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How do I deal with inflation?

By Andrew Lawford - Topics: Inflation, Italy
This article is published on: 18th January 2022

18.01.22

“The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology respectable”
JK Galbraith

This opening quotation might seem somewhat defeatist. Surely economic forecasting, given the importance of the economy’s performance on our investments, must be necessary. The problem is that in order to have a useful piece of information, that information must be both important and knowable. There is no doubting that the economy’s future performance is important information for us investors, but to what extent can we know it?

At the risk of using excessive quotations, there is a good story from Kenneth Arrow, who subsequently won a Nobel Prize in Economics in 1972, about his time analysing long-range weather forecasts in World War II. He came to the conclusion that there was no difference between the forecasts and pure chance, and communicated this finding to his superiors. The following is the memorable reply that he received: “The Commanding General is well aware that the forecasts are no good. However, he needs them for planning purposes.”

Which leads me on to inflation, without a doubt the economic piatto del giorno being served up in all current market analyses. Following a 2020 – 2021 in which it was decided, essentially on a global basis, to close down pretty much every non-essential activity and subsequently to apply massive amounts of government stimulus in the hopes of starting things back up again, we are finding a large number of anomalous economic effects. I imagine many people will have their own stories to tell, but my particular one is this: my son got to the point where he needed a new bicycle, having outgrown his previous one. A couple of years ago, this would have been as easy as going down to the local bike shop, choosing the model and swiping my credit card. This time, however, the bike shop told me that they hadn’t had a delivery of new bikes in two months due to logistics problems. They were, however, very happy to take my son’s old bike, a buyer for which was found in a matter of hours.

There have been plenty of variations on this theme in recent times, and it would appear that the process of economic restarting, with its attendant logistics issues, has fed into the current levels of inflation that are being reported. However, it seems unwise to extrapolate one observable trend and conclude that there is some inevitability about inflation remaining at its current high levels. This is the essential problem with economics: modelling extremely complicated systems such as economies is all but impossible: there are simply too many factors to take into consideration and the interactions between them all are unclear.

How do I deal with inflation

Of course, if we are investing, then it does seem like we have to take a view on macroeconomics and position ourselves accordingly. Financial newspapers exist to provide daily analysis of current trends and allow various experts to opine about their future path. There is little downside for those prepared to make forecasts: if they happen to be right about some particularly important phenomenon, they can trumpet for all time how they called the event. Their many incorrect calls, on the other hand, will be studiously forgotten about. If we extend this reasoning to well-known hedge fund managers, those who appear to have the Midas touch, we find ourselves subject to what is known as “survivorship bias”: for the few investors with truly long-term records, there are many others who have fallen by the wayside and whose investing results have been lost in the mists of time. This gives us the impression that there are gurus out there who know exactly what is going on in the economy, but it doesn’t correspond to the hard reality of investment: most truly successful investors don’t have a strong view on macroeconomic trends, because they understand that they are unknowable and that any market timing decisions based on forecasts are fraught with difficulty.

So if we can’t divine what is going to happen in the economy, can we know anything that is of use for protecting and growing our investments over the long-term? It turns out that the most important thing for investors is the mere fact of remaining invested. JPMorgan has shown that over the period from 1999 – 2018, the average return on the S&P500 index, the most important aggregate of US shares, was 5.6% p.a. However, your return would have been a paltry 2% p.a. if you had missed the 10 best days of that period, and you wouldn’t have made any money at all if you had missed the 20 best days. Keep in mind that those returns were produced notwithstanding several gut-wrenching market moves associated with the tech bubble bursting in 2000 (which led to three years of negative returns) and the financial crisis of 2008. If we zoom out even further, the annual returns for the US stock market in the post-war period have been positive in about 70% of the years. Those are odds that you want to take.

I should add as a proviso to the above that you need to have invested intelligently, and by that I mean choosing quality asset managers that are worthy, long-term stewards of your capital and who put your interests as clients before their own. It should, of course, be a given that financial professionals put their clients’ interests first, but the various scandals over the years have shown that one can never be complacent in this regard. My job as financial adviser is to help you to choose quality investments and to make sure that you understand the basic tenets of investment and stay with it for the long-term. If you’d like to discuss your own situation further, please don’t hesitate to get in touch for a free initial consultation.

With all of the above, I don’t mean to diminish the importance of inflation, but we need to keep it in its proper context: this isn’t a problem that has suddenly come out of the woodwork! It has been there all along, working quietly in the background to chisel away at your wealth. The graph below shows the effect of different levels of inflation over a number of time periods.

It should be clear that even modest levels of inflation can prove very pernicious – taking the example of a 2% inflation rate over a 20 year period, you will find that prices have risen almost 50%, and so if your capacity for generating income hasn’t risen commensurately, you will find yourself dedicating ever more of your resources to the bare necessities, leaving you less money available for discretionary expenditure. We are told that we have lived through a couple of decades of very low inflation, but I distinctly remember the prices of milk, fuel and train travel (between where I live and Milan) when I arrived in Italy in 2004, and the inflation rate based on these basic goods and services is in the region of 2 – 3% p.a. over the period 2004 – present day (the official value is about 1.3% p.a.). There is no need to get into a debate about how inflation is calculated – I fully recognise that some goods (like consumer electronics) have improved and become cheaper over this period, but I buy fuel for my car far more frequently than I buy a smartphone.

The effects of inflation on your economic well being often become clear only after a long period of time, so the best idea is to work out a plan right from the start to make sure that your expenses are going to be sustainable in the long-term. Doing this can be quite difficult however, as you need to factor in variable investment returns, withdrawal rates and inflation in order to see how your plan is likely to play out. Investing for a positive real return (a real return is adjusted for the effects of inflation) over time relies on taking a long-term view and, as with choosing the right investments, my role as financial adviser is to help you understand all the variables and to find a sustainable path for the future. If you worry about inflation, then you are right to do so, but I can help you in finding ways to protect yourself from its worst effects.

Italian financial adviser

Please also check out my latest podcast – dedicated to citizenship, visas and estate planning, available on SpotifyGoogle PodcastsApple Podcasts and Stitcher.

Interest rates and Inflation

By Jozef Spiteri - Topics: Inflation, Interest rates, Malta
This article is published on: 19th December 2021

19.12.21

Taking simple steps to increase and protect your wealth

Interest rates and inflation, both terms we are familiar with, whilst not always appreciating how closely the two are connected, or that both affect our immediate and longer term financial security.

When we hear about interest rates, we might think of the bank. This is correct, but let’s clearly define what the term interest rate means. For savers (as opposed to borrowers) an interest rate can be seen as a percentage-based payment which the bank (or indeed any other savings institution) pays us for holding our cash. This means that when we put our money in a bank account, the bank compensates us financially for having placed our funds with the bank. Simple, right? Inflation can be a slightly more difficult concept to understand, but it is something we experience daily. Inflation refers to the general increase in prices of goods and services over time. This happens for a number of reasons, which won’t be examined here. The important point to understand is that inflation, whether gradual or accelerating, means prices are going up.

How then are interest rates and inflation linked? Well, the connection is quite straightforward. As mentioned, the bank is paying its savings customers an interest rate, so let’s consider the actual value of that interest rate. Most likely the rate you have been receiving over recent years has been no higher than 0.5% per annum. But inflation has been averaging around 2% per annum and has increased substantially over the past year or so. What does this mean? Assuming interest at 0.5% and inflation at 2%, the money in your bank account is losing 1.5% of its value every year (2% – 0.5% = 1.5%). This means that by keeping funds idle in a bank account you are actually destroying the real value of your money. The longer the cash is left there, the more value it loses.

