Viewing posts categorised under: Inflation
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Inflation – Are you prepared?
By Gareth Horsfall - Topics: Inflation, Italy
This article is published on: 12th May 2017
Let’s face it Inflation is not the most interesting of topics and not when we can have more interesting heated and political debates about Syria, Brexit, Trump and Russia, but from a Government point of view that is just what they want. The almost invisible creeping force of inflation to go almost unnoticed.
For investments, retirement and people who have fixed incomes it is by far and away the most important consideration when making plans for the future.
My bet is that it is likely to be the most significant financial issue that will affect us all in the not so distant future.
This article is about being prepared!
What is inflation?
By definition Inflation is the rise in the cost of living or an increase in the money supply in an economy. They are both intricately linked.
Since 2008 central banks around the world have created $6 trillion worth of new money.
Imagine $1 trillion
If you spent $1 million a day since Jesus was born, you would have not spent $1 trillion by now, but $700 billion. This is the same amount the banks got during their bailout.
We now know what it is but why is it so important right now? The policies the Governments around the world have taken to prevent financial depression and deflation were always likely to cause inflation and erode our standards of living. Governments have an incentive to distort real inflation rates because it allows them to keep their inflation-linked benefits and pension payments low. It also, magically, erodes the underlying debt of a country in the same way as a mortgage. For example the debt becomes proportionately less as the value of the house increases and wages grow as well.
A simple example would be someone who bought a house in central London in the 1980s for approx £40,000. A mortgage of £30,000 taken out at the time might have been a heavy burden, (75% – Loan to Value (LTV)) but in 2017 this would be considered very small and if the house is now worth £1 million, then proportionately the debt has been eroded to 3% Loan to Value.
The heavily indebted governments around the world have a huge incentive to allow inflation to run out of control for some time to come.
History repeats itself
I always find that there is some value to the phrase ‘History repeats itself’ and not forgetting it. In researching this article I found figures which show the inflation rates of countries around the world and in most developed economies inflation has been falling (with intermittent blips) since about 1980 and has fallen from its highs in approx 1974. I was born in 1974 and am 43 years old this year. I have never lived through a period of significant inflation.
Well, that might all be about to change!
Brexit and the fall in the value of GBP has certainly caused a marked effect on prices in the UK. Inflation is on the rise there and that is unlikely to stop soon. The true effects of Brexit were never going to be apparent straight away and real economic effects always emerge approximately 18 months after decisions have been taken. The UK can realistically expect more price rises. However, Europe is also seeing signs of recovery and inflationary markers are also turning up for the USA, Germany, Spain, Ireland and even Italy.
So the real question is…is this the start of a 40 year reversal in trend? or is it just another blip?
Wages must grow
I think it might be the start of a trend but which will not take off just yet. The biggest problem holding back inflation is wage growth. It makes sense that wages have to grow for inflation to take effect. The more money is in people’s pockets, the more they will spend. However wage growth has been stubbornly slow to take off.
Corporate greed and minimum wage
The EU have now started to look at ways in which people can receive a living wage. One way is by stopping state sponsored corporate tax evasion and fairly taxing the profits of large corporations. However, this might be more of a long term objective, Another option is to introduce a fair minimum wage and this is something the EU is pressuring all members states into imposing. So whilst it may be hard to see how wages could grow naturally they may be forced up through new regulation which in itself would in turn create an inflationary effect.
Inflation, investments and interest rates
So, you might be thinking that if inflation starts to rise then interest rates will rise as well. This is very likely to be true and then why the need to invest capital instead of leaving it in the bank account.
The answer to this is very simple
For as long as money measures have been recorded, and central banks have existed, they have never, ever been able to control inflation or deflation. Once the inflationary gun has been fired the central banks are always behind the trend. They are constantly playing catch up and trying to raise interest rates whilst real inflation rises. To make matters worse, this time round, they have a real incentive to be well behind the curve and allow inflation to spiral out of control. It will assist in deflating their debts away. So what incentive do they have to apply interest rates increases which will dampen the very effect which can erode the public debt.
