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Investment options

By Jozef Spiteri - Topics: investment diversification, Investment objectives, Investment Risk, Investments, Malta
This article is published on: 18th January 2022

18.01.22

Trust in the financial sector

Choosing investments can be daunting to someone who does not have a good understanding of financial matters. It is normal to feel intimidated when facing something you don’t understand, and it is a reaction many people have when considering investing their money.

For these people, the ideal investment is often something they can see and touch. Such investments are usually the purchase of property to let, or the establishment of some sort of business selling goods or services. Done correctly such ventures can be very profitable, but these types of investments require a lot of time and money, so they might not be suitable for most people.

An alternative is investing in financial markets, but how can you overcome the mental block when attempting to allocate your money? The best first step is to consult an adviser who will walk you through the key points of such investments, explaining the potential risks and also rewards of different investment options, and who will take the time to come up with the correct solution for you.

investment options

However, the most important step to get more comfortable with financial markets is to actually start investing. An analogy I like to use is of a person who has never been swimming, fearing that something terrible would happen if they were to get into the water. Typically, they would start by dipping their toes and legs in, getting a feel for this un-chartered territory. Once they feel comfortable, they will continue to walk further out, until eventually they will be completely at ease in the water. This is the approach new investors should take when looking to enter this “new world”.

If you are feeling confused or overwhelmed with all the different investment options available to you, feel free to reach out to one of our advisers. In the initial meeting we will be able to help you understand better what will suit you best and can answer all the questions you might have. All initial meetings are free of charge and there is no obligation to proceed with an investment.

Investment diversification

By Jozef Spiteri - Topics: investment diversification, Investment objectives, Investment Risk, Investments, Malta
This article is published on: 12th January 2022

12.01.22

A word which seems so simple, a concept that many think they can easily master, but do you fully appreciate what diversification means? If you check the meaning of diversification, you would find that in business terms it is usually the act of varying the range of products or services offered, or broadening the field of operations. In investment terms it has a similar meaning. Diversification involves spreading your money across different assets and asset categories.

Most of the time when people tell me that they are investing and I ask them if they have Investment diversification, I am met with a resounding “Yes, of course”. They then might go on to explain what they invested in and it is usually things which they would have come across on social media or heard about from another “investor”. These portfolios might comprise shares in a few US companies, a couple of US bonds and possibly some cryptocurrency for a touch of risk. Such a portfolio would seem OK to someone who had just begun investing some spare cash, but is it diversified?

Such a portfolio is not really diversified at all, and I will explain why. Starting off with the first part which is an investment in a few different shares. Firstly, they are all from one geographical region, meaning if something dramatic happened in US stock-markets, they would probably all be affected to some extent. Secondly, inexperienced investors often buy shares based on something they have read online or something they have heard from a friend or colleague. These investments are typically in growth stocks, in other words shares in companies which are perceived to have strong earnings potential and growth prospects, but often with a correspondingly high share price. Investing exclusively in this type of company may prove successful but also carries significant risk, as the expectation of highly profitable growth (sometimes reflected in an inflated share price) may not be realised for many years, if at all. This is why it is sometimes sensible to include more mature company shares in a portfolio, or possibly shares in a company paying good and sustainable dividends.

investment diversification

Moving on to the bond part of the portfolio, often this would be one or two bonds issued by the US government, maturing in say 10 years. It might also include a corporate bond to add a little bit of diversification. But how much attention has been given to the financial strength of the company issuing the bond or the bond’s yield to maturity (how much is received in regular income up to the date the bond matures). These are just a couple of basic questions that should be asked when considering direct investment in a corporate bond.

This brings us to the cryptocurrency portion of the portfolio, often consisting of holdings in popular names such as Bitcoin or Ethereum, or in a new ‘crypto’ trending online. Although I have nothing against a small allocation to cryptocurrency, it should always be treated as speculative with the likelihood of volatility and a high risk of capital loss. I sometimes question whether people investing in cryptocurrency understand the basics of this asset class, including its regulatory status and its ability to function as a currency. To read more about cryptocurrency – click here

One question all investors should be asking about diversification is how to achieve maximum returns with minimum risk. Or, put another way, how to make the most of their money without jeopardising their financial security. A well-diversified portfolio should include exposure to a range of asset classes, for example shares, bonds, property, commodities and cash. Investments should also not be restricted to a single country or geographic region, nor to a single theme or economic sector.

