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Reasons to Wrap

By Sue Regan - Topics: Assurance Vie, France, Investment Risk, Investments, Saving
This article is published on: 3rd March 2017

03.03.17

It’s no secret that the Assurance Vie (AV) is by far and away the most popular investment vehicle in France……….and for good reason! Most of you will already be familiar with these investments, or at the very least, have heard of them, but it doesn’t harm to be reminded now and again as to why they are so popular.

What are they? – An AV is simply a life assurance wrapper that holds financial assets, often with a wide choice of investments, and there is no limit on the amount that can be invested.

What’s so good about them?…..quite simply, their huge tax advantages, such as:

  • Tax-free growth – funds remaining within an AV grow free of French Income and Capital Gains tax
  • Simplified tax return reporting – considerable savings in terms of time and tax adviser fees
  • Favourable tax treatment on withdrawals – only the gain element of any amount that you withdraw is liable to tax. There is an additional benefit after eight years in the form of an annual Income tax allowance of €4,600 for an individual and €9,200 for a married couple
  • Succession tax benefits – AV policies fall outside of your estate for Succession tax and the proceeds can be left directly to any number of beneficiaries of your choice (not just the ones Napoleon thought you should leave them to!). There are very generous allowances available to beneficiaries of contracts taken out before the age of 70.

Why invest in an International Assurance Vie? 

There are a number of insurance companies that have designed French compliant international AV products, aimed specifically at the expatriate market in France. These companies are typically situated in highly regulated financial centres, such as Dublin and Luxembourg. Some of the advantages of the international AV contracts are:

  • The possibility to invest in multiple currencies, including Sterling and Euros.
  • A large range of investment possibilities available.
  • The majority of international AV policies are portable, which means that should you return to the UK, it will not be necessary to surrender the bond.
  • The documentation for international bonds is available in English.

At Spectrum, we only recommend products of financially strong institutions and domiciled in highly regulated jurisdictions. If you would like to know more about these extremely tax efficient investments, or would like to have a confidential review of your financial situation, please feel free to contact me.

The Spectrum IFA Group advisers do not charge any fees directly to clients for their time or for advice given, as can be seen from our Client Charter at www.spectrum-ifa.com/spectrum-ifa-client-charter

How safe is your bank?

By Pauline Bowden - Topics: Banking, Investment Risk, Spain, Uncategorised, United Kingdom
This article is published on: 27th January 2017

27.01.17

Which bank? Which jurisdiction? As more amazing stories come out about the world’s banks, we have seen a shift from Deposit Accounts being a low risk investment, to a much higher rated risk. So what exactly does each jurisdiction offer as security against your bank going bust?

      Isle of Man       Personal / Company Account       50,000GBP / NIL
      UK       75,000GBP
(from 31st January 2017, proposal by
Government to increase to 85,000GBP)
      Spain       100,000euro
      Jersey       50,000GBP
      Guernsey       50,000GBP
      Gibraltar       100,000euro

Many people in this area of Andalucia have bank accounts in Gibraltar, the Isle of Man, Guernsey or Jersey. Of the above list, apart from Gibraltar, these jurisdictions have the least protection for the account holder.

I often write about spreading your risk, by investing in different asset classes. Perhaps now we should also spread our bank accounts and have smaller deposits in more banks, in more jurisdictions.

It can make life a little more complicated, but it makes financial sense not to put all your eggs in one basket. At least then, if one egg gets broken, you do not lose all of them!

Holding cash as an asset class is no longer a “safe bet”. With interest rates so low now, the real value of the capital is being eroded by inflation. People that relied on the income from deposit accounts have seen their disposable income fall drastically, especially if they are sterling investors in receipt of sterling pay or pensions. Many are having to eat into their capital to maintain their lifestyles.

Alternative investment strategies need to be considered in order to protect the wealth that you already have and maximise the returns from that wealth.