Understanding inflation

Now that you’ve read the above, you may be asking yourself if there is a way to avoid destroying the real value of your money. That is where companies such as Spectrum can help. After reviewing your circumstances and going through a risk profiling exercise, your Spectrum adviser can help you build a suitable portfolio of diversified assets with the aim of getting your money working harder. A typical ‘balanced-risk’ portfolio, for example, has achieved annualised returns of 4% to 6% over the medium to long term. Of course past performance is no guarantee of future returns but with sensible planning it is entirely possible to overcome the negative effects of inflation – indeed, investment success and achieving positive real returns generally rely on such planning.

An initial meeting with a Spectrum adviser is free of charge and without obligation. This means we can assess your circumstances and answer your questions. It is up to you to decide whether to take things further. We would be more than happy to meet you for a chat so we can show you how we can be of service.

Inflation in Italy

By Gareth Horsfall - Topics: Inflation, Italy
This article is published on: 8th December 2021

08.12.21

I don’t think this E-zine can go by without writing about inflation and the impact that Covid has had on the rising cost of goods and services.  I don’t know about you but I am starting to see prices rise in Rome, particularly around food.  I was shocked to find pears in the supermarket at €5.49kg the other day.  Also, when I travelled to the UK at the end of October car hire prices were through the roof, partly fuelled by Brexit I imagine, but crazily expensive.  I was also talking to a friend who owns a company making the sun curtains that you see on balconies and terraces in Italian cities.  She was telling me that their raw material prices had risen 30% in the last few months. Lastly, there is the impetus of all these housing bonuses at the moment which means that both tradespeople and building materials are in short supply, and when things are in short supply, prices only go one way!

In the US there has been a lot of rhetoric about a ‘transitionary inflation’ which will pass once the world’s supply chain gets back to normal after Covid, when goods and to some degree services as well will start to circulate as they did pre-pandemic.  But, I think it is plain for all to see that this is now going to be a bit longer than we first suspected.  Even if Omicron turns out to be a much weaker variant and have very little impact on our health, government intervention in trying to stem the infection rate could mean that further travel restrictions are on the cards.

This all has the effect of making it more difficult for raw materials to find their way to factories, production of goods themselves (nothing gets made when people are at home), distribution, administration, shipping etc.   The list goes on.

When you bring everything together it means that supply side issues are likely to remain for some time and that has had an effect already. 

I was talking to someone at Prudential International last week and they were telling me that their indicators were showing a 6% inflation rate in the UK and 4% in Europe.  The general rate in the USA likely to be much higher, into double digits.

This has a serious effect on our savings and for any eagle eyed observer, you may have noticed that your government (Italy or otherwise), even faced with these inflation figures have not started to raise their central bank rates yet.  Why?

The answer is very simple.  Inflation erodes savings but it also erodes debt and since 2008, what have most governments around the world been creating copious amounts of? ….you got it, debt!  So, if they can hold interest rates low for as long as possible, whilst getting a 6% annualised reduction in their debt, then that is good for them.  But it is horrendous for savers and people on fixed incomes!  


inflation

I always give the example of a table that is worth €1000 today.  At a 6% annual inflation rate it will cost €1060 next year.  If my savings have been squandering away in a bank account at 0.5% interest, then my €1000 is now worth only €1005.  My money is no longer worth what it was last year and my ability to purchase the same amount of goods and services has diminished considerably.  Imagine if that were not a table but a prescription drug?

Inflation is a serious issue for many people and there is a simple way to calculate the compounding effect of this over time: The Rule of 72.  Simply divide 72 by the rate of inflation and you will find out how many years it will take to halve the value of your savings.  At 6%, your €1000 will be worth €500 in just 12 years.  Frightening given how quickly inflation can take off and difficult it can be to bring it under control.

Don’t get caught out!  Where you can, invest for the long term.  I understand it comes with risks, but the long term risk of not having enough money to pay for a retirement, schooling for children, or even healthcare expenses is significantly more problematic.

And on that happy note, I am going to leave you for this E-zine.  I am sure that you are all now starting to think about your 2022 tax return and how you can use those €s worth of tax savings!   But, before you do that, run out and order your turkey before the prices rise too high.

As always, if you would like to speak to me about any of these issues you can contact me on gareth.horsfall@spectrum-ifa.com or message/phone me on my cell +39 3336492356.  

Inflation: food for thought

By David Hattersley - Topics: Inflation, Spain
This article is published on: 30th November 2021

30.11.21

Governments use a variety of measures to calculate inflation figures, but in the main consider about 600 items that are in popular demand. Hand sanitizer has recently been added to the list as an essential item. But, it will also include TVs, clothing, smart phones, new gadgets etc. If one strips out something that is considered by some as non essential or has no need to be replaced, then within an individual’s budget the cost of food will take on greater significance.

Within the food chain costs are going up. Farming and breeding have been badly hit by increased production costs; electricity has gone up by 270%, tractor diesel 73%, fertilizer 48%, water by 33% and seeds by 20%. Growers have to pay more just to cultivate and pick their crops. In Galicia dairy farmers who produce 40% of Spain’s milk are being “strangled” by soaring production costs, estimated at 25% by the Union of Agrarians. Bad weather, such as the recent “Gota Fria”, can also have a negative impact on crops. The complaint from farmers is that whilst supermarket customers are paying more for their milk, the Food Chain Law has not been applied, i.e. “no link in the chain may charge less than what it costs to produce.”

Distribution is also part of the food chain. The majority of Spanish truckers are self employed, but have been unable to offset their increased costs of diesel plus the future cost of automated motorway toll roads. A three day strike has been called for 20th-22nd December.

Inflation

So perhaps a perfect storm of reduced supply and increased demand will, if you excuse the pun, “add fuel” to the inflationary upward spiral. This is perhaps lessened in Spain, as it is relatively self sufficient in relation to food supply and is a major exporter. It is worse for countries that are not self sufficient and need to rely on Spain’s exports and alternative supplies from across the globe.

To many of my retired clients who remember the UK in the 80’s, inflation has again become a concern. I have been able to help them find some financial protection against this for their savings, in particular those that held surplus cash in banks in excess of an emergency fund. Each client had their own attitude to risk which does vary, hence the need for regular reviews. I have access to Spectrum’s preferred investment partners who can provide a multi asset and globally diversified tailored solution.

We do not charge fees for reviews, reports, recommendations or future service meetings. Should you wish to contact me to explore your needs further, please feel free to do so either via the web site or directly using the contact details below.

Understanding inflation

By Occitanie - Topics: France, Inflation
This article is published on: 6th September 2021

06.09.21

Following the summer break, welcome to the latest edition of our newsletter “Spectrum in Occitanie, Finance in Focus” brought to you by your Occitanie team of advisers Philip Oxley, Sue Regan, Derek Winsland, together with Rob Hesketh now consulting from the UK.

Following our last newsletter on the subject of inheritance planning, we thought we would turn our attention to the significant column inches in the financial press currently devoted to the growing risks of inflation.

Understanding inflation

What is inflation?
Inflation is essentially the decrease in the purchasing power of your money as a consequence of a sustained increase in the price of goods and services. Therefore, in an environment of rising inflation, unless your income increases at a similar level you may not be able to maintain the same standard of living.

Inflation is typically measured using a wide variety of items that many people would typically purchase. For example, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is continually monitoring the price of about 600 goods from around the UK. These monitored price increases are weighted based on popularity and value. Also, the items measured are under constant review with hand sanitiser having been added since the onset of the pandemic.

