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The cryptocurrency revolution

By Andrew Lawford - Topics: Bitcoin, Blockchain, Cryptocurrency, investment diversification, Investment Risk, Italy
This article is published on: 29th July 2021

29.07.21

Hodling and the cryptocurrency revolution

Are you hodling? No, that’s not a typo – it is millennial-speak for what you do if you are a true believer in the cryptocurrency revolution. Look it up. I wouldn’t describe myself as old, but I’m certainly old enough not to be automatically in tune with what motivates millennials. However, you can hardly open a newspaper these days without some notable individual passing comment on cryptocurrencies, and they even seem to be going mainstream now that bitcoin has been made legal tender in El Salvador – you can buy residency there for 3 bitcoin. It seemed therefore like a good moment to try and get at least a vague understanding of what cryptocurrencies are, as I suspect that many of the readers of this newsletter will be as confused as I am on the topic, so let’s see what we can discover. I will be focussing particularly on bitcoin, as the main example of a cryptocurrency, but do be aware that bitcoin is only the most prominent out of the estimated 10,000+ cryptos out there.

Everything you don’t know about money, combined with everything you don’t know about technology

This was a tongue-in-cheek definition of cryptocurrencies that I heard not so long ago from an asset manager, but it kept coming back to me every time I saw cryptos mentioned in the press.

Once upon a time, “money” essentially meant some amount of precious metal, generally in the form of a coin which was easily recognisable. Then we evolved to a situation in which we used banknotes to represent an underlying amount of precious metal, and finally we arrived at where we are today, where any link with precious metals has been definitively severed in favour of fractional reserve banking and “fiat” currency controlled by sovereign states – the “fiat” is Latin, meaning “let it be done”, and is the essential expression of our concept of legal tender: something is money not because it has any intrinsic value, but because the law says it is. These fiat currencies rely on trust in the good economic management of the issuing countries, and we can all think of notable examples of where bad management has left fiat currencies broken. I have a 100 trillion dollar note issued by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe in my office as a reminder of the importance of sound currencies.

Cryptocurrency

Not many of us could properly explain a fiat currency system and the interactions between bank deposits, bank lending and central bank reserves and, as a result, many find it tempting to say that even major currencies like the US dollar and the euro have little intrinsic value due to the fact that their supply is essentially unlimited. To a certain extent, cryptocurrencies were born out of a lack of trust in fiat currencies (even the “good” ones) and the desire to make money something more regulated (not in the sense of having more government oversight, but rather of wanting precise rules and limitations on the amounts of currency in circulation). In order to be worth something, so the reasoning goes, the supply must be limited and it must be difficult to create – hence the parallels that are sometimes drawn between cryptocurrencies and precious metals.

A lump of gold sitting in a vault somewhere has value simply because we think it has value; up until the time that you find a practical use for that gold, its value is dictated by that vague idea that come (almost) what may, at least it will always be there. Not an amazingly intelligent argument, it must be said, but better than many things that finance has come up with over the years. The basic reason for abandoning the link between money and precious metals was that the supply of commodities like gold or silver were subject to vagaries that had little to do with the overall economic situation, so bullion failed to keep up with our economic growth.

Bitcoin in your investment portfolio

As far as bitcoin is concerned, it is very clear that scarcity is central to its functioning given that it has been set up to have a maximum number of 21 million units. As of today, there are roughly 18.7 million bitcoins that have been created, but the number effectively available for transactions is much lower, due to the fact that many people hodl, and also due to the fact that a large number of coins have been lost (I have read estimates of 20% of the total in existence). You see, if you have a bitcoin, you better make sure you keep hold of the codes that allow you to access it, because there is no “lost password” function if you don’t. Losing the codes is the digital equivalent of throwing your gold bars into the Mariana Trench; they don’t cease to exist, but you will find it all but impossible to recover them. It is worth noting that whilst the scarcity value of bitcoin may be beyond doubt, the fact there are so many other cryptocurrencies around should give pause for thought about the scarcity of the category as a whole.

The creation of bitcoin is one of the things that I struggle with the most – it is commonly called “mining”, in an evident attempt to draw a parallel with precious metals, even though the mining in the case of cryptocurrencies is entirely digital. Essentially, they are discovered by computers contributing to the distributed ledger that monitors all bitcoin transactions. The only explanation of bitcoin mining that has made some sense to me so far is to consider it in terms of a triple-entry accounting system: There are two parties who record a transaction and this is then sealed into bitcoin transaction records by a third party that verifies it through its mining activities (and receives a reward for doing so). Mining, in the world of bitcoin, is technically called a “proof of work” and allows a participant in the network to be rewarded by participating in the distributed ledger and crunching the enormously complicated numbers that guarantee the transactions that have been recorded. This ledger, also known as the blockchain, belongs to everyone and no-one, rather like the internet itself, and it exists in order to eliminate the risk of someone being able to spend the same bitcoin twice. No, I don’t really understand it either.

