Portfolio Update – Post Election December 2019

Following last week’s General Election result, we have taken the decision to increase exposure to the UK equity market for the majority of our portfolios. For the first time in over a decade, we have a government that has a free hand politically and provides much greater certainty that the UK’s exit from the EU will happen sooner rather than later.
Stock markets and sterling both rose at the end of last week following the election results, but the last couple of days have shown that there is still a long way to go before Brexit is delivered. The introduction of a legal provision by the Government barring an extension to trade deal negotiations has increased the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, and this has seen the FTSE 250 and sterling lose momentum from their gains last week.
The increase in the allocation to UK equities comes at the expense of US equity holdings which appear quite expensive when compared to other markets, and with an impeachment trial and Presidential election due in 2020, the US will be entering its own period of political uncertainty.

Buckingham Gate Portfolio Review – December 2019

Lindsell Train UK Equity : The importance of liquidity

The demise of the Woodford Equity Income fund has shown just how important it is for a fund to be able to manage it’s outflows. For those who need reminding, the fund had suffered from a run of redemption’s over a period of time and was suspended in early June when it was unable to meet the request from Kent County Council to withdraw its investment of circa £250 million in the fund.

The reputational damage incurred has since led to the decision to remove Neil Woodford as manager of the fund in October and an announcement that the process of winding up the fund would begin in January 2020. This leaves the reputation of Neil Woodford, once considered as one of the most successful fund managers during his tenure with Invesco Perpetual, in tatters and seems very unlikely that he will ever recover from this and return to a position where he is trusted to manage other people’s money.

The fallout from the implosion of this fund has seen analysts much more focused on liquidity risk than ever before, and one of the casualties of this enhanced inspection has been the Lindsell Train UK Equity fund. Following our latest portfolio review in early November, Square Mile have taken the decision to downgrade the fund over liquidity concerns and it was removed from all of the Buckingham Gate portfolios on the 18th November 2019 and replaced with the Liontrust Special Situations fund.

The Lindell Train UK Equity fund has long been considered one of the most successful UK Equity funds, and under the management of Nick Train since it’s inception in July 2006, has generated a return of 377% compared to 119% from the FTSE All Share over the same period. However, performance over the last six months has been poor, and the fund has seen significant withdrawals over recent months with September seeing its largest ever monthly outflow of £374 million. While these withdrawals can be explained by a lack of appetite of investors for UK equity markets as a whole due to Brexit etc, the level of withdrawals and the structure of the Lindsell Train fund are causes of concern.

While there are a great deal of differences in the investment approaches adopted by Neil Woodford and Nick Train, there are similarities in that they both have the courage of their convictions in choosing the companies that they invest in. Nick Train’s investment process has been characterised by a low turnover approach and the ability to invest heavily in companies that he believes in. This highly concentrated portfolio approach has been one of the main reasons for his success, but also has the potential to be his downfall.

Square Mile’s analysts are very concerned that the large concentration of assets in the fund’s top 10 holdings could see the fund struggle to sell these at a cost effective price should significant outflows persist.

It is important to reiterate that Square Mile have no immediate concerns about the ongoing viability of the fund, and it has consistently met its performance objectives and redemption requests. However, the fall from grace of the Woodford Equity Income fund has made analysts very mindful of history repeating itself and are keen to look at other investment strategies that may work better in current market conditions.

There is absolutely no way of telling if this will be a good or bad decision for the portfolios in the future, but it is clear that Square Mile are very conscious of avoiding the trap that what has worked in the past will continue to work in the future.

If you have any questions on the above, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us by calling 020 3478 2160 or emailing [email protected]

Investment Portfolio Update – October 2019

I am writing today to keep you up to date on how we are positioning portfolios in the run up to the potential Brexit deadline of 31st October (although keeping in mind this is not the first Brexit deadline we have seen, and may not be the last) and in light of some weakening economic data.

The slowdown in the global economy continues and the chances of a recession developing are increasing. Some countries such as Germany are probably already in recession, that is have a shrinking economy. However, even if recessionary conditions spread to other nations, we expect the extent of the economic contraction to be shallow and well short of what occurred in 2008/9. Nonetheless, the knock to companies’ profits would be felt by the stock market and equity prices would fall. 

Against this backdrop, equity yields are generous when compared to virtually every other financial asset. We are by no means certain that a recession will develop in the US and if that pivotal economy can continue to grow, equity markets have the potential to make further modest gains over the next couple of years. Therefore, rather than reducing equity exposure, we are making changes to the portfolio to limit the damage that a recession might bring.

Yields on government bonds around the world are at tiny levels. UK gilt yields are now virtually non-existent and the government is able to borrow at long term interest rates of well below 1%. 