What is happening to inflation now?
Inflation has been rising at a pace in recent months and this level of higher inflation is predicted to remain in the short term, and possibly the medium term. In France, the UK and the US, inflation increases since the beginning of the year can be seen below:

January 2021 July 2021
France 0.6% 1.2%
UK 0.7% 2%
USA 1.4% 5.4%

What causes inflation?
There are several economic theories behind the causes of inflation, the primary ones being the following:

i) Demand Pull: This occurs where demand for goods and services outpaces supply and consumers are prepared to pay more for some items. This scenario is often experienced in circumstances where an expansionary economic policy is present – often evident where there are low interest rates, which encourages borrowing, or recent tax cuts resulting in additional funds in the pockets of consumers.

ii) Cost Push: Often caused by a shortage of supply and/or increases in the costs of production, such as the price of raw materials or increased labour costs which are passed onto the consumer by way of higher prices. A simple example of this is when the price of crude oil increases, this is passed onto consumers at the pumps in the form of higher petrol and diesel prices.

For many businesses, labour costs are a large component of their cost base. When the economy is growing strongly and unemployment is low, labour shortages can arise and companies may be prepared to pay more to secure skilled, well-qualified employees. These costs can also be passed onto the consumer in the form of higher prices.

iii) Increase in the Money Supply: I am sure some of you will remember the 1980’s, a time during which Mrs Thatcher dominated the political scene in the UK and a bedrock of her economic principles was monetarism (the theory or practice of controlling the supply of money as the chief method of stabilising the economy). This economic theory was underpinned by the principle that excessive growth in the supply of money was the primary cause of inflation. In more recent times, Quantitative Easing (QE) has been a policy employed by central banks to stimulate the economy, firstly following the 2008-9 financial crisis and again since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic. This policy involves central banks purchasing government bonds and other financial assets which injects large amounts of money into the economy to stimulate growth and this could certainly be one of the factors behind increasing inflation rates this year.

Understanding inflation

Why does inflation matter?
If you know anyone who lived in Zimbabwe in the years 2007-2009, they will tell you why. Inflation peaked at close to 80,000,000,000% meaning prices were doubling every day and there were scenes in the news of people using wheelbarrows to carry their money around! The central bank published bank notes of ever-increasing value and at one stage it was reported that a loaf of bread cost the equivalent of $35million!

A colleague of ours who is based in Italy, professes to have a 100 trillion dollar note issued by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe in his office.

Of course, this is an extreme example (although not unique), but there are multiple reasons why governments and central banks become a little jittery when inflation starts to increase beyond their targets, not least because of inflation’s tendency to be self-perpetuating. For example, inflation is increasing therefore workers demand higher pay increases. Higher pay increases lead to businesses clawing back these extra wage costs in the form of higher prices for their goods/services. Consumers notice that prices are rising and demand higher pay increases and so on. This is a little simplistic, but hopefully illustrates the point.

In the past, governments and central banks (often through interest rate increases) have acted quickly and decisively to try and control this inflationary process. Currently however, governments and central banks seem a little more relaxed about the matter – at least in the short term. One of the many reasons for this is down to the pandemic-ravaged economies around the world which are recovering, but still fragile..

How long will this period of higher inflation last?
This is a difficult one to answer.

Here is what two of our investment partners say on the matter:
“We do not agree with theories of runaway inflation, currently a hot topic among market commentators. To summarise briefly, the main reason for the spikes we are seeing today is that prices were abnormally low a year ago, and the rate at which they have risen since has been exacerbated by COVID-related dislocations in spending, employment, production and logistics. We believe – as US Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has been at pains to note – that unusually high US inflation will be transitory. But it’s worth clarifying what we mean by transitory. We don’t mean that inflation will be back on target by year end. Instead, we see it peaking in the next month or two, before falling back toward 2% throughout 2022.” Julian Chillingworth, Chief Investment Officer, Rathbones – 7th July 2021.

“Lower for longer’ was a term used to describe the post-credit crunch interest rate environment, a period in which interest rates languished near 0%. The promise of rates being lifted as the global economy strengthened never really materialised: rates stayed lower for much longer than originally planned – a decade – and then came Coronavirus. We’re now seeing a similar story take shape, this time on the subject of inflation. The Central Banks reiterate that accelerating inflation is ‘transitory’ and not a cause for concern, but it’s the Manager’s advice that investors prepare themselves for a different truth entirely: inflation is going to be higher for longer.” VAM Funds, Monthly Market Outlook – July 2021.

And from other sources:
“Higher Inflation Is Here to Stay for Years, Economists Forecast.” The Wall Street Journal, Headline on 11th July 2021.

“The ‘inflation is transitory’ argument is starting to wobble…the debate about temporary or problematic inflation will continue for months and will grow more heated.” Greg McBride, Chief Financial Analyst at Bankrate.com

Is it possible to protect your savings from the impact of inflation?
Yes – to some extent.
If you chose to keep all your savings in bank accounts in the UK, France or elsewhere the chances are that any interest you will receive will be a very small fraction of 1%.

If your cash is in a French bank account, balances up to €100,000 per person, per banking group (€200,000 for joint accounts) are protected. In the UK, cash deposits are protected to a limit of £85,000 per person, per banking group (£170,000 for joint accounts).

These guarantees undoubtedly provide some comfort in relation to the security of your funds, but over time the effective value of your savings will diminish, and this will occur more rapidly in a higher inflationary environment.

For example, if inflation were to average 2.5% for the next 10 years, £100,000 of savings today, would be worth only £78,120 in today’s terms, in 2031. To consider this in a different way, for £100,000 to keep pace with inflation, in 10 years’ time it needs to have grown in value to £128,008. This erosion of value is even more marked over longer timescales.

The simple truth is that there is no certain way of keeping up with or indeed beating inflation, without accepting a degree of risk. Thus, we have a choice, leave our savings in a bank account, and accept the certainty that inflation will erode our wealth if we don’t do something about it, or talk to someone who has the expertise to invest money in a manner that will give the possibility of a positive return within the parameters of your personal objectives and appetite for risk.

It is advisable to hold at least six months of your average monthly outgoings as a contingency fund for unexpected needs. With bank interest rates and inflation at their current levels, it makes sense to look at alternative homes for the excess cash over and above your ‘emergency fund’.

As most readers will know we at Spectrum are big advocators of diversification and the multi-asset approach to investing. We place our trust in our preferred investment partners to look after our clients’ money to help them achieve their financial objectives. Their investment teams are constantly monitoring the global economic, environmental, and political factors that may affect portfolios and act accordingly to produce the best outcomes for clients.

Whether you are a cautious investor or an adventurous investor, or somewhere in between, we are here to discuss the most appropriate investment solution for you. So, if you would like a review of your situation, please don’t hesitate to give us a call.

What next?
If you would like to discuss anything we have covered in this month’s newsletter, please do get in touch at Occitanie@spectrum-ifa.com or contact your Spectrum adviser directly.

We would love to hear from you with any comments and/or questions, as well as suggestions as to future topics for discussion. Finally, please feel free to pass this on to any friends or contacts who you think might find it interesting.

