Tag Archives: ISAs

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!!!

HMRC Crack Down on Tax Avoidance Schemes

22 Aug

HMRC has won, subject to appeal three court decisions against tax avoidance schemes. These cases are expected to provide the Exchequer with £200 Million.

The message is clear – when planning to minimise tax, ensure you use the rules that exist, take advantage of government backed schemes (eg personal pensions, ISAs, VCTs, EISs, AGR & BPR related schemes) and use accepted approaches within the flavour of the law – take professional advice. The cases in question are high value high – profile and are out of the remit of the general investor but the ethos of HMRC is clear.

HMRC Letter 480

HMRC have stated that this sends “a very clear message” that it will tackle efforts to avoid paying tax.

The first case, against ‘Schofield’ and heard in the Court of Appeal on 11 July, involved a business owner using a tax avoidance scheme to create an artificial loss on his sold business, even though it had actually made him a £10m profit. HMRC said he paid £200,000 to be involved in the scheme.

Another case against Sloane Robinson Investment Services, heard in the First Tier Tribunal on 16 July, saw the company’s directors attempt to avoid a combined £13m worth of tax on their bonuses. The First Tier Tribunal ruled the scheme, even once it had been modified to counter recently introduced anti-tax avoidance legislation, did not work.

In the final case, against ‘Barnes’ in the Upper Tribunal on 30 July, a scheme aimed at exploiting a mismatch between two tax regimes on behalf of more than 100 individuals failed to work. HMRC said some £100m was at stake as a result of this scheme.

HMRC director general of business tax, Jim Harra, said: “These wins in the courts are a victory for the vast majority of taxpayers who do not try to dodge their taxes. They send a clear message to tax avoiders – HMRC will challenge tax avoidance relentlessly and we will beat you.

“We have now had three major court successes in avoidance cases in the last month alone and I hope this sends a very clear message: These schemes don’t come cheap, you carry a serious risk that you’ll end up paying the tax and interest on top of a set-up charge which can run into the hundreds of thousands of pounds.

“These were complex cases which show HMRC’s experts doing what they do best, delivering great results for the UK.”

ECB Meeting – Plans To Solve Eurozone Countries Borrowing Costs?

2 Aug

Today in Frankfurt the European Central Bank (ECB) will hold its latest meeting. The “word” is the focus will be to bring down Spain’s cost of borrowing.

Mario Draghi-euro

We know ECB president Mario Draghi is ready to do “whatever it takes” to support the Euro and if Spain needs a bailout, it is expected the ECB will take unprecedented steps to help.

It is clear that although past measures have helped, but weren’t fully effective and did not achieve the end goal (at least so far). We would expect that if nothing is done to lower and stabilise the borrowing costs of countries like Spain and Italy then their future within the euro will be in question.

Mr Draghi has confirmed he will hold a news conference later on Thursday.

 

US Federal Reserve Wednesday – 1 August 2012

The US Federal Reserve took no further steps to boost the economy but said that it “will provide additional accommodation as needed to promote a stronger economic recovery”. This is following confirmation that the growth in the US Economy (as measured by GDP) in the first 6 months of 2012 had slowed.

 

ECB Resume Bond-Buying?

At a conference in London last week marking the start of the Olympics, Mr Draghi said: “Within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro. And believe me, it will be enough.”

 

Is A Market Correction A Foregone Conclusion?

1 Aug

The markets last week did not start optimistically but they sure ended that way. The last two days may actually have been a little too bullish- the jump between Wednesday’s and Friday’s close was enough to convert a weekly decline into a weekly gain. I expect that the big surge may be inviting profit-takers and day-traders to bail out while they can, since stocks didn’t leave themselves any likely room to keep rolling immediately.

Article Title

Economic Calendar

Last week was pretty light in terms of economic data. This week has several key events – economic data.

Last week key data :-

  • New homes sales and pending home sales fell
  • Durable orders overall were up due to increases in autos; otherwise durable orders actually fell
  • US Q2 2012’s GDP growth was weaker than Q1 2012 but above forecast

Information sourced from Forbes 23.07.2012 – 31.07.2012

Economic Calendar This Week

On Tuesday

1.  Personal income and personal spending – majority of analysts are expecting this to be higher for June

2.  Case-Shiller (home price) index: Analysts forecast a 1.8% dip, compared to a 1.9% dip in May.

3.  Home-sales expected to increase

4.  Consumer confidence expected to fall marginally

On Wednesday

1.  US payrolls 

2.  Car sales

Thursday

1.  Factory orders – forecasted to increase

Friday

1.  Update on the jobs/unemployment – US’s official job-growth number,

Stock Markets

The positive volumes in the last two days of last week was the most volume we’ve seen, either good or bad, since the March to June plunge… the plunge that ultimately became a capitulation and the beginning of the current rally.

The fear being this history will repeat again – or even worse the panic similar to August 2011. The similarity is, last week’s rally was irrational and may be the forerunner of a ‘blowoff’ top, or the end of a big rally.

 

So is a pullback is a foregone conclusion?  

No, I’m not saying that. Although a pullback is a likely scenario. There is highly unlikely that would-be profit-takers and possibly short-term traders will pass on the bird-in-the-hand concept.

My ‘guess’ is a healthy short-term retreat – not to worry we have positioned portfolios focused on yield, strong cashflows and diversification. This is expected to and has previously cushioned this market volatility.

The bigger overall trend is still bullish, negative sentiment is high (so the likelihood of market panic is lesser (already priced in to some extent), and eventually the market will hit a technical ceilings and move above them rather than be restricted by them.  

2012 Q2 Earnings Results So far

The picture is still blurry, but with over 50% of the S&P 500’s companies having reported, the picture’s a little clearer than it was.

Currently, the S&P 500’s expected earnings for 2012 Q2 is higher than for 2012 Q1.  

Of the 282 companies who have issued their results – 186 have topped estimates, 61 have missed estimates and 35 came in on target. I am not disappointed with these results