And what about the personal saver and investor? Let’s look at the 2 things separately:
Savers: If you earn a fixed rate of interest at 1% (bank account of fixed rate Bonds) and inflation is at 2.3% (as is currently the case in the UK) then your net return on your money is -1.3%. On a deposit of £100,000 your net annual return is NEGATIVE £1300.
Investors: Whilst the price of your asset will fluctuate, you could be earning interest and in the right assets this could be as high at 3-4%. In addition the value of your asset might also rise. History tells us that the stock market generally rises in an early inflationary environment. Inflation in developed countries has been at historically low levels,
but the outlook is picking up and this could bode well for projected investment returns.
My feeling about inflation, for what it is worth, is that we are going to see a reversal in trend and over the coming years it will start to move swiftly upwards with intermittent slow periods. It has to! There are no more monetary manipulation tools left for central governments to play with and therefore inflation must rise.
Equally governments have no incentive to slow it down, quite the opposite, and we could see the cost of living start to rise quickly once it starts.
It is hard to see when it will all start and how, but that is the joy of economics and finance. It just is and just does. (I sound like Forrest Gump).
The key for individuals like ourselves is to be ahead of the trend and start planning forward…NOW. There is no value in waiting for things to start to happen and then playing catch up.
What’s next for GBP versus EURO
By Gareth Horsfall - Topics: BREXIT, Inflation, Italy
This article is published on: 29th March 2017
Whatever you think about Brexit and the effects it is having and the effects it will have I can’t think of a more sudden and bigger impact on most people’s lives than the depreciation of Sterling.
An approximate 20% fall in the currency since the heights of 2015.
Most people I know are able to accommodate this in some way, cutting back on the non-essentials and saving in other areas. However, if it falls further how will that affect us?
So, I thought I would do some digging around and contact some financial institutions to find out their opinion on the future of Sterling.
Let me start with a caveat to this article: Currencies are notoriously unpredictable. Most industry professionals accept that they can’t control them and have little ability to predict them. Predictions are about as effective as looking at ‘Il Meteo’ to see what the days weather is going to be!
HEDGE FUND MANAGERS
Whilst it is impossible to predict currency movements you can guarantee that behind the scenes there is plenty of activity and big positions being taken. I avidly remember when I spoke with someone in the financial markets the morning of Brexit vote +1. The person on the other end of the line told me that he had no idea how the markets were going to react but that fortunes had been made the morning of 24th June 2016 with currency speculators betting against GBP v EUR and USD.
These same speculators love uncertainty as it gives them more influence over the market…in theory. However, given the fact that recent key announcements don’t really seem to be devaluing Sterling any further it gives you the impression that it may have found a level of equilibrium that prices in any current uncertainty…for now.
FAST FORWARD TO MARCH 29TH – BREXIT DAY
I think it is safe to say that post Brexit day Sterling is likely to suffer marginally, purely due to the negative economic notions associated with it. The news flow during this period is, in the main, likely to be negative (unless you read the Daily Express or Daily Mail) and therefore it is reasonable to assume this will have an impact on Sterling and push it further down.
LONG DRAWN OUT NEGOTIATIONS
The negative news is probably already being prepared as I write and therefore we can expect a gush of it next week. However, stretching the time horizon out further into the process the news flow will probably slow to a trickle with occasional floods, dependent on political news on any given day. It is absolutely clear that an advanced economy which has been involved in an economic union for the last 56 years cannot extract itself from this same union in only 2 years and therefore the negotiations ‘could’ continue a lot longer than expected. A long drawn out negotiation with the EU could work in Sterling’s favour and we could see a significant rally.
I think it is also useful to never forget the psychology of people and our cumulative tendency to be over anxious in times of stress and over confident when times are good. This is a classic investment bias and no one is immune to it, not even the greatest minds. Our currency biases are no different. We can easily anchor to an exchange rate that we feel is a ‘natural level’ based on our own experience, but on what basis are we making these assumptions? Are we seeking out all opinion, even that which is contradictory to our own thinking or are we making these assumptions based on information that we seek out to confirm our own opinion?