Top three financial tips for expats living in Spain

By Chris Burke - Topics: Financial Planning, Inflation, Pensions, Spain, Tax in Spain
This article is published on: 22nd July 2021

22.07.21
Chris Burke | Spectrum IFA Barcelona

Hola

This month we are covering the following Hot Topics:

  • UK financial advisers are not legally able to advise EU based clients anymore
  • The important ‘rule of 72’ for investing
  • Spanish state pension inflation worry

UK investments & pension law changes
Many UK based financial advisers can no longer legally look after anyone resident in Spain or the EU due to Brexit legislation, most having already written to their clients informing them of this. However, it’s not all bad news; most UK based investments including ISAs are not tax efficient in Spain/EU, with many having to be declared annually and tax paid on any gains, EVEN if you don’t access the money. This does depend completely on your circumstances and I help people analyse their personal situation, managing their UK assets or arranging for them to become Spanish compliant moving forward.

For those with UK private pensions in drawdown, every few years to receive this money you must have a UK accountant rubber stamp this to continue. So again, you will need to find someone locally to do this for you, which we can help with.

If you have any questions or need help in respect of UK based assets, please get in touch for a free, no obligation chat/review of your situation.

Tax in Spain and the UK

The rule of 72 and poor performing investments
Implementing an investment strategy is not where your investment plan finishes; it is where it begins. Without regular reviews and maintenance there is a strong risk you will finish up with much less than you should have had. Many financial advisors here in Spain are mainly remunerated when taking on a new client, not on the performance of their investment. This is where I/Spectrum differ.

One of the many key aspects of investing is to keep a keen eye on the ‘rule of 72’, which is knowing how long before your money should double in its value. To work out the ‘rule of 72’ for your investment you use the following simple formula: divide the number 72 by the average annual interest you are receiving/likely to receive and it will tell you how many years it would take for you to double your money. So, for example, if you were averaging 4% interest per year it would take around 18 years (72/4 = 18 years), at 5% around 14 years and 6% around 12 years. To put that into a real-life scenario, if we use a starting point of €100,000 and invested over a 25 year period this amount of money would give you:

  • 4% €266,583
  • 5% €338,635
  • 6% €429,187

To put that into context, historically inflation makes your costs double every 24 years, so if your money is not well ahead of that, in real terms your monies are just keeping their present value.

Therefore, it’s imperative you really are seeing your investments growing and working for you. If they are not, I suggest you seek a second opinion and find out how you can have these optimised, because it will make a big difference to you further down the line. The main reasons for investments failing are high maintenance costs and investments that give the financial adviser a ‘kickback’. Many people don’t always understand why their investment funds are growing but their portfolio isn’t as much, and this is usually a starting point to look at.

I work in a different way, making sure it also works for the client by not using this method, but on a transparent fee basis using the best investments & platforms for the clients; not using investment funds that give the adviser more commissions, in essence.

inflation

Spanish state pension inflation worry
Back in 2011, Spain used to have a surplus state pension fund of €66 billion. This could be looked at as ‘well, at least they had a surplus; most countries have never had one’. Just before Covid started in 2019, it was €16 billion in debt. Now the state pension system, like many others, works on the principle that current workers pay for those who are retired now. The key point here is, from a percentage perspective, Spain, compared to others in the EU, has one of the highest proportions of its GDP (total country income) contributed to its state pension, at around 12%. The average ‘replacement rate’, which is the percentage of workers final salary income that they receive in retirement, was at 72% in 2019*, whereas the average in Europe is 45%. They receive, as a percentage, much more on average for their state pension compared to their earnings than their European counterparts. This is great on one hand, however this really is a great burden on Spain to provide that level of state pension to the people.

The only way Spain can carry on providing state pensions is to “increase the retirement age even higher and decrease the amount people receive” says Concepcion Patxot Cardoner, a University of Barcelona professor, as quoted by Bloomberg. That and start to move people towards saving into their own private pensions. However, this last option and the main plan moving forward is going to be difficult to achieve in a culture where only around 26% currently save into a private pension. Compare that to the UK where the latest survey showed 65% of people contribute.

If you also take into account Spain’s tourist industry (before Covid), which is the second largest in the world employing about 2 million people and accounting for about 11 percent of the country’s GDP, you can see that things are going to need to change drastically to balance the books given the current crisis.

What does all this mean? Well, to you and I, it’s even more important that we have a plan in place, whatever that is, to make sure we have provision in retirement. I am here to talk through this with you, using professional analytics tools to help take one of the most important planning aspects of your life and break it down, step by step, making it:

  • Specific to you
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Targeted

If you would like to talk through your situation with someone consultative and knowledgeable, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

The recovery of stock markets cannot be ignored

By John Hayward - Topics: Inflation, investment diversification, Investment Risk, Spain, Stock Markets, wealth management
This article is published on: 15th October 2020

15.10.20

Apart from the uncertainty of whether or not you will still be able to use your UK bank account after 31st December 2020, there are plenty of other things going on to mess around with our lives such as Brexit, the US elections, coronavirus with its lockdown, and other global disasters. With all of these things happening, it is hardly surprising that people think that investing money in stocks and shares (equities) at a time like this is crazy.

However, we have what appears to be an illogical movement upwards in equities, especially noticeable in the USA. How can this be? They have Donald Trump! In the rest of the world, there have also been sharp upward movements since the coronavirus led crash in March 2020 (other than the UK and I will return to this later). The fact is that billions have been pumped into the global financial system to fend off another financial crisis. Some companies have fallen anyway but others have developed, or sprung up, which has led to a much prettier picture than the press would lead us, or even want us, to believe. Coronavirus and Trump seem to be the only stories pushed our way.
When there is financial stimulus, there are opportunities; not only to survive but to develop. Robert Walker of Rathbone Investment Management has this investment outlook.

“We can expect more monetary stimulus and support from central banks that have an enormous amount of unused capacity available for alleviating any renewed stress in financial conditions which is positive for equity markets. This should keep corporate borrowing costs low.

We do not believe therefore that this is a good time to reduce our long-term equity exposure, but economic and political uncertainty warrants cautious positioning and a bias towards high quality companies where we believe that earnings growth is still possible. We believe it is sensible to remain broadly invested but with a continued preference for growth and only high-quality cyclical companies that can benefit from a shift to a digital and more sustainable economy.

We believe high valuations of growth businesses are underpinned by the increasing scarcity of growth opportunities while interest rates and the returns on low risk assets are expected to stay low into the foreseeable future.”

is the economy in good shape

It is important to note Robert´s last few words regarding interest rates. They are not likely to increase in the short term, or possibly long term, if companies, at all levels, are trying to succeed to keep the economy in good shape. At the same time, inflation could increase which means any money “safely” on deposit in the bank is losing its spending power each year.

Let´s go back to my comments about the UK. Rather than me put my words to this, I will use Robert Walker´s more eloquent script.

“The difference in returns in the third quarter are stark, with US equities seeing a strong performance especially in the big technology companies while the UK’s FTSE 100 was -5% lower on a combination of Brexit and Covid-19 fears.”

“The poor performance of the UK since the referendum is well known, as is the high likelihood that leaving the EU with or without Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s deal will make the UK relatively worse off. Most independent economic researchers forecast that UK GDP, relative to current arrangements, will be between 3% and 6% worse off in seven to 10 years if the UK and EU sign a free trade agreement, the faltering prospect of which has seen the pound fall by 15-20% since 2015. As we write the likelihood of a ‘no deal’ Brexit is still too close to call.”

The knock on effect of this lack of confidence in the UK is reduced investment in that area and, therefore, from what we have seen, investing in the UK has not been top of investment managers’ agendas. My point here is that, when you look at the performance of the global economy, do not necessarily base it on the movement of the FTSE100. This could be, and ultimately has been, the undoing of many people who have been waiting for Brexit to go through before investing. Some now are even waiting for Covid-19 to go away, but I believe that they could be waiting a long time.

