The Brexit or Invoking the Law of Unintended Consequence.
Since the Brexit vote most news has been about potential Trade deals, and Sterling’s fall. However it perhaps has gone unnoticed, that from a variety of differing scenarios with outcomes by no means certain, a Constitutional crisis could be gathering steam.
It all stems back to the European Referendum Act 2015, that didn’t consider the variety of outcomes and was legally non binding. In addition, the power of the Royal Prerogative that was curbed when King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215 is being used by the Government, and in essence his successor Theresa May, to make or break treaties with other countries including the EU, in this case invoking Article 50 without the need for it to be passed into law via an Act of Parliament.
Critics of this say that the 1972 Act (based on the UK joining the Common Market) ceded power from the UK Parliament and allowed EU law to pass into UK law. This gave the British people protection under a new constitution based on EU law (based on Napoleonic Law). The UK has never had a written constitution that protects it citizens and gives them certain rights. It is being argued by a variety of bodies via legal challenges against the PM for using the Royal Prerogative to take away rights bestowed to Parliament. Some go as far to say “enforced removal” of citizenship rights from 65 million people would be “completely unprecedented “in modern democracy. Expat campaigners are also arguing that the “rights enjoyed by British citizens beyond these shores are so fundamental that legislation is required to take them away”.
The legal challenge has been mounted to the process of withdrawing the UK from the EU without a vote in Parliament and is going to the High Court, to be heard within the next two weeks. If the government lose due to Judges imposing their will (note unelected!), it would then be ironic for this eventually being heard by the European Court of Justice, the UK’s next step .
If the UK government win this current legal challenge on the basis “ Respecting the outcome of the referendum and giving effect to the will and the decision of the people “, that too could lead to further challenges for whom the right to vote was taken away i.e. a large percentage of Ex Pats and those Europeans citizens in the UK.
Additionally, working on that basis could give credence to Scottish Independence should they have a 2nd referendum and vote to remain in Europe. The same could be said of Northern Ireland, which has its own Parliament as well, and perhaps even Gibraltarians, as they overwhelmingly voted to remain.
The other major crisis in the making is the “Great Repeal Bill” debate that is due to be put to the House next year. A number of scenarios could occur. Many M.P.’s supported remain and the government still has deep divisions within its ranks. With only a majority of 10 seats in the House, a loss could force a vote of confidence, an early election, and a greatly disenchanted and potentially a disenfranchised electorate that voted to leave.
If they win then it passes to the House of Lords, who overwhelmingly wished to remain in the EU, and should they vote against it, take note Leave campaigners, an unelected body voting against the wishes of the majority!!
The Law of Unintended Consequence reigns supreme, or quite simply chaos. It makes Spain’s recent political turmoil insignificant, and I wonder how many of those that voted to leave or indeed did not vote at all, would have wanted these potential outcomes.
What would be even more ironic would be that the UK Government, in its current format, with many of the Ministers that supported the Leave campaign in positions of power, having to go to the European Court of Justice to overrule either singularly or both the UK Judges or the House of Lords to push through the Brexit, whilst at the same time preside over the breakup of the Union.
Should you consider transferring your Final Salary Pension?
A big question and something that raised a lot of interest at our recent Tour de Finance event that took place at the Domaine Gayda. There have been a number of recent changes within the UK economy and the UK pension world that make a review of any pension(s) essential for those living or planning to live outside the UK.
Final Salary pension schemes (also referred to as Defined Benefit schemes) have long been viewed as a gold plated route to a comfortable retirement. However, there is wide opinion now that there are likely to be large changes ahead in the pension industry. The key question is will these schemes really be able to provide the promised benefits over the next 20+ years?
Why Review now?
Record high transfer values
The calculation of transfer values from these types of scheme is complex. One of the factors that determines how much the pension scheme has to pay to transfer a Member’ benefits is gilt yields, which are at an all-time low. This has resulted in transfer values to be at an all-time high and we are finding that some transfer values have increased by over 30% in the last 12 months.
