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Are you au fait with Exchange Rates?

By Occitanie - Topics: Currencies, France, Occitanie
This article is published on: 9th October 2020

09.10.20

Welcome to the sixth edition of our newsletter ‘Spectrum in Occitanie, Finance in Focus’.

The Covid-19 pandemic is still dominating our thoughts and lives and will probably continue to do so for some time yet. Life must go on though, and we need to make sure that we are looking after our finances, as well as ourselves and our loved ones. Today we are going to take a slightly deeper than usual look at something that we might take for granted – exchange rates.

As a reminder, we are Rob Hesketh, Philip Oxley, Sue Regan and Derek Winsland. Together we form Spectrum’s team in the Occitanie, formerly of course the Languedoc Roussillon and Midi Pyrenees.

What is an exchange rate?

What is an exchange rate?
Ok, let’s start with the easy questions. It will get tougher as we go on. Obviously, the exchange rate is the rate at which one currency can be exchanged for another. Currently the rate at which holders of sterling can buy euros is 1.1100. Or is it 1.1000? or maybe 1.0925? It might even be less than 1 if you buy it at the wrong place. Then again, 0.9010 might be a very good rate. How can that possibly be right? How can 0.9010 be better than 1.1000? The answer lies in the fact that there are always two versions of every exchange rate.

We Brits tend to take the view that sterling is more important to us than any other currency, so we always want to know how much of any given currency we can get for £1. The rest of the world however are prone to taking a different view, so if you ask a French bank for the rate to convert sterling to euros you will get a rate that reflects how many pounds you can get for one euro. Confused? I do not blame you. To keep things simple, I recommend that when you see a rate expressed in that way, all you need to do is divide it into one. Thus 1/.9010 = 1.1099

Why so many different rates?
Well, obviously the rate can keep on changing every minute. The law of supply and demand applies here, but there are also many different rates at the same time. That is because volume plays a huge part. An exchange rate is a compromise between two parties, one of whom wants to sell, and the other to buy. Basically, if you are an international bank dealing in hundreds of millions of pounds per deal, you are going to get a very good rate; in fact, the best there is. Players (to many it is in fact a game) can either make a price or request a price. If the latter, they will never say to the market ‘I want to buy euros’. They will always ask for a two-way price, the idea being that the bank being asked for the rate does not know which side of the deal the other bank wants. The spread between the two prices may be a little as 3 basis points. That’s the fourth decimal point to you and me, so the rate quoted might be 1.1000 to 1.1003. The quoting bank sells euros at 1.1000 and buys them at 1.1003. Those three basis points represent the market spread, or profit margin on the deal. Still with me? If you are it will come as no surprise that the profit margin gets wider and wider as the amount you are dealing in gets smaller and smaller. At exactly the same time as a big bank is dealing at 1.1000, you might find that the rate you get for your €500 will be more like 1.0700, and if you go to a kiosk at an airport and ask for €500 cash for your weekend away in Paris, you might well get less than 1:1, so you would end up spending more than £500.

Why should I be wary of exchange rates?

Why should I be wary of exchange rates?

Quite simply because if you do not give them due care and attention, they can cost you a lot of money.

The indisputable fact is that whilst most of us arrive in France (or any other new home abroad for that matter) declaring that wild horses wouldn’t drag us back to the UK, or if they did we’d be in a box, the fact is that many of us end up back where we came from. We might hate the idea, but the facts are there. That means that there are four general phases that we will go through where exchange rates are going to have great bearing on our lives. Firstly the initial move phase, where we need to have enough euros to move here and buy property; secondly the sustenance phase, where we need to invest lump sums or exchange regular income such as pensions based in sterling; thirdly dealing with possible influxes of capital through inheritance or UK property sales, and fourthly the reversal of all of the above if we decide to go back.

What is exchange rate risk?

What is exchange rate risk?

Best think of this as ‘‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’’. If I do a currency deal, would I be better off waiting for a better rate?

If I don’t do it now, will it be worse when I have to do it?

Often, the answer is yes to both questions.

The aim should always be to eliminate exchange rate risk, but it is a lot harder to do that than it seems. Yes, if you sell your property in the UK and move to France, you are going to need to convert a sizeable part of the proceeds into euro to buy a property here, but what if there is a good chunk of money left over? What if you were fortunate enough to get £800k for your des-res in Surrey, and managed to find the ideal pied-a-terre in the Aude for €300k? That leaves you with a decision to make about the £530k or so that you have left. Is the answer that you are going to live in euroland so your money should be in euro? – Yes. Is the answer that eventually you may want to go back to the UK so your reserves should stay in sterling? – Yes. Is the answer that the current exchange rate is terrible, and you should at least wait and see what happens? – Yes. So, which ‘Yes’ is the right one? You can have the same conversation about your pension funds if you are looking to consolidate them outside of UK jurisdiction (and political meddling). You can also have that same conversation when or if you decide to sell a second property that is currently let out, or Mum’s house which she left to you.