Coveting the shiny stuff – Gold

By Gareth Horsfall - Topics: BREXIT, Investment Risk, Investments, Italy, Saving, Uncategorised
This article is published on: 7th September 2016

07.09.16

Dear Readers, please forgive me for I have sinned. It has been quite some time since my last post and during this time I confess I have been having impure thoughts.

I have been dreaming that the UK did not vote to leave Europe. I have been dreaming that Sterling had not fallen 12% against the Euro since June 23rd and that pasta was not now 10% more expensive in the UK, I have been having impure thoughts about low(ish) inflation in the UK and not rampant price increases after BREXIT. Lastly, I have been dreaming that interest rates would rise and not fall further into negative territory, basically charging customers to hold money with them.

Forgive me for my sins and lead me not into new temptation…………GOLD

There is a lot of talk going around at the moment about gold being the best investment to hold and certainly since BREXIT it has proven its case. However, gold has some signifcant shortcomings alongside other forms of investment. Essentially, it is of pretty much no use and it does not produce any yield. True gold has some decorative and industrial uses but demand is limited and doesn’t really use up all of the production. If you hold a kilo of gold today it will still be a kilo of gold at the end of eternity (taking into account any chance events which may affect the gravitational effects on earth).

THE INVESTMENT CHOICE DILEMMA

PILE A
Today the worlds total gold stores are approximately 170,000 tons. If all this gold was melded together it would form a cube of about 21 metres per side. Thats about as long as a blue whale. At $1750 per ounce, it is worth about $9.6 TRILLION.

PILE B
Warren Buffet, who is not a fan of gold as an investment, is famously quoted as saying that with the same amount of money you could buy ALL US cropland (which produces about $200 billion annually), plus 16 Exxon Mobils (which earns $40 billion annually). After these purchases you would still have $1 trillion left over. (You wouldn’t want to feel strapped for cash after such a big spending spree, so best to leave some spare cash lying around)

So the Investment choice dilemma is who, given the choice, would choose PILE A over PILE B?

In 100 years from now the 400 million acres of farmland would have produced an immense amount of corn, wheat, cotton, and other crops and should continue to do so. Exxon Mobil will probably have delivered back to shareholders, in the form of dividends, trillions of dollars and will hold assets worth a lot more. The 170,000 tons of gold will still be the same and still incapable of producing anything. You can cuddle and hug the cube, and I am sure it would look very nice but I don’t think you will get much response.

So, taking all this into consideration, you would be forgiven for thinking that gold really doesn’t have a place in anyone’s portfolio. I think you would be wrong.

Gold may not produce any yield, but with people in Asia, especially China and India, gold is very popular. In addition, it is also proving very popular for nearly ALL central banks around the world. Are all they all going mad, or do they have specific reasons for holding gold?

Well, despite Warren Buffets’ musings above, gold has to be seen in todays world as another form of money as central governments continue to print more traditional money, uncontrollably, and the paper currencies that we use in everday life become more and more worthless.

We must remember that the history of gold is that it rose, on its own, as a tradeable form of money in the world. No one has been forced into using gold as a form of money, whereas paper money is controlled by the state and has never been adopted voluntarily, at any time.

So this is where Waren Buffets argument falls down, because actual money in itself has exactly the same characteristics as gold. Its value! (Gold has some minor commercial uses, but its true value is in its store of value). Therefore, it should not be considered an investment, but actually another form of money/currency. In its basic form it is a form of barter and exchange.

Unlike paper money which can just be created without limit and at next to no cost, gold is both scarce and expensive to mine. It takes 38 man hours to produce one ounce, about 1400 gallons of water, enough electricity to run a large house for 10 days, upto 565 cubic feet of air under pressure and lots of toxic chemicals, cyanide, acids, lead, borax, and lime. (Just writing this makes me feel sick about the environmental impact of mining gold).

So, in summary the problem with the PILE A and Pile B scenario is that it assumes that gold is a form of investment, whereas in reality it should be considered another form of money.

For 6000 years gold has been an effective store of value.

The correct comparison that should be made is gold versus cash. Imagine a gigantic pile of cash. This pile of cash would be as equally inert and equally unproductive as gold, in itself.