It is also said that bitcoins and their transactions are “immutable” – I suppose to the same extent that precious metals are immutable. But does this really make any sense? Aside from the apparent lack of ability to hack the blockchain today, can we really be confident that in a thousand (or a million!) years bitcoin will still be unhackable and attractive to a sufficiently large community of people? Perhaps this is more of a philosophical question than anything else, but us humans do get wrapped up in the idea that the big issues of today are the big issues for all time. I suspect our distant descendants, assuming the human race is lucky enough to survive, will become interested in many things beyond bitcoin or cryptocurrencies in general. In this context, the best parallel to draw is with technological innovation: today, not many people are interested in steam engines or dirigible balloons, once important technological developments, and the same may be true for bitcoin in a few decades. For bitcoin to enjoy any value at all, it is dependent on the bitcoin community continuing to support it through time. It would be highly unwise to think that nothing will ever come to supplant it, because human experience with other technologies suggests that better things are always on the horizon. The same cannot be said for precious metals, which may wax and wane in terms of community interest, but do not depend on community interest for their existence. My gold bar will still be there in a thousand years if it is kept safe, regardless of what people might think about it. What might happen to it over the course of a million years is a question I find rather difficult to ponder, but it’s probably fine for the next few thousand.

investment talk

In all of this, the real evolution may be arriving shortly, and it is not to be found amongst the many new variations on the bitcoin theme that have come into existence. Many have looked upon cryptocurrencies as a way of thumbing one’s nose at traditional financial structures – no more central banks and traditional bank accounts for me please! Yet the governments of this world are not going to give up the privilege of being able to issue national currency without a fight, and it could be that they will try to beat the cryptos at their own game. Some cryptos, known as “stablecoins” are backed by a given fiat currency, but it has been suggested that the most appropriate issuers of such coins are the central banks themselves. One idea is that each of us could end up, as of right, with our own account at the central bank of the nation we live in. If this were to happen, then bank runs would no longer be an issue and commercial banks would have to reinvent their business models, at least in part. Presumably physical cash would become a thing of the past. This is not speculation on my part – the ECB is publicly discussing the benefits of digital coins and the Bank for International Settlements – the central banks’ central bank – has even commented that this is “a concept whose time has come.” The full BIS report is available here for anyone who is interested.

Much has also been said about the potential of the blockchain – essentially the network that runs bitcoin – to revolutionise everything from banking to contracts. We’ll just have to wait and see how all of that shakes out, but it is clear that there are numerous technologies being developed and brought to bear on finance and commerce and it’s by no means clear that blockchain technology is the only answer. In any case, even if the blockchain network is valuable, this says nothing about whether any given cryptocurrency that relies on it has value.

As I suppose must be obvious by now, my research for this article hasn’t convinced me that cryptocurrencies are a good place to speculate (please let’s not use the term “investment” in this context!) – and certainly I see no reason why investment in this sort of asset should supplant traditional assets in an investment portfolio. As boring as it may sound, what really counts in investment is not jumping on that latest bandwagon, but planning one’s affairs properly whilst having a disciplined approach and a long-term view.

As a final point, for any Italian residents, please also be aware that bitcoin investments and gains deriving therefrom are subject to declarations and taxation in Italy – you may think your cryptos are 100% anonymous, but I wouldn’t be betting on it.

RISK Can you avoid this in financial terms?

By Occitanie - Topics: Assurance Vie, France, Investment Risk, Investments
This article is published on: 26th March 2021

26.03.21

Welcome to edition number ten of our newsletter ‘Spectrum in Occitanie, Finance in Focus’, brought to you by your Occitanie team of advisers Derek Winsland, Philip Oxley and Sue Regan, with Rob Hesketh now consulting from the UK.

It seems remarkable, to me anyway, that we are already nearly a quarter of the way through the year. We still have the same problems to deal with, namely the fallout from Brexit and the continuing scourge of the Covid 19 virus, where the UK and France seem to be on diverging paths, both in terms of infections and vaccinations. With this in mind, we decided that it might be a good idea to talk today about risk, and how we might learn to live with it.

What is Risk?
Firstly, it is important to realise that risk is everywhere, and in various forms. In a sense it is like oxygen; without it, nothing happens. Sometimes you can see it, but most of the time you cannot. One thing that Covid 19 has taught us is that the very air that we breathe and the everyday items that we touch can kill us, and that is a sobering thought. The real definition of risk is the possibility that something bad might happen, either to you or because of something that you do; or even do not do. That is what makes risk exceedingly difficult to avoid. Often, we think of risk as taking a chance or a gamble, but sometimes a decision not to do something is just as risky.

