its forecast for global growth next month when it updates its projections for the world economy.

Japan’s industrial output fell more than expected in August, as cars and electronics suffer from weak global demand. 

headline photo

Investment/Pension Portfolios – we are well positioned for this volatility and expect this to lead to profitability. I am in the process of a client by client investment audit and in some cases we are adding additional asset classes to diversify the investment risk. To all my clients, either thank you for your involvement and help; and to all of those I will see shortly – I will explain my thoughts to you in our meeting.

Four Years Since The Lehman Brothers Collapse

24 Sep

Four years ago, Lehman Brothers, a Wall Street investment bank collapsed. The shockwaves are still reverberating through the global financial system. The collapse of Lehman Brothers was the Pearl Harbor moment of a financial crisis that almost brought down the entire U.S. and Global financial systems.

The eurozone’s inherent weakness has been ruthlessly exposed, while here in Britain the crash ensured the death of a discredited regulatory architecture. By the end of 2012, a new regime in the UK will put responsibility for financial stability back in the hands of the Bank of England. 

Many still debate the blame for the collapse. People bought homes they couldn’t afford, peddled by lenders who knew (or should have known) that the loans were destined to fail. Stock Markets sucked up these loans and sold them off in bundles to investors.

Everyone should have known better. At the top of this list were the government regulators who are supposed to protect the economy from these Stock Market excesses, but who instead sat and watched as a global bubble built of rotten subprime loans kept expanding.

Financial institutions, each indebted to the next via complex financial products whose value outstripped that of the banks themselves, threatened to topple like dominoes.

After regulators forced the shotgun wedding of the investment bank Bear Stearns to JPMorgan Chase in March 2008, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Securities and Exchange Commission sent teams of observers to Lehman Brothers to gather information and monitor the company’s condition. Like Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers had invested heavily in mortgage bonds.

Instead of sharing their findings, as they had agreed to do, they did not. Had they shared information, they would have discovered that Lehman’s statements about the robustness of its liquidity were false, according to an independent examiner appointed by the bankruptcy court to determine what had gone wrong at Lehman.

When it finally became clear in the week before Lehman fell apart that disaster was imminent, regulators claimed that they didn’t have the tools to prevent its collapse. Lehman’s lawyers warned that an unplanned bankruptcy would lead to “armageddon.” Regulators let it fall, only to watch in horror as the entire financial system began to unravel, and lending of all sorts came to a halt.

It is impossible to say how the last four years would have unfolded had regulators, upon discovering Lehman’s failings, sounded warnings earlier about the instability of the nation’s largest banks. It is also not clear whether an orderly unwinding of Lehman from world financial markets would have significantly altered future events.

But here is a safe bet, economists and financial crisis scholars say: The financial system hasn’t yet been purged of greed, irrational exuberance or wilful misconduct. Another crisis will come.

Are regulators now better equipped to sniff out and prevent a disaster in advance (and/or manage the collapse of a major bank if they don’t)?

The risks to the financial system of a bank collapse have only grown. That’s because the banks themselves are even bigger than they were four years ago.

Size is no insulation against a full-fledged panic. The biggest banks are tied together through an endless series of loans, bets, side bets and even bets on whether each other’s financial products,investments that they don’t even own, will succeed or fail. 

Banks have the cushion to weather a storm as the government will prop them up.

Balance sheets were ravaged and in the UK both HBOS and Royal Bank of Scotland had to be bailed out with more than £65bn of taxpayers’ money just weeks after Lehman’s fall from grace. 

As Lehman staff filed out of their Canary Wharf tower for the last time, any sympathy soon evaporated at the sight of their office gear stuffed into boxes stamped with the logos of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Cristal champagne.

Within six months, thousands of protestors overran the City of London, staging furious protests targeting London’s once-proud financial sector. 

Today’s banking landscape, at least in Britain, looks very different. Lenders must hold much higher cash buffers to absorb future financial shocks, while the City have been forced to rein in executive pay.

The Independent Commission on Banking is considering some form of split between investment and retail banking to accompany the regulatory shake-up.

As far as the safety of Britain’s banks goes, Investec analyst Ian Gordon thinks we’re on the right path.

Market Outlook On Wednesday 19 September 2012

20 Sep

Last week started in typical pessimistic terms, this changed abruptly on Thursday when the ECB’s President Mario Draghi said the central bank would be willing to buy as much Eurozone Bad Debt as necessary to recapitalize the Union’s struggling banks. Stockmarkets soared on the news and continued to move higher on Friday.

