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Ethical investments:what shade of green are you?

Light green, dark green – there’s a whole range of shades when it comes to ethical investment opportunities. If you want to invest your money in line with your moral compass, then ethical investment funds or ‘green funds’ are suited to you. There are a few types to choose from; let’s check them out…

Dark green

Dark green funds refer to funds that hold international ethical values at the heart of their investment strategy. Funds such as Kames Ethical Equity excludes certain areas completely. Tobacco and alcohol, oil & gas, munitions manufacturers and companies that utilise animal testing will not be found in such a portfolio. Another fund by Kames is their Ethical Cautious Managed fund which excludes energy stocks, tobacco and banks with investment banking operations. It also excludes government gilts on the bond side. 

Focused green

This is how we refer to ethical funds that only focus on a couple of particular areas for investment. Investing Ethically’s WHEB Sustainability fund has three focuses: health and population, climate change and resource efficiency. Legal & General’s Gender in Leadership fund is about investing purposefully without compromising returns – they believe that responsibly run, diverse companies will benefit both society and the investor. 

Light green

Funds within the lighter shade of green have ethical focus; they may invest in companies that are responsible in their practices, but might still be part of an industry deemed to be less than ethical. Such a fund would invest in an oil company aiming to move over to greener sources of energy. One such fund is Vanguard’s SRI Global Stock Fund which only invests in companies that meet the UN’s Global Compact Standards on environmental protection, labour standards, human rights and controversial weapons (it also excludes tobacco companies). 

Ethical investing offers the possibility of growing your wealth whilst benefiting society and is becoming more popular with investors of all ages. The ethical value of a particular fund, however, lies solely with the individual’s own personal values, as what is seen as ethical to one person may be deemed not so by another. That’s why it’s best to make sure each fund’s investment portfolio is consistent with your personal views before you invest. 

With all investment opportunities, there can be no guarantee of returns regardless of the fund’s ethical objectives. There will always be a degree of risk involved. It’s clear that investing ethically is becoming an increasingly important consideration for investors. Reflecting this, the sector has developed to offer a much wider range of funds and opportunities to meet a broad range of investor needs. The growth of the sector can only be seen as a positive step for investors and the broader society. 

Sources
https://www.lovemoney.com/news/77612/8-ethical-investment-funds-kames-jupiter-stewart-wheb-vanguard
https://www.hl.co.uk/funds/research-and-news/fund-sectors/ethical
https://www.ft.com/content/e75917a0-86ef-11e9-a028-86cea8523dc2
https://www.theguardian.com/money/2008/feb/11/investmentfunds.moneyinvestments

Why investing your money is more profitable than leaving it in a bank account

You’ve worked hard to accrue your wealth, so naturally you’ll want to see your finances flourish and develop. That raises the question: how best should you grow your finances?

Many people are drawn to banks to save their money, opting for the chance to get some interest and their money back. But in a time of rising inflation, you may be watching your money devalue over time. The wealth of many people in the UK is under threat, as inflation has risen past interest rates to slowly reduce your money’s buying power.

With inflation vastly outstripping savings account returns by 2%, it may be time to seek out other more valuable options to invest. Michael Martin of Seven Investment Management told the Financial Times that at the current rate, a £100,000 lump sum will fall to £81,790 in just ten years.

However, every year we’re reminded that equities are far more likely to produce higher returns than cash deposits. The most recent Equity Gilt Study released by Barclays found that since 1899, British stocks have returned 4.9% a year in real terms, compared to 1.3% for gilts and 0.7% for cash. Over the last decade, the respective figures are 5.8% for stocks, 2.7% for gilts and a miserable -2.5% for cash.

An investment kept for five years at any stage has a 76% chance of outperforming cash, which is no small margin. However, if you extend the holding period to ten years, the figure climbs up to a dizzying 91%.

The Barclays study also found that reinvesting income dividends is crucial to long-term returns. If you had invested £100 in UK stocks at the end of 1945 without reinvesting the dividends, the amount would now be worth £244 after inflation.

Ian Cowie, Personal Account columnist for the Sunday Times, says that shareholders “benefit from improvements in efficiency and inventions that occur over time.” Meaning that, as companies innovate and grow, the situation becomes mutually beneficial.

With cash suffering from a steady decline as time goes on, it may be better to look towards other avenues of financial development as a way to diversify your savings and help them grow.

The value of investments or income from them may go down as well as up. As stocks and shares are valued from second to second, their bid and offer value fluctuates sometimes widely.