Can I avoid Risk?
Yes, it is certainly possible to avoid some risks, but sometimes this has unintended consequences. If you do not eat, you cannot get food poisoning, but if you cut out that risk altogether, the end result is not positive. When it comes down to it, you have to accept risk. The real trick is calculating those risks and evaluating the likelihood of something bad happening. In investment terms, if you do not invest (and take some level of risk), you eventually run out of money. Unless of course you have a never ending and regular source of income – wouldn’t that be nice?

investment talk

What is Financial Risk?
Basically, the danger of losing some or all of your money. And it comes in all shapes and sizes. There is a bewildering array of types of risk that analysts use to make them sound clever. There are however some really big ones that you need to look out for, and here are what I consider to be the most important. Have a think about how you would rate them in order of importance.

Specific and Market Risk
Here we have in fact two slightly different risks. Specific Risk is the danger of investing in one individual share, fund, or bond. If you limit yourself in this way, you put yourself at far greater risk of loss. All your eggs are in one basket. Market Risk is the danger of losing money even if you have spread out your investments more widely. Whole sectors can suddenly dip and turn against you.

Institutional Risk
You may have the best investment portfolio in the world, but what if your chosen investment company goes bust due to mismanagement, or maybe a rogue trader? Think Equitable Life, or Nick Leeson at Barings Bank.

currency fluctuations

Foreign Exchange Risk
One day we may have just one global currency. Then we will be able to forget the pitfalls of F/X risk. Until then we need to be very wary, especially we UK expatriate residents in the eurozone. In just twenty-one years the exchange rate between the pound and the euro has fluctuated between 1.75 and 1.02. That is a massive trading range. Big enough to put a huge dent in even the best investment performance. Worse still, it was not a linear move. It keeps on going up and down.

Inflation Risk
Remember 23% inflation rates in 1975? I do. Great for reducing the value of debt very quickly, but equally adept at destroying the value of savings and investments.

With all these dangers lurking at every corner, you may well be considering the mattress as a suitable home for your money. Forget it. Inflation risk will kill you, even if your house doesn’t burn down, taking the mattress and your savings with it.

The plain fact is that we all need to accept some level of risk. There is a risk/reward ratio; there is no gain without some degree of risk. The more risk you take, the more chance you have of seeing exceptional returns, but there is also more chance bad things can happen to your investment. The trick is to evaluate your true appetite for risk, and that is not as easy as it sounds. Left to his or her own devices, a single investor will tend to overestimate an appetite for risk and end up with a more aggressive portfolio than he or she feels comfortable with when a market ‘realignment’, sometimes referred to as a crash, happens a few months or years later.

our services

The truth is that we need someone to hold our hand and lead us through this risk minefield. If we try to navigate the minefield ourselves, we are likely to lose a financial limb or two, or even worse. There are various levels of help available to us

The most effective, in theory anyway, is the DFM, the Discretionary Fund Manager. He (or she) will sit down with you at the outset and ask you lots of clever questions which are designed to reveal your real appetite for risk (not just what you thought it was). You then pay a fee of around 1% of your portfolio each year for the DFM to invest your money for you and produce as good a return as possible without exceeding your risk pain threshold.

If you decide that you cannot afford a DFM, or maybe you have not got quite enough money for a DFM to offer his services to you, the next best thing is MAP, which stands for Multi-Asset Portfolios. They are offered by insurance companies or investment services providers. These funds are specifically designed to offer you investments that are graded for risk and ensure that your investments are spread out over many markets and sectors, thereby reducing your ‘specific’ risk. Both DFM and MAP investments can be held in what are known as ‘open architecture’ bonds within assurance vie policies in France.

Many of you will also be acquainted with the ‘closed architecture’ assurance vie offered by Prudential International. This assurance vie effectively combines the dual role of the DFM and MAP. Their PruFund range of funds is administered by Pru’s own in-house team of fund managers, and each fund is invested in a wide range of markets and sectors.

In essence then, my message is this; do not take on risk without knowing exactly what you are doing, but do not avoid investments. If you do not know exactly what you are doing, get a professional to do it for you. They are acutely aware of all kinds of risk, and how to use it proportionately. Your friendly local International Financial Adviser (that’s us by the way) is there to act as a conduit to guide you into safer investment waters.

Do not be afraid to ask for advice. It also happens to be free.

Please do not forget that, although we may be restricted on where we can travel at present, we are here and have the technology to undertake your regular reviews and financial health checks remotely. If you would like a review of your situation, please do not hesitate to get in touch with your Spectrum adviser or via the contact link below.

Occitanie@spectrum-ifa.com

Investing 101 for Expats Living in France

By Michael Doyle - Topics: France, investment diversification, Investment objectives, Investment Risk, Investments, Luxembourg
This article is published on: 16th March 2021

16.03.21

With today’s economic environment of record low interest rates and high inflation, it’s crucial to understand your investing options. This article will clarify what you need to know about investing as an expat living in France and how we are here to help you.

First, what are your investment objectives? Do you want to preserve your wealth and continue its growth trajectory? Then we recommend reviewing tax efficient savings and investment insurance policies. These can be linked to a whole range of investment assets, from fixed interest securities and bonds, to developed or emerging market equities, specialist funds investing in soft commodities like agriculture or hard commodities like gold and silver, and lastly, alternative investments.