Nasa_satellites

The question being – will it be enough to keep the market rising?  There is a good chance that this will help fuel the long-term recovery but in the near future volatility will be a factor of the investment markets’ landscape.

Economic Calendar

There’s little doubt as to last week’s economic focal point… employment (or nearer the lack of improvement).

The US unemployment rate dropped from 8.3% to 8.1%, which is better, but as expected a slow reduction. This is in-line with optimistic expectations but means the recovery is slow, unspectacular and muted.

The other piece of impressive (potentially) data were auto sales.  The U.S. saw an increase in August of 19.9% vehicles sold. If this moves from an exception to a trend (we will see the results over the next few months), this could bode well for 2013 – auto sales have been a good future indicator of retail sentiment but typically a lead indicator of 9 – 15 months.

Market outlook: Hammerson, Rexam, Centrica

Stock Market

The question everyone wants answered – did last week’s strength reignite the bigger uptrend? Some feel, the market is overbought, and we still haven’t seen what one could consider a healthy and expected pullback following the recent rises – this would set up a big move for the fourth quarter.  

Currently, I’m maintaining a modestly bearish view on things and say we could have more downside to go before ‘the’ current bottom has been made. That leads to the next question…. where will that bottom be?

For reference, the average recent-market corrective move is circa 9% from the peak (as, for example, happened earlier this year). I am aware that only with hindsight can we forecast the “bottom”. Personally, I believe it to be a wasted effort and prefer to focus on the performance relationship between asset classes and their propensity for profit and loss based on the current circumstances. Correctly combined, this will steer you towards holding assets when combined have the best chance to minimise losses and strong chances of realising profits.

CBOE Volatility Index

One other factor working against several indices right now – the upper 50-day Bollinger band has stepped in again as a ceiling.

Does anything change when you take a few steps back and look at the longer-term weekly chart? Not really.

There’s still room for the longer-term trend to keep rolling before hitting a major ceiling.  That’s probably going to be somewhere around where the six-month and 52-week Bollinger bands will likely be converged.  

Once again, the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) (VXX) is back to oddly-low levels.  The market continue to drift higher even with the VIX this low, but it’s going to be unlikely to see a strong and prolonged market rally with the VIX at these low levels.

 

Market Trouble?

6 Sep

I am pleased with the positioning of the portfolios I manage and believe we are well placed for the current volatility. We have made healthy profits over the last three months and during the previous market declines were well insulated against and retained our position well relative to the investment markets.

The recent dip is expected to lead to the third losing week in a row, following six straight weeks of gains.  While that may have bled off some of the over-bought pressure, the bears may not be done yet.  We’re headed into one of the weakest periods of the year, and the floors the bulls are hoping will hold up are going to be tested soon.

First things first though – last week’s and this week’s major economic data.

 

US Economic Data

Most of last week’s economic numbers were bigger-picture items

On the consumer sentiment front, the Conference Board’s confidence score fell drastically in August. The Michigan Sentiment Index, rose to a three-month high.  It does make you question how two seemingly – so similar measures can end up with wildly different results.

Real estate continues to look stronger.  The Case-Shiller home price index was up and July’s pending home sales are expected higher.

The surprise positive last week was Quarter 2 GDP growth rate – up above estimates; and, if July’s Factory Orders are any indication, then the trend may actually be improving rather than decelerating.

 

Some potential market-movers:

Construction Spending – this number has been generally healthy of late. 

Auto Sales –  Car sales have been relatively firm of late

Job Cuts and ADP Employment Change – this is the prelim before Friday’s unemployment rate figure and official jobs-created figure.  

Nonfarm Payrolls and Unemployment Rate – economists are looking for 145,000 new private payrolls; and most expect the unemployment rate is not going to move from last month’s 8.3% figure. 

If these figures fail to achieve estimates – this would create uncertainty and an expected decline in the markets – although the expectations are low and that may not inspire a positive move either.

 

Market Movements

After everything is said and done, the imminent path of least resistance is still downward-pointing. I am not anticipating a major correction but rather some sell trades, most likely just enough to fully burn off the overbought condition.

 

 

South Korea

The South Korean economy is starting to lose steam as the European debt crisis remains unresolved and export markets remain weak.