What is the answer?
Quite simply, the answer is planning; serious discussion with your partner/family about what the future will bring, and where it will be, and then serious discussion with your financial adviser (that’s us by the way) about how to manage the resulting risk. The inescapable fact is that no-one can accurately forecast exchange rate movements. In much the same way that financial/economic projections by experts are notoriously unreliable, so too are those made by F/X forecasters, but do you really want to convert all your assets into euro at 1.10 only to find that in fifteen years’ time you want to relocate to the UK and the rate is 1.50? In case you don’t have a calculator handy, that would result in an f/x loss of over £140k in the above scenario. What you really need is someone to help you decide where your future requirements will lie, not what the exchange rate will be when it happens.

Even funding a house purchase needs planning. In France it can take months before you can finally pay for and move into your new home. The exchange rate can move a long way in that time, and strangely, it usually moves against you! There is a way to eliminate that risk though, and it is called a Forward Contract. If you have a set date for your final payment, your financial adviser may well suggest that you speak to a good Foreign Exchange company who will be able to fix a rate for you, valid for that date, so that you know exactly how much your villa in the sun is going to cost you in sterling terms. These are legal contracts though, and you will have to accept that rate even if the market goes up. What you are doing is buying peace of mind against it going down, which could make your purchase uncomfortably more expensive.

Another product that may be useful to you is the Limit Order. If for example you decided to buy land abroad, and have a property built on it, you might well find yourself needing to make stage payments to your builder. If the rate goes up during this process you will be happy, but if it goes down markedly…?? You can place an order for a set period with your F/X company to buy a set amount at a chosen higher or lower rate. So, you might decide that you want to buy your euro at 1.25 if it gets there, but also if it starts going down, you don’t want to get a rate any lower than 1.05. This is basically a ‘take profit’ and ‘stop loss’ strategy combined, but you can just do one side of it if you choose to.

our services

Part of our service to you is to monitor these companies and make a suitable introduction to you.

Our responsibilities don’t end there though…

We will discuss with you the choices you have regarding the investment of any left-over lump sums. Those discussions should leave you in no doubt that cash left uninvested is a loss-leader. Leaving your surplus cash invested in the UK in non-French tax compliant instruments such as ISAs is not the answer.

In France, the clear leader in terms of tax efficiency for capital gains, income and succession taxes is Assurance Vie, but you can make all those mistakes listed above by investing in the wrong policy. Flexibility is the key, along with portability.

What if we could offer you an Assurance Vie
that could start life in sterling?

Then change into Euro if the exchange rate moved up, and back again if it went down.

What if you could invest in both sterling and euro in the same policy?

And what if that policy could simply change into an ordinary investment bond if you went back to the UK, fully compliant with UK tax law?

Strangely enough…

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

Investments in the current climate

By Occitanie - Topics: France, Occitanie
This article is published on: 13th July 2020

13.07.20

Welcome to the fourth edition of our newsletter ‘Spectrum in Occitanie, Finance in Focus’.

Last month we focused on the important area of inheritance planning and wills, outlining the value of careful planning, including mitigation of French inheritance tax using the Assurance Vie. This month, to follow on from that, we take a broader look at what options are available for generating a financial return on savings and investments in the current environment of such low interest rates globally.

As a reminder, we are Philip Oxley, Sue Regan, Rob Heskethand Derek Winsland. Together we form Spectrum’s team in the Occitanie.

interest-rates

What are current interest rates?
Most of us in developed economies have lived in a low interest rate environment for over 11 years. In the UK, for example, the base rate was 5.25% in March 2008. One year later, after the start of the global financial crisis, it was 0.5% and remained so for over seven years before a further post-Brexit vote reduction to 0.25% in August 2016. Recent years have seen small incremental increases to 0.75% before the impact of Coronavirus resulted in the rate being slashed to 0.1%. It has been a similar story in the US and the Eurozone, where the ECB base rate is currently 0%.

Why have interest rates been so low for so long?
There are numerous reasons. These include the cutting of rates following the global financial crisis of 2008/9 in an effort by central banks to stimulate economic growth (the same reason rates have been reduced during the Coronavirus pandemic). Beyond these economic shocks, there also seems to be evidence that central banks’ firm commitment to maintaining low and stable inflation has been successful. The primary tool central banks use when inflation threatens to take flight is to increase interest rates. In most developed countries, there has been little sign of this threat and therefore inflation and interest rates have remained at low levels.

Who has benefitted from this low interest rate environment?
In a word – borrowers! Consumers with mortgages, credit card debt or car loans, businesses (many of which rely on borrowings for investment or just day to day cash-flow requirements) and finally, governments, who typically rely on the credit markets to some extent to finance their spending.