Which investments fit your portfolio best depends on the amount of risk you are willing to take and what kind of returns you are seeking. So, let’s break down the specifics you need to know when thinking about your portfolio.

investment talk

Fixed Interest Securities and Bonds are a form of lending that governments and companies may use as an alternative way to raise funds. When you buy a share in a company you own a small part of that company, when you buy fixed interest securities, you become a lender to the issuer. The benefits may include protection during market volatility, consistent returns and potential tax benefits. Some downsides include potentially lower returns, interest rate risk, and issues with cash access.

Developed Market Equities are international investments in more advanced economies. The benefits include investing in a mature economy that has greater access to capital markets. Drawbacks include more expensive market valuations and potentially less upside.

Emerging Market Equities are international investments in the world’s fastest growing economies. Some benefits include the potential for high growth and diversification. The potential downsides include exposing yourself to political, economic, and currency risk depending on which countries you choose to invest in.

Specialist Fund Investing is ideal for investors seeking exposure to specific areas of the market without purchasing individual stocks. One popular area is natural resources, with the three major classifications of agriculture, energy, and metals. A benefit to investing in commodities is that they’re completely separate from market fluctuations so it diversifies your portfolio and offsets stock risks while providing inflation protection. However, commodities can be exposed to uncertain government policies.

Alternative Investments are financial assets that do not fall into one of the conventional equity, income, or cash categories. Examples include: private equity, hedge funds, direct real estate, commodities, and tangible assets. Alternative investments typically don’t correlate to the stock market so they offer your portfolio diversification but can be prone to volatility.

Multi asset funds

Overall, it’s important to have a diversified and balanced investment portfolio so understanding each category is key. Keep in mind that when it comes to investing, advice is not one-size-fits-all. That’s why we are here to help personalise your investment portfolio to match your specific needs.

In today’s financial climate it is vital to understand your investing options. Many experts have a positive outlook as vaccine distribution increases and fiscal stimulus boosts economies. Intelligent investing is essential when building and maintaining wealth so consult with your Spectrum IFA financial adviser and start planning today!

HOW TO INVEST – What are Stock Options?

By Emeka Ajogbe - Topics: Belgium, Investment Risk, Investments, Luxembourg, wealth management
This article is published on: 11th March 2021

11.03.21

More and more people are accumulating new wealth through gaining stock options as part of their remuneration package. Whether you are fortunate to work for one of the 40% of start-ups that become profitable or work for a large established corporation, the potential financial gain can be life changing. Today, I want to talk to you about stock options and why you should understand what they mean to you.

What are Stock Options?

WHAT ARE STOCK OPTIONS?
For any organisation you work for, you are likely to get a salary (unless you are volunteering) and, if you are lucky, stock options. Stock options make up a designated number of shares in a company and are designed to give you some measure of ownership in the organisation. They are the right, not obligation, to buy or sell a share at an agreed upon date and price (also known as the strike price). The idea being, if you own some of the company you are working for, then you are more committed to see the company grow, be profitable and stay with the company for a long time.

WHERE DO THEY COME FROM?
Stock options come from what is known as a stock option pool. These tend to be up to 20% of an organisation’s shares and these options are granted to employees and non-employees (typically investors). The initial owners start out with a certain number of shares in the company and effectively create new shares in the company by setting up a stock option pool.

HOW DOES THIS WORK?
This can be confusing, so for illustration purposes, I am going to use an example of a start-up called LIO that is today valued at 2,000,000€, has an initial share total of 5,000,000 and wants to create a stock option pool of 5% for its employees.

With the creation of a stock option pool, LIO now has 5,250,000 shares. Given that the value of the company is 2,000,000€, that means that each share is worth 0.3809€. Now, let’s say that LIO wishes to give an employee, Avery, 1% of the company’s shares as part of their remuneration package. This means that today, Avery’s 52,500 shares would be worth approximately 20,000€.

A few years into the future, LIO is bought and is valued at 20,000,000€. At this point, Avery decides to exercise his right to buy the shares. He would not have to pay the 3.809€ per share that they are now worth, but at the strike price of 0.3809€. Avery’s gain would be the difference between the two numbers multiplied by their shareholding, meaning that they would have made approximately 180,000€ thanks to the buyout.

I have oversimplified things for the sake of illustration. However, this is what happens in essence, even in large, publicly traded companies.

WHAT DO I DO IF I HAVE BOUGHT SHARES?
The technical term is vested. So, if you have done this and hold shares, then you may be liable to tax on those shares and we will see if we can work towards a solution for you. If you live in Belgium or Luxembourg, we can definitely help.

This article is intended for general guidance only and is based on our understanding of Belgian tax law. It does not constitute advice or a recommendation from The Spectrum IFA Group.