The latest figures show the country’s economy grew by 0.3% between April and June, down from 0.9% growth in the previous quarter.

The government is therefore looking at ways of boosting domestic demand to compensate for weakening exports.

 

UK Rises in Competitive Rankings

Leaders from 2008 World Economic Forum

The UK has risen to eighth from 10th place in an annual study of global competitiveness.

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Survey said the UK had benefited from a more efficient labour market compared with more “rigid” European economies.

The US economy fell from fifth to seventh place, although WEF said it remained the top innovator.

Switzerland topped the table, followed by Singapore and then Finland in the survey of 144 economies.

The ratings are compiled using public data as well as executive opinion.

The survey placed China as the most competitive major emerging economy.

 

‘Innovative businesses’

The WEF said the UK had benefited from “clear strengths such as the efficiency of its labour market” and praised the UK’s “sophisticated and innovative businesses”. However, the UK’s macroeconomic economic environment – ranked 110th, down from 85th last year – was hindering competitiveness.

The Treasury said it “welcomed” the report, saying the UK’s improvement was down to the government’s reforms.

 

Europe’s north-south divide

The WEF survey showed a clear divide between Europe’s northern countries and the troubled periphery economies which are suffering from recessions.

In total, six European economies are in the top 10 – Switzerland (1st), Finland (3rd), Sweden (4th), the Netherlands (5th), Germany (6th) and the United Kingdom (8th).

But the southern Eurozone economies are ranked much lower, with Spain in 36th place, Italy 42nd, Portugal 49th and Greece 96th.

The southern economies, which are at the heart of the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis, have suffered a chronic lack of competitiveness and low levels of productivity that led to unsustainable imbalances in the economy, followed by rising unemployment.

The WEF urged an overhaul of labour regulations “sooner than later” as one of the necessary reforms to restore growth.

Switzerland maintained its top position thanks to its scientific institutions, a strong collaboration between academia and business sectors, high spending on research and development as well as its high rate of patenting per capita, the WEF said.

 

US political gridlock

The US ranking has continued to fall due to weakness in the overall economy as well as worries among businesses towards what they perceive as government meddling in the private sector and distrust towards politicians.

The WEF warned that in the US, despite being the world’s top innovator with the likes of Google and Facebook, political gridlock over fiscal tightening could dampen growth prospects.

The survey cited an inefficient government bureaucracy and tax rates as the two biggest impediments to doing business in the US.

Retirement Planning Needs To Be Taught In Schools

30 Aug
Retirement planning needs to be taught in secondary schools and given the same priority as careers advice, according to de Vere Group’s chief executive Nigel Green, who says this is the only sustainable way to solve the pensions crisis. 
His comments follow a study by Barings Asset Management that found 44% of those close to retirement age were unable to say when they would be able to retire. 
Get the Most from Retirement Planning
It’s terrifying to think a large proportion of the population who are nearing retirement age do not know when they will be able to afford to retire. As a nation, it seems we’re ill-informed. In order to ensure people are, in the future, more likely to be able to retire when they choose (and not have to work on past their selected retirement age because they can’t afford to give up work), it’s of vital importance we teach from a young age – how to plan finances.
 
The earlier people start to make informed decisions, the easier it is to enjoy the lifestyle you deserve when you retire. Many are disillusioned with retirement planning and especially pensions but the truth is more likely – people are dissatisfied with the investment returns generated – this is where professional financial advice is paramount (but make sure the person giving the advice has the ability and enthusiasm to provide suitable advice both now and in the future).
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In a poll back in April, more than 80% of users said their pension pot had failed to grow in-line with promises and projections made when they first began contributing (information provided by Barings Asset Management). Unless students are informed about the massive risks of ignoring retirement planning, many could find themselves worse off in later life.
Annuity Rates are at historic lows, age-related benefits is being scrapped, soaring living costs and taxes, and people living longer – meaning money has to go further – it’s clear that the world has changed irrevocably in the last few years; things are not the same today as they were a generation ago. Should we fail to plan for retirement, an increasing number could find themselves unable to enjoy the retirement that previous generations have taken for granted.
In secondary schools, students are taught about finding a suitable career, which is right and proper, but it is madness that we stop without equipping them with the life skills of how they are more likely to be financially independent once they are ready to leave the world of work. 
Personally, I am a great believer in both pensions and alternative investment vehicles, such as ISAs, certain structured products/deposits, simple fixed term deposits and collective investments. I have been and will carry on saving through these investments and as an IFA (Independent Financial Adviser) specialising in investments and tax planning – I know that if I do not provide for my future – no one else will. I plan that we will have the retirement we deserve and yes, I expect and have planned to financially assist our daughters through their path to adulthood.