Maybe Sterling is overly devalued merely on the preconceived notion that its choice to leave the EU is a bad thing. Unfortunately for us we are about to enter uncharted territory and our biases will soon be tested.
LONG TERM FUNDAMENTALS
In reality, it is good to look at the facts, even though understanding our own psychological processes around exchange rates is probably more important. But BEWARE:
What I am about to write may just allow you to ‘anchor’ your perceived idea of where Sterling should be valued based on what you already think. I would encourage you to not let my musings influence your thoughts!
Using long term macro-economic modelling, Sterling looks very undervalued versus the Euro. Without Brexit, you could easily argue that fair value should be around 1.4 euros to the pound, taking into account structural economics only. Assuming Brexit, we can work on the basis of c.1.25 but it could take years to get there.
Productivity is the key driver of this long term model – particularly productivity in the tradable goods sectors. This is likely to suffer after Brexit due to non-tariff barriers to trade (think about the additional overseas regulation and customs regimes that need to be implemented post Brexit). That said productivity growth in the EU is and has been weak and it is unlikely to surge ahead whilst the UK economy recalibrates, which should ultimately limit the damage to Sterling.
Over the medium term, the exchange rate trades within a range of values where 2 or 3 year interest rate expectations would imply it should be.
So the next time you speak with someone and you hear yourself quoting a post Brexit level of 1.25 or a long term rate of 1.4. Make sure you remember where you heard it first and pinch yourself. It’s all theory. The rate is what it is on any given day and there is nothing you can do to influence it!
Currency swings have a major impact on people’s lives. Therefore, it is important to make sure that the rest of your financial affairs: investments, pensions, tax planning etc., are working to maximum effect. If you would like to ensure that all your other financial affairs are in perfect working order then don’t hesitate to contact me on email@example.com or call me on +39 333 649 2356 for a FREE consultation.
By Derek Winsland - Topics: BREXIT, europe-news, France, Inflation, Interest rates, Pensions, QROPS, Uncategorised
This article is published on: 8th September 2016
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.
Stay invested and don’t try to second guess the market – Discipline is rewarded
By Derek Winsland - Topics: France, Inflation, Investment Risk, Investments, Saving, Uncategorised
This article is published on: 6th May 2016
Individual investors may face many “known unknowns”—that is to say, things that they know they don’t know. The UK’s referendum on EU membership is one of them, confronting people with a large degree of uncertainty. But as we’re witnessing, it’s not just the investor that’s afflicted by this Known Unknown condition – the markets are really uncomfortable as evidenced by the fall in the value of the pound.
We have though been here before; perhaps not having to make decisions that could affect our financial stability for years to come, but as the chart below shows, major global events that have impacted on our lives to a greater or lesser effect. Through all of them, the markets have shown a remarkable resilience over the longer term and that is one of the most important lessons the individual investor can learn.
You see, it’s not necessary to “make the right call” on the referendum or its consequences to be a successful investor. Our approach is to trust the market to price securities fairly; to take account of broad expectations of future returns.
In arguing for the status quo, the “remain” campaign is able to point out familiar characteristics of membership.
The “out” campaign, however, is based on intangibles that can only be resolved after the result of the referendum is known. It is impossible for any individual to predict the implications of these unknowns with certainty.
But this is no cause for concern. While the referendum is imminent and its implications are potentially vast and unpredictable, it is not necessary for individual investors to make any judgement calls on the outcome. We have faced many uncertainties in the past—general elections, market crises, recessions, wars—and throughout all of them, the market has done its job of aggregating participants’ views about expected returns and priced assets accordingly.
And while these events have caused uncertainty, volatility and short-term losses and gains, none of them has altered the expectation that stocks provide a good long-term return in real terms.
We have a global view of investing, and we know that the market is very good at processing information that is relevant to future returns. Because of this view, we don’t attempt to second-guess the market. We manage well-diversified portfolios that do not rely on the outcome of individual events or decisions to target the expected long-term return.