Time not timing – investing for the long term

By Michael Doyle - Topics: France, Investment Risk, Investments, Luxembourg
This article is published on: 8th March 2021

08.03.21

We often get asked the question, “When is the best time to invest my money?” Our answer is never based around when you should invest, but rather how long you can invest for.

• No one can predict the top or bottom of any market.
• The market has always exceeded its previous high when it has recovered.

So the question is not when you should invest your money in the market, but how long can you stay in the market to achieve your financial goals? Or to put it more simply, time is more important than timing.

During periods of stockmarket volatility, investors often become uncertain and lose sight of their initial long-term investment view. They often find themselves postponing a new investment, or even selling their current holdings with a view to re-invest when the markets stabilise.

What often happens in times of trouble, however, is that investors sell at a lower price than that which they bought at.

A study by Dalbar in Boston USA, highlighted a key area for private investor’s underperformance:

• According to Dalbar, from 1985 to 2004 the average personal investor achieved an annualised return of just 3.7% while the S&P500 returned 11.9% and inflation averaged 3%

A further study showed that playing the waiting game could cost you dearly. Investors who remained fully invested in the UK market over the period March 2003 until March 2008 would have received returns in excess of 60%. However, those investors who tried to time the markets would have had their returns cut to 40% if they missed out on the best 10 days of the market and those who missed out on the best 40 days would have seen returns of 4%!

This applies across other major markets as the table below shows:

MARKET INDEX FULLY INVESTED MISSING BEST 10 DAYS MISSING BEST 40 DAYS
UK FTS All Share 63.4% 40.0% 3.9%
US S&P 500 56.4% 11.6% -39.2%
GLOBAL MSCI World 63.7% 21.6% -26.2%

Sources: JP Morgan Asset Management/Bloomberg/Datastream

What we do know is that historically the markets have always recovered, as the table below shows.

EVENT DATE RESPONSE AFTER 4 MONTHS
Pearl Harbour* December 1941 -6.5% -9.6%
Korean War June 1950 -12% +19.2%
JFK Assassination November 1963 -2.9% +15.1%
Arab Oil embargo October 1973 -17.9% +7.2%
USSR in Afghanistan December 1979 -2.2% +6.8%
1987 Financial Panic October 1987 -34.2% +15%
Gulf War December 1990 -4.3% +18.7%
ERM Currency Crisis September 1992 -6% +9.2%
Far East Contagion October 1997 -12.4% +25%
Russia Devalues Rouble / Long Term Capital Management Crisis  

August 1998

 

-11.3%

 

+33.7%

 

World Trade Centre September 2001 Dow        -14.3%

Nasdaq  -11.6%

+5.9%

+22.5%

*(The markets rose 8% during the year following Pearl Harbour)

upward stockmarket trends

Essentially what we can conclude is that most investors do not buy and hold for extended periods of time. Thus getting in and out of the market at the wrong times or switching funds with a view to chasing the top performers, unfortunately at a time when these ‘top performers’ have reached their peak.

Almost without exception, successful investment strategies rely on discipline, patience and taking a long-term view. Successful investors typically neither react to short market events, nor try to pre-empt short term market direction.

For advice on an investment solution aligned with your personal objectives and risk profile, feel free to contact me for an initial discussion.

Is your money safe under the mattress?

By Katriona Murray-Platon - Topics: Assurance Vie, France, investment diversification, Investment Risk, Investments
This article is published on: 5th March 2021

05.03.21

March is my favourite month of the year, not least because I celebrate my birthday during this month and this year will be the end of my 4th decade. Traditionally it has always been a busy month because it is a great time for events and starting new projects. This month my colleagues and I will be attending another virtual property fair hosted by Your Overseas Home. The event we did last year was very good and lots of people were able to see our presentations and then chat to our advisers from the comfort and safety of their own homes.

By October 2021 I will have lived in France for 18 years continuously, but I first arrived for my Erasmus year in September 2001 making it 20 years since I started living in France. As you may know I am married to a Frenchman and I have adopted much of the French culture and way of life. But my husband and I have very different views in our attitude to risk and finances. My husband came from a farming background where money was hidden under the mattress, you only bought when you had the money and you insured everything that could be insured. My husband will take a 10 year extended guarantee on a toaster! I came from a background where it was common to use credit cards to fund Christmas and holidays and I went to university with a student loan.

What is the point of having money?

The idea that money is safe under the mattress or in the bank is no longer true. In France the traditional popular savings accounts such as the Livret A and LDD now only have an interest rate of 0.5%. The other misled belief that French assurance vie policy holders have is that Euro Funds are a good investment and a safe investment. Whilst it is true that Euro Funds are still one of the least risky investments after the traditional bank savings accounts, their performance continues to drop year after year. The average growth rate of the Euro Funds in 2020 is 1.2% which, once you deduct social charges (17.2%) and take into consideration inflation (0.5%), the net gain is only 0.5%. One of my own French assurance vie policies, which is 69% Euro Funds, has made an average of 1.6% over the seven years since it was created. The problem with French assurance vies is that they are not bespoke; they come with certain formulas, some that you can contribute to monthly, some that you cannot, and depending on your choice you cannot go lower than the prescribed amount in Euro Funds, no matter what your risk profile.