Sources
https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/should-i-save-or-invest
https://moneyweek.com/505257/stocks-beat-cash-and-bonds-over-the-long-term/

Neil Woodford making headlines and the lessons it tells us

If you read the financial press, this is big news. ‘Star fund manager’, Neil Woodford, stopped investors withdrawing money out of his Woodford Equity Income Fund on 4th June, after the sum total of investment withdrawn from the fund reached a staggering £560m in less than four weeks. Kent County Council wanted to withdraw a further £263m, but was unable to do so before trading halted.

Investment analysts have attributed this action to the significant poor performance of the fund over recent months. Neil Woodford was once the darling fund manager who could do no wrong. A few years ago he was riding high when he left his employer, Invesco Perpetual, to set up his own company, Woodford Funds. With a reputation for having the midas touch, he’d built a large following amongst both retail and institutional investors, many of whom followed him to his new venture.

Once the blue-eyed boy, his public apology probably hasn’t gone far enough in the minds of some investors who are unable to withdraw their funds and are now nursing significant losses.

There are a number of issues at play here which, as advisers, we seek to address when managing client portfolios.  

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Investing is about managing risk and diversification is a key part of this. Committing all your money to one investment manager is never a great idea. By selecting a range of funds, we spread the risk within portfolios.

Good governance is essential

A robust governance process is important when managing client portfolios. When selecting funds as part of a portfolio, our established investment governance process ensures that these are regularly reviewed and action is taken where and when appropriate. This framework ensures that we act early on managing any potential risks that may impact portfolio performance.

Asset allocation is a key driver to performance

It is not just about selecting the right funds. When constructing client portfolios, we take into account the importance of asset allocation. This is the split between different types of investments such as UK and overseas equities, fixed interest and cash.  Asset allocation is as important as fund selection.

Follow the fund, not the manager

Fund managers are human, they don’t get it right all the time. The most sensible approach is to consider the fundamentals governing the fund itself, not the individual investment manager. We want to understand the answers to questions such as what process and approach does the fund take to manage risk and the stock selection process? What governance process and framework is in place to ensure a fund delivers against its stated objectives. Fund managers can be flavour of the month, it’s the fundamentals of the fund itself that provide better insight.

How can you make the most out of diversification?

Diversification is a word that seems to get tossed around a lot in conversations around savings and investment. We hear it often, but what does it mean?

Put simply, diversification is a risk management strategy that mixes a variety of investments within a portfolio. Through having different kinds of assets in a portfolio, the goal is to obtain higher long-term returns and lower the risk of any sole holding. Essentially, you are hedging your bets.

By smoothing out the risk of each investment within your portfolio, you’re aiming to neutralise the negative performance of some investments with the positive performance of others. Though your investments will only benefit when the different investments are not perfectly correlated, you want them to respond differently, often in opposition to one another, to market influences.

One drawback to be aware of, though, is that by limiting portfolio risk through diversification, you could potentially be mitigating performance in the short term.

Types of investment

Most fund managers and advisers diversify investments across asset classes and determine what percentage of the portfolio to allocate to each. Such asset classes include:

  • Stocks – shares or equity in a publicly traded company.
  • Fixed-interest securities – also known as bonds, fixed-interest securities represent a loan made by an investor or a borrower and are often used by companies, states and sovereign governments to finance various projects.
  • Real estate – buildings, land, natural resources, agriculture, livestock and water or mineral deposits.
  • Commodities – basic goods necessary for the production of other products or services.
  • Cash and short-term cash equivalents – savings, cash ISAs, savings bonds and premium bonds.

How do you make the most of it?

The unfortunate nature of investment is that all winning streaks end. It’s human nature to be drawn to winners and avoid losers. But investing is much more fluid, with no particular investment reigning as champion for long. By investing only in what’s doing well currently, you might miss out on any rising stars beginning their ascent to success. You may want to jump from top performer to top performer, however more often than not, the best gains will have been and gone by the time you invest. You may even be investing prior to the asset reducing in return.

In an ideal world, you’d get high returns from your savings and investments with no risk. However, reality dictates that there must be a trade-off – high risk often leads to higher returns.

Though it is sensible to hold part of your assets in low-risk investments, such as Cash ISAs, some see value in investigating more high risk investments in order to acquire those lucrative higher returns. However, you need to make sure that you’d be happy with running the risk of making a loss.

A general rule of thumb is that the older you are, the less you’ll want to expose your investments to market risk – meaning that diversifying into more low risk investments may be the ideal approach for you in order to keep your investments secure.

There are also many ways to diversify within a single kind of investment. For example, with shares, you can spread your investments between large and small companies, UK and overseas markets and within different sectors like technology, financials or raw materials.