Actuaries Hyman Robertson now calculate the total deficits on the remaining UK final salary pension schemes as £1 Trillion! Since the employers are ultimately responsible for funding the cost of the pension benefits, unless they have very deep pockets, this puts the security of the benefits at risk.
The final salary pension schemes of these two companies have been in the news. These recent examples show that the very large deficits of their final salary pension schemes cause a number of problems; in particular no one wants to purchase these struggling companies as the pension deficits are too big a burden to take on.
Could the Government be forced to change the laws to allow schemes to reduce benefits? A reduction in the benefits will reduce the deficits and make the companies more attractive to purchasers. There is a strong argument that saving thousands of jobs is in the national interest, if that just means trimming down some of these “gold plated benefits”.
Pension Protection Fund (PPF)
This fund has been set up to help the schemes that do get into financial trouble, but two points are key. Firstly, it is not guaranteed by the Government and secondly the remaining final salary schemes have to pay large premiums (a levy) to the PPF in order to fund the insolvent schemes. As more schemes fall into the PPF, there are less remaining schemes that have to share the burden of this cost. Their premium costs will increase, as there will be less remaining schemes to fund the PPF levy.
It is likely the PPF will end up with the same problems as the remaining final salary schemes, as it is unlikely to have the money to pay the “promises” for the pensioners. Additionally, the PPF will most likely have to reduce the benefits they pay out.
Pension changes that have already happened
Inflationary increases have already been allowed to change from Retail Prices Index (RPI) to Consumer Prices Index (CPI). This change looks reasonably small, but over a lifetime this could reduce the benefits by between 25% and 30%.
In April 2015, unfunded Public Sector pension schemes have removed the ability for transfers, so schemes for nurses, firemen, army personnel, civil service workers etc. can no longer transfer their pensions. Now these are blocked, it will be easier to make changes to reduce the benefits and no one is able to respond by transferring out of the schemes.
When this rule was being considered the authorities also wanted to block the transfer of funded schemes, i.e. most final salary schemes that are available. This could come back onto the discussion table in the future.
Autumn Statement (Budget)
This is on 23 November 2016. Could the Government make any further changes to UK pension rules? When Public Sector pensions were blocked, there was a small window of time to transfer. However, most people couldn’t get their transfer values in time as the demand was so high. People who review their pensions now may at least have time to consider options.
Could Brexit end the ability to transfer pensions away from the UK?
Reasons why schemes are in difficulty:
People now expect to live around 27 years in retirement, when these schemes commenced the average number of years in retirement was 13 years.
Lower Investment Returns
Investment returns have not been as high as expected. Also there has been a very large reduction in the amount invested in equities in final salary schemes; this is now around 33%, but in 2006, the average equity content was 61.1%.
Benefits were too good
Simply, many of the final salary schemes were ‘too good’. In 2009, around 24% of employees’ salaries was needed to fully fund final salary schemes that provided the standard level of benefit of 1/60th for each year of pensionable service. In 2016, that rate is now 50%! Clearly, it is unrealistic to expect an employer to meet the liability.
What could happen in the Future?
- An end to the ability to transfer out of all final salary schemes?
- Increase the Pension Age, perhaps in line with the increase of the State Pension?
- Reduction of Inflation increases, (already started as many now increase by CPI instead of RPI)?
- Reduction of Spouse’s benefit?
- Increase of contributions from current members?
- Lower starting income?
Act now! Review your pensions.
It does no harm at all to at least have a review of your pensions. In fact, it is prudent to do so. At The Spectrum IFA Group, we carry out a full transfer analysis, which is in accordance with the UK Financial Conduct Authority rules, before making any recommendation to transfer pension benefits. Doing nothing at all can often be an expensive mistake.
The above outline is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute advice or a recommendation from The Spectrum IFA Group to take any particular action on the subject of pensions, investment of financial assets or on the mitigation of taxes.
The Spectrum IFA Group advisers do not charge any fees directly to clients for their time or for advice given, as can be seen from our Client Charter .