Here are a couple of graphs to illustrate my point. One is from 23rd June 2016, the date of the Brexit referendum, and the other is from the start of 2020. They include two of the funds that we use and compare them to the FTSE100 and an inflation index. Remember interest rates would be little more than a flat line on these charts.

equities and inflation
FTSE 100 and inflation

Being in the market before the vaccine is introduced

Timing the market (knowing exactly when to buy in and when to sell out) is nigh on impossible. Even experts do not get it right 100% of the time. However, one of the uncertain certainties is that there will be a vaccine for this coronavirus. The uncertain part is when. The important thing is that you are invested before it happens, because it is likely that financial markets will rise sharply when it is available.

stockmarkets have gone against the negative thought trend.

Of course, we know that there are other problems around the corner, as there always have been in the past. We make decisions based on our own experiences, calculating whether something is safe to do or it carries a higher risk. History has shown us on

many occasions, including through world wars, that in times of low confidence, or even panic, stockmarkets have gone against the negative thought trend.

Staying invested through the last 6 months has been really important. For those who have money in the bank, earning little or nothing, now is the time to consider making your money work for you and your family. With careful investment planning, through trusted and experienced investment managers, we can help make your future wealth more secure. We can evidence how people have “survived” this latest scary time with the opportunity to benefit in the future by the willingness to stay invested.

Invest when you have the money and disinvest when you need it
My final comment on this is actually one from another investment manager I spoke to recently. It is to do with why we have money and try to accumulate it. His extremely simple tip is to invest when you have the money and disinvest when you need it.

Contact me today to find out how I can help you make more from your money, protecting your income streams against inflation and low interest rates, or for any other financial and tax planning information, at john.hayward@spectrum-ifa.com or call or WhatsApp (+34) 618 204 731.

Are you staying informed?

By Gareth Horsfall - Topics: eu citizens, Euro, Inflation, Italy, Stock Markets, The EU
This article is published on: 23rd April 2020

23.04.20

What is your barometer for political talk? Where do you go to get informed? I think most people would say that polls are a useful, if often wrong, source of information, then there are the International Monetary Fund reports, the European central bank forecasts, newspapers, economic reports, financial institution analyses (which are basically economic reports) etc. I worked out some time ago that most of these were self serving and although some of that information is useful it shouldn’t ever be a real gauge for what the average man on the street is really thinking or doing.

For me, I get that information some where else….mercato Trionfale in Rome where I do my weekly food shop. I find it a hub of differing opinions and characters that all have something to say on the state of the country, world politics and the health of their country. OK, I admit it is probably not quite as well reseached as the other methods mentioned above, but I do find it gives a different perspective on what people are thinking.

Pension Transfer from the EU Institutions

However, whilst writing this I stand humbled because I attended a webinar on the state of the EU, which I will write about for you here. The webinar was hosted by a large Assurance company called Utmost and they had as their

guest speaker a man named Ashoka Mody. I openly admit I had never heard of him before but he has a string of book titles to his name, a career at the World Bank and also influence in the EU’s bailout of Ireland in 2009. The reason I stand humbled is because he was a pretty straight talking economist, it would seem. He had very strong opnions on what is likely to happen in the EU as a result of the Covid 19 crisis and particularly how the crisis will develop in Italy, which is, of course, very important to a lot of us.

So without further ado, here goes my summary that webinar and the evolving situation and some of the thinking about the future of ‘Il bel paese’ and the European Union.

Where is the money going to come from?

Let’s start by saying that whatever predictions are currently being made about the financing needs from the effects of COVID-19, the true reality is that it is likely to be a hell of a lot more than we think. It is likely that the global effects of COVID-19 are going to be felt long after the virus disappears (assuming it doesn’t make a return in the winter) and to return to normal the best estimates are that we will need at least 2 years for travel, business and supply chain to return to pre virus levels

At the moment there is little point looking much further than 2020 as this is so unprecedented no-one really has any answers, but the realistic thinking at the moment is that the cost for BOTH Italy and Spain will be upwards of 20-25% of their GDP in 2020. In monetary terms that is a potential €500 billion black hole in the finances of Italy and about the same for Spain.

To look at the viability of filling this hole, we have to turn to the EU. Just last week they announced a potential €500 billion recovery package which, as we can see, does not even come close to the potential needs of the countries worst affected by the virus. So, what do the EU members states really need from the EU now? The answer is not a financing solution because they will never agree a package big enough as we will look at below. What the EU needs now is a political revolution and who would like to place any bets on that happening?

Normalcy: the condition of being normal; the state of being usual, typical, or expected

I am sure you, like me, have concerns about how the EU is going to deal with this and how Italy will extract itself from this mess, but my more immediate preoccupation is what happens to all the small businesses, restaurants, bars, pubs, shops, etc. How are they going to survive this? And I don’t just mean the lockdown period, because any extended set of conditions put on a return to normalcy which will, in turn, have a further damaging effect on the supply chain. The best economic forecasts predict a return to growth for most countries in Q4 2020, but the likelihood is that growth will only return, after a severe contraction for all of 2020 and a return to growth in the first quarter of 2021.

financial advice in Italy

Cogs and Wheels

We have to imagine that the whole world economy is a machine which is comprised of cogs and wheels and for the machine to keep working all the cogs and wheels must keep moving. If one slows then it inevitably has a slowing effect on the whole machine. Not only, but if we imagine the supply chain of a restaurant for example (I choose this because there may be social distancing rules applied to restaurants when they reopen) and

assume that they can only open initially at the capacity of 30-35% of their pre virus levels, then effectively that slows the whole supply chain down to 30% as well. It is not correct to say that it will affect only the restaurants, but also the lavanderia that cleans their table cloths, the food suppliers, the deliveries of detergents, the wine consumption etc. This affect of an extended return to normalcy could be the difference between many businesses reopening and staying permanently closed.

We can extend this thinking globally as well based on different countries coming out of lockdown at different times. If we think about global trade in it’s most basic defintion it is an exchange of goods. A buyer finds a seller and they make an exchange. But, if in the case of Italy, it comes out of lockdown and businesses start again, will they be able to find buyers, or even sellers of their goods and services if other countries in the world, the USA, the UK, Russia, China etc have continued restrictions in place themselves and they can longer trade in the way they did before?

The system is a machine of cogs and wheels which are all inter-dependant on one another. When the wheels stop turning it affects the whole machine.

financial ripple effect

The ripple effects in the EU?

The first thing to remember about the eurozone economies is that coming into this period, nearly all the eurozone countries were in or near recession.

Italy has been in a low growth, low inflation cycle for about the last 30 years. This crisis is expected to cause respective contractions to the economies of Italy and Germany of -9.1% in 2020 and -7% followed by growth in 2021 of +4.8% and +5.2%. Unfortunately the reality is likely to be much worse.

Italys’ national debt to GDP ratio is predicted to rise to 155% and it could very well fall into a persistent deflation spiral. This is very bad for business, the economy and the country as a whole because it will exacerbate the effects of the debt meaning that Italy has to pay even more back to meet it’s debt obligations in world financial markets, meaning less investment in infrastructure schools, hospitals, and public services. Could we see even more forced privatisation of public utilities and services?

In short this is a very bad situation!

As I also explained above, the effects will not only be isolated to Italy and Spain, but the rest of the EU. For example, French banks have lent approximately €300 billion to Italian banks in recent years. Italian banks are almost inevitably going to wobble after this crisis and we might have to expect some bank failures (the subject of my next E-zine). But, if they default on their obligations, what will be the ripple effect on French banks? And French banks are not the only banks that have lent to Italian banks in recent years. Also, Greek, German, Spanish, Portuguese…can you see the trend?

