Tag: Financial Planning

You can’t predict the future, but you can learn from the past

If I had a penny for every time I heard someone say “If only we could predict the future” as they think about investing in the markets, then I’d be giving Warren Buffet a good run for his money.

Having said that, it always strikes me that we actually can go a long way to predicting market behaviour. It’s our ability to look back in time, into the established long-term patterns of the markets that can unlock the key to future returns. The past can provide a good indication of the economic cycles and their effect on future markets across the world. 

So what has history taught us?

If there is one thing that becomes clear when you examine the performance of the stock markets, especially in the UK and the USA, it’s that there is a consistent pattern of growth and returns; with world markets more frequently rewarding investors despite periods of economic slowdown and uncertainty.

Over the last 100, in the UK All Share Index, we’ve seen an average annual return of 7%. Obviously there have been years where large drops and gains have occurred, such as 1974, where the index fell 55% and the 1975 bounce back of a 136% increase.

However throughout its history, the standard deviation has been 21.5. Put simply this shows that for 66% of the last 100 years, returns have been between -14.5% and +28.5 with positive returns being delivered in 65 of the 100 years.

Putting your best FTSE forward

On 3 January 1984 the FTSE 100 was created. The FTSE is made up of 100 of the largest (by market capitalisation) companies in the UK; what we often refer to as ‘The Blue Chips’ and are the benchmark by which the stock market is measured and referred to in the UK.

To give you an idea of how The FTSE 100 has performed over the years, in 1984 it started with a value of 1000 and ended 2019 at 7542.44; which was itself 21.1% higher than where it was at the end of 2018.

In terms of really choppy waters, the largest one-day fall of the modern FTSE 100 was on Black Monday 20 October 1987, when the index fell by 12.22%. Whilst following the property and financial crashes of 2008 the annual price return was -31.3%. With the largest annual price return being 35.1% in 1989.

So we can see that although the FTSE 100 experiences its fair share of turbulence, the long terms returns have always been positive growth 

The Covid Crash

The markets have seen crashes happen before and they’ve always bounced back. Growth seems inevitable, although the trajectory, like all things in life, has its ups and downs.

However long-term data, both in the UK and in the markets overseas, clearly show that the trend is always one of growth.

Bear and Bull markets are created by panic selling and buying of shares in short-term reactionary reflexes to the growing and checking pains of the economy, both nationally and worldwide. 

So if your not into the short termism of Bull and Bear trading, then the trick is to understand the longer-term view, approach the investment markets armed with knowledge and patients and to sit fast in turbulent times and wait for the markets to come back. 

Make sure you’re working with a map

I think that the fastest way to ensure you end up on the losing side of the investment market is to just jump in with the hope that prices will rise across the board.

There are always winners and losers in both Bull and Bear Markets and throughout normal trading conditions. The trick is to understand where the potential opportunities and pitfalls are. If you’re not completely confident that you know the markets in the same way as the professional traders do, then please make sure that you are talking to an independent financial expert when seeking advice on any form of investing. 

There are some interesting points regarding the FTSE that you need to bear in mind, as they will certainly impact upon its overall performance as the years go by. 

For example, the index is never a good indicator of how the UK economy is fairing as a whole, as a many companies listed earn 75% of their revenues from overseas. With almost a fifth of the companies listed involved in mining and oil, all of who will face increased challenges as we move to a more environmentally aware existence, theirs is bound to be a downturn in that part of the index. 

There will always be industries that seem to be on the up. Green Energy, Pharmaceutical and Electric Cars spring to mind. History also shows us that their runs will not last. Just think about the dot com boom and what happened to most of those multi-million/billion valuations. 

If you’re going to invest by sector, do your homework and seek expert advice. In fact, whatever investments you are thinking of making, speak to an expert independent financial adviser before you do. It could open your eyes to a whole raft of unthought-of possibilities and may save or make you a fortune! 

Start with the right advice and stick with it

Please remember that markets can go down as well up and that past performance is no guarantee of future investment returns. But if you are going to invest, do your homework and seek expert advice.

The first thing you should do is to seek out expert independent financial advice. Chances are that it could open your eyes to a whole raft of unthought-of possibilities and may save (or make) you a fortune! 

As always, we at Bridgewater Financial Services are here to provide expert and independent advice and to answer any questions you have regarding investing in stocks, shares, bonds or any other investment strategy you may be considering. 

Please speak to an expert, even if it isn’t us, before you consider putting your money into the markets.  

Stay safe

A New Deal For Britain..

.. a massive opportunity for your SSAS Pension.