When I compare this with the range of product providers we can offer our clients and the choice of funds, the difference is astounding. Thank goodness that as English speakers we have access to better investment possibilities from as little as £20,000/€25,000. The average performance of my clients’ portfolios is around 3% after charges, with no social charges taken at source, and they have a lot of choice and flexibility regarding which funds they want and how much of that fund they want their investment to be in. They also have access to English speaking product providers, English speaking fund managers and their own English speaking financial adviser who is supported by the knowledge and experience of all of the Spectrum advisers.

I am fully integrated into French society and believe in adhering to many things about French society, but when it comes to finances there are differences between us that we cannot ignore so it is not in our best interest to invest in French financial products.

investing in tough times

The outlook this March is thankfully much better than last March. There is more good news for Prudential policy holders. At the end of February Prudential announced no changes to the Expected Growth Rate and upward Unit Price Adjustments in the PruFund Growth Sterling, PruFund Growth Euro and PruFund Cautious Euro funds.

For other funds and the markets in general the outlook is equally positive. “The combination of vaccine roll-out, substantial fiscal stimulus, and elevated consumer savings should drive a sharp recovery in economic and earnings growth,” said Ryan Hammond, a Goldman Sachs strategist, in a report this week.

Whilst mask-wearing and social distancing will still be necessary for some time to come, a lot of our friends and family members have been vaccinated, therefore reducing the risk to the most vulnerable. With the coming good weather, meetings and get togethers will be able to take place out of doors. As always, if clients are happy to arrange a face to face meeting, I look forward to seeing them for outside meetings in their lovely gardens. If however you prefer video meetings or phone calls that is also possible.

Wishing you all a bright, sunny and floral month of March!

Bitcoin in your investment portfolio – what is Bitcoin, how to use it and what it will do

By Barry Davys - Topics: Bitcoin, Blockchain, investment diversification, Investment Risk, Investments, Spain, wealth management
This article is published on: 18th January 2021

18.01.21
Bitcoin in your investment portfolio

Love it or hate it seems to be the approach to Bitcoin. It will be the best investment ever or it is just a bubble controlled by the few people who can pull the strings, rumoured to be the Chinese.

Let’s start with “What is Bitcoin?”. Bitcoin is a piece of computer software with the ability to share pieces of the software with other people. Of course, the other people have to pay for their share of the software and the price varies according to supply and demand. In principle, there is nothing wrong with this. It worked for Bill Gates.

To get a better of understanding of Bitcoin it is worthwhile making that comparison with Microsoft. With Microsoft we know who owns the product, the products have set prices and perform a function that makes something happen, e.g. run our computer, allow us to write letters, make presentations and do our numbers on spreadsheets. Bitcoin has none of these attributes.

The way Bitcoin pricing works is much more like a commodity. If you go to Starbucks today and buy a coffee, let’s say you pay 4€. Next week you want a coffee. The same coffee now costs 5€. The coffee has not changed, only the price. The difference may be due to shortages, logistical difficulties during a pandemic, many more people wanting a Starbucks coffee, exchange rate movements etc. Bitcoin works in the same way. The price of Bitcoin is primarily set by demand as the supply is fixed. There are only so many Bitcoins in the World. At least you can do something nice with a coffee bean. Bitcoin’s primary purpose is just as something you can sell to someone else. It has no other purpose at the moment.

You would now have a valid point if you were to pull me up on this analysis. “You can use it to buy goods and services” is a fair comment to make, however, there is a ‘but’ that should follow that statement. Whilst the number of places you can use Bitcoin to make a purchase is increasing it is not widespread.

Bitcoin is super volatile, which is great on the way up and terrible when it falls after you have just bought it. Here are some important figures which tell you about Bitcoin’s volatility.

2009 – 2017 little price movement

Autumn 2017 the price rises

October 2017 $5,000

November 2017 $10,000

17th December 2017 $19,783

April 2018 $7,000

November 2018 $3,500

14th March 2020 $5,165

crypto currency

It has bounced again in recent weeks and is now at $40,714 as I write this article (9th Jan 2021). Institutional investors (fund managers, hedge funds etc) are now buying Bitcoin. Increased demand of a fixed supply commodity pushes up the price. Will this last? I do not know. Is it a bubble? Again, I do not know. However, what I do know is that institutional investors invest to a plan. They systematically take profits i.e. sell some of their holdings. They are disciplined. They manage risk by keeping a balance of different investments. Should these institutional investors take profits, other fund managers will follow and sell so as not to get caught out by a large price fall. Their careers depend on getting it right. The ability to feed their family depends on it. They analyse, have large teams doing research, watch and wait before buying and sound out other professional colleagues to ensure they sell in a timely manner. The field of behavioural finance has shown that as individual investors we use the part of our brain driven by emotion when making investment decisions, especially when there is a big price movement in an asset. This emotion based decision making often leads to poor decision making.