So how will the EU deal with this crisis?

The short answer is don’t expect anything from the EU. It is likely that we will see a new idea almost every day in the press but none of these will solve the problem because one the single biggest failure of the EU project. No political alignment. We cannot fix a financial solution without first having a political solution, because any political solution ultimately means that there will be a fiscal transfer from one country in the EU to another, and neither the Dutch nor the Germans are willing to take that risk.

how safe is your bank

The European central bank already owns 23% of Italian government debt and to bear the cost of the Covid 19 breakout it would need to purchase another 25%, meaning that the ECB would be holding nearly 50% of Italian government debt. If we remove the morally right thing to do for a moment, it is perfectly understandable that the Germans and Dutch would

not want to be on the hook for this amount of debt should Italy fail to pay its debt obligations in the future, because of its inability to manage its economy.

National interest will always come first, over EU solidarity. Let’s bear in mind that Germany is also going to have to apply it’s own fiscal stimulus and if EU bonds were created then that would mean a transfer of approximately €200-300 billion euros of government debt transfer from Italy to Germany alone. It might be the morally correct thing to do, but is it the practical thing to do?. Is it right that other EU states should shoulder the burden of debt from less efficient Southern European states?

A quick look at history

You may think that these are historically unprecedented poltical times, but you would be wrong. We only need to look at the USA to see what happens when no political union is in place:
Between 1776 and 1789 the US was like Europe is today. It was a group of federal states that all operated their own finances and budgets. This was also the time of the War of Independence from Great Britain. In 1788 a currency union was formed and the US dollar was granted as the common currency across the USA, allowing them to spend without the worry of exchange rates. Following the currency union a federal government was formed in 1789. At this point the federal government now had a right to tax the nation. However, this led to a fractures between individual states, principally those in the north and those in the south and lead to the American civil war in 1861 – 1865.

So there we have an example of a similar situation as that of the EU, but with one major difference: The EU doesn’t have a federal government in place and without a federal government, (but a currency union), then the central bank (the ECB in the case of the EU) does not have the authority to bail out the individual member states in the time of need. In other words the central bank cannot play it’s role of being a lender of last resort. Herein lies the problem.

USA Federal Bank

In the USA, as we have already seen in past weeks, they will essentially ask the Federal Bank to print as much money as is required to bailout the nation. If they lend to any institution, municpality or corporation and that entity fails to pay their debt obligations then the

taxpayer will bear the burden for that debt and it will be added to the governments existing debt obligations, which they can then, over time, work to payback or erode through inflationary measures.

taly, as per all EU member states, have no lender of last resort, (independent central bank) to which they can turn to bear the cost of the measures introduced during the Covid 19 outbreak.

So where do we go from here?

Well, it is quite clear that this is going to swiftly move from a health crisis to an economic crisis and then even more quickly to a political crisis.

There seems to be no political will in the EU to create EU Bonds to alleviate the burden on Southern European states who were most severly affected by Covid 19. The only solution being offered at the moment is to extend the European Stability Mechanism to Italy, Spain and other affected states which is ( without going into details) an offer of loans at low to zero interest rates, but which must be paid back and with conditions attached. This is something which Italy is going to try hard to fight against. This isn’t a financial crisis but a health crisis and they believe, and I am with them despite the financial and political consequences, that the EU must bear the burden of the additional debt created because of this crisis. Italy does not want to take loans with conditions attached because it is essentially the same financial treatment as that imposed on Greece in 2010. The only outcome from that was complete financial hardship and a failing economy. Italy is, obviously, keen to avoid the same fate as is Spain.

So that leads us nicely to the term which we are likely to see in the press in the coming weeks and years ahead: QUITALY.

moving to italy

Is Italy going to decide to do a Brexit and leave the EU. Before any Brits, like myself, who have taken citizenship in recent years, start to panic about the possibility of Italy leaving the EU as well, it should be noted that the Italian constitution would prevent a hasty and

quick action, (They couldn’t do a Brexit!!) and even if they were to hold a referendum on the matter it would take years of negotiation within the warring Camera dei Deputati and Senato to even arrive at a referendum.

So we have a long way to go yet, but one thing is clear. Political opinion is changing in Italy. In recent surveys 42% of Italians said that they didn’t want to leave the EU, but an equal percentage said that they would want to. 50% of Italians said that they did not want to take any money from the European Stability mechanism if it came with any conditions attached, but conditionality will be key to the future of the EU, and the economic health of Italy.

As you might imagine at this time, this is stoking more populist revolt and Matteo Salvini is now number 1 in the polls. The Frattelli D’Italia led by Giorgia Melloni ( who is a far right party allied with Salvini’s, La Lega) is also polling well and her ratings are rising fast. It is not beyond imagination that when the Covid virus passes, a political crisis will quickly ensue, Conte and the M5S coalition will hold on to power by a thread but a Salvini / Melloni coalition could be very quickly ushered into power in the not so distant future. Prepare yourselves!! I can only add that my conversations with Italian friends, people I chat to at the market and with some clients has turned from being very EU positive to negative. One of my clients probably hit the nail on the head when he said, “if the EU cannot get their finger out on this one, then I can’t really see the point of a politically unified EU anymore and it should return to it’s roots and become merely a trading block, with freedom of movement). I am inclined to agree.

What can we expect?

The Eurogroup [the group of EU finance ministers] is meeting on Thursday 23rd April to discuss the future. Conte will be meeting with them to try and negotitate a good financing outcome for Italy.

The likelihood is that the EU will do what they are good at and kick the problem into the long grass. They will not provide any concrete solution, which will throw Italy and possibly Spain into a spiral of recession, deflation, more political infighting and economic hardship. The Eurogroup only has €500 billion euros at it’s disposal to provide unemployment insurance, economic stimulus, and the fight the Covid 19 virus across the EU. It is nowhere close to the amount required. The ball park figure would be closer to a € 1trillion. The sad fact is that the European Central Bank could print € 1trillion euros, if only it had the mandate to do so from all EU member states.

In truth, Germany will likely have the last say. Brexit has already left a funding hole of approximately €60 billion in the EU budget and so the logical conclusion is that Ms Merkel will give the problem the kiss of death by requesting that the issue of funding is placed in the EU budget and each country will be left to fight it out with other member states as to who pays what and when. In others words it will fall into the bureaucracy of the EU. The problems will persist in Italy and economic hardship will worsen.

Expat Money and Finance Articles

So what does this mean for our money

Well, to try and leave this E-zine on a positive note for investors, at least, we can be thankful that there is a whole world out there in which we can invest and whilst Italy likely sees hardship, other countries will exit this crisis and proper. One country that springs to mind is China. So for all our concerns about the country that we live in, we shouldn’t worry too much about our money. I can’t say for sure when stock markets will recover fully. We may be waiting until the end of this year at the very earliest, but they will and with a well managed, diversified portfolio with good oversight, then your portfolio will recover as well. The economics will play out over a much longer period. One upside for currencies is that it could weaken the Euro which would make those who have assets in USD or GBP, for example, worth a lot more. Maybe a return to the heady days of 1:45 GBP to 1 €?

All I can say that it is all to play for. In the meantime, I will be taking a closer look at Italian banks in my next E-zine as they could be a huge risk to use, and to financial markets in the months and years ahead.

Inflation is the killer

By Chris Burke - Topics: Barcelona, Inflation, Spain
This article is published on: 12th February 2020

12.02.20

Tip 1 – Maximising your savings – inflation is the killer
In the UK, ‘Stealth Taxes’ are the normal weapon governments use to raise taxes now. These are taxes that don’t affect everyone on a daily basis, or maybe not today, but could do significantly at some point. For this and other reasons, these taxes don’t usually cost them votes and raise a good level of tax money.