There are some remarkable changes coming our way with regard to planning and building permissions for the conversion of commercial property to residential.

As we all know your small self-administered pension scheme (SSAS) is an ideal vehicle to purchase, develop and own commercial property; with some remarkably advantageous ways of funding potential purchases of commercial properties.

We also know that your SSAS isn’t allowed to hold residential property, but did you know that it is allowed to pay for any conversion from commercial to residential?

Meaning that, you can purchase commercial property with your SSAS, flip it to residential and develop it within the SSAS. Just as long as the property is removed from the SSAS Pension BEFORE it becomes habitable. For the avoidance of doubt, ‘habitable’ is defined as the point of which the certificate of habitation / completion is issued.

There are some VERY BIG changes coming to commercial property planning restrictions

In order to get the economy moving again, the Prime Minister has announced his ‘New Deal For Britain’. Within it are some remarkable opportunities for companies to utilise the power of their SSAS pensions, by developing commercial property for residential sale.

This September, we will see some of the biggest changes in planning regulations that have ever impacted upon the commercial property market.

If you have a SSAS pension, you could be perfectly placed to take full advantage of these. As of September this year a reform of the current system will introduce the following changes:

  • A vast amount of existing commercial property will be allowed to change its use to residential without the need for a planning application
  • Land and existing commercial buildings in town centres can change use without planning permission
  • Planning permission will no longer be required for the demolition and rebuild of vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings, as long as they are rebuilt as homes
  • Commercial premises, including vacant shops, can be more easily swapped to residential housing
  • Far more types of commercial units will have the flexibility to be repurposed through the reform of the User Class Order.

This is a fundamental changing of the rules around converting commercial property to residential and this can be done advantageously through the use of your SSAS pension.

However the rules governing what you can and can’t do must be closely followed, or you’ll run the risk of exposing the SSAS to draconian taxes on the profits that your property dealings create.

To avoid unwanted taxes there are a few simple things you can do to ensure that things go as smoothly and as tax efficiently as possible:

  • Make sure that your SSAS sells the property to a cash buyer prior to the conversion to residential completing. This means that the completion then takes place outside of your SSAS
     
  • You can leave the capital appreciation inside the SSAS and avoid Capital Gains Tax if existing SSAS members, or a sponsoring company, purchases the incomplete property form the SSAS at market value. They can then finish the project and sell it, paying only the stamp duty and legal costs
  • The SSAS can even sell the uncompleted property subject to a deferred consideration contract. This way the property is removed from the SSAS before completion, but the buyer doesn’t have to pay the full purchase price over until the conversion is complete and they can then apply for a mortgage
  • A great way of ensuring that any property in question qualifies as a genuinely diverse commercial vehicle, and therefore unaffected by the normal residential property rules, is for a number of independent SSAS’s to come together in order to carry out bulk projects
  • Another way to not get taxed for converting or building is simply don’t convert or build. A SSAS can buy and demolish commercial property and then sell the land to a developer for a commercial gain
  • You can also take advantage of any 12 month loan window available by getting the SSAS to lend up to 50% of the funds value in order for the sponsoring company to purchase or convert the property; and repay the SSAS upon the completion of the sale.

There are all sorts of opportunities to take advantage of these coming changes with a SSAS Pension. If you don’t currently have one, then perhaps now’s the right time to convert an existing scheme to a SSAS, or set one up.

Whatever you are thinking, now is the time to act as it can take up to three months to get a new SSAS registered by HRMC. Especially as many of their staff have been moved to other departments in order to handle the furlough scheme.

If you are thinking about setting up a SSAS, in order to take advantage of these new changes in property legislation when they kick-in in September, then please get independent and professional advice.

Doing things right from the very start will save an awful lot of hassle and expense further down the line. Especially with something as complex as a SSAS Scheme, where the wrong advice, or no advice at all, could result in significant tax penalties.

As always, we at Bridgewater Financial Services are here to provide expert and independent advice on any questions you have regarding a SSAS pension, or any other financial enquiries you may have.

20-20 vision for your finances

Happy 2020!

We’ve just stepped into a new decade and all the surprises that brings. But as we set off on the next chapter, I always think that the exciting thing is the uncertainty. Yes we know some things are definitely going to happen, like most of our New Year’s resolutions will fall by the wayside, the UK will leave the EU and that we’ll all get older and hopefully a little wiser. 

However when it comes to the markets, we can’t know for sure how they are likely to impact our personal finances. Having said that, we do have the next best thing available to us; our ability to review and amend!