In practice, most people do not have the time or knowledge required to build a well-diversified portfolio which achieves the right balance between risk and reward, between capital growth and capital preservation. At Spectrum, on behalf of our clients, we therefore focus on identifying professional investment managers who specialise in maximising returns from efficient portfolio diversification.

If you have any questions regarding asset diversification and investment returns, our advisers are available to help. We do not charge fees for initial consultations and you have no obligation to use our services after meeting us. Please get in touch to learn more.

Investment bonds in Italy

By The Spectrum IFA Group Italy - Topics: Investment Bonds, Investment Risk, Investments, Italy
This article is published on: 22nd October 2021

22.10.21

If you are resident in Italy, or planning to move here, it is important to complete a review of your investments to avoid unnecessary and expensive tax liabilities locally. It is well known that how to handle your finances is one of the major challenges of moving to a new country – the tax and legal systems are different, and on top of this, everything is in a language you might not fully understand. An experienced adviser based in Italy will help to ensure your finances are arranged both tax-efficiently and appropriately for your individual circumstances.

The best time to carry out a review of your investments and to develop a long-term financial plan is before you make the move. This is something many people don’t consider, but acting early allows you to make the most of valuable planning opportunities and to avoid costly mistakes, for example with the timing of a property sale or taking a pension lump sum. But even if you are already here, it is never too late to make sure you are making the most of your money.

There are many ways of saving and investing as an Italian tax resident, including with banks, in directly held portfolios, in collective investments, and in trust and pension structures. Taxation in Italy is complex, and you will need an accountant to help you with tax returns. One structure that is highly tax efficient, which simplifies annual tax declarations and is also widely used across Europe, is the investment bond.

The 10 benefits of investment bonds in Italy

There are several advantages to using life insurance investment bonds for Italian residents:

  1. Tax deferral during the accumulation phase – unlike a directly held portfolio which attracts ongoing capital gains tax and income tax, investment growth within a bond is not taxable (income and gains are able to accumulate on a ‘gross roll up’ basis)
  2. Low effective tax rates when withdrawing funds from the policy – when withdrawing funds from an investment bond, the withdrawal is split into two components: the initial capital, and the growth element. Tax of 26% is due only on the growth element of the withdrawal, so effective tax rates are low.
  3. Gains are calculated net of all costs – directly held investments in Italy are always less efficient than a life insurance bond.
  4. Availability of asset management services otherwise inaccessible to Italian residents – there is a wide range of investment options, including EU authorised funds, discretionary portfolios and index trackers, all available in the currency of your choice.
  5. Your money is outside the Italian financial system – investments are held securely in Ireland or Luxembourg.
  6. Simplification of reporting and ongoing tax administration – there is only a single asset to declare in your tax return whatever the number of investments within the bond, as opposed to the complicated declarations necessary for directly-held foreign assets.
  7. Reduction in VAT – asset management services in Italy generally attract VAT at 22%, but using a life insurance bond results either in a substantial reduction to, or an exemption from, VAT.
  8. Inheritance tax savings – beneficiaries named in a life insurance bond receive the proceeds free from Italian inheritance tax.
  9. Portability – the investment bond structure is widely recognised in other jurisdictions, so you do not necessarily have to encash your investment if you relocate. However, care is necessary to take into account the differences between tax laws, so take advice prior to moving jurisdictions.
  10. Time apportionment relief on return to the UK – if you decide to return to the UK, investment bonds are particularly attractive as time apportionment relief under UK tax rules state that only investment growth generated whilst resident in the UK is taxable.

Whilst the ideal time to review your finances is before you move, we can also help if you are already resident in Italy. Contact one of our advisers (free of charge and without obligation) for an introductory discussion and an outline of how we can help.

Market volatility

By Gareth Horsfall - Topics: Investment objectives, Investment Risk, Italy
This article is published on: 21st October 2021

21.10.21

We are undeniably in full swing after the Italian summer. Almost everything seems to be operating on a normal basis again, although ‘normal’ is always subjective depending on where you live in Italy. Roma doesn’t really qualify for normal, even on it’s best days!

Just how much people are getting back to normal again after Covid has amazed me. The memory of lockdown and ‘esercito’ trucks rolling out of Bergamo seems to have disappeared into the small corners of our minds. It might just be a self-protective mechanism, or maybe, like me, you are just happy to be able to go about your life in a relatively normal way again.

Normal for me is also talking to and seeing clients in person regularly, of which the latter has been somewhat missing for the last 18 months. I was reminded of this on a telephone conversation with a client the other day who said, ‘I haven’t seen you for a while Gareth’. It was said in such an innocent way, almost forgetting the last 18 months of various travel restrictions. A completely inoffensive remark and it made me realise that I haven’t seen many of my clients for quite some time now and that I really must get back on the road again. So that is my plan over the winter and coming months. I feel starved of client contact, something which I really cherish, and so I will be getting out there very soon.