This is why it is beneficial to speak with a professional financial adviser who can be more analytical!

There is a body of opinion from Bitcoin exchanges and advocates that is putting forward the theory that Bitcoin is going to become a national currency in some countries and therefore the price is going to go ballistic (their phrase). It is unlikely that a non regulated, very volatile commodity will be used as a national currency.

Here is an example from me of the practical problems. A solicitor practice in Barcelona started to accept Bitcoin for settlement of their fees. It looked like a superb idea to show they were a forward-looking firm.

The problem comes with the volatility. Between issuing the invoice and payment by the client there is a delay. Having charged 1.03874 Bitcoins, for example, they had no idea how much they would get in the currency that would pay all the bills of the firm, such as their staff (Can we pay you in Bitcoins Mrs staff member? Ah, no!), electricity company etc. So having chosen 1.03874 Bitcoins as the fee because that would generate 4,000 in Euros, at the date of payment it could have been just €2,000 value. For this reason it is very unlikely that Bitcoin will become a national currency!

If you wish to invest in Bitcoins, it is worthwhile separating them from your primary investments. Bitcoins will then not influence your investment decisions on your main portfolio in the way that they might be if they are on the same investment platform. How much should you invest in Bitcoin? Set aside a percentage of your savings and only invest that much. Whether it is 1% or 10% will depend on your overall circumstances. However, with Bitcoin it is very worthwhile applying the rule that only invest what you can afford to lose. That way, if you lose it all it has not damaged your financial wellbeing. If it goes up 400% next week, you will be able to take some profit and perhaps spend your winnings on something frivolous.

Bitcoin profits will be taxed. Remember to put money aside from your winnings to pay tax. The amount of tax will depend on your country of residence. The annual declaration can be very difficult so keep track of all your transactions. A figure of 23% of the profit is a good guideline as the amount to put aside if you live in Spain.

investment idea

Practical Tip. A more mainstream alternative to investing in Bitcoin is the technology that Bitcoin is based on called blockchain. Blockchain has lots of uses and is good news. Uses include electronic voting in national elections, supply change management, payment systems, and anti-counterfeiting software. It can also allow companies to work together and share only what they need to for a specific project.

As an example of what is possible, there are also many Blockchain propositions for supply chain management for Covid 19 vaccines and contact tracing. For more information on blockchain, you could read “Blockchain Revolution” by Don and Alex Tapscott. You can already find many investments to include in your main portfolio such as ETFs and funds. For more information on these funds email barry.davys@spectrum-ifa.com

A final point on Bitcoin.  When someone sells a Bitcoin what does the buyer pay with? It is one of the major currencies. Sellers still want good old fashioned US dollars, Euros or Sterling when they part with their coin.  That tells us something!

Are you and your investments adapting to change?

By John Hayward - Topics: Investment Risk, Investments, Spain, UK investments, UK Pensions, wealth management
This article is published on: 11th January 2021

11.01.21

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change

adapt your investments to the change

I didn’t write that and neither did Charles Darwin, even though many websites state that it is from Darwin´s Origin of Species. In a way, it doesn’t matter who wrote it. What is important is that it is not necessarily the strongest, or the most intelligent, who have survived this coronavirus. Many people have adapted their lives, with guidance, to avoid contracting the virus and/or passing it on in case they have it without knowing.

When lockdown took affect here on Friday 13th March 2020 panic was rife, which manifested itself through stockmarkets crashing across the world. If there is one thing that we have learnt about the human being, it is that he or she is likely to overreact in times of trouble. Toilet rolls, bleach, and selling off stocks and shares were the focus for many in March and April. Months later, it appears that we are not going to the loo so often, houses don´t need cleaning so regularly, and that the business world is in better shape than a lot of people realise.

I return to the “Darwin’s” theory, focusing on adaptation. Some companies were already struggling pre-Covid 19 (21st century companies with 20th century ideas), so the pandemic has accelerated their demise, whereas other companies have taken advantage of the online and digital world, made more prominent because of Covid-19, and have adapted to the demand created by Covid-19.

upward stockmarket trends

2020 was a pretty pathetic year for the British FTSE100 (Down 12%) compared to the US S&P500 (Up 18%). The FTSE100 is made up of companies from poor performing sectors, such as banks and oil, whereas the S&P500 includes technology, high quality consumer goods, and some healthcare stocks. Even then, there were some horror stories and it is the job of the wealth manager to navigate the investment storms.

Those who have used the services of The Spectrum IFA Group will have seen a significant increase in the value of their investments since March 2020. This has been down to expert wealth management on the part of the investment companies that we recommend. They have picked through the good and the bad to achieve positive results despite the political wrangling on both sides of the Atlantic and the effects of Covid-19.