Whatever your long-term plans may be, now is the time to review how the last year or two has performed for you and to put yourself in the right position to take full advantage of the financial opportunities now available. A review of your Savings, Estate Planning, Insurance Covers, Investments and Pensions now will allow you to make any changes and tweaks in your finances in order to make sure that you reach the end of the 2020’s in the financial position that you set out to achieve.

Now’s the perfect time to inspect an ISA

If you don’t currently have an ISA in your portfolio, then can I suggest that you add one to your list of things to consider this year.

It’s a great tax-efficient way of approaching investments, as your returns are free of income and capital gains tax. You can invest in an ISA up to a limit of £20,000 of which £4,000 can be paid into a LISA (for those eligible). 

As the annual deadline for ISA’s is 5 April 2020, this means that you potentially have two bites of the cherry available to you throughout 2020. By that I mean that you can currently take advantage of the ISA Tax-free opportunity for the remaining of the tax year, plus you can then do the same again on 6 April 2020. Please don’t leave it too late though, as some providers take several working days to process new ISAs, so leaving things until the beginning of April may mean you miss the closing deadline.

Take a look at a LPA And Will

The chances are that you could be amongst over 50% of the UK adults, including many in their 50’s and 60’s, who don’t currently have a Will in place. If that’s the case, could I respectfully suggest that writing one really should be high on your financial agenda for 2020. 

Whilst you may already have a Will in place, or high on your ‘To Do’ list, can I also prompt you to consider Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), as incapacity often strikes without warning. Which means that sorting out a LPA can save your estate and it’s beneficiaries considerable costs and avoid unnecessary and lengthy delays.

If this all sounds a bit daunting, please be assured that putting Will and a LPA in place is nowhere near as difficult or costly as many people think. If you are unsure regarding whom to approach to best sort these things out, then start by contacting us. We can easily arrange Wills and LPAs through our sister company Bridgewater Wealth Protection www.bridgewaterwp.com

If you do already have a Will or LPA, then please take this reminder as an opportunity to review it. Checking that it is up to date and that it reflects your current wishes.

Improve your Insurance

Even if you have insurance covers in place, now is an opportune time to review things. Our advice would be to just make sure that each plan covers you for everything you need and that the costs are correct. Your circumstances may well have changed since you took any cover out. If that’s the case, then it’s critical that you ensure you are covered for all you require and that there are no plans available that could provide better cover and possibly a lower premium too.

The wrong product can end up costing you a great deal of unnecessary expense and stress, so please take the time to review and compare cover options.

Investigate your Investments

After a bumpy year (The Queen’s words, not mine) in politics and the markets, now is an excellent time to take stock and to just check that your investment strategy is on course to achieve your goals. 

An excellent starting point would be the latest report regarding your mutual funds. There you can check to make sure that they still match your appetite for risk and that you are also happy with where your money is being invested.


A good tip, for when you consider your investments, especially when thinking about your exposure to risk, is to always include your pension, ISA’s funds and stocks together. Do this even when the funds are spread around different accounts and investment products, that way you will get a better feel for your overall portfolio.

Peer into your pension

Lastly and certainly not least, is your pension. 

Your pension is one of the most valuable assets you can have, yet it often gets overlooked; and I feel that more often than not, we don’t give pensions the attention that they deserve. 

Regular reviews of your Pension makes excellent financial sense, especially as legislation has changed massively in the last few years. So if you haven’t recently reviewed your pension position, then now would be a very good moment to do so.

During your review, ask yourself the following questions:

• Are the level of your contributions correct? Too little could leave you
wanting in retirement and too much could create problems with your
Reduced Lifetime Allowance
• Does the strategy still fit with your time horizon, changes in your current
situation or attitudes to your investment risk?
• Is your pension scheme up to date and able to take advantage of the new
pension freedoms, or is it an older scheme that can’t benefit?
• Does your pension fit with your retirement and estate planning?
• If your pension is a Final Salary Scheme, then with the increases in
transfer values, is it worth requesting a transfer value and restructuring
the pension?

Although this isn’t every question you should ask, they are certainly questions you should know the answers to, if you want to ensure that your pension is in the best place it can be.

We’re here to help whenever you need us

Although no one can see into the future, having a close look at your finances now is the difference between approaching 2020 with a clear financial strategy or setting yourself up for a cry of ‘I should have gone to Specsavers’ later in the year! 

I hope that this blog goes someway to starting the new financial year off on the right foot. If however there is something specific you would like to talk to us about regarding your plans, then please get in touch with us at Bridgewater Financial Services, where we will be delighted to help guide you through your individual options and strategies.

