Jul 04

July Market Commentary

Introduction
Let us invite you to travel back in time to June 2016, to the day after the Brexit referendum. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, campaigning in the US Presidential election is in full swing.

You are offered two glimpses into the future. The first is that two years on, the UK has apparently made no real progress in the Brexit negotiations. The second is that Donald Trump has been elected President and has had a successful meeting with Kim Jong-un. You would have dismissed both of them as ridiculous and yet that is exactly what June brought us, as Theresa May called yet another Brexit crisis meeting and President Trump met the leader of North Korea in Singapore.

…And then the President went on to announce a raft of tariffs on imported goods – from both China and Europe – which may well see the threatened global trade war develop. Both China and the EU were swift to announce retaliatory tariffs, and (unsurprisingly) June was a month in which none of the major stock markets we cover managed to gain any ground.

June was also another bad month for the virtual currency Bitcoin. The price has been in steady decline over the last two months and, over the weekend, stood at $6,369 (£4,822). There were two main reasons for the fall as the South Korean cryptocurrency exchange Bithumb revealed that it had lost 35bn won (£24m) in a cyber-attack, and governments and regulators around the world – the US Securities and Exchange Commission is the latest – made ominous noises about cutting down on Bitcoin fraud.

In what is surely a sign of things to come, the Canadian province of Quebec halted approvals for Bitcoin mining as it worried about being able to supply electricity to the province.

UK
Sadly, the big story in the UK in June is one which has been written about often in recent times – the continuing decline of retail and the national high street. On the morning of Monday July 2nd, both the Mirror and the Daily Mail led with ‘the battle to save Britain’s high streets’.

Can anything be done? June brought us almost uninterrupted sunshine, and it may well be that the retail figures – like those for May – will show a rebound from the depressing figures disclosed in the Spring. The Mail is reporting that 50,000 retail jobs were lost over the last six months and is calling for an urgent review of ‘crippling business rates’.

Even that may not be enough: the simple fact is that it is easier, quicker, more convenient and cheaper to shop online. Even Costa is starting to struggle, reporting a 2% fall in like-for-like sales in the first three months of the year, which it blamed squarely on a lack of shoppers.

The long term trend was neatly captured by the problems of House of Fraser. On June 4th, it ‘rejected talk of a collapse’: three days later it was announcing that 31 of its stores would close. With M&S also planning a programme of store closures, Debenhams issuing constant profit warnings and 60 bank branches closing every month, the UK high street increasingly looks like it could be an idea whose time has passed.

But let us try and find some good news…

June was a good month for the economic numbers in the UK. Unemployment was down, falling by 38,000 between February and April, and the number of people in work rose to a record 32.4m – up 440,000 on the previous 12 months. That said, wage growth slowed again, so it is to be hoped that inflation does not also start to rise, otherwise we will be back in the realm of falling real wages.

The UK also earned the unofficial title of tech ‘unicorn’ capital of Europe. For those of you that don’t know the term, a ‘unicorn’ is a tech start-up valued at more than $1bn (£757m). The UK is home to 37% of the continent’s ‘unicorns’ and, according to a report for London Tech Week, is the number 1 destination for Europe’s top tech talent.

Rather more mundanely, the Bank of England voted to hold interest rates at their current level, but it is looking increasingly likely that base rates will rise to 0.75%, possibly as early as August.

The month ended with MPs voting overwhelmingly for the expansion of Heathrow airport – but do not expect the diggers to move in for a few years. The move will be widely challenged in the courts by local and environmental campaigners.

Finally, what of the UK stock market? The FTSE 100 index of leading shares had a quiet month. It started June at 7,678 and fell by just 41 points to end the month at 7,637. And it is down just 51 points for the year as a whole, having started 2018 at 7,688.

The pound was also down slightly against the dollar, falling from $1.3299 to $1.3211.

Brexit
As noted in the introduction, June brought us the second anniversary of the vote to leave the EU but we remain no closer to knowing what the final shape of Brexit will be. Airbus and BMW made veiled warnings about the consequences of ‘no deal’ but with Theresa May’s cabinet still squabbling about the shape of the eventual customs partnership, that exact outcome appears to be looking ever more possible.

At the time of writing, the newspaper headlines are telling us that this month’s meetings will be ‘make or break for May’, although it would not be a surprise to see that, once again, a last minute compromise will be cobbled together and that this time next month we will still be no further forward.