Anyway, I don’t want to go on too much about my work plans as I have something much more interesting to write about…financial markets. Well, interesting for me at least!

As I am sure you are acutely aware there are millions of in-depth, factual and accurate analyses of the current global economy and the response of financial markets to Covid. I don’t wish to get into that (If you would like a recent world market roundup then just email me and I can send one through easily enough). What I do want to talk a little about is how we respond to financial market volatility (i.e. the rising and falling valuation of your portfolio) as the Covid recovery continues.

Market volatility

“When a long-term trend loses its momentum, short-term volatility tends to rise.
It is easy to see why that should be so: the trend-following crowd is disoriented”.

George Soros

The Covid recovery is likely to mean a prolonged period of uncertainty for economies and companies. The initial market momentum after Covid and subsequent recovery is stalling a little at the moment. This is not a long term structural problem, as most indicators point to a return to ‘normality’ (there goes that word again! What is normal anymore?), that being travel, consumption, leisure etc, within a year or so. But the global recovery is not taking place uniformly. Herein lies the problem. Some emerging markets for example are still suffering from high Covid infection and death rates and battling the pandemic. Supply issues mean that many raw materials in our Western economies are scarce and we are seeing price rises as a result, and while this continues it means that there are more risks for companies and individuals. This inevitably means more volatility in our investment portfolios than we have seen in the last two years, which have largely been positive.

My usual advice when we enter periods of volatility is ‘Don’t constantly monitor your investments’ – that well worn recommendation that doesn’t really help anyone’s anxiety. The fact that we now have 24/7 access to information can be a curse when it comes to your investments.

The value of your investment can go down as well as up
I understand nervousness around investments. Is my money going to be there when I most need it? Is it safe from fraud? Will I recoup those losses or are they lost forever? I invest my own money and like anyone I like to see numbers in black rather than red. But I also understand that it’s a matter of patience, time and calm, rather than frustration, anxiety and rash decisions, that will see you through any period of volatility. It should be noted at this point that most of you who are reading this newsletter will have invested through the Covid crash, which was markedly more worrying than the current pull back in prices. So, when looking at our portfolios it is always good to have perspective. You may remember from 2020 that crashes happen quite suddenly and dramatically in response to a very specific trigger, whereas pull backs in stock market prices are often talked about for weeks or months and hypothesised on for what seems like ages before anything actually happens.

Success in investments is not about whether you climb that wall of worry or not (we all worry about our money) but whether you make rash decisions based on factors which are outside your control.

What is exchange rate risk?

Are you a person who is more susceptible to making rash investment decisions?
You might be interested to hear that the University of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have conducted some interesting research on personality types and decision making.

They wrote a paper in August this year, entitled ‘When do investors freak out? Machine learning predictions of panic selling’ and discovered that the investors who tend to ‘freak out’ with greater frequency fall into one or several of the categories below:

  • Male
  • Over the age of 45
  • Married
  • Have more dependents
  • Self-identify as having excellent investment experience or knowledge.
  • (It does bear mentioning that I fall into every category! – scary thought.)

In addition to the above, they identified other characteristics in panic sellers. Only 0.1% of investors panic sell at any point in time. However, when there are large market movements, they occur up to three times more.

Interestingly, 30.9% of panic sellers never return to reinvest in risky assets. However, of those that do, nearly 59% re-enter the market within six months.

The really sad fact is that the median investor earns a zero to negative annual average return after the panic selling. This is the most worrying statistic of all. The evidence is therefore clear: panic selling leads to losses.

But regardless of the figures and the logic coolheadedness just can’t complete with human irrationality, and the same mistakes happen again and again, even if logic dictates it should be the other way around. In one way, that’s why I am here. To help you navigate that mind swamp!

I am reminded of a few clients who contacted me around the time of the Covid market crash and said that this was a new world event, a new norm and that things would never be the same again. I encouraged them to ride the wave, and they are today sitting in a much better financial position then they were before. I had no way of knowing what would happen in financial markets, and I can tell you I did worry myself, but I do understand human nature after working in this business for over 20 years.

I do know that whatever event creates a crash, the only truth is that when markets fall there is an opportunity to buy more of the same at reduced prices! Capitalism is not going to fall, just yet!

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.

Market volatility

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?

Market volatility

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.

Market volatility

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!