Wishing you all a Happy and Prosperous 2020.

Dealing With Redundancy – what to do right now.

What you need to do, if you are facing redundancy

With the shock collapse of Thomas Cook, leaving over 21,000 people now facing certain redundancy and countless thousands working in support industries with an equally uncertain future, I thought that I might share some thoughts on what to do if you are facing immediate redundancy.

What to do right now

Finding yourself facing redundancy may have a profound psychological effect upon you, but it’s also a time when you need to be strong and take some immediate action.

If you are being made redundant, then you should spend today doing the following things as a matter of urgency. Taking back control of things starts here:

Claim everything you are entitled to. Nobody want’s to sign on, but you’ve been paying into the system; and it’s there for your benefit too. So sign on today, as you may be eligible to claim benefits such as Universal Credit, whilst you are looking for a new job.

There are also other benefits such as Housing Benefits, Council Tax Reductions, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Tax Credits that may be available to you. Here’s a link to the Citizens Advice Benefit Checker, that will quickly show you what benefits you are entitled to:
https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/benefits-introduction/what-benefits-can-i-get/

Deal with your mortgage. As you won’t know just how long you will be without an income, notify your mortgage lender (and other lenders) today. That way, if you have problems keeping up payments, they will likely work with you to overcome short-term difficulties and may offer things like payment holidays, or a switch to interest only repayments. They are usually helpful and sympathetic, but they can only offer assistance if they are aware of what’s going on – so tell them as quickly as possible.

Claim on any policies. If you took out insurance against being made redundant, that should cover your mortgage and loan repayments, so claim today. The process of being paid out may take some time, so start the ball rolling now, to help avoid missed payments whilst you wait for the insurance money.

Work out your budget. Calculate what your assets and liabilities are, along with other household income and expenditure. That way you’ll get a clear picture of your current financial standing. Cut any unnecessary expenditure and prioritise remaining expenses in order of importance. Knowing exactly where you are financially will significantly help with any negative emotions you may be having.

Once you’ve done the basics, then it’s time to tackle the rest

I can’t stress how important it is to have done the above points – for both your financial and mental health. Once you’ve dealt with immediate actions, then it’s time to think about the following:

Get professional advice. If the whole situation seems daunting, reach out for some help. Talk to a properly qualified financial planner. You don’t know what you don’t know – and getting expert advice could save you a great deal of stress and money.

Clear existing debts. If you can, clear any outstanding credit cards or loans. Especially because the cost of most debts vastly exceeds any interest you’ll be earning on savings.

But keep access to emergency funds just in case you need them.

Those you can’t clear, move to the cheapest rate. Your credit score may take a post redundancy knock, so now’s the time to move debt to the best possible rate, such as the interest free balance transfers of certain credit cards

Once you’ve received your redundancy payment

Following the receipt of your final lump sum, there are one or two things you may want to consider.

Top up your pension. You could choose to take advantage of the tax relief available on the first £30,000, as you top up your existing pension from your redundancy payment.

Invest for your future. If you cleared your debts, and have a nest egg, you may want to consider your redundancy payment as a windfall and use it to make some longer-term investments.

Early retirement. You may even be in a position that your financial situation allows you to consider an early retirement, or at least a significant step away from the world of work.

Redundancy is a strange and stressful time

Facing redundancy can be emotionally draining and it’s easy to try to avoid meeting it head on. However, if you want to lessen the impact it may have on you, both psychologically and financially, then early planning and preparation is the answer.

Sorting out your existing finances and planning for the short and long-term future are fundamental and very wise moves. Talk to your financial adviser about the points I’ve highlighted in this blog. Then explore those areas of your individual finances that will also be impacted.

It’s not the end of the world, on the contrary, it’s a new beginning; and taking charge of the situation is your first step down the road to a brighter future.

As always, if you have any questions regarding your current or future financial situation, especially if you think that redundancy may be a future possibility, then please contact us at Bridgewater Financial Services where we will be delighted to help guide you through your individual options and strategies.

Some helpful links:

https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/work/leaving-a-job/redundancy/preparing-for-after-redundancy/

https://www.gov.uk/redundancy-your-rights

http://www.executivestyle.com.au/what-they-dont-tell-you-about-being-made-redundant-gwacfd

As a New Tax year begins, let’s have a wander through your plans

On 6 April 2018 we moved into a new financial year. Okay, it probably wasn’t marked with street parades or fireworks, but it’s certainly worth taking note of. Especially as all of your allowances were re-set and a fair few new rules and regulations will be put in place during the following twelve months.