Europe
The Italian coalition government has survived its first month in office, even giving an impression of normality as new finance minister Giovanni Tria said that the government was “clear and unanimous” in its decision to remain in the Eurozone.

The main news in Europe was the decision of the ECB to end its huge programme of bond-buying which was introduced in a bid to stimulate the economy of the Eurozone. In a statement, the ECB said that it would halve the current scheme – worth €30bn (£26.6bn) a month – after September “as long as the data remained favourable” and end it completely in December. ECB President, Mario Draghi, acknowledged that Eurozone growth had stuttered recently, but was adamant that the underlying growth “remained strong”.

There was big news for jobs in the steel industry as German industrial group Thyssenkrupp signed a deal with Tata Steel to combine the two companies’ European businesses. The new company will be headquartered in Amsterdam and will have a total workforce of 48,000 – but there are fears of up to 4,000 redundancies.

There could be one more redundancy as well… It is hard to escape the feeling that we are approaching the end of Angela Merkel’s time as German Chancellor as key ally Horst Seehofer, the interior minister, threatened to resign over her immigration policy. In Turkey, Recep Erdogan won a new five year term as president, with some commentators arguing that it effectively spelled the end of the country as a democracy.

On the stock markets, the German DAX index ended June down 2% at 12,306, while the French index was down just 1% at 5,324. At the halfway point in 2018, the German index is down by 5% for the year as a whole, while the French index has risen by just 11 points.

US
Threatened trade war or not, the US announced better than expected data on jobs as unemployment fell to an 18 year low. Forecasters had been expecting 190,000 jobs to be added in May, but that figure was comprehensively beaten as the economy added 223,000 jobs in the month.

As had been expected, the US Federal Reserve announced a rise in interest rates, moving the target rate up from 1.75% to 2%, and going so far as to forecast a further two rate rises this year, reflecting the strength of the US economy. It is the seventh time that rates have been increased since 2015 and takes them to their highest level since 2008.

In company news, there was more gloom for Facebook as it wrestled with yet another ‘privacy bug’ – this time affecting the data of 14m people. And there was bad news for Google as the EU announced that it would fine the company up to $11bn (£8.33bn) over the dominance of its Android system.

Tesla, Elon Musk’s car making company, announced that it would cut 9% of its workforce – mostly ‘salaried employees’ – as it bids to finally make a profit. The company employs 37,000 people and has never made a profit in the 15 years it has existed.

“Profit is not what motivates us,” Musk posted on Twitter. Wall Street does occasionally like to see companies making a profit, but it was a quiet month for the Dow Jones index, which drifted down 1% to close the month at 24,271. Looking at the year as a whole, it is down 2% from its opening level of 24,719.

Far East
China seems well on course to become the world’s most influential economy as the One Belt, One Road infrastructure project continues to extend its influence through Africa and towards Europe, with Chinese leader Xi Jinping committed to creating ‘a paradigm of globalisation that favours China’. The country is now the world’s second largest consumer of crude oil, with 25% of the imports coming from Sudan and the Gulf of Guinea.

For this month though, it was a disappointing performance from China’s Shanghai Composite Index which fell 8% to close at 2,847. Hong Kong followed Shanghai’s example, falling 5% to 28,955 and the South Korean market was down by 4% to 2,326. The Japanese market was more or less unchanged in the month, moving up very slightly to 22,304.

Unsurprisingly, given the threat of a trade war, all four markets are down over the first six months of the year. The Chinese market leads the way with a fall of 14%: South Korea is down 6% and the Hong Kong and Japanese stock markets are down by 3% and 2% respectively.

Emerging Markets
Could North Korea one day feature in this section of our report? It seems that these days the only way to predict the future is to think the previously unthinkable. Kim Jong-un is 34 (or 36, depending on which ‘official’ source you believe) and it is not hard to see him one day taking North Korea down a similar road to China while maintaining rigid state control of the economy.

For now, though, we will look at only the usual suspects – India, Russia and Brazil. The first two saw their stock markets largely unchanged in June, closing at 35,423 and 2,296 respectively. The Brazilian market was down 5% at 72,763. For the first six months of the year, Russia – with future tourism surely buoyed by a successful World Cup – has seen its market rise by 9%, the Indian stock market is up 4% but the Brazilian index is down by the 5% it fell in June.