Finally, remember that the value of investments, and the income from them, may fall or rise and you might get back less than you invested. Always proceed with caution – diversification helps mitigate the risks but won’t remove them entirely.

Why easy access savings accounts are a bad idea

We’ve all been there, the boiler breaks, the car decides that today is not its day or a bill appears out of nowhere. For these sudden expenses, you need to have access to your money.  The UK has favoured instant access savings accounts for a good while now, with a staggering 77% of cash savings now being held in these easy access savings accounts.

Convenience is a wonderful thing, however there are a number of drawbacks to keeping your cash at your fingertips. The very best of these easy access accounts currently pay up to 1.5% interest AER (Annual Equivalent Rate). If you’re one of the millions of people who are trying to save with bigger high street banks, you’ll be receiving a whole lot less. In some cases, saving rates with big banks can be as low as 0.15% (29/05/19), which we can all agree is monumentally low.  

What should you do?

Easy access savings accounts might seem like the most uncomplicated way to keep your cash. The truth is, though, few of us really need to keep our cash instantly accessible.

A healthy blend of instant access and fixed-term savings could significantly boost your returns, whilst keeping that rainy day fund safe, in case of emergencies. That’s why it’s worth splitting your savings in two:

Emergency cash – money to be put to one side in case of loss of employment, home repairs or other unforeseen expenses. For most of you, this will be within the region of three to six months worth of income held in an instant access or current account.

Long term savings – you may have your eyes on a big expense in the future. You might be getting married, buying a new house or planning a trip around the world. Whatever it may be, putting your cash into a fixed term savings account is one of the best ways to grow your savings. You can keep your cash in a fixed term account from between 3 months and five years.

The general rule is that the longer you keep your cash in a fixed term account, the higher your rate. You may even be able to reach the dizzying heights of 2.5%!

With the national inflation rate currently set at 1.9%, saving has become more important than ever if you want to secure your future finances. For more information on what style of saving would suit you, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

What to know about ISAs in 2019/2020

The rules around ISAs (or individual savings accounts) change relatively often and different types of ISA rise and fall in popularity depending on where savers consider the most competitive place to put their hard earned money.

ISAs are a great way to save because of their tax efficiency. You don’t pay income tax or capital gains tax on the returns and you can withdraw the amount any time as a tax free lump sum. Because of their tax efficiency, there are set limits on how much you can save using ISA accounts.

The 2019-20 tax year is an interesting year for ISAs because the main annual allowance isn’t increasing. The yearly total you can invest in an ISA remains at £20,000. This means that the ISA limit remains unchanged since April 2017.

Remember that all ISAs don’t have the same allowance. For Help to Buy ISAs, you can only save a maximum of £200 a month, on top of an initial deposit of £1,200. Lifetime ISAs (LISAs) have a maximum yearly allowance of £4,000, on top of which you benefit from a government top-up of 25% of your contributions.

One ISA allowance that is rising (slightly!) is the Junior ISA, increasing from £4,260 to £4,368. This means that relatives can contribute slightly more to a child’s future, in a savings account that can only be accessed when they reach 18. Junior ISA accounts are rapidly gaining in popularity, with around 907,000 such accounts subscribed to in the tax year 2017/2018. Great news for the youngest generation!

Stocks and Shares ISAs are also gaining more popularity, with an increase of nearly 250,000 in the last tax year. On the whole, though, the number of Adult ISA accounts subscribed to in the last year fell from 11.1 million in 2016/17 to 10.8 million in 2017/18.

For investors with Stocks and Shares ISAs, Brexit uncertainty has understandably created cause for concern. In this scenario, your best course of action is to make sure that your investments are properly diversified around the globe. Speak to us if you are unsure about what you can do to reduce risk during any post-Brexit turbulence. We’ll be more than happy to help.

Sources
https://blog.moneyfarm.com/en/isas/annual-2019-isa-allowance

Saving for retirement: what’s the magic number

The fact is, most of us are simply not saving enough to enjoy a similar lifestyle to our working days in retirement. A ‘retirement reality’ report from insurer Aviva shows that nearly 1 in 4 employees believe that retirement will be a financial struggle.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons why we don’t save enough – more immediate financial concerns will naturally take priority. You can’t save for tomorrow, for example, if it means forgoing your mortgage payments today. A lack of financial education also plays a big role. 85% of young adults, when surveyed, revealed that they wish they had been taught more about finance management through their school and university careers.