Brexit

Brexit has gone (at last!). Boris Johnson has achieved what he wanted. We shall see where that leaves Britain and the consequences for those of us living in an EU country. We knew that there would be changes; deal or no deal. There will be more paperwork, more checks, more headaches, and less freedom. However, those with the desire to adapt, will. This adaptation should bring security, confidence, and an overall feeling of well-being.

So whether it was Darwin, Mrs Miggins from the cake shop, or the bloke down the tavern, who spoke of adaptation all those years ago, the important thing is to look forward, act responsibly, and ignore all the horrible and, at times, unnecessary press reports and local gossip. Not only will all the negatives affect your mental health but they could also impact your wealth. We are not doctors but we can perhaps help your wealth make you healthier.

2021 finances

Welcome to 2021

Contact me today to find out how we 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.

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.

There is more to (investment) life than the FTSE100

By John Hayward - Topics: Costa Blanca, FTSE stock market, investment diversification, Investment Risk, Spain, Stock Markets
This article is published on: 2nd September 2020

02.09.20

Dependence on the UK stockmarket has damaged wealth

In the last 5 months, life has not been easy. We have all had to change our lifestyles to one extent or another and we don´t know exactly what lengths we will need to go to in order to remain safe. Hopefully the worst has passed and we can get back to thinking about our future in a positive way and not have to constantly worry about coronavirus.

Aside from the pain of having to wear a mask, in the last 5 months I have had concerns about work, I have learned new words and phrases linked to coronavirus, and I have obtained a new Spanish residence card. Certain things have not changed during this time. People read the same newspapers, watch the same television programmes, express their disdain for Donald Trump, and base their investment decisions on the performance of the FTSE100.

New investment trends

Whilst certain business sectors have suffered over the last few months, others have prospered and have a positive outlook. Technology has come to the fore, both in terms of purchasing goods and communication.

Investments and the FTSE100

Aside from the investment vehicle and the tax structure your investments and pension funds are held within, it is important that the investments themselves are well managed. Some people have held off investing through fear of coronavirus. There are also those who had previously delayed investment decisions until Brexit had been sorted out. The consequence of this has been that they have missed out on growth over the last 5 years, even with the downturn in March/April, as well as suffering from the real loss through inflation if they have left their cash in the bank.

Most UK nationals refer to the FTSE100 to find out what is happening with stockmarkets. This is mainly due to it being the one we, as followers of British financial news, are most familiar with. The FTSE100 has been lagging behind global stockmarkets in the last few months. However, the FTSE100, the index of the top 100 companies in the UK, only represents a small percentage of global stockmarkets. Almost 40% of the 100 are banks/financial, oil/energy and consumer staples which include retailers. All of these sectors have been hit by coronavirus. It is overweight in certain sectors and, although they are all big companies, their recent losses are reflected in the movement of the index. Banks especially have had a rough time. Therefore, it is far from being a stockmarket index which represents all global markets and sectors. I appreciate that it is an indicator, but it shouldn´t be used as a decision maker.

You will see from the chart below that by referring to, or even relying upon, the performance of the FTSE100 in order to make investment decisions could have been a mistake. It compares the FTSE100 with the US S&P500 and Nasdaq, and Japan´s Nikkei. The chart runs from the start of 2020. The FTSE100 is D, the blue line.

FTSE100 comparison

Not only has it been important to be aware of global stockmarket performance, but there are other sectors and assets to invest in. For example, gold, that was not immune to the panic in March, has shown itself to be in demand as a safe haven.

Gold prices

Well managed investment portfolios

I am pleased to say that all my invested clients are better off now than they were at the end of March. The most pleasing thing is that not only did they suffer relatively low falls in March but now many have made a complete recovery. We do not push people towards FTSE100 tracker funds. They may be cheaper but that is because there is little or no management. As is often the case, cheapest is not the best.

Conclusion

Active investment management has proven itself to be the best approach, certainly in problematic times. We recommend investment managers who are able to access global shares and other assets. They can buy and sell on a daily basis and not commit you to funds that can become restricted or illiquid. Many of my clients have been pleasantly surprised by the “bounce” of their investment value since March. The FTSE100 has struggled and it has been assumed that this is the case generally. They are also surprised how the United States stockmarkets, with all of the Trump and election issues, have done so well. At times there seems little or no correlation between day to day life and stockmarket performance. In fact, history has taught us that when there is panic and depression, stockmarkets tend to do well.

Over the next few weeks I shall be publishing more articles, so stay tuned:
• The expense of using your bank for insurances
• Life insurance for general living expenses and Spanish inheritance tax
• Currency exchange – your ‘free’ facility could be costing you thousands
• Applying for the new TIE – not compulsory for some but could be beneficial

With investments, there are plans that I can recommend that are clear to understand and tax efficient, and I explain the full details before you commit. The Spectrum IFA Group is not tied to any one company and I can offer you independent, impartial advice and guidance.

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.

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