The only way you could earn anything from gold or cash, in this case, is by depositing it with a bank and earning interest, at which point you relinquish your ownership (it becomes the property of the bank) and you then become an unsecured creditor to the bank itself, i.e if the bank fails it has the legal right to take all your gold and cash. Sound familiar? It might be better to hold true gold in a safe at home!

The question is whether you invest directly in gold or the gold mining companies themselves?

Timing the markets

By Pauline Bowden - Topics: Costa del Sol, Investment Risk, Investments, Spain, Uncategorised, wealth management
This article is published on: 29th August 2016

29.08.16

Staying the course

Every market cycle has both up days and down days. Often, a few very good days account for a large part of the total return. Staying the course ensures that investments will be “in” the market on the good days. Some people try to time market movements by selling stocks when they think the market is about to decline and by buying stocks when they think the market is about to rise. Resist being a market timer. By trying to time the market, you potentially miss out on market rallies that could substantially improve your overall return and long-term wealth. Thus, what’s most important is not timing the market, but rather time IN the market. Staying the course when confronting difficult markets may prove very rewarding in the long run. Consistently predicting which days will move in which direction, though, is virtually impossible and can be very costly.

Diversifying your portfolio

Diversification may reduce the overall volatility of your entire portfolio, thereby helping you achieve greater long-term returns. It is important to remember, however, that diversification does not protect against loss in broadly declining markets. Like markets in general, different investment styles come in and out of favour in Cycles Rather than trying to predict which investment is likely to be the best performer in the future, investing in a well-diversified portfolio can help you to seek returns whilst managing for volatility. Diversification strategies may be especially important in a volatile market environment, when sector rotations and market fluctuations happen continuously.

Known Unknowns

By Derek Winsland - Topics: Investment Risk, Investments, Uncategorised
This article is published on: 16th June 2016

16.06.16

Individual investors may face many “known unknowns”—that is to say, things that they know they don’t know. The UK’s referendum on EU membership is one of them, confronting people with a large degree of uncertainty. But as we’re witnessing, it’s not just the investor that’s afflicted by this Known Unknown condition – the markets are really uncomfortable as evidenced by the fall in the value of the pound.

We have though been here before; perhaps not having to make decisions that could affect our financial stability for years to come, but as the chart below shows, major global events that have impacted on our lives to a greater or lesser effect. Through all of them, the markets have shown a remarkable resilience over the longer term and that is one of the most important lessons the individual investor can learn.

You see, it’s not necessary to “make the right call” on the referendum or its consequences to be a successful investor. Our approach is to trust the market to price securities fairly; to take account of broad expectations of future returns.

In arguing for the status quo, the “remain” campaign is able to point out familiar characteristics of membership.

The “out” campaign, however, is based on intangibles that can only be resolved after the result of the referendum is known. It is impossible for any individual to predict the implications of these unknowns with certainty.

But this is no cause for concern. While the referendum is imminent and its implications are potentially vast and unpredictable, it is not necessary for individual investors to make any judgement calls on the outcome. We have faced many uncertainties in the past—general elections, market crises, recessions, wars—and throughout all of them, the market has done its job of aggregating participants’ views about expected returns and priced assets accordingly.

And while these events have caused uncertainty, volatility and short-term losses and gains, none of them has altered the expectation that stocks provide a good long-term return in real terms.
We have a global view of investing, and we know that the market is very good at processing information that is relevant to future returns. Because of this view, we don’t attempt to second-guess the market. We manage well-diversified portfolios that do not rely on the outcome of individual events or decisions to target the expected long-term return.
Markets have rewarded discipline

These events are not offered to explain market returns. Instead, they serve as a reminder that investors should view daily events from a long-term perspective and avoid making investment decisions based solely on the news. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. MSCI data © MSCI 2016, all rights reserved.

Research has demonstrated time and again that the best returns are achieved through ‘Time in the Market’ and not by trying to ‘Time the Market’; in other words, stay invested rather than guess the best time to invest and disinvest.