Time to Review Your Final Salary Pension
Final Salary pension schemes, also known as Defined Benefit schemes, have long been viewed as a gold-plated route to a comfortable retirement. In the past, many advisers, including ourselves, would have been sceptical about people transferring out of such a scheme. However, there have been huge changes in UK pensions legislation and there are likely to be further changes ahead. The key question here is; will these schemes be able to provide the benefits they have promised over the next 20+ years?
Why Review Now?
In many cases, it may still be best advice to leave the pension where it is. And a transfer out requires highly specialised and regulated advice. However, there are many compelling reasons why a review makes sense.
Record high transfer values
UK gilt yields are at an all-time low and this has pushed up transfer values to be an all-time high; some transfer values have increased by over 30% in the last 12 months. Many clients are quite surprised to learn their scheme which projects an income of GBP 10,000 per annum in retirement offers a transfer value of over GBP 330,000!
Actuaries Hyman Robertson now calculate the total deficits on remaining final salary pension schemes as £1 trillion.
Recent examples show that very large deficits cause several problems. No one wants to purchase these struggling companies as the pension deficits are too big a burden to take on. Could the Government be forced to change the laws to allow schemes to reduce benefits? A reduction in the benefits will reduce the deficits and make the companies more attractive to purchasers. There is a strong argument that saving thousands of jobs is in the national interest, if that just means trimming down some of these “gold plated benefits”.
Pension Protection Fund (PPF)
This fund has been set up to help pension schemes that do get into financial trouble. Two points are key. Firstly, it is not guaranteed by the Government and secondly, the remaining final salary schemes must pay large premiums (a levy) to the PPF to fund the liabilities of insolvent schemes. As more schemes fall into the PPF there would be fewer remaining schemes that must share the burden of this cost. Their premium costs will increase as there will be fewer remaining schemes to fund the PPF levy.
It is possible that the PPF will end up with the same problems as the final salary schemes; i.e. they won’t have the money to pay the “promises” for pensioners. Additionally, the PPF will most likely have to reduce the benefits they pay out.
Pension Changes Already in Place
Inflationary increases have already been permitted to change from Retail Prices Index (RPI) to Consumer Prices Index (CPI). This change looks reasonably small, but over a lifetime this could
reduce the benefits by between 25% and 30%.
In April 2015, unfunded Public Sector pension schemes have removed the ability to transfer out, so schemes for nurses, firemen, military personnel, civil service workers etc. are no longer transferable. Now these are blocked, it will be easier to make changes to reduce the benefits and no one can respond by transferring out.
When this rule change was being discussed the authorities also wanted to block the transfer of funded non-public sector schemes, i.e. most corporate final salary schemes. There is therefore a risk that transfers from all final salary schemes could be blocked or gated.
Autumn Statement (Budget)
This is expected on 23 November 2016. Could the Government make any further changes to Pension rules? When Public sector pensions were blocked, there was a small time window to transfer. People who review their pensions now may at least have time to consider options.
Could Brexit end the ability to transfer pensions away from the UK? This is still unknown, but pensions are often a soft target of government taxation ‘raids’.
Reasons Why Schemes Are In Difficulty
Ageing population. People now expect to live around 27 years in retirement. When these schemes commenced the average number of years in retirement was 13 years.
Lower Investment Returns. As schemes have become underfunded, they have invested more conservatively. Average exposure to equities (shares) is now around 33%, whereas in 2006 the average equity content was 61%.
Benefits were too generous. In simple terms, many of the final salary schemes were too good. In 2016, if you became a member of a 1/60th scheme then your company would need to add 50% of your salary to make sure the benefits can be paid. Clearly this is unrealistic.
What Could Change?
· An end to the ability to transfer out of such schemes
· An increase to the Pension Age, perhaps in line with the increase of the State Pension
· Reduction of Inflation increases, (already started as many now increase by CPI instead of RPI)
· Reduction of Spouse’s benefit
· Increase of contributions from current members
· Lower starting income
What Are The Alternatives?
