Reflecting On Brexit

The past few weeks have certainly been interesting not just from an investment perspective, but also politically as well.

As I pen this note, the Brexit deal would seem to be getting ever closer to a conclusion, however, Theresa May still has one almighty hurdle to jump in the form of getting the deal agreed by parliament back in the UK.

Ironically, this could well be the toughest part of the whole process for our embattled Prime Minister. Regardless of your opinions on Theresa May in general, I think we can all agree that her job at the moment is near impossible. I certainly don’t envy her!

As I have spoken about before, I believe that the next few years could be punctuated by things which are good news in the long term causing short term market volatility.

If this does come to pass, it will be the opposite of the rather strange environment we have found ourselves in over the past couple of years since the Brexit vote, where things that have been perceived as ‘bad news’ have been very positive for the markets.

The Brexit vote itself is one such example.

Of course, before the event, there were prophecies of doom and destruction in the event of a leave vote and indeed we did get some serious market sell offs … for all of 2 days.

After this, something unexpected happened. The de-valuation of sterling actually turned out to be positive for markets and indeed, this factor has probably been the biggest contributor to UK market performance over the past few years.

This is one example of bad news being good news for markets. The election of Trump could well be another.

As we move into 2019, I expect this trend to reverse.

If we do (ever) agree a Brexit deal, I would imagine that we might see sterling strengthen somewhat. This is good news in general for UK PLC, but could be bad for UK markets in the short term.

In a similar vein, increasing interest rates and the unwinding of quantitative easing (both good things in the long term – signalling that we are finally getting back to ‘normal’ economic health), could drag on markets in the short term.

These things, despite the short term pain they might cause, are totally necessary for the economy to build a solid foundation on which to grow into the future.

The past decade of growth has been partially fuelled by artificial stimulus and this process has to come to an end at some point.

The ending of the artificial stimulus programmes around the world could well be the best thing to happen to markets in a long time, creating a solid and stable base for the next period of growth which will inevitably be to follow.

While unsettling, the volatility we have seen over the past few weeks does not concern the Buckingham Gate Investment Committee greatly. This type of market ‘wobble’ is fairly usual as we start to approach the end of the market cycle.

That’s not to say that the cycle is over at this point, but we should be prepared for a slightly more volatile ride ahead.

The main predictor of a significant market correction or a ‘bear market‘ is a recession and although global economic indicators (job numbers, GDP growth etc) are not the best we have ever seen, they are not bad either.

There is certainly nothing in the figures to indicate a recession at the moment, although things can and do change quickly.

As usual, we must insert that caveat that the past is no guide to the future and things can be unpredictable in the wonderful world of investments.

I shall keep the blog updated with my views. All eyes now are on the 11th December and the deciding vote.

The Generational Divide

I have been speaking recently to clients about the so called ‘generational divide’ – the seemingly vast wealth of the baby boomer generation with their burgeoning property and investment portfolios when contrasted with the apparently hopeless state of the millennials finances.

I have long argued that these types of generalisations are very unhelpful and don’t really serve to achieve anything.

In fact, I think media narratives like this have the potential to become self fulfilling prophecies if we are not careful.

If millennials are bought into the fact that they are ‘doomed’ to rent for their entire lives and they they will never retire, then this is probably what will happen.

I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about this issue and, in our own small way, we are committed to doing something about it.

Next year we will be launching the first Buckingham Gate ‘next generation’ workshop to hopefully teach our client’s children some of the lessons that have made them so wealthy.

This is the subject matter that really should be being taught in schools but definitely isn’t (and if anyone thinks a 30 minute ‘general studies’ session on personal finance qualifies as sufficient financial education to prepare young people for a lifetime of financial decisions they are sorely mistaken).

We will also be covering some of the slightly more advanced wealth building strategies that have served our clients so well.

I will keep the blog updated as we finalise the plans for the workshop next year and we will be announcing the date early in 2019.

We hope to see as many of your children there as possible.

Trust Tax Consultation – Nothing To See Here (Yet)

Please forgive the unusually technical nature of my blog today, but this is an issue that impacts on many of our clients and potential clients – trust taxation.

Many people would have seen the media reports about the consultation that HMRC has launched on the taxation of trusts (among other issues I might add).

The consultation is focusing on the taxation of trusts, their operation and administration and also checking that the treatment of trusts is fair and equitable when taken together with the other possible methods of estate planning.