I argue one of the biggest Stealth Taxes is inflation, and the two reasons I believe this are: because of my 90-year-old father, and also because I need proof, to be shown something before I believe it.

inflation

As you can see from the above graph which dates back to the beginning of the eurozone, inflation has generally fallen. Up until 2008 it was perhaps on average 3%; from the crisis at the end of 2008 more likely 2%. So, what if a glass of wine goes up by 2% a year, I hear you say, or the menu of the day as well, that’s nothing. Well, yes it is. When you compound that over a period of years it makes a big difference. For example, people have come to see me with some money sitting in a bank account earning nothing. They know this, but they don’t know what else to do with it. They like the security of a bank account for the value of the money, and the security of having access to it if they want it. So 6 years later, they come back to see me again and say ‘Yes, we have definitely decided we want this money to do something for us (let’s says its 100,000). Can you help us, please?’ There are two things that immediately come to my mind here, firstly, not everyone is disciplined and hasn’t spent some of that money by then. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, they don’t actually have 100,000 anymore, they have 88,000 in real terms. So, each year they have lost 2,000: imagine every year you draw 2,000 out from your bank account and flushed it down the drain; how painful would that be? That’s exactly what you are doing by not managing your money effectively. We are also in an incredibly low inflation environment at the moment. Imagine if it went up to 3 or 4%?

My father, in his latter years of retirement, does not stop commenting on how prices have increased, what they used to be and how expensive things are (don’t worry; he is not destitute, just astute). We don’t really notice this on a daily basis, the main reason being we are still working and earning an income. We can always replace what we spend within reason. However, when you finally have no more income and only savings and investments, it really hits you.

Action Point 1 – make sure your assets, no matter what they are, are being managed effectively for you, bearing in mind that one day your income will stop, alongside giving you access to emergency funds should you need it.

Tip 2 – Brexit – last chance saloon for moving UK pensions
Last month I attended seminars bringing us financial types up to date with everything going on in 2020, including Brexit/UK pensions and one of my worst fears was confirmed. When Brexit is officially rubber stamped, you will be charged 25% if you want to transfer your UK private or company pension outside of the UK. This means your pensions freedom of choice will have effectively ended, as who would want to pay that tax to move it? So moving forward, your pension would remain in the UK. What would that actually mean? Well, it would have to adhere to UK rules moving forward, which in essence are starting in real terms to reduce the benefits you could receive (another stealth tax). It could be the best place to leave your pension anyway, but what we suggest is detailed analysis of what you have and what your options are, before you don’t have a choice. We conduct this on a complimentary basis for you, giving you the knowledge to make a decision. For many people the right advice is to leave their pension where it is, but for some moving it is by far the best thing to do.

Action Point 2 – Check whether your UK pension should take advantage of the last potential chance to the European freedom of pensions movement.

Tip 3 – Investments outside Spain tax
Not many people are aware that assets they have outside of Spain are/can be taxed differently to those inside it. In essence, most assets outside Spain held by a Spanish resident need to have tax paid each year on any gain made, regardless of whether you access them or not. The reason why this is important, is that deferring tax until a time when you can reduce/mitigate it is one of the biggest ways to increase your wealth.

There are options similar to UK ISAs and other asset planning available that can help you be Spanish compliant and potentially save you taxes.

Action Point 3 – Try to have your assets Spanish compliant. Evaluate what assets you have, how they are taxed and make sure they are tax efficient moving forward.

GUIDE TO GROWING YOUR INCOME

By Robin Beven - Topics: Inflation, Investment Risk, Investments, Spain, wealth management
This article is published on: 10th March 2019

10.03.19

A NEW ERA FOR INCOME STRATEGIES

Income investing has moved into a new dimension. In the past, income-generating strategies were largely restricted to cash and fixed income so that, to a large extent, investors had to accept the need to sacrifice the opportunity for capital growth in order to obtain a higher yield.

Times have changed and now, an income strategy does not necessarily mean you have to accept a hit to your portfolio’s value – especially if you are in a position to take on a bit more risk with your capital.

There are plenty of choices of all persuasions available to income-seeking investors and this guide sets out a number of the available options.

FLEXIBILITY AND VERSATILITY
For many investors, an income-generating strategy forms the core of their approach. Some want a portfolio that will provide a regular income stream for them to spend. For others, an income-based approach is a consequence of their attitude to risk, rather than an instigator of their strategy, and these investors might choose to reinvest their income to boost their portfolio’s total return over the long term.

Still others might have a core investment strategy that focuses on capital growth, complemented and diversified by an income-generating segment.

Every investor will have their own unique needs – for instance, they might choose to draw the income or to reinvest it for the long term. However, an income strategy can easily be adapted to meet each investor’s changing circumstances as time moves on.

A WORLD OF CHOICE
Whatever your investment risk profile, there are a wide range of asset classes from which to formulate a diversified income strategy – from government and corporate bonds, through UK and global equities to property.

Please click on the headings below to read more:

FIXED INCOME (BONDS)

Fixed income investments provide a stable and predictable level of income many investors find reassuring. They pay a set rate of interest that does not change, regardless of the prevailing economic environment, and also have a fixed repayment date. Bond prices are influenced by fluctuations in interest rates and the rate of inflation. In addition, corporate bond prices are also affected by individual company or industry newsflow.

Changes to UK base rates, which are set by the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, will affect the level of interest paid on cash in a UK bank deposit account, but base rates will not affect the level of income paid on a bond. In an environment of rising interest rates, bonds become less attractive, because investors can more easily achieve a competitive rate of interest from their cash deposits.

Similarly, low interest rates increase the appeal of bonds, as it becomes harder for savers to generate an attractive level of income from their cash deposits. Funds investing in such bonds are freely available, of course, care should be taken in choosing the best-suited one that fits-the-bill. See, “Collective Bond Funds, below.

CASH: NOT NECESSARILY KING

A cash deposit account might be the first port of call for many investors who want to generate an income. In an environment of low interest rates, however, it is difficult for savers to generate a meaningful return from their cash deposits. How times have changed! Furthermore, the impact of inflation will erode the purchasing power of their capital over the longer term.

GOVERNMENT BONDS

As the name suggests, government bonds are issued and underwritten by a government. UK government bonds – also known as ‘gilts’ – may be regarded as lower risk investments as, to date, the UK has never defaulted on its debts.

However, because they are a low-risk investment, the level of return available on gilts tends to be relatively low and they offer little protection against inflation. Index-linked bonds are the only exception – they pay a rate of income that is partly influenced by the rate of inflation. If the rate of inflation rises, the level of income they offer is adjusted upwards while, in an environment of falling inflation, the level of income paid will fall.

CORPORATE BONDS

Corporate bonds are issued by individual companies as a way of raising capital for their businesses. As with gilts, a corporate bond is redeemed at a predetermined date for a fixed sum and, during the life of the bond, the investor receives a fixed amount of interest.

Corporate bonds carry a higher level of risk than UK government bonds but that level will vary from one company to the next. High-quality companies are regarded as relatively low-risk, whereas lower-quality companies are believed to have a higher risk of defaulting on their obligations to bondholders.

The level of income paid to bondholders tends to reflect the level of risk involved. Investors who take on a riskier investment are compensated for that risk with a higher level of income. If a company should go bust, bondholders rank higher than shareholders as the company has to meet all its obligation to its creditors – including bondholders – before it considers its shareholders.