Like most sensible people you may have some form of plan in place that delivers an end result for your future. However you’d be surprised at how many of us don’t have a proper map of how to attain our desired retirement. If that’s you, don’t panic – you’re not alone, but this may be the time to seriously start thinking about putting some plans in place.

Start the new financial year with this new thought

What I tell all of my clients is this: Your financial plan should be seen as a journey, much the same as if you we’re going to go hiking in the mountains. Just like when you set out into the mountains, your financial plan is going to need some specialist equipment and an expert guide to make sure you reach your goal safely, successfully and within your timescale.

There’s a saying in the hiking community that is mirrored in financial services: “Hope for the Best – but Plan for the Worst”. So that’s exactly what we need to do.

The first step of your journey

No one sets out on a journey without knowing where he or she wants to get to. It’s exactly the same with your financial plans. The most important part of your journey is identifying precisely where you want to end up. In terms of your financial plans, this should be a clear idea of the goals you are aiming to achieve at the end of your endeavours.

Once you have worked out a realistic destination, with the help of your guide in the form of your Independent Financial Adviser (IFA), then you can ensure that you have the right route mapped out to achieve your financial goals.

Keep your eye on the path

A critical part of any hike is making sure that you are headed in the right direction. Your IFA should be there at regular agreed intervals to sense-check everything is still on-track for you. They will, if necessary, make course-corrections and adjustments.

Should your circumstances change, but your goals remain, then they are there to re-plot your course to help make success achievable.

Don’t be put off with changes in the weather

Any hiker will tell you to pack your rucksack for spring, summer and winter – and expect it all in the same afternoon. It’s the same with a long-term financial plan. You will enjoy bright sunny days as well as stormy ones. The trick is to remember that just like the weather, things change. As long as your IFA has planned properly, then the ups and downs of investment returns will be as planned for as the ups and downs of hill walking.

Enjoy the places of interest – just don’t stray from the path

If we see a crowd gathering and pointing at something eye-catching on a hike, there’s nothing wrong with stopping to take a quick look.

It’s the same with your financial plans. You’re going to be distracted with countless bandwagons trundling exotically up and down the path. What we don’t do however is re-define the purpose of our journey and build a new route around jumping on the back of one of them.

Distractions can send us off course and often mean that there is a price to pay in getting back on the right path. A good IFA is there to keep your attention off the many distractions that, once you’ve notice them, have usually already been priced into the market.

There are multiple paths on the mountain, so be flexible

There are many routes to the summit and more often than not, you will come off an established path to take advantage of a shortcut, stop and eat your sandwiches or to avoid an unexpected change in the terrain. It’s the same with your long-term financial plan. It’s ok to come off script, if and when your IFA advises that it’s the right thing to do. It maybe a reaction to interest rate fluctuations, or the temporary movement of investments into or away from higher risk profiles. Whatever the changes, just think of them as adjustments in the route, designed to ensure you reach your goal.

The thing to remember is that unpredictability and uncertainty are a part of your financial journey. A good guide, in the form of an Independent Financial Adviser, is aware of that and they will plan accordingly; and have contingencies ready to put in place.

Everyone is on the mountain for different things

Next time you go hiking, just remember that all those you’re sharing the countryside with are there for different reasons. Some for the view, some to beat a record, some to collect ‘peaks conquered’ and some for the escape from their daily lives. Well it’s the same with your financial plans. No two are ever alike, as we all have different goals we wish to achieve.

The one thing everyone always has in common however, is a respect for the mountain and a sensible approach to the task ahead. It’s the people who set-off without any real goals, the wrong equipment and no map, that are the ones the brave men and women of mountain rescue get called out to find.

Build a bridge to your financial future

As ever, if you have any questions regarding any aspect of planning for your future, then please contact us at Bridgewater Financial Services where we will be delighted to help guide you through the options available to you.

Happy Hiking!

Brexit …

Brexit becomes reality and the markets react with heavy selling of risk assets, particularly British and European stocks and the pound. The fears have materialised and the issue is taking its toll on investment portfolios. That said, the worst thing an investor can do at the moment is acting based on emotions rather than careful analysis of the situation. With the extreme levels of volatility that we are seeing now, a bad decision can have very costly consequences.

Market Volatility

The markets’ reaction can be best observed on the pound’s exchange rate against the dollar. In the last days before the referendum, it appreciated from 1.40 to 1.50 (7%), as polls started to predict a narrow Remain victory. This morning after the actual outcome it dropped to 1.32 (12% down), but at the time of writing this article it is trading around 1.39 (5% up from the morning low). Similar volatility can be observed on stock prices (British, European and worldwide), commodities and other assets.