And finally…
Sadly, the high street seems to be taking a further thumping from consumers as newspapers report that supermarket groups are ‘losing millions’ as ‘cunning shoppers’ buy expensive items such as avocados and put them through the self-service tills as cheaper items like carrots.

It sounds like there is a gap in the market for an app which tells you how many 60p per kg. carrots weigh the same as a £1.50 ready-to-eat avocado…

New shopping techniques aside, a shortage of CO2 (carbon dioxide) was also making the news. It turns out that CO2 is not just something you vaguely remember from school, but a vital component in the food and drink industry.

It is used to add the ‘fizz’ in beer and fizzy drinks, and to extend the shelf life of meat and other food products. Scotland’s biggest abattoir has closed and Asda rationed the supply of fizzy drinks to online customers.

There are also real fears that there could be a beer shortage this summer as Europe continues to struggle with the CO2 shortage and “beer crazy football fans” threaten to drink Russia dry during the World Cup.

But things can always get worse – and back in the UK we could now be facing a shortage of… lettuce. The heatwave has apparently boosted demand for lettuce but – according to the brilliantly-named British Leafy Salad Growers Association – the soaring temperatures have stopped the crop growing. Broccoli and cauliflower crops have also been affected and the shortage could hit the supermarket shelves as early as this week.

Expect the Iceberg Lettuce to replace Bitcoin as the new default currency of the internet. Maybe it’s time to get out there and plant lettuce in the back garden… or perhaps instead you should be considering a crop of avocados…

Jul 04

What makes seeing a financial adviser like having an MOT?

We’re all used to taking our cars for their MOT, aren’t we? Before we book it in for the test, we may well get a mechanic to check the vehicle over to make sure it will pass with flying colours. It’s a useful time to put in new brake pads, check the suspension and make sure the lights are all in working order.

This got us thinking that in some respects, our finances are no different to a car. They too could often benefit from a bit of fine-tuning from time to time to ensure they’re running at optimum performance and that our investments are working as hard as they might.

Of course, it’s a legal requirement to make sure our cars are roadworthy but there’s no such law for our money – it’s just up to to the individual to make sure your finances are maintaining a high level of performance. This is why it can be worth asking a financial adviser for a financial MOT or healthcheck. It’s an opportunity to not only check what you already have in place but to also consider ‘new parts’ you may want to install.

It’s all too easy, for example, to think your pension will just grow at its own speed and not pay it much attention. By enlisting the help of a financial adviser, though, you can check your pension fund is invested in a way that is getting the best return for you. Investment group, Bestinvest, has stated that twenty six of the top funds in the UK, containing £6.4 billion, are badly underperforming, and have been doing so for three years. In fact, at times, they have failed to meet their targets by over 5 per cent. An adviser will be able to monitor the situation and, if necessary, transfer your savings into better performing funds.

Another ‘new part’ you may decide to investigate may be insurance. You could already have life assurance in place but realise you don’t have any critical illness cover and are leaving you and your family exposed if you experienced a serious health setback. Or you could review your savings and realise you’re not making the most of your potential tax-free returns through the various ISA products available.

Whatever your particular situation, maybe it’s worth booking yourself in for a financial MOT to make sure your finances are fit for your current circumstances.

Jul 04

Are you keeping track of your pension pot?

Keeping track of your pension pots can feel like a full time job at times, particularly as we head towards a world where the average person will have eleven different jobs over the course of their career. It’s becoming increasingly uncommon for people to stay in the same job throughout their employment. In fact, we’re now seeing that 64% of people have multiple pension pots; that’s up 2% since October 2016. While that in itself is not a worry, what is more troublesome is that of that 64%, 22% have reportedly lost track of at least one of those pots.

Which means there are more than 7 million people who may not have access to the retirement funds they’ve worked hard to amass. To make sure you’re not one of them, it’s really important to keep on top of the bigger picture of what you’re owed.

Despite an increase in pension awareness, thanks to auto-enrolment, recent research has shown that 30% of people still do not know the value of their pension. Of course, if you’re not sure of the full value of your savings, it makes it hard to plan properly for retirement.

For some, the best way to get a clearer view of the situation is through pension consolidation. If you have a number of small, automatic enrolment pots, it could be worth bringing them together to make them more manageable. Consolidation isn’t necessarily the right choice in all circumstances, though. Certain pensions, particularly those of an older style, will come with great benefits that may be relinquished upon consolidation. Whether or not this is the right path for you will depend on your personal situation, so it’s always a good idea to consult an adviser to talk you through the process before making any decisions.