The Government’s auto-enrolment workers’ pension initiative has helped and there are around 1 million people saving for their retirement for the first time ever, as a result, but how do the numbers add up? The minimum auto-enrolment contribution rate is 5% of annual income, and despite more than half of workers believing this is the recommended rate of saving, it’s far from it. The generally accepted figure among experts, if you wish to maintain a similar lifestyle in retirement, is a contribution equal to 13% of your annual income. Some of this deficit will be made up by employer’s pension contributions, however, we’re still looking at a wide gulf between actual savings and those that are required.

Investment house, Fidelity, has devised a system it calls the ‘Power of Seven’, consisting of a number of savings goals. Ultimately, it suggests that to comfortably retire at 68, you should have saved the equivalent of 7 times your annual household income. So if you were to retire with a household income of £50,000, you’d want a pension pot saved of £350,000. The exact figures will differ from case to case, so it’s recommended to use an online pension calculator to understand your personal situation and check it regularly to keep yourself updated.

There are steps you can take to bolster your pension pot. It’s down to you to take responsibility for your finances, and even small steps like being a member of the works pension scheme and using tax friendly Savings Accounts can be helpful. If you receive a pay increase, perhaps allocate half of it to your savings or investments and enjoy the other half now. As tempting as it can be, it’s important to foster self control to turn down opportunities for frivolous spending – think about tomorrow and give yourself more options in your golden years.

Sources
https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/pensions/article-6449851/How-need-squirrel-away-golden-retirement.html

Inheritance Tax – Could there be a better alternative?

Inheritance tax is enormously unpopular to say the least. A YouGov poll found that 59% of the public deemed it unfair, making it the least popular of Britain’s 11 major taxes. What’s more, the tax has a limited revenue raising ability, with the ‘well advised’ often using gifts, trusts, business property relief and agricultural relief to avoid paying so much.

As it stands, the tax affects just 4% of British estates and contributes only 77p of every £100 of total taxation. This puts the tax in the awkward position of being both highly unpopular and raising very little revenue. At the moment, the inheritance tax threshold stands at £325,000 per person. If you own your own home and are leaving it to a direct descendant in your will, this lifts the threshold by an additional £125,000 in the 2018-19 tax year (the nil-rate band), to £450,000. Anything above this is subject to a 40% tax.

Inheritance tax is seen as unfair because it is a tax on giving (while normal taxes apply to earnings) and it is a ‘double tax’ on people who have already earned – and been taxed on – their wealth.

However, the Resolution Foundation, a prominent independent think tank, has suggested an alternative.

They propose abolishing inheritance tax and replacing it with a lifetime receipts tax.

This would see individuals given a lump sum they could inherit tax free through their lifetime and would then have to pay tax on any inheritance they receive that exceeds this threshold. The thinktank suggests that by setting a lifetime limit of £125,000 and then applying inheritance tax at 20% up to £500,000 and 30% after that would be both fairer and harder to avoid.

They predict that a lifetime receipts tax would raise an extra £5 billion by 2021, bringing in £11 billion rather than the £6 billion inheritance tax currently raises. In a time of mounting pressure on public services like the NHS, this additional revenue would be welcomed by many.

Moving away from inheritance tax would reduce many of the current ways to manage the amount of assets an individual is taxed on upon death. For instance, people would not be able to reduce the size of their taxable estate by giving away liquid assets seven years prior to their death.

The Resolution Foundation also suggests restricting business property and agricultural relief to small family businesses.

The lifetime receipts tax is, at the moment, just a think tank recommendation and is not being considered by the government.

However, the government are trying to introduce changes to probate fees that would see estates worth £2 million or more pay £6,000 in probate fees, up from the current rate of £215. This proposal has seen little support in the House of Lords and the government may consider scrapping the tax.

Sources
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/tax/inheritance/government-could-back-disguised-death-tax-following-lords-pressure/
https://www.accountancyage.com/2018/05/03/inheritance-tax-is-unfit-for-modern-society-and-should-be-abolished-says-think-tank/

what do ESG and impact investing mean for investors?

Sustainable investing has grown rapidly over the last couple of decades. Investors are increasingly committed to the social and environmental impact of where they put their hard- earned money. Getting good financial returns and having a positive impact on the world are not mutually exclusive. Impact investing and ESG investments allow investors to ‘kill two birds with one stone’, as they say

American financial association SIFMA estimates the market size of sustainable investments to be $8.72 trillion. That figure was calculated in 2016, so it’s likely to be substantially larger than this now.

ESG and impact investing are two terms frequently confused in the world of sustainable investing. They’re often used interchangeably, which is a shame because it risks obscuring what the different terms actually mean; they are quite different. ESG is a framework for determining the impact of an investment whereas impact investing is an approach.