In principle, none of this is a bad thing.

My Good Friends – The Media

Now as you might expect, the media have vastly over-done the potential impact of this consultation. Some headlines have declared that ‘IHT trusts will be stripped of their tax advantages’.

This makes for a good headline (and no doubt draws readers and traffic to websites to drive ad revenue), but is it actually true?

Well, as with any consultation, the strict answer is – we don’t know.

A consultation is just that, a consultation.

HMRC are seeking input and ideas on some of the questions posed by the consultation.

What we can glean from the questions though is the direction of travel and nothing in the consultation document itself (unlike some of the media commentators, I actually saw fit to read the whole document before making prophecies of doom) has given me major cause for concern at this time.

First of all, many consultations result in no change at all. Either the consultation does not deliver a viable alternative to the status quo, or the whole things just loses steam and falls off the radar. This has happened countless times before.

But, even if we do see action, I think much of it could be positive.

The consultation document first talks about simplifying the taxation of trusts (nothing about the rates here, just the operation). This would be incredibly welcome given the current complexities of accounting for income tax, capital gains tax and inheritance tax across the settlors, the trustees and the beneficiaries of a trust.

Three different taxes accounted for across three different groups of people can and does get messy sometimes and any simplification to this system will do nothing to harm the appeal of trusts.

The document also talks about the fact that the 20% entry charge on gifts into trusts could be perceived as unfair when compared to the unlimited potential gifts we can make to other people.

Although nothing is certain, the language here hints to me that HMRC could be playing with the idea of removing this charge which would again be most welcome.

The only potential downside is that there is hints of an increase to the 6% periodic charge. While this would be unwelcome, it would also be relatively un-important for the majority of our clients on the basis that we usually manage trusts to be below the nil rate band allowance, meaning that no tax is due in any case, regardless of the rate.

The consultation document recognises the benefits of trusts in financial planning and in society and so I don’t see any prospects of trusts being ‘outlawed’ (again, contrary to some headlines you may stumble across).

As with many things, ‘wait and see’ will be the best approach here.

Firstly, the consultation may come to nothing, in which case, no action will be required.

Second, the consultation could provide benefits to trust planning, in which case we will look at how we can take advantage.

And, if we do see any negative changes, we will analyse them and plan around them, just like we have planned around numerous negative tax changes before and no doubt will again in the future.

Despite the headlines, I don’t believe that the consultation (in its current form) is particularly dangerous.

Taking action based on sensationalist headlines on the other hand – well that could prove very dangerous indeed.

What Is The Money For?

I attended a seminar recently and a very interesting question was posed for suggested inclusion in client meetings and in questionnaires. It was simply “what is the money actually for?”

A simple enough question, but one which I suspect many people may not have a simple answer to.

Money is a strange thing and it makes us behave in very peculiar ways.

It is also a very emotional thing, despite the fact that human emotion (generally speaking) leads to poor financial decision making.

You see, we often meet people who have accumulated very significant wealth. I do wonder however if people really know what the money is for.

Very often we meet people who are still working in jobs they dislike because ‘they need to’.

When we look at the numbers however we often get a different story. On occasion we find people have actually worked for too long. This is fine if you love your job, but how would you feel if you worked for 3 years longer than you needed to in a job you hated?

When we ask what the money is for, many people will say financial security, despite the fact that they don’t really have any definition for what ‘financial security’ really means.

While I fully appreciate the benefit of the emotional comfort money can bring (in fact, I did my masters dissertation on this very subject), I fear that just saying ‘financial security’ is a very easy way to avoid doing some of the thinking to truly define what is required to achieve this fabled thing called ‘financial security’.

As with the vast majority of money related goals, it is usually possible to put a number on this. We just have to do the thinking work first. For some people, financial security means having enough money to live on for 6 months – pretty easy to define. Multiply monthly expenses by 6 and there you have it.

For others, financial security might be having enough money to live on for the rest of their lives. A much more complex calculation, but with the right maths, we can still get there. Granted, you would need to build in some assumptions and you would most likely wish to add a large contingency pot on top of the final number, but the point is you still arrive at a number.

When we run the numbers in this way, we often find that people have significantly more than they need for whatever goals that they wish to achieve (financial security included) and so at this point we come back to a slightly re-worded version of the question; ‘what is the excess money actually for?’