QROPS schemes have proven very popular in recent years as they offer expats excellent flexibility. While a QROPS is not the only alternative, and each individual case needs properly reviewed by a suitably qualified adviser, the benefits are clear;
· The ability to pass the pension fund on to heirs
· The option to change currency
· You can access the benefits flexibly via income drawdown (can vary the income you take)
· Wide investment choice to suit your risk profile.
At The Spectrum IFA Group, your locally-based adviser will work together with our internal Pensions Review team and conduct a full analysis of your current arrangements.
The 113th Le Tour de Finance event at Domaine Gayda
On Friday 7th October, 62 invited guests attended the 113th Le Tour de Finance event, once again staged in the beautiful setting of Domaine Gayda, in Brugairolles in the Aude. This is the seventh time The Spectrum IFA Group has returned to Domaine Gayda, and after the presentations guests were able to sample some of the wines produced there.
On arrival, guests were treated to coffee and pastries before listening to six presentations on a range of financial subjects including Assurance Vie, Pensions, Financial Markets and Currency Exchange and French Tax issues. The presentations were delivered by industry professionals and commenced with a presentation by Michael Lodhi CEO of The Spectrum Group who immediately drew the attention of the attendees by addressing the issue uppermost in the guests’ minds, that of the EU Referendum result and how it would impact the expat community. Michael then went on to highlight the other main theme of the day, that of the state of the UK pensions industry, scheme deficits and the options open to pension members.
Michael then made way for Jeremy Ferguson of SEB Life International who spoke about Assurance Vie, its tax advantages in France both for income and inheritance tax, and demonstrated the product’s flexibility in adapting to changes in the policy-holder’s circumstances. This is always a popular presentation, and didn’t disappoint.
Following Jeremy, we heard a presentation on the current situation in the financial markets delivered by Robert Walker from Rathbones, who shared the ‘house’ view on the impact of Brexit on the investment markets, and on the value of the pound. Of particular interest were his views on where the true value of the pound lies and the timescales before those values are likely to be restored.
Following Robert came a short presentation by George Forsyth of Prudential who presented the Prudential International Assurance Vie and how it differs from the SEB Life International contract. Majoring on the strength of Prudential’s investment funds and how this allows the returns to be smoothed out, rather than suffer the periodical fluctuations of the investment markets, George was able to convey the view that the volatility in global markets can be successfully managed without causing the investor sleepless nights.
There was a noticeable sitting up in seats when the next speaker stood up to speak – Paul Foreman from Momentum Pensions. Speaking about the developments in pensions brought about by last year’s change in legislation, it was clear this was a subject of great importance to the attendees. There is clear concern being expressed currently and this was confirmed to us in feedback received after the event. Paul delivered a highly informative presentation that inevitably raised more questions than answers, but an opportunity to ask those questions came over lunch.
Pippa Maile of Currencies Direct then delivered a typically entertaining presentation on the different transaction opportunities available through the Currencies Direct online portal. Once again this was of particular interest to the room.
Finally, guests were introduced to Rachel Thomas-Bonnet whose company Perfide Albion provides help and support in a whole range of aspects to ex-pats, ranging from help with property purchase, entering the French healthcare system and (noticeably more reluctantly) re-registering your car in France. Rachel also helps with completion of tax returns, and through her work with Notaires coupled with her legal training she has built up a reputation as the go-to person for all aspects legal. It was clear that Rachel was a popular speaker by the comments made by the attendees and the number of people who made a bee-line for Rachel over lunch.
The presentations were then wound up by Michael Lodhi who invited all to stay and enjoy the lunch provided by Domaine Gayda and to sample some of its wines.
To all of us there, it was evident that the guests had found all the presentations highly informative and of value to them. Once again, a very successful Tour de Finance.
Dread and Brexit
Fear causes thousands to hold off making decisions pre-Brexit
Uncertainty over what will happen once the UK has left the European Union has led people to make one important decision. Not do anything until it happens. This means delaying actions for around two and a half years. This could be a really disappointing, if not dangerous, decision to make. As much as we intend being around in two and a half years, there is no guarantee we will be. Who knew two and a half years ago what was going to happen next week?
