Budget Update – 3rd March 2021

The Chancellor has just finished presenting his budget speech to the house. The Buckingham Gate team is now busy analysing the budget document in detail and searching for any devil in the details. We will report back on any significant findings that become clear in the coming days, however, as expected, today’s budget was rather benign from a personal financial planning point of view.

Some of the key announcements and our commentary can be found below:

Income Tax

Both the personal allowance and higher rate threshold will be increased to £12,570 and £50,270 respectively from April 2021, but then both allowances will be frozen until 2026. While this is better than some had anticipated (it was widely reported that there would be no increase this year for example), the length of the freeze until 2026 is longer than expected.

This is effectively a ‘stealth tax’ and follows a long-standing tradition of governments simply not index linking allowances rather than reducing them in nominal terms. This is a theme that continues below.

Capital Gains Tax

The annual exempt amount will remain frozen at the current level of £12,300 until April 2026.

Pension Lifetime Allowance

The pensions lifetime allowance will remain frozen at the current level of £1,073,100 until April 2026.

Inheritance Tax

The Nil Rate Band and Residence Nil Rate Band will remain frozen at the current level of £325,000 and £175,000 respectively until April 2026. The level of assets at which the taper to the Residence Nil Rate Band kicks in will also remain at £2 million.

Investing

The ISA and Junior ISA allowances will remain at current levels for the time being.

Commentary

All in all, this is a very quiet budget from a personal financial planning perspective (although do bear in mind the very, very significant interventions for individuals and businesses to assist the recovery from Covid-19).

The main headline from a personal finance point of view is no change, for a long time. Most allowances have been frozen at current levels until 2026! As such, this is a fairly extended period of ‘stealth taxation’. If we assume inflation runs at around 2-3% per annum, this could see the real value of these allowances reduced by around 10-15% in the period up to the end of the freeze.

What is very interesting to us however, is the fact that these allowances have been frozen all the way up to 2026, especially in relation to Capital Gains and Inheritance Tax. Despite heavy media speculation of a big shake up in both areas, today’s policy announcements suggest that the Government can see the current regime in both areas still existing in 2026 at the least.

That is not to say that these things won’t change in the future (of course these kinds of long term policy decisions are often tweaked along the way) however, it does seem that any imminent changes are unlikely given that the Government is legislating based on the current system for the next 5 years!

All in all, keep calm and carry on is our message from today’s announcements.

If you have any questions, please get in touch.

Yours sincerely,
Buckingham Gate Chartered Financial Planners

Lies, Damn Lies and Speculation

As budget day approaches, the volume of rumour, speculation and mistruth is stepping up in traditional fashion.

Of course, there are the old favourites (you know, the things that the media report ‘might’ happen in the budget every single year, but never seem to actually occur) such as the removal of the 25% tax-free cash on pensions and restrictions to pension tax relief (for what it’s worth, I don’t believe we are likely to see either at this coming budget).

Then we have the two new rumours that seem to be doing the rounds, namely the alignment of Capital Gains Tax rates with Income Tax rates and some kind of root and branch reform of Inheritance Tax.

For what it’s worth, once again, I believe that both are unlikely to materialise in a few weeks’ time. The reason for this is that almost all suggestions in this respect would require pretty much a complete rewrite of that particular part of the tax system and a whole raft of changes to HMRC IT systems – projects that could take years to complete at the best of times.

That’s not to say that we won’t see some changes to the tax system (the freezing of the personal allowance and basic rate tax band are looking likely at this stage) however, the point is that no one (myself included) really knows other than the Chancellor himself, and even he would not have completely made his mind up at this stage because the budget document is often only finalised in the days leading up to the budget announcement itself.

What I am trying to get at is that it’s important not to delay planning because of what ‘might’ be coming in the budget. There will always be some big financial event on the horizon to wait for (after this budget, I suspect there will be another in the autumn and then in the spring again).

If you are planning on taking some action that might be impacted by a forthcoming budget, can it be a good idea to accelerate that action – yes absolutely. After all, if you are planning on doing something anyway, why not get it done and then you know where you stand.

However, I would strongly discourage people from delaying action based on what might be included in this budget or the next one or the one after that. I have seen too many examples of families learning this lesson the hard way.

It is frustrating enough looking back and thinking that you should have done something historically that you have never thought of before. But, when you look back on today a year from now, how would you feel if you knew that you should have taken action, but didn’t for whatever reason.

The old rules of financial planning say that we plan based on current and known future tax changes and then we adjust the plan to take any future unknown changes into account. That rule is just as valid in the run up to a budget as at any other time of the year in my view!

The Importance of Data

It can’t be underestimated how important good data is. In the age of fake news, social media feeds and media speculation, it can be hard to know what to believe, but good, accurate data, can make it easier to see through the noise.