If you would like more information on our investment philosophy, please ring for an appointment or take advantage of our Friday Morning Drop-in Clinic here at our office in Limoux. And don’t forget, there is no charge for these meetings.

Tax-Efficient Savings & Investments in France

By Spectrum IFA - Topics: Assurance Vie, France, Investment Risk, Investments, Tax, Uncategorised, wealth management
This article is published on: 24th May 2016

24.05.16

Some of you reading this article have just completed your first French income tax return. Well done if you achieved this without difficulty – ce n’est pas facile!

Whether you are new to France or not, the annual tax return is an opportunity to take stock of your financial situation. In particular, if you had to declare interest from bank deposits (including ISAs), dividends from shares (even if these were reinvested), and perhaps also gains from financial assets, then your tax and social charges bill will be higher than necessary. No-one likes paying taxes and so now is a good time to consider alternative tax-efficient savings and investments, if you want to avoid reduce your future tax bills.

For short-term savings, France has a range of tax-free accounts. The Livret A for deposits up to €22,950 and the Livret Développment Durable (LDD) for deposits up to €12,000, both paying interest of 0.75% per annum. For households with taxable income below certain limits, there is also the Livret d’Épargne Populaire (LEP) for deposits up to €7,700, which pays 1.25% per annum. You have full access to your capital in these accounts at any time.

The interest rates for the tax-free accounts are set by the French government, taking into account average short-term interest rates and inflation – both of which are very low at present. Realistically, the current tax-free interest rates could be lower, however, even the French say that it would be political suicide for the government to reduce these rates now! Whatever the tax-free rates are, however, these are better than comparable standard deposit rates for other accounts with instant access. Hence, the tax-free accounts are very useful for depositing cash that you need for an emergency fund, or to meet other short-term capital needs. The accounts do not create any tax issues and earning some interest is better than none at all.

For medium to long-term savings, the most popular type of investment in France is the Assurance Vie (AV). This type of investment is very tax-efficient as there is no income tax or capital gains tax on any income or growth, whilst the monies remain within the AV. Annual deduction of social charges is also avoided, except when investing in fonds en euros, which are offered by French banks and insurance companies.

When you do take a withdrawal from the investment, part of this is considered to be a withdrawal of capital and this part is therefore free from any tax. For the taxable element, you can opt for a fixed withholding tax rate, in which case the insurance company will take care of the necessary deduction, declaration and payment of the tax and social charges. Alternatively, you can opt to declare the gain through your annual income tax return, in which case the company will not make any tax or social charges deductions and will provide you with notification of the amount that you need to declare. The taxable gain will then be added to your other sources of taxable income and taxed at marginal rates.

Over time, AVs become even more tax-efficient and after eight years, the gain in amounts withdrawn can be offset against an annual tax-free allowance of €9,200 for a couple who are subject to joint taxation, or for ‘one-person households’, the allowance is €4,600.

Millions of French people use AV as their standard form of savings and investment and many billions of Euros are invested in this way via French banks and insurance companies, which offer their own branded product. In addition, there is a much smaller group of companies that are not French, but have designed French compliant AV products, aimed specifically at the expatriate market in France. These companies are typically situated in highly regulated financial centres, such as Dublin and Luxembourg. However, before choosing such a company, it is important to establish that the company has complied with all the formal French tax registration procedures, so as to ensure that you will receive the same tax and inheritance advantages as the equivalent French product.

Some of the advantages of the international product, compared to the French product, are:

  • It is possible to invest in currencies other than Euro, including Sterling and USD.
  • There is a larger range of investment possibilities available, providing both access to leading investment managers, as well as capital guaranteed products and funds.
  • Documentation is in English, thus helping you better understand the terms and conditions of the policy.
  • The AV policy is usually portable, which is particular benefit if moving around the EU, since in many cases, the policy can be endorsed for tax-efficiency in other EU countries.