These events are not offered to explain market returns. Instead, they serve as a reminder that investors should view daily events from a long-term perspective and avoid making investment decisions based solely on the news. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. MSCI data © MSCI 2016, all rights reserved.
Research has demonstrated time and again that the best returns are achieved through ‘Time in the Market’ and not by trying to ‘Time the Market’; in other words, stay invested rather than guess the best time to invest and disinvest.
If you would like more information on our investment philosophy, please ring for an appointment or take advantage of our Friday Morning Drop-in Clinic here at our office in Limoux. And don’t forget, there is no charge for these meetings.
Dealing with volatility
By Chris Webb - Topics: Inflation, Investment Risk, Investments, Madrid, Spain, Uncategorised, wealth management
This article is published on: 11th March 2016
Market volatility has become a common discussion with all of my clients. Whether they are seasoned investors or new to the investment game, volatility is an area that is now at the forefront of their minds when looking to invest their hard earned savings. To a large percentage of people their only understanding or awareness of a volatile market comes through the media, who we all know love to sensationalise every story at every opportunity.
What is a volatile market? By definition a volatile market is where unpredictable and vigorous changes occur in the price within the stock markets. It is necessary for some movement within the market in order to sell commodities, however a volatile market can represent the most risk to investors.
If you’re not in the “daily trading” game, and are investing for the medium to long term then it’s not always wise to listen to all the hype and speculation in the media. It may be a wiser decision to focus on the fundamentals behind why you invested in the first place, and stick to those fundamentals. Two key areas to focus on are your personal emotions and your attitude to risk.
In volatile times emotions play a significant role in investing decisions. Many investors feel the short term variances in the returns of their investments much more than the average return over the medium term of their investments, even though the decision to invest was a medium term one. Rationally, investors know that markets cannot keep going up indefinitely. Irrationally, we are surprised when markets decline.
It is a challenge to look beyond the short-term variances and focus on the long-term averages. The greatest challenge may be in deciding to stay invested during a volatile market. History has shown us that it is important to stay invested in good and bad market environments. During periods of high consumer confidence stock prices peak and during periods of low consumer confidence stock prices can come under pressure. Historically, returns trended in the opposite direction of past consumer confidence data. When confidence is low it has been the time to buy or hold. Of course, no one can predict the bottom or guarantee future returns. But as history has shown, the best decision may be to stay invested even during volatile markets.
During these emotional and challenging times it is easy to be fearful and/or negative so let’s turn to the wise advice of one of the world’s best investors, the late Sir John Templeton:
“Don’t be fearful or negative too often. For 100 years optimists have carried the day in U.S. stocks. Even in the dark ’70s, many professional money managers—and many individual investors too—made money in stocks, especially those of smaller companies…There will, of course, be corrections, perhaps even crashes. But, over time, our studies indicate stocks do go up…and up…and up”
So do you invest or watch from the sidelines? When markets become volatile, a lot of people try to guess when stocks will bottom out. In the meantime, they often park their investments in cash. But just as many investors are slow to recognize a retreating stock market, many also fail to see an upward trend in the market until after they have missed opportunities for gains. Missing out on these opportunities can take a big bite out of your returns.
Whilst dealing with the emotional side of investing it would be worth evaluating your risk tolerance. Many clients attitude to risk will change over time, this may be due to age, personal circumstances or just added awareness to how the markets move. Each and every one of us has their own individual risk tolerance that should not be ignored when considering making any type of investment. Your investments should always be aligned to your level of risk even if that means making drastic / strategic changes to your portfolio as times change.
Determining one’s risk tolerance involves several different things, and there are different ways to look at how you should look at the risk you need to take. First, you need to know how much money you have to invest, what your investment and financial goals are and what time horizon is involved. Then you need to consider the actual risk you are prepared to take. One simple question can help determine your attitude to risk, however a more detailed discussion should take place to really ascertain your tolerance level and to compile a suitable portfolio.
The one question….. If you invested in the stock market and you watched the movement of that stock daily and saw that it was dropping slightly, what would you do, sell out or let your money ride?