Brexit is another event in our lives. None of us, not even the politicians, know exactly what is going to happen but you can plan for all eventualities. If there is a full-on Brexit, then you need to be in a position whereby your money is not exposed to future monetary restrictions. You need to do this BEFORE the shutters come down. Waiting two and a half years may be too long and too late.
If there is a “soft” Brexit, as I suspect there will be, with deals being done over a gin and tonic in Le Chien et Le Canard, it will still be important that your investments are recognised as being tax compliant in the country you live in. It will also be important that any financial planning advice you are receiving is coming from a company registered in your country. Some financial advisers in Spain are allowed to operate using a UK licence because the UK is in the EU. The professional indemnity insurance which they (may) have could become invalid.
Another change likely to cause a big problem post-Brexit is Spanish inheritance tax. UK inheritors are benefiting from Spanish rules introduced in 2014. These rules only apply to EU residents. Therefore, it is now time to look at how to distribute wealth in readiness for these changes.
Interest rates are low and will stay that way for some time to come, probably for at least two and a half years. The pound has collapsed in value meaning that income in euro terms has reduced dramatically. Banks have little or nothing to offer. We can help you with this NOW. We do not charge for a chat, or even for investigating what you have. We tick all the boxes regarding licences and compliance and we live in Spain.
Will BREXIT have an effect on your Pension Plans?
By Susan Worthington - Topics: BREXIT, Defined benefit pension scheme, Final Salary Pension, final salary schemes, Mallorca, Pensions, QROPS, Spain, Uncategorised, United Kingdom
This article is published on: 20th October 2016
Brexit could have an effect on your Pension whether it is a Private Plan or Final Salary Scheme that is waiting to be paid. There are many various pension plans these are just two examples
Do you have a Private Frozen Pension in the UK?
Pensions are driven by HMRC ruling not EU Membership and a QROPS (Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes) which allows you to transfer your pension overseas. This option may not be available in the future as there is talk that HMRC may pull the plug, make restrictions or even insert transfer tax.
Do you have a Final Salary Pension Scheme in the UK?
There have been a number of recent changes within the UK economy and UK pension world that make a review of any pension(s) essential for those living or planning to live outside the UK.
Final Salary pension schemes (also referred to as Defined Benefit schemes) have long been viewed as a gold plated route to a comfortable retirement, however there are likely to be large changes ahead in the pension industry. The key question is; will these schemes really be able to provide the promised benefits over the next 20+ years?
Why Review now?
Record high transfer values
- Gilt rates are at an all-time low. This has caused transfer values to be at an all-time high, some transfer values have increased by over 30% in the last 12 months.
- Recent examples show that very large deficits in pension schemes cause a number of problems, in particular no one wants to purchase these struggling companies as the pension deficits are too big a burden to take on
- Could the Government be forced to change the laws to allow schemes to reduce benefits? A reduction in the benefits will reduce the deficits and make the companies more attractive to purchasers
Pension Protection Fund (PPF)
- This fund has been set up to help the schemes that do get into financial trouble, two points are key. Firstly it is not guaranteed by the Government and secondly the remaining final salary schemes have to pay large premiums (a levy) to the PPF in order to fund the insolvent schemes. As more schemes fall into the PPF there are less remaining schemes that have to share the burden of this cost.
- It is likely the PPF will end up with the same problems as the final salary schemes, they won’t have the money to pay the “promises” for the pensioners
- In April 2015 unfunded Public Sector pension schemes have removed the ability for transfers, so schemes for nurses, firemen, army personnel, civil service workers etc. can no longer transfer their pensions. Now these are blocked, it will be easier to make changes to reduce the benefits and no one is able to respond by transferring out of the scheme
Autumn Statement (Budget)
- This is on 23 November 2016. Could the Government make any further changes to Pension rules? When Public sector pensions were blocked there was a small window of time to transfer, however most people couldn’t get their transfer values in time as the demand was so high. People who review their pensions now may at least have time to consider options
What could happen in the Future?