AV is also highly beneficial for inheritance planning, both as concerns freedom to leave your financial assets to whoever you wish, as well as providing valuable additional inheritance allowances for your beneficiaries and I will cover this in a later article.

Everyone’s situation is different and any decision to invest in assurance vie should only be considered as part of a wider review of your overall financial situation, as well as your plans and objectives for the future. Hence, if you would like to have a confidential discussion with one of our financial advisers, you can contact us by e-mail at limoux@spectrum-ifa.com or by telephone on 04 68 31 14 10. Alternatively, drop-by to our Friday morning clinic at our office at 2 Place du Général Leclerc, 11300 Limoux, for an initial discussion.

The above outline is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute advice or a recommendation from The Spectrum IFA Group to take any particular action on the subject of the investment of financial assets or on the mitigation of taxes.

The Spectrum IFA Group advisers do not charge any fees directly to clients for their time or for advice given, as can be seen from our Client Charter.
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Stay invested and don’t try to second guess the market – Discipline is rewarded

By Derek Winsland - Topics: France, Inflation, Investment Risk, Investments, Saving, Uncategorised
This article is published on: 6th May 2016

06.05.16

Individual investors may face many “known unknowns”—that is to say, things that they know they don’t know. The UK’s referendum on EU membership is one of them, confronting people with a large degree of uncertainty. But as we’re witnessing, it’s not just the investor that’s afflicted by this Known Unknown condition – the markets are really uncomfortable as evidenced by the fall in the value of the pound.

We have though been here before; perhaps not having to make decisions that could affect our financial stability for years to come, but as the chart below shows, major global events that have impacted on our lives to a greater or lesser effect. Through all of them, the markets have shown a remarkable resilience over the longer term and that is one of the most important lessons the individual investor can learn.

You see, it’s not necessary to “make the right call” on the referendum or its consequences to be a successful investor. Our approach is to trust the market to price securities fairly; to take account of broad expectations of future returns.

In arguing for the status quo, the “remain” campaign is able to point out familiar characteristics of membership.

The “out” campaign, however, is based on intangibles that can only be resolved after the result of the referendum is known. It is impossible for any individual to predict the implications of these unknowns with certainty.

But this is no cause for concern. While the referendum is imminent and its implications are potentially vast and unpredictable, it is not necessary for individual investors to make any judgement calls on the outcome. We have faced many uncertainties in the past—general elections, market crises, recessions, wars—and throughout all of them, the market has done its job of aggregating participants’ views about expected returns and priced assets accordingly.

And while these events have caused uncertainty, volatility and short-term losses and gains, none of them has altered the expectation that stocks provide a good long-term return in real terms.

We have a global view of investing, and we know that the market is very good at processing information that is relevant to future returns. Because of this view, we don’t attempt to second-guess the market. We manage well-diversified portfolios that do not rely on the outcome of individual events or decisions to target the expected long-term return.

Untitled

These events are not offered to explain market returns. Instead, they serve as a reminder that investors should view daily events from a long-term perspective and avoid making investment decisions based solely on the news. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. MSCI data © MSCI 2016, all rights reserved.
Research has demonstrated time and again that the best returns are achieved through ‘Time in the Market’ and not by trying to ‘Time the Market’; in other words, stay invested rather than guess the best time to invest and disinvest.

If you would like more information on our investment philosophy, please ring for an appointment or take advantage of our Friday Morning Drop-in Clinic here at our office in Limoux. And don’t forget, there is no charge for these meetings.

So What’s Your Strategy ?

By Chris Webb - Topics: Investment Risk, Investments, Madrid, Saving, Spain, Uncategorised
This article is published on: 30th April 2016

30.04.16

Investing is not a sure thing in most cases, it is much like a game – you don’t know the outcome until the game has been played and a winner has been declared.

Anytime you play almost any type of game, you have a strategy. Investing isn’t any different – you need an investment strategy.

An investment strategy is basically a plan for investing your money in various types of investments that will help you meet your financial goals, depending on your time horizon.