If you have a low tolerance for risk, you would want to sell out… if you have a high tolerance, you would let your money ride and see what happens. This is not based on what your financial goals are, it is based on how you feel about your money! Your risk tolerance should always be based on what your financial goals are and how you feel about the possibility of losing your money. It’s all tied in together, it’s emotional.
So a few pointers to help you through the volatility.
Review your portfolio. Is it as diversified as you think it is? Is it still a suitable match with your goals and risk tolerance?
Tune out the noise and gain a longer term perspective. Numerous media sources are dedicated to reporting investment news 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Do you really need to be glued to it? While the media provide a valuable service, they typically offer a very short-term outlook. To put your own investment plan in a longer term perspective, and bolster your confidence, you may want to look at how different types of portfolios have performed over time. Interestingly, while stocks may be more volatile, they’ve still outperformed income oriented investments (such as bonds) over longer time periods.
Believe Your Beliefs and Doubt Your Doubts. There are no real secrets to managing volatility. Most investors already know that the best way to navigate a choppy market is to have a good long-term plan and a well-diversified portfolio but sticking to these fundamental beliefs is sometimes easier said than done. When put to the test, you sometimes begin doubting your beliefs and believing your doubts, which can lead to short-term moves that divert you from your long term goals.
Prior to working with any clients I insist on completing a personal detailed risk tolerance questionnaire. This will tell us exactly what your attitude to risk is and a suitable portfolio can be devised to suit you individually. If you are interested in investing or saving for the future, get in touch to discuss the opportunities available and just as importantly the risks associated. If you already have an investment portfolio and feel that it was never risk rated against your own risk tolerance then let me know, I am happy to discuss further and go through the questionnaire to ensure that what you have already done is suitable for your circumstances.
How much have your savings increased in the last 12 months?
By John Hayward - Topics: Inflation, Interest rates, Investments, Murcia & Almeria, Saving, Spain, Uncategorised
This article is published on: 26th November 2015
How much have your savings increased in the last 12 months?
Which of the following reflects where your money has been?
Savings account +0.5% to 2% (before tax)*
FTSE100 -3.17% (before charges and after dividends)*
Cautious fund +4.3% to 5.5% (after charges)*
With interest rates predicted to stay low for some time to come, many in Spain are finding it difficult to grow their savings, or increase their income, without having to take risks they would not normally do, risking their capital.
So what are the options?
There are Spanish savings accounts offering around 2% although in reality this could be the rate for the first few months which will then reduce to a much lower rate. There are often restrictions on how much you can invest in these accounts. Inflation is running at a higher rate than most savings accounts and so, in real terms, most people are losing money in what they see as a risk free account.
Over the long term, through growth and dividends, it is possible to make significant gains. However, first-hand knowledge, or a lot of luck, is required to make the most of stocks and shares. Most people tend to have neither. In addition, most people are not prepared to take the rollercoaster ride that stocks and shares tend to produce.
These are, generally, complicated and inflexible products which are really only suitable for experienced investors. The gains can be based on a variety of things but often requiring 5 to 6 years before seeing any return.
Over time, property has proven itself to be a winner. However, it has also proven that it can suffer massive reductions. It is also probably the most illiquid asset you can hold as well as potentially, the most costly to hold in terms of upfront costs, taxes and maintenance. There can also be emotional risk.
Under the mattress
This is often mooted as a home for money in times of uncertainty but then there is the risk that it could go up in flames or end up in a burglar’s swag bag.
As financial planning advisers, we are in a position to offer the best of all worlds; the potential for growth in a low risk environment. By Investing in a Spanish compliant insurance bond, with a company that is one of the strongest in Europe, holding a variety of assets, including shares, bonds, cash and property (but not the mattress), one can achieve steady growth. There is also the facility to take regular income. Your money can grow tax free within the bond until money is withdrawn. Even withdrawals are taxed favourably. Two potential advantages; higher growth and lower taxes. Perfect!