My conclusion, is that most people don’t know. They have worked very hard to accumulate a pool of assets, but perhaps not then thought about what to do with any excess funds over and above their own needs.

This is where the conversation often turns to lifetime gifting or philanthropy – two things which have been shown to deliver the very greatest levels of satisfaction, but which people often shy away from out of fear of running out of money.

With the right planning beforehand, this needn’t be a concern and this opens up possibly the greatest and most noble thing any of us can do with our money – help others!

 

A Case In Point

I wrote last week about the market volatility we had seen and the importance of keeping a level head during times like these.

In that post, written in the midst of large market falls, I encouraged investors to keep calm and carry on. I also mentioned the potentially damaging effects of missing just the best 10 days of market growth within a 15 year period.

Although last week ended at a low ebb for the markets, things quickly started to recover on Monday and have continued to do so this week.

For those people who think that they can time the market, they would have needed to correctly predict on Tuesday the circa 7% falls that would transpire on Wednesday and Thursday. I have seen no evidence anywhere online of anyone making those kinds of predictions.

They would have also had to be brave enough to go back in late on Friday, just in time to catch the gains that have been made this week.

Especially when looking at the US market, I suspect history will confirm that some of the days this week will feature in the ‘top 10’ days list in years to come. If you are out of the market even for just these few days, you risk cutting your total return in half.

Unless you have a crystal ball, I would contend that no one would have made the decisions required to prosper in the markets over the past 10 days.

This leave us with the only reliable option – to remaining invested throughout. This means we capture all of those best 10 days. Yes, we have to accept some temporary volatility along the way. But that is all that it is – temporary volatility.

Please don’t let something as normal and expected as a bit of market volatility throw your financial plans off course.

Keep Calm & Carry On

Keep Calm & Carry On. Sage advice in times of market stress.

Countless research has shown that missing just the best few days of returns in the market is enough to significantly dent your total investment return.

Research by Fidelity has shown that if you had your money invested in the FTSE All-Share from the end of June 2003 to the end of June 2018 (15 years or approximately 5500 days), you would have earned a very nice 8.9% annualised return. Not too bad by any standards.

If you miss just the best 10 days of performance (out of those 5500) then your total return falls to just 4.6% per annum.

Miss the best 20 days and it falls further still to only 2% per annum.

If you miss the best 40 days of returns (again to stress, out of a total of 5500) then you actually get a negative return of -2% per annum.

The same research has been replicated across many different markets all over the world and the results are very similar.

This shows the importance of remaining invested, even when markets get turbulent.

In this world where investment decisions are made by computers in milliseconds and the distance from the stock exchange determines which trading house wins, anyone who thinks that they can time the markets is either lying, deluded or both.

Research has also shown that so called ‘investment experts’ and analysts have a pretty much exactly 50% chance of success when trying to predict when markets will go up or down. You might as well flip a coin to predict the direction of tomorrows markets, it has as much chance of being right as anyone else out there.

Im pretty sure on Monday of this week no one predicted the falls we have seen on Wednesday and Thursday. If they did I am yet to hear about it.

The point is that markets move very quickly.

If you attempt to time the market, the chance of missing those best 10 days is very high indeed. Markets can and do recover quickly and the biggest gains (i.e. those best 10 or 20 days), tend to follow significant market falls.

We only have to look back as far as February to see a similar phenomenon in action. In the early days of the month, the S&P 500 dropped around 8-9% over just a couple of days. Of course this was widely reported in the media with the usual collection of colourful language such as ‘turmoil’, ‘chaos’, ‘panic’ and, my personal favourite, ‘bloodbath’.

What received almost zero mainstream media coverage was the subsequent recovery. Only weeks later the S&P 500 has recovered the 8-9% it lost and it then went on to break new record highs only a few weeks after that.

Calm seems to have returned this morning on the markets. Could this be the start of the next recovery, or just the eye of the storm?

The truth is that no-one knows, but the time-tested investing adage of ‘time in the market, not timing the markets’ is as valid today as it ever has been.

Keep Calm and Carry On. It’s the only way to invest.

 

 

The Perfect Week In Retirement

When we work with clients on their retirement planning, we often ask them to complete an exercise we call the ‘perfect week’.