It is important to understand the risks of investing in corporate bonds. There can be a substantial difference in quality between one corporate bond and the next. Many of the large fund management houses undertake research to evaluate the potential risk of each bond, but they also often rely on research produced by credit-rating agencies such as Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch. These companies assign a rating to companies that offer bonds. A high credit rating indicates the company is believed to have a low risk of default while a lower credit rating suggests the company presents a higher risk of default.

Bonds may be divided into two classes – ‘investment-grade’ for the highest credit ratings and ‘sub-investment-grade’ (also known as ‘high yield’ or sometimes ‘junk’) for the lower grades. A lower credit rating means a higher level of income paid, in order to compensate for the extra risk involved. Generally, investment-grade bonds are seen as a relatively lower-risk asset class, while higher-yielding sub-investment-grade bonds are regarded as higher risk.

COLLECTIVE BOND FUNDS

Collective funds that focus on government and/or corporate bonds will invest in a managed portfolio that can help you to reduce your risk by diversifying across a range of investments, rather than owning just one or two. Some funds will focus on a specific area of the market while ‘strategic’ bond funds are ‘go-anywhere’ portfolios, whose managers take a view on the bond market and focus on the areas they believe offer most value. If you are interested in adding an element of additional risk to your overall portfolio, therefore, strategic bond funds can offer an introduction to the sub-investment-grade arena or to overseas opportunities.

EQUITY INCOME

Over the long term, equities offer the potential for superior returns compared with many other major asset classes. An equity income strategy focuses on shares in companies that pay consistently high and rising dividends and typically aims to generate a consistent, above-average income stream, accompanied by the potential for capital growth over the long term.

Dividends are paid – usually in cash – by companies to investors and are taxable. By law, dividend payments must be paid out of the company’s profits or from profits generated in previous years. Companies are not obliged to pay a dividend, but a high dividend payout can provide an incentive for investors to take a stake in the company.

A company does not have to pay a dividend, and many, particularly small- and medium -sized ones, prefer to reinvest surplus cash into the business. The profits of a relatively young company, for example, can be unpredictable as it seeks to establish itself – and any profit it does make will probably be used either to repay start-up costs or as a reinvestment to help growth. Even as a company grows older, its management might decide to retain profits to finance debt, expansion or product development.

Longer-established companies tend to pay higher dividends – hence an equity income strategy tends to focus on large, high-quality companies, rather than smaller, younger firms. Nevertheless, a small but rising proportion of dividend payouts are coming from medium-sized and smaller companies.

Even large, well-established companies can fall on hard times, however, and the management might decide to shore up their firm’s finances by reducing its dividend payout or cancelling it completely. Furthermore, a diminished or cancelled dividend will undermine confidence in the company and its share price is likely to be negatively affected, cutting the value of your capital investment.

OVERSEAS OPPORTUNITES

While there is a longstanding culture of dividend payments among UK companies, a growing number of companies in overseas markets are returning value to their shareholders in the form of dividend payouts. The US has, for example, traditionally been home to a core of large companies that pay high dividends. More recently, Asian companies have sought to attract and meet the needs of international investors by focusing on dividend payouts, with countries such as Hong Kong and Taiwan establishing solid dividend regimes in this exiting region of the world.

A global equity income approach has become increasingly achievable, and many investment houses have launched funds to tap into this trend. Equity income investors now have much greater scope to diversify across a broadening range of countries by investing in collective funds.

EQUITY INCOME FUNDS

An equity income fund invests in the shares of companies that pay consistent and attractive dividends and then combines the dividend payouts in order to pay a regular income to investors. Diversification across a broad range of companies reduces the danger a single company’s decision to cut or cancel its dividend might drag down the overall yield of the portfolio.

PROPERTY

As an asset class, property can polarise opinion. It is often viewed as a relatively illiquid asset in that it can be time-consuming and expensive to trade. Some experts also believe investors are already overexposed to the property sector if they own their own home or a buy-to-let property, or if they are invested in commercial property through their business. However, property can play a part in an income portfolio for those investors who are not overexposed or who are attracted to its potential benefits.

RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY

‘Buy-to-let’ is a popular means by which investors gain exposure to residential property. Traditionally, buy-to-let has enabled investors to generate income through rents negotiated on short-term tenancy agreements. More recently, many buy-to-let investors have chosen to use their rental income to finance their own mortgage payments and to wait for the bigger profit in the form of a capital gain when the property is sold. Of course, as some investors have found to their cost, there is no guarantee a property’s market value will rise over the long term as we’ve seen along the Costas.

COMMERCIAL PROPERTY

In contrast, commercial property investment focuses principally on the generation of a high and consistent income that is generated through rents. Whereas residential leases typically operate on a series of short-term agreements, however, commercial leases tend to be much longer – perhaps 10 or 20 years.

Income from commercial property can derive from a variety of different sectors – ranging from City real estate, through shopping centres, to industrial parks and warehouses. Each sector commands a different level of rental yield and will react differently to the prevailing economic climate.

COLLECTIVE PROPERTY FUNDS

Direct investment in commercial property is very expensive but smaller private investors can access the asset class through diversified collective funds. Diversification helps to reduce the extent to which the loss of a tenant from one particular property might negatively affect the overall performance of the fund.

REAL ESTATE INVESTMENT TRUSTS

A real estate investment trust or ‘REIT’ is a company that manages a property portfolio on behalf of its shareholders. A REIT can contain residential and commercial property. Its profits are exempt from corporation tax, but it must pay out at least 90% of its taxable income to shareholders.

KEY FACTORS TO CONSIDER BEFORE YOU INVEST

Before deciding on the right blend of assets to generate an income stream, you should consider the following factors, which might affect the decisions you make:

INFLATION
The rate of inflation measures how the price of a basket of goods has changed over time. So, for example, if the cost of running your home increases by 5% in a year, you will need to earn 5% a year more to pay for the same level of comfort.

If you are aiming to maximise the income from your investments in order to pay for everyday expenses, you should consider the impact of inflation and – particularly over the longer term – whether you require a specific form of protection against inflation.

However, if you decide to invest in a fixed-rate investment – for example, a gilt or a corporate bond – be aware inflation will definitely have an impact. As an example, a fixed rate of 4% is attractive when the rate of inflation is 2%. However, if inflation rises to 5%, that return of 4% becomes less appealing.

RISK
Investment risk is a very personal thing as it can mean different things to different people. Some investors are not prepared to tolerate financial loss in any form while, at the other end of the spectrum, some investors most fear missing out on an opportunity. For still other investors, risk means not being able to meet future financial commitments.

Before formulating an investment strategy, every investor needs to be clear about their investment goals and their tolerance for risk. No investment is risk-free – the lowest-risk investments might guarantee the preservation of capital and/or regular income payments, but they cannot necessarily protect your money against the erosive effects of inflation.

Ultimately, in order to enjoy an absence or reduction of risk, a cautious investor has to accept the prospect of lower returns. Equally, an investor who is willing to pursue higher returns will also have to accept the possibility of increased potential for risk to their capital.

DIVERSIFICATION
Since every source of income carries some form of risk, it pays to diversify your portfolio across a range of different asset classes. Diversification helps to reduce the possibility that especially weak (or even strong) returns from a particular investment or asset class might have a disproportionate effect on the overall performance of the portfolio.

There is a world of choice out there for income investors. Whether you are a more cautious person or someone willing to take on higher levels of risk in the hope of achieving, ultimately, higher returns, please do get in touch so we can help you find a solution that meets your individual needs.