The Market’s Reaction Is Not Unusual

While the fact of Britain leaving the EU is unprecedented and extraordinary, the way the markets react to the decision is not unusual. It is similar to the way markets react to other surprising outcomes of scheduled events, such as central bank interest rate decisions or (on the individual stock level) company results. We see a sharp initial move triggered by the surprising outcome (this morning’s lows), followed by corrections and swings to both sides, as the market tries to digest further information that is gradually coming in and establish a new equilibrium level. These swings (although perhaps less extreme than today) will most likely continue for the next days and weeks.

What We Know and What We Don’t

At the moment the actual effects of Brexit on the economy are impossible to predict – we will only know several years from now. Even the timeline of next steps is unclear. The only thing we know is that David Cameron is stepping down as PM (that means succession talks and some internal political uncertainty in the coming months) and that the process of negotiations of the actual EU exit terms will be started in the next days or weeks.

We don’t know what the new UK-EU treaties will look like. There are some possible models, like Switzerland or Norway, but Britain’s situation is unique in many ways. We can also expect the British vote to trigger substantial changes within the EU, as the first reactions of EU representatives have indicated; therefore we don’t know who exactly we will be negotiating with. In any case, this is not the end of trade between the UK and EU countries. The EU can’t afford to not trade with the UK or apply punitive protectionist measures against us.

Where Will the Markets Go Now?

Under these circumstances, no one can predict where stocks or the pound will be one month from now or one year from now. Nevertheless, for a long-term investor, such as someone saving for their pension, these short time horizons don’t really matter. If you invest for 10 years or longer, our view is that you don’t need to fear the impact of yesterday’s vote. Leaving the EU might take a few percentage points from the UK’s GDP and from stock returns, but in the long run it won’t change the trend of economic growth, which has been in place for centuries.

The greatest risk that the Brexit decision represents for a long-term investor is not what the market will do. In any case, it will recover sooner or later. The main risk is the investor acting on emotions, under pressure and without careful analysis of all consequences. The investors who lost the most money in past market crashes such as in 1987, 1997 or 2008 were those who panicked and sold at the worst moment, when it seemed like the economy and the financial system was going to collapse. Those who were able to take a long-term perspective and stayed invested have seen their investments recover and even surpass previous levels.

Our Recommendation

We recognise that this is a momentous event and it will take time to fully digest the implications. For now, it is important that investors maintain their disciplined approach and do not act in haste to sell off their investments. This would only serve to crystallise losses which currently only exist on paper. We recommend that they sit tight unless their goals have materially changed. We also ask them to note that we are not taking this lightly and will be maintaining our portfolio structures under review in accordance with our overall investment philosophy. If we judge that changes need to be made we will provide advice as appropriate and this will be dealt with as part of our normal review process.

 

 