You will have to excuse the rather tenuous link here, but two things this week have made me reflect on the importance of data.

The first is to do with my personal health. I was scrolling through the Apple health app the other day when I had a few moments as my computer was doing an update. What I discovered was a very interesting chart on my average resting heart rate, not just recently, but over the past few years.

Now, I have always been fairly into my fitness and generally (in the pre-lockdown era) managed around 4/5 workouts a week. If I look at my resting heart rate average from the beginning of the data I have available (coinciding with my first Apple Watch purchase in January 2018), it has always been in the reasonably respectable range of 58-61 – not too bad.

However, what really surprised me was the change since March (the start of lockdown). As lockdown began, I had a little more time for exercise, so I have been doing longer sessions and more of them. Since the middle of March, there has been a very significant and notable trend downwards and now, as of the end of July, my resting heart rate is consistently in the range of 50-54.

Now that may not sound like much, but it is a significant change in the right direction and is a noticeable sign of the impact that greater exercise duration and intensity has had on my physical wellbeing. I wonder what other insights could be gleaned if we all looked at our fitness trackers and the data they produce in more detail.

The other surprise that I gleaned from good data this week was during our investment committee meeting with Square Mile. A lot has been said and written about the market crash and then recovery over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic and many people have been shocked by the speed of the recovery, especially in the US market.

When you interrogate the data, however, things start to make more sense.

If we look at the global stockmarket (as measured by the MSCI World Index), we see that it has produced a circa 43.9% return over the past 5 years – not too shabby.

However, it is the way that this return is attributed which is shocking.

For a start, the US market has produced 83.7% of those total returns – this means that the US has been responsible for more than 4/5ths of the total global returns.

That in itself is quite stark, but the data goes deeper. If we interrogate the return of the US index, we can see that the top 10 stocks within the US market make up around 56% of the total US return.

Putting it another way, the top 10 companies in the US have accounted for around a third of total global returns.

Taking it one step further still, we can see that just 3 companies – Apple, Microsoft and Amazon make up over 23% of that total US return.

So in summary, the US makes up 83% of the total return in the world over the past 5 years, the top 10 companies account for around half of that return and the top 3 companies account for nearly a quarter of it.

Apple alone accounted for 8% of the total global stock market returns over that 5 year period.

This just goes to show how reliant we are becoming on these major tech giants.

Another very interesting fact is that, despite the US markets being back at (or very close to) record highs, the growth has been more concentrated than ever. If we look at the S&P 500 (the top 500 companies in the US market) year to date, only 10 of them have grown in value, meaning that the other 490 have fallen. However, the growth in those top 10 (again, mostly the big technology companies) has been enough to offset (and then some) the falls in the other 490 – quite amazing!

When you look at data like this, it gives you an interesting new perspective into the shape of the global economic recovery and this just goes to show just how concentrated it has been.

Read into it what you will, but it certainly gives a different perspective on things and perhaps it explains the seemingly irrational growth in the US market especially.

You see, although the market is growing, the vast majority of companies aren’t. It is just that the growth on those top 10 (only 2% of the total) is outweighing the losses on the other 490 (the other 98%).

A Message From Matt – 12th June 2020

I had planned to write a somewhat jubilant update today as stock markets around the world have recovered, in many cases to now show positive gains during 2020. Some markets have set new all time highs in the past few days! When you consider what the world has been through over the past few months, that really is quite extraordinary.

As hard as it is to believe, the ‘crash’ only really lasted 3 weeks – most markets started falling on around the 20th of February and hit their low points in the middle of March. Since then, the general trend has been one of recovery and I was all set to write about the old investment rules (time in the market, not timing the market) proving their worth once again.

I was even tempted to add in a sprinkle of ‘told you so’ pointed towards the media who were prophesising Armageddon during that 3 week period of market crashes, but who have barely mentioned a word about the spectacular recovery since then. Even in the height of the crisis, our advice to investment clients was to ‘keep calm and carry on’ and I am delighted that in every single case where I have had one of those conversations with clients, they have heeded our advice and remained invested.

Sadly, my bubble was burst yesterday as the US market took a circa 6% hit due to concerns about a second spike in cases and a less-than-positive update from the Federal Reserve. This morning, we have had some sobering news a little closer to home, with the ONS reporting that the UK economy shrank a record 20.4%.

However, I still have reasons to be cheerful. First of all, despite yesterday’s events, most global markets are still substantially better off than they were just 3 short months ago. If you had told me on 20th March (around when most markets hit their low point) that we would be in a position where the FTSE 100 and the S&P had recovered 22% and our own Balanced Portfolios would be up around 13-14%, I would have taken that!