Conversely, savers have suffered hugely during this low-interest rate environment, working hard to find some level of return on their funds. It has been particularly hard for those who rely on savings for their income, such as the retired and elderly. Similarly, risk averse consumers who avoid stock market investments, preferring a more cautious strategy to nurturing their savings, have been heavily penalised for this careful approach. And worse, there is no sign of any significant increase in rates in the foreseeable future.

In the search for financial returns, many in the UK have invested in tax-efficient products such as ISAs, Premium Bonds and other NS&I products, EISs and VCTs. But for those who have subsequently become a tax resident in France, it is important to understand that all these products are taxable here.

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How can you achieve a better rate of return on your savings as a French resident?
One product stands clearly above all others, which is the insurance-based investment called an Assurance Vie (AV). The AV is a French compliant life assurance bond which provides numerous tax concessions on investment growth, income and capital withdrawals and significant advantages when it comes to estate planning (which was covered in detail in our last Newsletter).The advantages of this product are numerous and include the following:
• Shelter from tax on all income and gains, and social contributions, whilst funds remain inside the AV. At the point of withdrawing funds, only the gain element is potentially subject to tax and social contributions.
• Access to capital at all times, although as AVs are designed for longer term investment, withdrawals in the early years will reduce tax efficiency and (depending on amounts withdrawn), may incur exit penalties. The tax efficiency increases over time as compound returns accumulate tax free, with the additional advantage after eight years of an annual tax-free withdrawal allowance of (currently) €9,200 for a married couple and €4,600 for a single person.
• The ‘tax clock’ to full tax efficiency starts on day one of the policy and funds added later benefit from this original start date.
• Estate planning flexibility in the form of protection from forced heirship succession law, allowing nomination of beneficiaries in accordance with personal wishes. Proceeds from an AV policy can be distributed between any number of beneficiaries, each of whom can receive €152,500 free of succession tax (so long as the policy was established and funded before the age of 70), with amounts in excess of €152,500 liable at 20% (and at 31.25% for amounts exceeding €700,000).
• Investment flexibility to match individual objectives, risk profile and currency preference (options including Sterling, Euro and US Dollar) and simplified tax reporting and annual declarations.
This tax efficiency is significant, with two simplified examples below illustrating what a valuable product the AV can be as a future source of income:

Example No. 1:
Fran is 52 years old and invests €120,000 into an AV
• 10 years later the fund is valued at €180,000
• Fran is now 62 years old and wants to draw an annual income of €12,000 per year (€1,000 per month)
• The gain on the investment is €180,000 – €120,000 = €60,000. As a proportion of the fund that is €60,000/€180,000 = 33.3%
• The gain element of €12,000 pa is 33.3%, i.e. €4,000
• Because Fran has held this AV for more than 8 years, the effective tax-free allowance for single people applies and is €4,600 per year. The gain element of drawing €12,000 pa is €4,000 (less than the €4,600) and therefore Fran will pay no income tax on drawing €12,000 per year from the AV.

Example No. 2:
Sam and Chris are 60 years old and invest €300,000 into an AV
• 8 years later the fund is valued at €400,000
• They are now 68 years old and want to draw an annual income from the AV of €25,000 per year (€2,083.33 per month)
• The gain on the investment is €400,000 – €300,000 = €100,000. As a proportion of the fund that is €100,000/€400,000 = 25%
• The gain element of €25,000 pa is 25%, i.e. €6,250
• Because Sam and Chris have held this AV for more than 8 years, as a couple their effective tax-free allowance is €9,200 per year. The gain element of drawing €25,000 pa is €6,250 (less than €9,200) and therefore they will pay no income tax on drawing an income of €25,000 per year from their AV.

Social charges apply to the gain element of withdrawals, at either 17.2% if France is responsible for the cost of your healthcare, or 7.5% if you hold an S1 certificate.

To produce a tax-efficient income stream later in life (including to supplement pension income in retirement), and to provide significant estate planning benefits (including protection from forced heirship laws), the Assurance Vie should for most people be a central feature of their financial planning strategy.

Finally, as a short-term solution for holding cash tax efficiently, there are three types of French bank accounts to consider. For general guidance, it is advisable to hold six months of your average monthly outgoings as a contingency fund for unexpected expenses. These accounts are detailed below:

➢the Livret A, available to both residents and non-residents, in which you can deposit up to €22,950 and earn interest of 0.5% per annum.
➢the Livret Développement Durable, available to French resident taxpayers only for deposits up to €12,000, also earning interest of 0.5%.
➢the Livret Epargne Populaire, available to French resident taxpayers only, paying an extra 0.5% interest for deposits up to €7,700 if your income does not exceed a certain threshold.

 

WHAT NEXT?

If you would like to discuss anything we have covered in this month’s newsletter, please do get in touch at Occitanie@spectrum-ifa.com
Next month we are going to focus on pensions, including the subject of drawdowns and portfolio structuring.
The Spectrum IFA Group – Occitainie
occitainie@spectrum-ifa.com