- An end to the ability to transfer out of such schemes
- Increase the Pension Age, perhaps in line with the increase of the State Pension
- Reduction of Inflation increases, (already started as many now increase by CPI instead of RPI)
- Reduction of Spouse’s benefit
- Increase of contributions from current members
- Lower starting income
Act now! Review your pensions
Susan Worthington of The Spectrum IFA Group has been giving investment advice here in Mallorca and Menorca since 1994.
If you wish to have a chat with Susan about any frozen or paid-up pension.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 670 308987.
For Brexiteers and Remainers alike
It was only a matter of time before I got onto the subject of Brexit once again. I have been trying to avoid it like the plague and certainly will refrain from offering any views in this article.
However, I do want to inform you about some very important developments for UK citizens who are living in Italy.
Since Brexit, it has become apparent that whatever stance you took at the vote, that UK citizens living in Italy may very well lose the right to universal access to healthcare, pensions, the right to acquire citizenship and running a business. Equally we may lose the right to freely move across other European states and we will almost certainly, the ways things are presently moving, lose the right of permanent residence in Italy without a permesso di soggiorno.
I am certainly worried about all the UK negotiations with the EU and whether you voted for Brexit or not and/or if you are a resident in Italy or intend to be, then they will surely affect you. One way of getting round this is to try and attain cittadinanza, (you can find out how , HERE. The page is in Italian!) if you are eligible. The other way is for us to try and get our rights as UK citizens, who are already living in and resident in Italy, recognised by either the UK and/or Italy.
In France, Spain, Belgium and Germany there are big movements afoot by politically inclined and connected individuals who are writing to their respective EU states and negotiating with them on behalf of all UK citizens already living in these countries and the rest of the EU.
Here is a little of what they say:
Brexit should not have a retrospective effect on individuals. UK citizens currently resident in the EU and EU citizens currently resident in the UK should be expressly treated as continuing to have the same rights as they had before Brexit. This is not confined to a right of continued residence but extends to all related rights such as the acquisition of citizenship, the right to continue to work or run a business, the right to healthcare, pensions etc.
These citizens from both sides of the Channel all made their decisions on where to live and work in genuine and reasonable reliance on the UK’s membership of the EU. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that membership, it cannot be right for millions of people to have their lives turned upside down when that could easily be avoided by a mutual agreement that the status quo prior to Brexit should continue to apply to this group.
Rumblings in Italy
I am happy to say that, in Italy, there is now a similar group of people who are campaigning to represent UK citizens in Italy. They are a UK/Italian solicitor based in Rome, retired barristers and journalists who are aiming to gather recognition in the UK, and in Italy, at a political level and fight to retain EU rights for UK citizens living in Italy.
The subject of this E-zine is to spread the word of this to as many British people living in Italy, or intending on moving to Italy, as possible.
They have a Facebook group. If you are interested in ongoing developments they will be posted regularly on their page. You can ‘Like’ it from the link below. And don’t forget to send this link to as many other UK citizens living in Italy, as you know.
(If you are unable to join this group, or do not use Facebook, then you can register your presence with the group at their email address: email@example.com. You may also contact them if you have any specific skills or contacts, or want to get involved in some way).
The group is closely affiliated with www.britsineurope.org who are a group of UK citizens living in Berlin and who are fostering co-ordination between the various groups around Europe.
It would appear that this group of people in Italy are the ONLY group which is actively campaigning in Italy and ideally it should stay this way. A lot of the campaigning will have to be directed at the Italian government and we all know what a headache that can be. One focal point will be a useful way of making contact with you, when required, and also informing the group of any hurdles you may be facing already, or start to face, as a result of Brexit.
The group is an open group, subscription free, and welcomes any ideas, comments or information you might be able to offer.