Each type of investment contains individual investments that you must choose from. A clothing store sells clothes – but those clothes consist of shirts, trousers, dresses, skirts etc. The stock market is no different, it’s a type of investment, it contains different types of stocks and different companies that you can invest in.

If you haven’t done your research, it can quickly become very confusing – simply because there are so many different types of investments and products to choose from. This is where your strategy, combined with your risk tolerance and investment style, all come into play.

If you are new to investments, we will work closely together to ensure you have a full understanding before making any investments. I will help you develop an investment strategy that will not only fall within the bounds of your risk tolerance and your investment style, but will also help you achieve your financial goals.

Never invest money without having a goal and a strategy for reaching that goal! This is essential.

Nobody hands their money over to anyone without knowing what that money is being used for and when they will get it back! If you don’t have a goal, a plan, or a strategy, then you are essentially handing your money over without any idea of what it can do for you!

How Much To Invest?

By Chris Webb - Topics: Investment Risk, Investments, Madrid, Saving, Spain, Uncategorised
This article is published on: 28th April 2016

28.04.16

Many first time investors think that they should invest all of their savings. This isn’t necessarily true. To determine how much money you should invest, you must first determine how much you actually can afford to invest and, just as importantly, what your financial goals are.

So, how much money can you currently afford to invest? Do you have savings that you can use? If so, great! However, you don’t want to cut yourself short when you tie your money up in an investment. What were your savings originally for?

It is important to keep three to six months of living expenses in a readily accessible savings account – don’t invest that money! Don’t invest any money that you may need to lay your hands on in a hurry in the future.

So, begin by determining how much of your savings should remain in your savings account, and how much you feel you are comfortable to use for investments.

Next, determine how much you can add to your investments in the future. If you are employed, you will continue to receive an income, and you can utilise your surplus income to build your investment portfolio over time.

Together we can work at setting a budget and determine how much of your future income you will be able to invest.

With my help, you can be sure that you are not investing more than you should or less than you should in order to reach your investment goals.

For many types of investments, a certain initial investment amount will be required. This at first glance, may look out of your reach. However I may be able to reduce these entry levels.

If the money that you have available for investments does not meet any required initial investment, you may have to look at others. Never borrow money to invest, and never use money that you have not set aside for investing!

Reasons To Invest

By Chris Webb - Topics: Investment Risk, Investments, Madrid, Retirement, Saving, Spain, Uncategorised
This article is published on: 8th April 2016

08.04.16

Have a think about how different our lives are compared to our parents or grandparents….. How often do we travel? How used to our luxuries in life are we? Well guess what ……. this all costs money and as we are all going to retire at some point it might be a good idea to start thinking about that cost now!

This is why investing has become increasingly important over the years. Gone are the days of relying on the state to look after you in your golden years, and I’m pretty sure leaving your cash in the bank isn’t going to get the results you need either.

Times are changing and more and more people want to insure their futures, and they already know that if they are depending on state benefits, and in some instances company pension schemes, that they may be in for a rude awakening when they no longer have the ability to earn a steady income.
Investing is the answer to the unknowns of the future.

You may have been saving money in a low interest savings account over the years. Now, you want to see that money grow at a faster pace. Perhaps you’ve inherited money or realised some other type of windfall, and you need a way to make that money grow. Again, investing is the answer.

Investing is also a way of attaining the things that you want, such as a new home, a university education for your children, or the longest holiday of your life………… retirement.
Of course, your financial goals will determine what type of investing you do.

If you want or need to make a lot of money fast, you will be more interested in higher risk investing, which will hopefully give you a larger return in a shorter amount of time. If you are saving for something in the far off future, such as retirement, you would want to make safer investments that grow over a longer period of time.

The overall purpose in investing is to create wealth and security, over a period of time. It is important to remember that you will not always be able to earn an income… you will eventually want to retire.

You cannot rely on the state system to finance what you want to do, and as we have seen with Enron, you cannot necessarily depend on your company’s pension scheme either. So, again, investing is the key to insuring your own financial future, but you must make smart investments.