* Source: Financial Express (12 months to 23/11/15)
What are the main financial risks as an expat in France?
By Rob Hesketh - Topics: Currencies, France, Inflation, Investment Risk, Retirement, Uncategorised, wealth management
This article is published on: 29th September 2015
Age and wealth are often linked. One increases inexorably in a linear fashion, and the other tends also to increase over time, but always in a non-linear way. Following this traditional route, we tend to become more affluent as we get older, barring financial mishaps and accidents of course. This may have something to do with the notion that as we get older we become wiser. That may well also be true up to a point, but then it can occasionally go horribly wrong. Leaving that unfortunate possibility to one side, how can we expats best contribute to our own financial well-being?
All a bit deep that, but here is what I’m getting at. If I were to attempt to present a snapshot of my average client to you, it would be of a couple in their late 50’s to early 60’s who have retired early after successful careers and family building, based either on employment or their own business. Avid Francophiles, they are now ‘living the dream’ funded by the fruits of their former labours. All is well in their world; or at least that is how it appears on the surface. Underneath though, there are concerns, and these concerns are common to all of us. Age and money.
I think very few of us actually like getting older; I certainly don’t. It is becoming more and more difficult to ignore those ‘milestone’ anniversaries. I think of them more as millstones these days. As I suspect is the case with many of us, I tend these days to look my accumulated ‘wealth’ (cough), and wonder if it will last me out. I think it will, and I certainly hope it will, but I’m pragmatic enough to realise that it isn’t a ‘gimme’ (in Solheim cup parlance).
So then I start to look at the variables. What can possibly go wrong? What can I do to defend myself against the risks? What are the risks? I am after all a financial adviser; all this should come naturally to me. To an extent it does, but knowing what is out there doesn’t mean that you necessarily know how to beat it. It does help though. Here is my top three on my list of risks to worry about:
Institutional Risk – Basically this means that you put all of your money under the floorboards in the attic, but next year your house burns down, floorboards and all.
Market Risk – How could putting all your money into VW shares possibly go wrong?
Exchange Rate Risk – This is where Murphy’s Law comes into play. Whatever the rate is; whatever you do will be wrong. Otherwise known as Sod’s Law.
Obviously, it is a good idea to work on avoiding these risks wherever possible. I thought long and hard before listing them in this order, but I do think that Institutional Risk stands out. After all, it can wipe you out completely. It can also be avoided completely. The other two cannot be eradicated, although some would argue about F/X risk.
Indeed there was a time when I would have argued that F/X risk can be avoided. In a former life (I’ve told you this before I know), I used to be a foreign exchange dealer in the world of international banking, before it became unfashionable. One of my jobs was to explain to corporate and private clients that F/X risk was the enemy, to be identified and eliminated at all costs; unless of course your job was to make money trading (gambling) in it.
Ten years ago I brought this dogma into my new career as an IFA in France. How long do you intend to stay in France? (forever). Where are your savings? (in the UK, in sterling)… Over the years, the subtleties started to emerge. The collapse of sterling against the Euro; the resulting exodus of thousands of UK ‘snow birds’ from Spain because their UK pensions wouldn’t support them anymore, and the growing realisation that our old enemy ‘age’ was always going to play its trump card; they all contributed to the much changed conversations that have with my clients these days. Strangely though, it is another banking term that now dominates my thinking, namely hedging. ‘Hedge your bets’. To be honest, I tend to question anyone these days who says that they will never return to the UK. Statistics show otherwise. We tend to base our current view on our current circumstances, preferring not to think about what will happen if we end up on our own. How many UK expats are there, I wonder, in French care homes?
Since the Euro came into existence the £/€ exchange rate has been as high as 1.7510 and as low as 1.0219. In anyone’s language that is an enormous range. Coincidentally we currently sit at almost exactly the half way point between those two extremes, but I don’t see that as any reason for complacency. We need to take this risk very seriously, especially if we accept the possibility that we will one day have no more use for Euros. I have a firm view on the best way to manage this risk, but I’ve run out of space in this edition. If you want to discuss it, you know where to find me.