Please spread this onto as many UK citizens in Italy as you may know and ask them to sign up to the Facebook page, if they have the possibility to do so. Otherwise I will, as usual, be updating you with ongoing developments here. I am in regular contact with the group of individuals mentioned above and will aim to send out messages when necessary, alongside my usual ramblings.
This has been more of a public service notification than one of my usual E-zines but I hope you are reassured that there are people out there who have the ability and connections to try and make our life easier in Italy, depending on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.
Le Tour de Finance – British Embassy Paris 19th October 2016
The Spectrum IFA Group, as one of the participants of Le Tour de Finance, is proud to announce that the event of 19th October will be held at the British Embassy in Paris.
This prestigious event brings together a number of experts from major British financial institutions on subjects such as UK/French Tax Issues, BREXIT and what this could mean for British expats, Pensions/QROPS and Tax Efficient Investing and Estate Planning for expats.
The popular Tour de Finance events are an excellent opportunity for expats living in France to get those all important questions answered by specialists in their respective fields. The events will also give you a chance to meet other like minded expatriates in a relaxed and convivial atmosphere.
The event will commence at 18.00, with a complimentary buffet in the Embassy from 20.00 – 21.00.
If you would like further information or would like to book a place, please contact us
The objective of Le Tour de Finance is to provide expatriates with useful information relating to their financial lives. We try and cover frequently asked questions that we receive from our clients, however, it would be helpful for us to know what your particular areas of interest might be.
Send us your questions and the event you will be attending and we will try and cover them on the day:
Please click here Le Tour de Finance Questions
With the exception of a weakening pound and falling interest rates, we are yet to see the full impact of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. Perhaps we may not ever see it if Teresa May and/or others decide against triggering Article 50 to herald the start of the process. We currently sit in a ‘phony’ period where no-one knows quite what will happen, causing doubt and uncertainty to set in. We await with bated breath the latest results to come out of the Treasury and the Bank of England.
The latter recently reduced interest rates to an historic low of 0.25%, at the same time announcing a new round of Quantitative Easing. Falling interest rates are either a good thing or a bad thing depending on which side of the saver/borrower fence you occupy. Clearly borrowers are happy, but for savers, especially those who rely upon their capital to supplement their retirement income, it’s not such a happy picture. Indeed, I am seeing this most days I speak to people about their finances. Thankfully, we are able to make investment recommendations that will generate higher levels of returns to counter falling interest rates, but these don’t suit everybody. But like most things I find in financial services, there’s generally a positive that accompanies a negative, if one looks close enough.
One such area relates to the impact falling interest rates has upon pension transfer values. In my last article I touched upon the way transfer values from occupational (defined benefit) schemes are calculated. Without going into chapter and verse, a fundamental part of the calculation process uses gilt interest rates to determine the transfer amount. Although the schemes have a certain amount of leeway in interpreting the rules, the bottom line is that low interest rates result in much higher transfer values having to be quoted by scheme trustees. This makes the decision on whether it suits an individual’s purpose to transfer somewhat easier to determine.
The observant amongst you will recall I mentioned TVAS in my last article, and the (somewhat out-of-date) rules that the FCA still clings on to. Remember critical yields? Well, a higher transfer value will result in a more achievable critical yield becoming attainable, so making the decision to move to a personal pension such as a QROPS, easier to make. Sure there are variables and these are more or less important depending on who you are and what your circumstances are. Carrying out a full analysis of your own particular situation, Spectrum’s advisers can place you in an empowered position to make your choices, so, if you have a defined benefit scheme that you’ve either never reviewed, or one that hasn’t been looked at for a while, perhaps now is the perfect time to do so.
Coveting the shiny stuff – Gold
Dear Readers, please forgive me for I have sinned. It has been quite some time since my last post and during this time I confess I have been having impure thoughts.
I have been dreaming that the UK did not vote to leave Europe. I have been dreaming that Sterling had not fallen 12% against the Euro since June 23rd and that pasta was not now 10% more expensive in the UK, I have been having impure thoughts about low(ish) inflation in the UK and not rampant price increases after BREXIT. Lastly, I have been dreaming that interest rates would rise and not fall further into negative territory, basically charging customers to hold money with them.