On such yields, any capital gain potential if a recession does strike will be small. US bonds yields are more generous at a little below 2%. This means that if the US falls into recession, US Treasury bonds can potentially deliver a worthwhile capital gain. Thus, US government bonds appear to be a better option for the portfolio. 

As we have no wish to take any currency risk on this position, we are buying the sterling hedged Vanguard US Government Bond Index fund. If global growth rebounds, the price of this fund is likely to fall, however, the equity positions held in the portfolio should gain to a far greater extent.

We will of course be watching events closely over the coming weeks and I shall write again if we feel that any further changes are required in the portfolios.

If you have any questions on the above, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.

Kind regards
The Buckingham Gate Investment Committee

Office Of Tax Simplification IHT Review – Some Interesting Insights

There were a few interesting insights to be gleaned from the OTS Inheritance Tax Review, in addition to the much-covered suggestions for changes to the IHT regime.

First is the seemingly profound under-use of the ‘gifts from regular income exemption’. We have often made the point that this is the most underutilised and misunderstood IHT exemption and figures from the OTS seem to confirm this point.

In the 15/16 tax year, there were only 579 claims in total for the gifts from income exemption with well over half of these claims being for less than £25,000.

As such, it could be argued that there is a huge missed opportunity out there for additional IHT savings, without the hassle of the 7-year rule. Of course, the OTS has made some suggestions to abolish the gifts from income exemption, but for now it lives on and it might be wise to make hay while the sun shines.

Another notable point raised in the review is the fact that of the estates that paid IHT in the 15/16 year, only 20% had any form of lifetime gifting within the 7-year cycle.

Now of course in some cases, this would simply have been unaffordable, however surely there are a host of missed opportunities for IHT savings in the 80% of estates which had engaged in no gifting at all.

2016 – A Year in Review

As 2016 draws to a close, I always take the opportunity to review what has happened in both my business and personal life, but also to consider what has happened in the wider world around me. In this latter category, 2016 has been eventful to say the least.

The year started typically enough, we had an oil price scare and fears over growth in China, however none of that is unexpected across the course of a typical year ‘in the markets’.

What came as more of a surprise, was the Brexit vote in June. I don’t think I will ever forget that morning, turning on the TV to see that what no one thought could happen, had happened. That day was also memorable for me on the basis that I was stuck in London that night searching for a hotel at short notice because of issues with the trains (another item that has made headlines far too often in 2016).

What I found even more surprising however, was how the markets reacted with relative calm to the events unfolding. Yes, there was a few days of volatility (which is only to be expected after any major event like Brexit, especially when no one really expected it), however the markets soon recovered and went on to set record highs in many places.

As if Brexit wasn’t enough, we then had the unexpected election of Donald Trump. Again, the markets seemed to react positively and many market have continued to set new highs in December.

The million dollar question is ‘what happens next?’. I think if 2016 has shown us anything, it is that no one really knows. ‘The markets’ had predicted doom and gloom of epic proportions if Brexit OR Trump happened, let alone both of them, yet 2016 has been one of the more positive years for some time now.

My other often cited bug bear of 2016 has been the increasing intensity of panic inducing headlines in the media for increasingly small events. ‘Billions wiped off the UK stock market’ was a recent news headline, on a day when the FTSE 100 fell by less than 0.5%!

While 0.5% of the FTSE does happen to total billions of pounds, a rise or fall of 0.5% each day is so commonplace on the FTSE 100, that this is not really news at all. As such, my advice remains to take what you read, watch and listen to with at least a small pinch of salt.

As 2016 draws to a close, I also reflect on how lucky I am to do the work I love each and every day. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our clients, contacts, professional connections and suppliers for working with us in 2016 and beyond. I would like to wish you all seasons greetings and a happy and prosperous 2017, whatever the year has to offer us!

Woodford Joins the Team

In the recent meeting of the Buckingham Gate Investment Committee, we deliberated long and hard about adding the Woodford Equity Income fund to the Buckingham Gate Portfolios.

While Neil Woodford’s experience and performance in this sector is almost undeniable, the reason we had pause for thought is that the track record of the fund is only 18 months. We usually like a fund to have a 3 year track record before we would consider adding it to the portfolios.