Second, the fall in GDP was “only” 20.4% (Please note – despite my well-known love of inverted commas, I don’t think I have ever used them so seriously – I know that 20% is a huge number). While this is a big blow, it could have been much worse given the extent to which the economy has been shut down over the month of April. The fact that we managed to maintain 80% of economic activity is a big achievement, I think. The fact that the FTSE 100 rose this morning on the back of the news suggests that the market was expecting worse.

Finally, the recovery has been one driven very much by certain sectors – technology and pharmaceuticals in particular. This means that there are other sectors (airlines, travel, hospitality, car sales etc) where there is still room for a significant recovery to take place, potentially taking markets higher as economies are re-opened.

Please don’t get me wrong – I know there is a still a long way to go before anything gets back to anywhere approaching normal, however I still believe that this crisis is nowhere near as bad as other events that the human race has lived through and ultimately prospered after.

We have better science, better technology and more information and knowledge today than at any point in human history and surely all of this combined progress will get us through this crisis (second spike or not).

When markets are in free-fall, our emotions can sometimes get the better of us and lead us to take irrational investment decisions. However, there is also a second point where our emotions can lead us astray – that time is now – that time is when previous losses have been recovered. I would strongly encourage you to read this article by 7IM to learn more:

 

This post shall not constitute or be deemed to constitute an invitation or inducement to any person to engage in investment activity and is not a recommendation to buy or sell any funds of individual stocks that are mentioned in this post. Past performance is not a guide to future returns and the value of capital invested and any income generated from it may fluctuate in value.

Coronavirus Update – 5th March 2020

We wanted to provide a further update on the Coronavirus and how this is impacting on portfolios.

The global stock markets have been incredibly volatile over the past few weeks as investors digest the minute-by-minute updates on the virus and how it is impacting on companies.

In the past 5 working days, we have seen some of the largest ever falls on some stock markets, followed almost immediately by some record breaking gains – volatility reins supreme.

At times like these it is important to remind ourselves of two of the timeless lessons of stock-market investing.

1. You can’t predict the market – trying to do so in the current climate seems even more futile than usual. The virus presents a new and uncharted challenge and it’s path is near impossible to predict. Markets are moving strongly in reaction to each new data point released.

2. If you miss the best few days in the markets, you often permanently damage your long-term returns. Fidelity wrote last year about the impact of missing just the best 10 days in the market out of the past 15 years. You can download and read their previous article on this here.

Given the extreme moves we have seen over the past week, there is a very high chance that at least one (perhaps two or three) day(s) will feature in the ‘best days’ table when we look back 10 years from now and thus, despite the media storm, this period could be one of the most important for your long-term financial success.

We took the opportunity on Monday to re balance portfolios given the significant divergence we have seen between bond and equity markets. Although an over-simplification, in essence this means that we sold bonds which had increased in price (and thus were making up a larger than desired part of the portfolio) and bought equities which had fallen in price.

Given the fairly sizeable recovery in equity markets over the past few days, this move seems to have been well timed and has assisted in the recovery of the portfolios this week.

We will of course continue to monitor the situation carefully over the coming weeks and months and we will write again with any significant updates to the portfolios.

As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Buckingham Gate team.

 

Coronavirus Update – 28th February 2020

We write again following our update on Wednesday. You will no doubt have seen in the media reports of further stock market falls over the past few days and many markets are now in so called ‘correction’ territory (usually defined as a fall of 10% from a recent high point).

To say that we are delighted with how the portfolios have been coping in this environment would be an understatement. We have been very conservatively positioned for some time now in readiness for just this kind of event and our cautious stance is now proving to be well placed. As of the close of play yesterday, the FTSE 100 was down around 7.8% for the week with the S&P 500 down around 10%. By contrast, the Buckingham Gate Balanced Active Portfolio was down by around 3.6%, demonstrating the benefits of diversification.

It is worth mentioning that the media attention will focus almost exclusively on the stock market and tends not to cover the bond markets. In the past week while stock markets have been falling, many bond markets have seen record low yields, which means record high capital values in many cases. As this process has unfolded, the fixed interest portion of our portfolios have been seeing healthy gains.

Although periods like these are unsettling, they are an inevitable part of investing. Although we can’t say when the Coronavirus threat will subside, when markets recover they tend to do so quite quickly.

Jason Broome, the Investment Director at Square Mile has also provided the below update to give some context on events:


The expansion of the coronavirus outbreak is frightening but needs to be placed into perspective. So far, there have been 3,000 cases out of a population of 6,000,000,000 if we exclude China. There will be further cases, but the disease appears to be containable.  Some nations, including poor ones, have been quick to isolate those infected and nip their outbreak in the bud. Even China, with nearly 80,000 recorded cases, appears to be winning its battle as the number of new infections fall. For the moment, we have confidence that other nations such as South Korea and Italy will take the steps necessary to isolate the disease. Sadly, we are less sure about Iran where the authorities have been in denial. The country’s links to Afghanistan and Syria seem to leave a high probability that the virus will find a base in the Middle East (though the arrival of summer could stem the rate of infection). If established in the Middle East, outbreaks will continue to pop up around the world as a consequence.
 