ESG
ESG stands for environmental, social and governmental. It’s a framework that can be integrated in the risk-return analysis of different investment opportunities. By drawing from a variety of data, some gathered from company and government disclosures among other sources, it allows investors to examine how companies manage risk and opportunities in three key areas:

Environmental

This refers to a company’s impact on the environment. It looks at certain aspects of a company’s operations, such as how they dispose of their hazardous waste or how they manage carbon emissions.

Social

Does the company take measures to have a good social impact? This can include philanthropic and community focused activities or any measures the leadership takes to promote diversity in the workplace.

Governance

This deals with the leadership and strategy of a company. It addresses aspects such as staff pay and communication with shareholders.

An ESG framework is a valuable tool that may be used to evaluate how certain behaviours can affect a company’s performance. However, it’s not an investment strategy in and of itself. With ESG, the wider impacts of investments are considered but financial performance still takes precedence.


Impact Investing
Impact investing means using investments to cause positive social or environmental change. Examples include supporting access to clean energy or working to improve social mobility by investing in companies operating in underprivileged areas. In contrast to ESGs, in impact investing financial performance is secondary to the overall social or environmental impact.

The financial return of impact investments varies between cases. Some investors intentionally invest for below market rate returns in line with their strategic objectives. Others pursue competitive, market-rate returns. According to GIIN’s 2017 Annual Impact Investor Survey, these account for the majority, with 66% of impact investors aiming for market rate returns.

Because maximum returns are sacrificed in favour of investing for a particular social or environmental agenda, there’s the possibility that certain opportunities may underperform relative to other widely available options. When maximum profit isn’t the goal, sometimes the financial returns can suffer.

This said, impact investing shouldn’t be confused with charity. The objectives of impact investing are financial as well as social and environmental. There are many companies whose operations have a positive impact on the world and investing in these is an effective way of contributing towards long term social and environmental progress.

The shift towards impact investing and ESG highlights a growing desire among investors to do well by doing good. They are increasingly a core offering, rather than something that is ‘nice to have’. However, as with any investment decision, it’s a good idea to do plenty of your own research and seek financial advice to see how ESG and impact investing could fit with the rest of your portfolio.


Sources
https://www.investmentnews.com/article/20180220/BLOG09/180229985/esg-and-impact-investing-do-you-know-the-difference

the longevity challenge and how to tackle it

In the UK, we are faced with the challenge of an ageing population. Many of us will live longer than we might have expected. Already, 2.4% of the population is aged over 85. Because of improvements in healthcare and nutrition, this figure only looks set to rise.

The Office of National Statistics currently estimates that 10.1% of men and 14.8% of women born in 1981 will live to 100. A demographic shift to an older population brings unprecedented change to the way the country would operate, from the healthcare system to the world of work.

In addition, a long life and subsequently a long retirement, bring challenges of their own from a personal financial planning perspective.

Firstly, it means you have to sustain yourself from your retirement ‘nest egg’ of cash savings, investments and pensions. You need to ensure that you draw from this at a sustainable rate so you don’t run the risk of outliving your money.

Secondly, there’s the question of funding long term care. If we live longer, the chance that we will one day need to fund some sort of care increases. Alzheimer’s Research UK report that the risk of developing dementia rises from one in 14 over the age of 65 to one in six over the age of 80.

Of course, there are many different types of care, ranging from full time care to occasional care at home, with a variety of cost levels. All require some level of personal funding.

The amount you pay depends on the level of need and the amount of assets you have, with your local council funding the rest. This means that it’s definitely something that you need to take into account in your financial planning.

Having the income in later life to sustain long term care really does require detailed planning. Because of the widespread shift from annuities to drawdown, working out a sustainable rate at which to withdraw from your ‘nest egg’ is essential.

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ sustainable rate at which to draw from your pensions and savings. Every person has their own requirements, savings, liabilities and views on what risks are acceptable.

There are some things which you will be able to more accurately plan when working out the sustainable rate to draw from your pension. These include your portfolio asset allocation, the impact of fees and charges and the risk level of your investments. Speaking with your financial adviser will help you on your way to working out the right withdrawal rate for you.

There are, however, some unknowns. These include the chance of developing a health condition later in life and exactly how long you’ll live. It is best to withdraw leaving plenty of room for these to change unexpectedly, improving your chances of having a financial cushion to cope with what life throws at you.

Sources

Prevalence by age in the UK


https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/articles/overviewoftheukpopulation/july2017

Defining and evidencing Sustainable Withdrawal rates