Bear Market Coming? Stick with Your Strategy

Following a multi-year rally, 2015 wasn’t particularly successful in the global markets and, so far, the start of the new year hasn’t been any good either. The UK’s FTSE 100 index is below 6,000, lowest in more than three years. It’s times like this when various doomsday predictions start to appear, warning against events “worse than 2008”, using words such as “crash” and “meltdown”, and pointing to factors such as rising interest rates, growing political tensions, China, rising commodity prices, falling commodity prices and many others.
The truth is that no one really knows what is going to happen. Not the TV pundits, not the highly paid bank strategists and stock analysts, not even the Prime Minister or the Bank of England Governor.
That said, when you have significant part of your retirement pot invested, it is natural to feel uneasy when you hear such predictions, especially if they come from an analyst who got it right last time and correctly predicted some previous market event (he was lucky).
When the markets actually decline and you see your portfolio shrinking in real time, the concerns may become unbearable. Fear and greed get in charge, both at the same time. It is tempting to think about selling here and buying the stocks back when they are 20% lower a few months from now. Easy money, so it would seem. Nevertheless, that would be speculating, not investing. The problem with the financial industry (and the media) is that these two are confused all the time.
Time in the Market, Not Timing the Market
While some people have made money speculating, academic research as well as experiences of millions of investors have shown that it is a poor way to save for retirement. When a large number of people take different actions in the markets, some of them will be lucky and get it right purely due to statistics (luck). However, it is extremely difficult to repeat such success and consistently predict the market’s direction with any accuracy.
In the long run, the single thing which has the greatest effect on your return is time, not your ability to pick tops and bottoms. The longer you stay invested in the market, the more your wealth will grow. You just need the patience and ability to withstand the periods when markets fall, because eventually they will recover and exceed their previous highs.
Time Horizon and Risk Tolerance
The key decision to make is your risk tolerance – how volatile you allow your portfolio to be, which will determine your asset allocation. While personality and other personal specifics come into play, the main factor to determine your risk tolerance is your investment horizon. The longer it is, the more risk you can afford and the more volatility your portfolio can sustain. If you are in your 40’s and unlikely to need the money in the next 20 years, you should have most of your retirement pot in equities. If you are older and closer to retirement, your portfolio should probably be more conservative, because you might not have the time to wait until the markets recover from a possible crash. It is important to get the risk tolerance and the asset allocation right (an adviser can help with that) and stick with it.
How to Protect Your Portfolio from Yourself
Because the above is easier said than done, here are a few practical tips how to protect your retirement pot from your emotions and trading temptations:
1. Have a written, long-term investment plan. It is human nature to consider written rules somehow harder to break than those you just keep in your head. It is even better if you involve your adviser to help you create the plan. Not only is an adviser better qualified and more experienced in the investment process, but another person knowing your rules makes them even harder to break.
2. Do not check fund prices and the value of your portfolio every day. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t review your investments regularly. But the key is to make these revisions planned and controlled, rather than emotion-based. You will be less likely to make impulsive decisions, which more often than not are losing decisions.
3. Maintain an adequate cash reserve. This should be enough to meet any planned short-term expenditure and also provide a reserve for unexpected expenses. It will help you avoid the need to encash investments at a time when investment values are low.

Would you like to discuss this article with an adviser?

The Seven Roles of an Advisor

What is a financial advisor for? One view is that advisors have unique insights into market direction that give their clients an advantage. But of the many roles a professional advisor should play, soothsayer is not one of them.

The truth is that no-one knows what will happen next in investment markets. And if anyone really did have a working crystal ball, it is unlikely they would be plying their trade as an advisor, a broker, an analyst or a financial journalist.

Some folk may still think an advisor’s role is to deliver them market-beating returns year after year. Generally, those are the same people who believe good advice equates to making accurate forecasts.

But in reality, the value a professional advisor brings is not dependent on the state of markets. Indeed, their value can be even more evident when volatility, and emotions, are running high.

The best of this new breed play multiple and nuanced roles with their clients, beginning with the needs, risk appetites and circumstances of each individual and irrespective of what is going on in the world.

None of these roles involves making forecasts about markets or economies. Instead, the roles combine technical expertise with an understanding of how money issues intersect with the rest of people’s complex lives.

Indeed, there are at least seven hats an advisor can wear to help clients without ever once having to look into a crystal ball:

The expert: Now, more than ever, investors need advisors who can provide client-centred expertise in assessing the state of their finances and developing risk-aware strategies to help them meet their goals.

The independent voice: The global financial turmoil of recent years demonstrated the value of an independent and objective voice in a world full of product pushers and salespeople.

The listener: The emotions triggered by financial uncertainty are real. A good advisor will listen to clients’ fears, tease out the issues driving those feelings and provide practical long-term answers.

The teacher: Getting beyond the fear-and-flight phase often is just a matter of teaching investors about risk and return, diversification, the role of asset allocation and the virtue of discipline.

The architect: Once these lessons are understood, the advisor becomes an architect, building a long-term wealth management strategy that matches each person’s risk appetites and lifetime goals.

The coach: Even when the strategy is in place, doubts and fears inevitably will arise. The advisor at this point becomes a coach, reinforcing first principles and keeping the client on track.

The guardian: Beyond these experiences is a long-term role for the advisor as a kind of lighthouse keeper, scanning the horizon for issues that may affect the client and keeping them informed.
These are just seven valuable roles an advisor can play in understanding and responding to clients’ whole-of-life needs that are a world away from the old notions of selling product off the shelf or making forecasts.

For instance, a person may first seek out an advisor purely because of their role as an expert. But once those credentials are established, the main value of the advisor in the client’s eyes may be as an independent voice.

Knowing the advisor is independent—and not plugging product—can lead the client to trust the advisor as a listener or a sounding board, as someone to whom they can share their greatest hopes and fears.

From this point, the listener can become the teacher, the architect, the coach and ultimately the guardian. Just as people’s needs and circumstances change over time, so the nature of the advice service evolves.

These are all valuable roles in their own right and none is dependent on forces outside the control of the advisor or client, such as the state of the investment markets or the point of the economic cycle.