Forgive me for my sins and lead me not into new temptation…………GOLD
There is a lot of talk going around at the moment about gold being the best investment to hold and certainly since BREXIT it has proven its case. However, gold has some signifcant shortcomings alongside other forms of investment. Essentially, it is of pretty much no use and it does not produce any yield. True gold has some decorative and industrial uses but demand is limited and doesn’t really use up all of the production. If you hold a kilo of gold today it will still be a kilo of gold at the end of eternity (taking into account any chance events which may affect the gravitational effects on earth).
THE INVESTMENT CHOICE DILEMMA
Today the worlds total gold stores are approximately 170,000 tons. If all this gold was melded together it would form a cube of about 21 metres per side. Thats about as long as a blue whale. At $1750 per ounce, it is worth about $9.6 TRILLION.
Warren Buffet, who is not a fan of gold as an investment, is famously quoted as saying that with the same amount of money you could buy ALL US cropland (which produces about $200 billion annually), plus 16 Exxon Mobils (which earns $40 billion annually). After these purchases you would still have $1 trillion left over. (You wouldn’t want to feel strapped for cash after such a big spending spree, so best to leave some spare cash lying around)
So the Investment choice dilemma is who, given the choice, would choose PILE A over PILE B?
In 100 years from now the 400 million acres of farmland would have produced an immense amount of corn, wheat, cotton, and other crops and should continue to do so. Exxon Mobil will probably have delivered back to shareholders, in the form of dividends, trillions of dollars and will hold assets worth a lot more. The 170,000 tons of gold will still be the same and still incapable of producing anything. You can cuddle and hug the cube, and I am sure it would look very nice but I don’t think you will get much response.
So, taking all this into consideration, you would be forgiven for thinking that gold really doesn’t have a place in anyone’s portfolio. I think you would be wrong.
Gold may not produce any yield, but with people in Asia, especially China and India, gold is very popular. In addition, it is also proving very popular for nearly ALL central banks around the world. Are all they all going mad, or do they have specific reasons for holding gold?
Well, despite Warren Buffets’ musings above, gold has to be seen in todays world as another form of money as central governments continue to print more traditional money, uncontrollably, and the paper currencies that we use in everday life become more and more worthless.
We must remember that the history of gold is that it rose, on its own, as a tradeable form of money in the world. No one has been forced into using gold as a form of money, whereas paper money is controlled by the state and has never been adopted voluntarily, at any time.
So this is where Waren Buffets argument falls down, because actual money in itself has exactly the same characteristics as gold. Its value! (Gold has some minor commercial uses, but its true value is in its store of value). Therefore, it should not be considered an investment, but actually another form of money/currency. In its basic form it is a form of barter and exchange.
Unlike paper money which can just be created without limit and at next to no cost, gold is both scarce and expensive to mine. It takes 38 man hours to produce one ounce, about 1400 gallons of water, enough electricity to run a large house for 10 days, upto 565 cubic feet of air under pressure and lots of toxic chemicals, cyanide, acids, lead, borax, and lime. (Just writing this makes me feel sick about the environmental impact of mining gold).
So, in summary the problem with the PILE A and Pile B scenario is that it assumes that gold is a form of investment, whereas in reality it should be considered another form of money.
For 6000 years gold has been an effective store of value.
The correct comparison that should be made is gold versus cash. Imagine a gigantic pile of cash. This pile of cash would be as equally inert and equally unproductive as gold, in itself.
The only way you could earn anything from gold or cash, in this case, is by depositing it with a bank and earning interest, at which point you relinquish your ownership (it becomes the property of the bank) and you then become an unsecured creditor to the bank itself, i.e if the bank fails it has the legal right to take all your gold and cash. Sound familiar? It might be better to hold true gold in a safe at home!
The question is whether you invest directly in gold or the gold mining companies themselves?