The human tragedy aside, the economic implications of controlling the outbreak are severe. Supply chains will be disrupted as factories close, popular events are being cancelled and health services will come under increasing strain. Markets are falling and approaching a level that we believe provide a reasonable reflection of the economic costs of the outbreak. We have been running a cautious positioning in portfolios for some time and last year we took steps to add positions that should act as insurance policies if markets fell as they have now done. Our portfolios are suffering as the market falls, but our earlier action has helped moderate the damage.
 
Today, we formally convened to discuss whether we should take further action to protect the portfolios. Sadly, we lack a crystal ball to tell us exactly what will occur. We considered various options and concluded that markets will remain volatile but broadly reflect the economic costs of the outbreak as it now stands. The situation is very fluid. We agreed to make changes to some portfolios, but these are minor in impact and we will advise clients as normal once the details are worked out. We also need to be very alert to the possibility that markets will panic and overreact to the outbreak. This may present opportunities for us to redeploy some safe assets into higher yielding opportunities.

As always, we continue to monitor the situation constantly and will look to act in your best financial interests.


The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate Estate Planning, Tax Planning, Will Writing, Trust Advice, or some elements of Automatic Enrolment.
This communication is for general information only and is not intended to be individual advice. It represents our understanding of Law and HM Revenue & Customs’ practice. You are recommended to seek competent professional advice before taking any action.

Please note that investments can fall as well as rise and any income generated by an investment can fluctuate over time.

Market Update – 26th February 2020

You may have seen in the news that the stock market has suffered some fairly notable falls over the course of Monday and Tuesday. This is mainly in response to the increase in the number of Coronavirus cases across the world and in several new countries over the past week or so.

First and foremost, it is important to put things into perspective. Although the major stock market indices have fallen over the past couple of days, they have fallen from near record highs and so some element of correction is understandable in this kind of situation.

The second thing to bear in mind is the cause of the markets concern – mainly that consumers will be spending less in economies that are impacted by the virus and this is broadly true. However, the kind of spending that gets impacted tends to be consumer discretionary spending (new cars, holidays etc). Typically, this kind of expenditure gets deferred and not cancelled in situations like these, so most economists agree that the markets should get a boost later in the year when the virus has passed and people then make some of these deferred purchases.

Finally, we can look to history for some guidance in these situations (although keeping in mind the old adage that the past is not always a useful guide to the future). The graph below shows how markets have reacted to several previous epidemics. As you can see, the impact tends to be felt only in the short term, often with strong recovery only a few months later.


We are pleased to report that the Buckingham Gate Portfolios have held up very well in this environment. Over the course of Monday and Tuesday, the FTSE 100 fell by around 5.2% and the S&P 500 fell by nearly 6.7%. In contrast, the Buckingham Gate Balanced Active Portfolio fell by only 2.2%. This is as a result of the diverse nature of the portfolios, but is also a reflection of the fact that we have been very conservatively positioned for some time now in readiness for just this type of event.

We will continue to keep portfolios under review and may even use this period as an opportunity to take advantage of falling prices if valuations look attractive.

 

The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate Estate Planning, Tax Planning, Will Writing, Trust Advice, or some elements of Automatic Enrolment.
This communication is for general information only and is not intended to be individual advice. It represents our understanding of Law and HM Revenue & Customs’ practice. You are recommended to seek competent professional advice before taking any action.

Please note that investments can fall as well as rise and any income generated by an investment can fluctuate over time.

Top Rated Adviser’s 2020

This month two Buckingham Gate Chartered Financial Planners have made it into VouchedFor’s Top Rated Adviser Guide for 2020.

The guide is distributed nationally in The Times and digitally through the Telegraph’s website and so this is a great achievement that Buckingham Gate are tremendously proud of.

Congratulations Matthew Smith and Peter Ditchburn for receiving such well-deserved recognition for the fantastic advice you provide to your clients.

What makes their inclusion in the guide so much more special, is knowing that it was thanks to their lovely clients for leaving such powerful reviews on VouchedFor.

VouchedFor is a leading review site for Financial Advisers and helps those looking for advice, find the right adviser for them.

Our unique combination of expertise, makes us a one stop shop for your retirement, investment and estate planning needs.

Matthew and Peter would like to say a huge thank you to their clients for taking the time to leave a review, it really means a lot to them.

If you’re looking for financial advice, you would definitely be in good hands with these two!