However you characterise these various roles, good financial advice ultimately is defined by the patient building of a long-term relationship founded on the values of trust and independence and knowledge of each individual.

Now, how can you put a price on that?

Gravel Road Investing

Owners of all-purpose motor vehicles often appreciate their cars most when they leave smooth city freeways for rough gravel country roads. In investment, highly diversified portfolios can provide similar reassurance.

In blue skies and open highways, flimsy city sedans might cruise along just as well as sturdier sports utility vehicles. But the real test of the vehicle occurs when the road and weather conditions deteriorate.

That’s why people who travel through different terrains often invest in a SUV that can accommodate a range of environments, but without sacrificing too much in fuel economy, efficiency and performance.

Structuring an appropriate portfolio involves similar decisions. You need an allocation that can withstand a range of investment climates while being mindful of fees and taxes.

When certain sectors or stocks are performing strongly, it can be tempting to chase returns in one area. But if the underlying conditions deteriorate, you can end up like a motorist with a flat on a desert road and without a spare.

Likewise, when the market performs badly, the temptation might be to hunker down completely. But if the investment skies brighten and the roads improve, you can risk missing out on better returns elsewhere.

One common solution is to shift strategies according to the climate. But this is a tough, and potentially costly, challenge. It is the equivalent of keeping two cars in the garage when you only need one. You’re paying double the insurance, double the registration and double the upkeep costs.

An alternative is to build a single diversified portfolio. That means spreading risk in a way that helps ensure your portfolio captures what global markets have to offer while reducing unnecessary risks. In any one period, some parts of the portfolio will do well. Others will do poorly. You can’t predict which. But that is the point of diversification.

Now, it is important to remember that you can never completely remove risk in any investment. Even a well-diversified portfolio is not bulletproof. We saw that in 2008-09 when there were broad losses in markets.

But you can still work to minimise risks you don’t need to take. These include exposing your portfolio unduly to the influences of individual stocks or sectors or countries or relying on the luck of the draw.

An example is those people who made big bets on mining stocks in recent years or on technology stocks in the late 1990s. These concentrated bets might pay off for a little while, but it is hard to build a consistent strategy out of them. And those fads aren’t free. It’s hard to get your timing right and it can be costly if you’re buying and selling in a hurry.

By contrast, owning a diversified portfolio is like having an all-weather, all-roads, fuel-efficient vehicle in your garage. This way you’re smoothing out some of the bumps in the road and taking out the guesswork.

Because you can never be sure which markets will outperform from year to year, diversification increases the reliability of the outcomes and helps you capture what the global markets have to offer.

Add discipline and efficient implementation to the mix and you get a structured solution that is both low-cost and tax-efficient.

Just as expert engineers can design fuel-efficient vehicles for all conditions, astute financial advisors know how to construct globally diversified portfolios to help you capture what the markets offer in an efficient way while reducing the influence of random forces.

There will be rough roads ahead, for sure. But with the right investment vehicle, the ride will be a more comfortable one.

Article by

Jim Parker, Vice President, Dimensional Fund Advisers

Who would predict the price of oil?

The price of crude oil has fallen around 40 per cent since a recent peak in June this year. This has a profound effect on economies and markets around the world as the cost of manufacturing and transporting goods falls along with oil producers’ income and the currencies of oil-rich countries.
The theory goes that consumer spending will rise because people have more disposable income; that inflation will fall as the price of goods eases; and that companies with high energy bills will become more profitable. If lower prices hold, the effect might become political and environmental as the balance of world power shifts from oil exporters to oil importers, and the impetus to develop cheaper clean energy wanes. Oil seeps so deep into the global economy you might think that to be a successful investor you need to have an accurate view on its price and its impact on asset prices. But you would be wrong.

No-one with an opinion about oil knows whether their view is right or wrong, and only the changing price will confirm which they are. Market prices are a fair reflection of the balance of opinion because they are created by many buyers and sellers agreeing on individual transactions. As an investor you can take a view of whether that balance – that price – is right but, like all other people with an opinion, you have no way of knowing whether you are right or wrong until the price moves.

Knowing this, it seems irrational to take a view (or a risk) on something so random as the direction of the oil price. In fact, why would one take a view on anything related to the changing price of oil; the US economy, for example; or the price of Shell; or Deutsche Post; or anything else?
The rational approach is to let capital markets run their course and to have a sufficiently diversified portfolio that allows you to relax in the knowledge that, over time, you will benefit from the wealth-generating power of your investments as a whole; without risking your wealth on a prediction that might go one way or the other.