In this case however, we have made an exception to this rule for what we feel are a number of very good reasons:

  1. The performance of the fund during it’s 18 month history is outstanding by almost every measure. We have considered no less than 12 different fund performance metrics and the Woodford fund tops the tables in all of them. The case for including the fund was compelling based on these factors alone.
  2. While Woodford Investment Management is a new venture, Neil Woodford has been managing a UK Equity Income fund with a very similar mandate for more than 20 years at Invesco Perpetual with similar success. If we combine Neil Woodford’s track record across the two funds, it makes for some very impressive viewing.
  3. Given the ‘brand name’ of Neil Woodford, he has been very successful in gathering new monies to invest in his fund, with the Woodford Equity Income Fund having over £8bn of funds under management at the time of writing. As such, the fund does not have the same characteristics as many other ‘start up’ funds. In fact, the fund is considerably larger than many other more established players.

With all of the above taken into account, we have decided to include the fund within our portfolios.

When we combine Neil Woodford’s experience in the UK Equity Income space, with that of Nick Train (Lindsell Train UK Equity Fund) in the UK Equity growth sector, we are left with a duo of the most experienced and successful managers in the UK equity sector.

It is important to remember that past performance is no guide to the future, however we do feel that there is significant value to be added by experienced managers in the UK equity space. This is in an unusual contrast with the US equity sector, where there are very few, if any, ‘active’ managers who consistently add value.

For this reason we continue to adopt our hybrid approach to fund selection, choosing more expensive active managers where we feel they can add value, and using low cost ‘tracker’ funds where they may not.

Our 2014 Investment Action Plan – Part 3 – Rebalance Investments

While the media painted a somewhat gloomy picture of the economy in 2013, on the whole, financial markets had a bumper year. Given the significant differences in performance across market sectors, it is likely that many portfolios will now be out of line with the intended asset allocation.

A priority for 2014 should be to ensure that portfolios are re-balanced back into line with the intended asset allocation and that a thorough review is conducted to ensure that the investments are still suitable for your needs and objectives.

Our 7 Step Investment Action Plan – Part 1 – Diversification

2013 was quite a year in investment terms – many clients will have portfolios in need of some serious spring cleaning in 2014. We have put together a 7 step action plan for 2014 – part one is below. Stay tuned for more over the next week or two.

The old saying goes, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” and it has long been the case that when considering an investment portfolio, diversification across different asset classes is of the upmost importance in order to manage risk and return.

While diversification across asset classes is as important now as it always has been, given the increasing speed of change in both the political and regulatory environment, it makes sense to diversify across product types as well.

For example, pension plans offer highly generous tax reliefs to investors as well as tax efficient fund growth, however they also have restrictions in terms of the amount that you can save and the age at which you can gain access to the funds.

Pensions are especially prone to legislative change and recently seem to have become a politically easy target for the government to extract further taxation from more wealthy savers. As such, while a pension plan will form the bedrock of most retirement plans, it makes sense to include some other “product types” to lessen the impact of an adverse change in pension planning rules. An increase in the minimum pension age (from 55 to 60) for example would throw many retirement plans off course. Holding a suitable range of other “product wrappers” such as ISA’s and investment bonds will mitigate this risk.

The tax treatment of product types is also prone to change. There has been talk in the media of government plans to reduce the level of tax relief available or further limit the total allowable lifetime savings within a pension plan. Conversely, there is pressure to increase the amount of tax-advantaged savings allowed in an ISA each year to encourage the public to save and invest.

Given that the time horizon for some investments is 30 years or more, it seems almost inevitable that some form of taxation or legislative change will impact on the plan before it completes. It is vital to review your plans on a regular basis to ensure that they remain suitable for your circumstances over time.

Buckingham Gate’s 2014 Financial Planning Thoughts

With the new year now underway, I thought it time to share our early thoughts on some of the key financial planning issues clients are likely to face in 2014.

 1. Re-balance investments

Given the fantastic market performance of 2013 both in the UK and abroad it is likely that many portfolios will now be out of balance when compared to the intended asset allocation. If left unchecked this can cause a large increase in the risk and volatility within a portfolio and could lead to larger than expected losses in future years. As such now would be a prudent time to review your financial planning goals for the years ahead and rebalance investment portfolios accordingly.

2. Plan ahead for pension legislation changes on 6th April

The 6th April 2014 sees the introduction of a reduced lifetime and annual allowance for pensions. The annual allowance is a limit on the amount of tax advantaged pension contributions an individual can make in a single “pension input period”. The lifetime allowance limits the total amount of pension savings you can accumulate in your lifetime. Any excess over these allowances can lead to large tax charges, which in some cases can be as high as 55%. This is a high priority area, which should be looked at well in advance of the deadline of 6th April. Clients who are members of a final salary or public sector pension scheme could be particularly vulnerable in this area.