In this exercise, clients are asked to map out what the perfect week looks like for them in retirement. We create a grid with the days of the week along the top and we divide each day into an AM, PM and evening slot, making a total of 21 ‘slots’ to fill for the week.

Most clients find this exercise fairly simple. Most of us have a pretty good idea about what we would like to do for a week in the ideal world.

Most people will build in some form of travel (perhaps spending the whole of their perfect week on holiday). There will often be meals out with family and friends and ‘experience’ activities like going to the theatre or sailing.

This exercise is incredibly valuable, but it is not the full story.

Retirement is about so much more than just a single week.

As such, we then ask clients to think about repeating this exercise 52 times for each week in the year (to be clear, this is a theoretical exercise – we don’t ask people to actually fill in 52 perfect week sheets).

At this point, people are often a little stuck. It is really easy to visualise a single week or even two or three weeks, but planning out a whole year is a bit harder.

Most people don’t want to (or couldn’t afford to) be on holiday all of the time, so some more thought is required to map out a year.

Once people have given some thought to the 1-year picture, we then ask them to repeat this exercise 30 or 40 more times. This is because there is now a very real possibility that retirement could last 30, 40 or dare I say 50 years for some people.

Thats a total of between 1560 (30 years) and 2600 (50 years) weeks. That’s a long time to plan for.

But plan for it we must. Research has shown that those people who spend significant time planning their retirement are quantifiably happier when they actually do retire than people who have done very little or no planning.

The irony here is that the average American (and one assumes the average person in the UK also) spends longer planning a 2 week holiday than they do a 30 year retirement!

If we are to live a long, and more importantly happy, retirement, we really must give retirement planning the time it deserves.

 

Is This The New Way Of Working?

In recent years, we have definitely seen a trend towards people who are supposedly ‘retiring’ not actually retiring.

Instead, many people who choose to ‘retire’ from their traditional 9-5 job (and this ‘retirement’ may or may not include drawing on some sort of pension) are choosing to do some sort of contract work, write a book, do some consulting, start a business and many other things that you might describe as flexible employment / self employment.

This ‘flexible working’ environment is one that is traditionally reported to be favoured by millennials. The reason this is on my mind is that PWC has just announced a ‘flexible talent network’, which is basically a bank of people who can register to perform contracts with the accountancy giant.

As a worker in this new flexible talent network you can work a 100 day contract, take a month off to travel, return to a 50 day contract, have 3 weeks off over Christmas and then pick up a longer term 200 day piece of work. All of this without the perceived ties of formal employment.

It seems however, that boomers, Gen X and everyone in-between is finding this idea of a more flexible working life attractive. Indeed, I would suggest that of the clients we have helped to ‘retire’ over the past few years, going into some other sort of ‘work’ is the norm.

This got me to thinking – could we soon enter a world where very few people are actually ’employed’?

Instead, we could find ourselves with a whole army of freelance workers, performing contracts and services for other companies on their own account, rather than by virtue of a contract of employment.

This is arguably great for some industries and professions. Accountants need extra support around tax return time. Some businesses have very seasonal demands on their output. In these cases, this new flexible workforce will be great. An on-tap resource available at short notice on a pay-as-you-go basis.

There are some professions however, where flexible working (and when I say flexible, I mean not being employed in this context) might not be a good thing. I think Financial Planning is a case in point.

How would you feel if the adviser you were going to trust with your life savings was just working on a 50 day contract?

How about if every time you walked into the office you had a different group of staff welcome you?

Financial Planning is all about stability. People like to know that their financial future is in safe hands both now, but also for the next few decades and I believe long-term relationships are the best way to make that happen.

While I am all for this new flexible working world that seems to be emerging, in the financial planning business at least, I think the permanent position is here to stay.

The New Science Of Spending

In the good old days, retirement was simple.

You worked for 30 years with the same employer, received your gold watch for long service and then retired with a 2/3rds final salary pension – what could be more straight forward!

Nowadays, things are a little more complex.

We don’t tend to work for the same employer. Gone are the days of the final salary pension, leaving individuals to take more responsibility for their own retirement income. This retirement income will often come in many forms. Gone are the days of a single employer final salary pension that was completely automatic (no thought required).

Now we often work for 5 or more employers, collect various personal pension plans, company pensions, ISA’s and other savings vehicles for our retirement.

All of this needs far more management and input than has previously been the case. We no longer have the automated final salary pension where your retirement income was simply dictated by your final salary and length of service.