US Economy Expands

30 Aug
The US economy grew more than first estimated in the second quarter, according to official figures.
US economic growth revised up to 1.7pc
In a world of negative sentiment, there are signs of improving prosperity – admittedly slow but positive. We await for Ben Bernanke’s statement on Friday but I, and many investment strategists and analysts before me have said, we are expecting the news to be no earth shattering news….this seems to be one of the recent driving force seeing marginal losses in global stock markets but there are also many other factors.

Mr Bernanke has used the event, a conference of the world’s central bankers, to indicate the Fed’s intentions. So far, the Fed has kept base interest rates near zero for almost the last four years and injected $2.3 trillion into the US economy.

The US Congress’s budget office last week warned that spending cuts and tax rises could trigger a sharp economic slowdown in 2013. In its report, it expected the US recovery “to continue at a modest pace” for the rest of 2012 but warned that “substantial changes to tax and spending policies” would cause the US to tip back into recession next year.

The 1.7% annualised pace in ahead of previous estimates of 1.5%, unemployment is still above 8% and the economy is shaping up to be one of the biggest issues of this year’s US presidential election, which sees President Barack Obama take on Republican rival Mitt Romney.

 

Market Outlook On 29 August 2012

29 Aug

I think it is clear that volatility will be part of the investment landscape and despite a strong bounce on Friday, it wasn’t enough to pull the market back into the black for the week. This is the first losing week for stocks in the last seven weeks.  

2012 Gold Q2 Market Trends and Outlook4

 

Economic Calendar

Last week saw only a few economic numbers released, but the ones we got painted a big piece of the real estate picture in the US – but the information was conflicting. 

The Good News – existing home sales increased, new home sales increased and homebuilders’ earnings expected to increase for that two-year timeframe. Also, Aircraft sales rose and auto sales were higher.

The Bad News  – MBA Mortgage Index fell and the FHFA Housing Price Index was only up 0.7% for June. (It is up but it remains a very slow improvement trend.) Also, durable orders fell marginally.

As for the coming week, it’s a pretty big one with :-

  • Consumer Confidence figures for July
  • Michigan Sentiment Index score for July
  • Personal income and personal spending figures for July

Stock Market

First and foremost, the longer-term trend is still bullish.  Even if the market does indeed end up going through a near-term correction, we’ve yet to hit a major top.  Specifically, the upper 52-week Bollinger band has yet to be tested.  Since 2009, and really for the last several years, the one-year upper band line has marked the point where the bigger trend usually starts to stall and even then it doesn’t always kick-start a major market pullback.

That said, whether or not the longer-term trend is still in place won’t change some of the red flags we’re seeing.  For instance, the CBOE Volatlity Index (VIX) (VXX) remains uncomfortably low – at levels frequently seen at near-term tops.  And once again, volume remains at eerily low levels, and was even weaker on the way up over the past seven weeks. 

So what’s next?  That’s the problem – what’s next?  It remains unclear whether or not the new-market level is going to become a floor or a ceiling for the foreseeable future.

My opinion has not changed – a little bearish in the short run, but still bullish in the long run.  I still expect the markets to be volatile, with a market pullback followed by a market rally.  My clients are positioned ready for this downward correction and upward rally. The question is, when will it happen?  

Next week is apt to be quite unremarkable, with late-summer, back-to-school, last-minute-vacations, and other distractions in the lineup.  That will lead us into the first full week of September, which kick-starts what’s usually a tough first half for the month for stocks.  The weakness in early and mid September leads into potentially the best period of the year (Quarter 4), but it’s still not going to be an easy ride.

I expect t would be something of a miracle if stocks didn’t take at least a small hit soon. Although, that dip doesn’t have to be fatal. The dip just has to be big enough to humble the markets a bit.  Moreover, the dip could and I expect would be a huge buying opportunity for a bullish finish to the year.

Is QE3 Imminent?