3. Make considered use of tax allowances – Now!

Many people make use of their various tax allowances right at the last minute, especially ISA payments. In some cases this means that there is not sufficient time to complete the significant research required to make a suitable recommendation for investment and we are unable to assist. Furthermore, by leaving the use of these allowances to the very end of the tax year you are effectively losing out on a whole years worth of tax advantaged fund growth. Now is the time to start planning for the end of the tax year on 5th April and it would also be a great time to start planning for the 2014/15 tax year as well.

Some diligent individuals who have made full use of their ISA allowance since it’s introduction now have in excess of £1m sheltered away in a tax efficient home with no income or capital gains tax liability. For most this would make a most welcome addition to any retirement planning or investment goals.

4. If you are an employer – Start preparing for auto enrolment

While the new auto enrolment rules have already taken effect for the largest of employers, 2014 is the year where this new legislation will really start to impact on owner-managed business. Each employer will have an auto-enrolment staging date, this is the date on which a particular business will be required to comply with the new legislation. At an absolute minimum we would recommend that employers start preparing 6 months before their staging date preferably a year or more. If you would like an initial assessment of your auto-enrolment staging date and liabilities as an employer, please do get in touch.

5. Make the most of the low interest rate environment – While you still can!

While the low bank of England base rate is likely to persist for some months yet, the markets are starting to price in a rise in the benchmark interest rate within the next 18 months or so. This will begin to have an impact on the rate at which lenders can secure funds and In turn, this will start to filter down to mortgage rates. Clearly each individual will have different circumstances but in general those clients who have variable rate mortgages or borrowing may want to consider locking into the historically low rates currently available.  While no-one can say for sure exactly when a rate rise will occur, we can say with some certainty that the base rate will have to increase at some point from its current low.

6. Make a thorough financial plan

We all have different financial goals and objectives, however many of us are unsure as to exactly how or when those objectives will be achieved. Whether you aspire to retire early or fund a new business venture, by creating a comprehensive cash-flow model we are able to predict how close your existing provisions are to meeting your personal needs. As well as looking at the “ideal” scenario a cash flow plan will also enable you to consider your financial position in a number of “what if” scenarios such as the illness of a family member. This exercise is often eye opening and can show how well prepared (or not) you are for the financial challenges which life could throw at you.

By making time to sit down with a Chartered Financial Planner, you will be able to start 2014 with a suitable plan in place to ensure that you meet those all important financial objectives.

Buckingham Gate Review of 2013

With the new year only days away I thought it timely to share our review of 2013. While some people would group 2013 in with the volatile years that went before it, the underlying theme of 2013 was recovery.

While the UK has officially been out of recession for some time now, 2013 would for most have felt like the year the recovery really bedded in. The forecasts for the UK economy look promising going into next year and lets hope that worst of the current “downturn” is truly behind us.

As far as the markets are concerned 2013 was a fantastic year. The FTSE 100 opened on 2nd January at 6027 and is sitting as I write (30th December) at 6,740 for a gain of c11.9%. The US market faired even better with an opening figure of 13,412 and a close on 26th December of 16,479, which is a gain of c22.8%. For some reason the media painted a rather more gloomy picture of western economies but the numbers never lie with both the UK and US enjoying a good year for market growth.

The start of 2013 also saw the introduction of the FSA’s “Retail Distribution Review”. This was the biggest legislative change in the financial planning profession for some time with the ban on product based commission coinciding with the need for a higher level 4 standard of qualifications in order to provide professional investment advice. At Buckingham Gate this caused us less concern then most due to our fixed fee charging structure and commitment to an even higher level 6 qualification and Chartered Financial Planner status.

Also in January, the government announced the move to a single tier state pension, which will be around £144 per week in todays terms. While some people will be worse off under the new rules I feel that this is a good move for state pension provision in the UK. The flat rate pension removes all of the ambiguity and uncertainty from the previous system of a basic state pension along with many over complicated top up plans. What this means is that people can clearly see what level of provision the state will provide and, as such, make suitable private plans on top of this.

Also in the pensions arena was the introduction of auto-enrolment for the largest UK employers. This new legislation means that most people not currently contributing to a workplace pension will be automatically enrolled into a plan with contributions taken directly from salary. 2014 will see this legislation apply to smaller employers and Buckingham Gate has an exiting proposition lined up to provide professional advice and assistance to those employers. Look out for more details in early 2014!

Property prices also resumed their seemingly never-ending upward climb in 2013. Already there is talk of a further housing bubble and this will be watched closely by policy makers in the new year. With house price growth already predicted to average around 8% in 2014 they could have their work cut out.

We have a number of financial planning issues already on the radar for 2014 and will provide our thoughts on some of these in the first of our new year planning posts early in January.

In the mean time the whole team at Buckingham Gate would like to wish our clients a happy and prosperous new year!