Now we have decisions on how much to pay in, what investment funds to choose, how much tax free cash to take and so on.

Now, the new auto-enrolment legislation has gone a small way to automating the pension system again, but most people acknowledge that this is just a sticking plaster and much more will need to be done to see the population at large enjoy a prosperous retirement.

The psychological shift

Perhaps the biggest shift (and one that people are yet to fully get their head around) is the psychological shift from an accumulation to a de-cumulation mindset when people retire.

Back in the days of fixed income final salary pensions, you didn’t really have to worry about this. You never accumulated a pot of money in the first place, you simply earned membership in the pension scheme which gave entitlement to an income in retirement.

At retirement that income turned on and you then had a nice monthly deposit into your bank account.

In the new world of pension freedoms, people will spend 20, 30, 40 or dare I say perhaps 50 years accumulating a pot of money. All of a sudden, when they retire, they then need to start de-cumulating (i.e. spending) that money.

The problem is that this is not an easy shift to make

When you have spent a lifetime saving money and building up your nest egg, it can be very distressing to see it start to fall in value.

Various studies have shown that in the investment markets, human beings feel the pain of loss about twice as strongly as the pleasure of gain.

I suspect that the same psychological forces are at work when we start to spend down our nest-egg – it hurts!

This often results in people holding back on their retirement spending plans because they simply don’t want to see the value of their pot fall. But this can lead to some real problems.

Occasionally we meet people who are living on a shoestring, despite having 7 (and sometimes 8) figure retirement portfolios and this is all because they don’t want to see the value of their precious nest egg go down.

But go down it must if we are to enjoy a great retirement – indeed, one must ask the question – if you wont spend the money in retirement, when exactly will you spend it?

 

 

 

Reflecting on the $1 Trillion Company

Lots has been said about the rise of Apple to become the worlds first company to achieve a $1 trillion market capitalisation.

I have 2 interesting observations on this milestone:

 

1 – Is Apple Really The First?

In the strictest sense, this is true, although as with many things, when you dig a little deeper, there is more to the story than meets the eye.

Although Apple, is the first company to reach a $1 trillion valuation in nominal terms, this fascinating article from Time, suggests that there are at least 5 companies in history that would today be worth over $1 trillion if you adjusted for inflation.

In fact, Time suggests that on an inflation-adjusted basis, the largest company that has ever been is the Dutch East India Company, which dates back to the 1600’s, with an inflation adjusted market cap of $8.2 trillion in todays money.

Also of note is the reason for this gargantuan valuation – the Dutch tulip bubble. Many people will be familiar with the Dutch tulip craze, which is the first widely recorded ‘financial bubble’ in history. For some (still unknown reason) people went mad for Dutch tulips in the 1600’s, pushing their prices to completely insane levels.

Until very recently, the Dutch tulip bubble remained the biggest financial bubble in history (when measured by the sharp increase and then even sharper fall in value), although this crown has now been taken by Bitcoin.

Some could draw comparisons with the tech bubble of the early 2000’s, although as I think the world has now realised, technology really is worth a lot and has the power to change the world, unlike Dutch tulips, pretty as they may be.

This is confirmed by the fact that all 5 of the worlds largest companies are now tech giants in the form of Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet (Google), Amazon and Facebook.

 

2 – Do Record Breakers Always Suffer A Fall?

A lot will now be said about the ‘inevitable’ fall of Apple. When a record is broken, we assume that this must be the end of the road.

The same has been said about the stock market over the past 2 years or so. “Now that we have reached a record high, we MUST be due for a crash”.

This is complete nonsense. Records are made to be broken and if the British Olympic teams of recent years have taught us anything, it is that records can be broken again and again by the very same person (read company).

As such, I suggest you also read this article on how Apple could now be on the way to achieve a $2 trillion market cap, before you rush off and sell those shares!

As always, just because a record has been broken, there is nothing to say how long that new record will stand for. In Apple’s case, it only lasted a day or two, as Apple now has a market cap of $1.030 trillion.

The final point of note here, is that $1 trillion is simply a ’round number’ that has significance for us human beings only. Other than being a 1 and 12 zeros, it doesn’t really mean much else in the context of Apple’s rise and rise.

Who knows, perhaps the first $2 trillion company will be here sooner than we think?