28 Aug
So this year has seen the typical post Recession 2008 cycle – a climb, dip and then a climb so far – with last week seeing the first decline since the rally started beginning of June.
With all the issues coming to a head (maybe) in September – what is next for the markets?
If the Fed decides next week not to implement another round of QE it could turn the tables on investors, with emerging markets in the doldrums and UK, European and US equities once again leading the charge.
While some believe the minutes from the latest Federal Reserve policy meeting imply that a large-scale asset-purchasing programme could be on the horizon, the markets are still in the dark about the likelihood of such an event. I personally doubt a QE3 asset purchasing programme is on the cusp of the horizon – but then who ever said governments, treasury functions, etc. had to act rationally?
If the Federal Reserve rejects the ‘printing money’ option and the dollar stabilises, it will create an environment that is not conducive to things like emerging markets and commodities, but it could be hugely bullish for everything else that hasn’t worked well in the last few years. It is plausible that, if these assumptions are correct, European and Japanese equities could stand to benefit. 

Looking at relative valuations, they are trading at extremely low prices relative to US equities in historical terms. You could argue the same thing about European equities which are trading back to where they were in March 2009 and US equities are expensive in relative terms. 

Government bonds are also out because they are so expensive (some with actual negative yields), and emerging markets – controversially given their heavily tipped status in recent years – could be out in the cold with them. 

In the UK, I believe some of the cyclical companies such as house builders and unloved sectors such as media stand to benefit the most from this new environment, as they are priced at huge discounts to the market. Whereas, defensive investments, which last year did their job, and are now at a record premium.

So I am in the process of planning to reposition my clients portfolios for a change. I believe there is a risk currently of reversion here, with some of the areas people really love reverting and de-rating to the downside.
The major issue seen – is QE3 and if Ben Bernanke sanctions an asset buying/money expansion programme – I personally do not think this is necessary, desirable or suitable timing and could well be counterproductive. 
Does this mean it won’t happen? Who knows!!!

Lord Howard Flight criticises Westminster’s acceptance of RDR Commission Ban

22 Aug

So a little background information – from January 2013, a new regime comes into being where commissions are being banned on retail investment contracts. We will live in a fee charging world. The benefit of this is the charge for the service is clear and transparent – the concern Lord Flight raises is around advice and affordability.

He voices the opinion questioning – are commissions actually bad? Clearly whatever source of remuneration, full disclosure is needed and as such is this ban appropriate. It seems that the concept of a commission ban has been declined in most countries – rather maybe the issue is in the explanation and presentation?

Personally, I understand the worries raised on both sides – the point being I have seen equally severe misappropriation of remuneration through both fees and commissions. The problem does not lie with the remuneration but rather the person taking payment. This is the world in which I give advice but I am a great believer of agreeing a remuneration structure, agree the service to be provided and duration for the remuneration and provide it as agreed – not rocket science.

I think the failure is more around people not being aware of the remuneration and the service provided is not proportionate to the remuneration received.

Lord Flight

A Conservative Peer, Lord Flight, has criticised fellow politicians for failing to question the Retail Distribution Review (RDR) commission ban and warned of the unintended consequences.

Howard Flight Conservatives

Lord Flight wrote to the Financial Times predicting the RDR reforms will lead to only the rich being able to afford advice. – a former chairman of Investec Asset Management, explained his strong feelings on the issue and why his colleagues in Westminster were not questioning the ban.

He said: “Generally, I think people in both the Commons and Lords don’t really understand the issues and are quite willing to accept a moral judgment that commission is a bad thing.

“What I think is particularly mistaken is that quite a lot of the well-intentioned consumer lobby are too elitist to understand the unintended side of things.”

Lord Flight also reiterated the points made in his letter about the direction legislators are heading from in Europe, with the EU now likely to rule out a commission ban. The European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (Econ) has removed all references to such a ban in amendments to the draft of the revised markets in financial instruments directive (Mifid). A proposed Europe-wide ban on commission payments to independent financial advisers is expected to be rejected by the European parliament in a vote next week.

“What is wrong with full commission disclosure commission arrangements being required and having individual signed agreements?

“It’s interesting to note that this is what the normally crackpot EU has opted for.”

Meanwhile, the peer, who is also an adviser to the Tax Incentivised Savings Association board, raised another problem with the RDR commission ban.

“It would be a disgrace if non-advice intermediaries weren’t bound by the commission rules,” he said.

“It’s almost better for people to have no advice rather than end up going to non-advice intermediaries, most of whom would be the main banks, who have had the worst track records in terms of stuffing them with bad products.”