If you think you may have lost sight of a pension pot yourself, there is a pension tracker available through the Department for Work and Pensions that will help you locate it. Do feel free to get in touch with us directly, if you have any questions around this topic.

Jun 06

June Market Commentary

Harold Wilson famously said that, ‘a week is a long time in politics.’ A month is a very long time when we come to write this commentary.

Looking back to the first few days of May, the Royal Bank of Scotland was announcing plans to close 162 high street branches in the UK, Facebook said it was going to launch a dating service and, in Europe, there were rumours of a final, final (and this time they really meant it) deal on Greek debt.

But that was all simply froth and noise. The real news came right at the end of May with political crises in Spain and Italy – with the Italian one threatening to become an economic crisis at any moment – and Donald Trump’s sudden announcement of steel tariffs on virtually any country you care to name. May ended with Europe swiftly announcing retaliatory measures and the world once again looking at a damaging trade war.

Unsurprisingly, this had a negative effect on world stock markets, although with the news coming at the very end of the month much of the uncertainty may be reflected in June. Only two of the major stock markets we cover managed a gain during May, with the UK leading the way – albeit only rising by 2%. Most of the other markets were slightly down although, as you will see below, there were two markets which fell significantly.

UK
May was another month with the usual mix of good and bad news in the UK. As we have just noted, RBS kicked off the month by announcing the closure of 162 bank branches. As online banking and mobile apps continue to bite into retail banking you do wonder just how many high street branches there will be in ten years’ time.

The gloom for high streets up and down the country as April proved to be another bad month for the retail sector, with footfall down by 3.3% following the 6% fall in March. Add in the store closures announced by M&S and warnings of thousands of betting shop closures as the Government reduced the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals and you question whether town centres as we know them will survive.

There was more bad news for RBS as it agreed to a $4.9bn (£3.65bn) fine from the US authorities for mis-selling and BT announced plans to cut 13,000 jobs – around 12% of its workforce – in an attempt to cut costs.

…But there was plenty to report on the ‘good news’ page. Consumer confidence rose in April, reaching its highest level since January 2017 as wages rose by 2.9% in the first quarter of the year, finally starting to pull ahead of inflation. Unemployment was also down, falling by another 46,000 in the first three months of the year and still at its lowest level since 1975.

There was also positive news in the corporate sector as the Share Centre released data showing that UK corporate profits rose to a record high in 2017 as a buoyant world economy boosted UK multinationals. The profits recorded by the survey – £153bn – were 0.2% ahead of the previous record, set in 2011.

Will those successful companies be paying more for any borrowing in the future? Almost certainly, as the Bank of England hinted at a series of interest rate rises over the next three years. However, inflation fell to 2.4% in April – the lowest since March 2017 – meaning that threats of a rate rise have receded in the short term.

The UK stock market decided this was all good news, and the FTSE 100 index of leading shares was up 2% in May, the best rise recorded by any of the markets we monitor. It closed the month at 7,678 having ended April at 7,509. However, the pound went in the opposite direction, falling 3% in the month to $1.3299.

Brexit
Looking back over my Brexit notes for May they seem to cancel each other out. ‘Tory backbenchers deliver ultimatum over customs partnership’ ran one headline. ‘Jobs at risk without a customs partnership’ ran another. The month ended with suggestions of a ten mile wide trade buffer zone in a bid to break the deadlock over the soft/hard Irish border question.

We are now ten months away from the date when the UK is supposed to leave the EU and still virtually nothing has been agreed. That agreement may be even harder to find after the Republic voted to legalise abortion, leaving Northern Ireland as the only place in the British Isles where abortion is illegal. The DUP remains fiercely opposed to any legalisation – and Theresa May remains fiercely dependent on DUP support, presumably meaning that the DUP now hold a much larger bargaining chip in any discussions on the border.

What a mess. It almost makes Italy look like a model of considered government.

Europe
…Except of course, that Italy is anything but considered. Or stable…

Wishing for a stable government in Italy is probably akin to wishing for an end to the Greek debt crisis, but that is what might happen in June. Later this month a team of EU debt inspectors will arrive in Athens and begin poring over the Greek government’s books. If they like what they see, then apparently Europe’s leaders will settle on a long term plan for Greece to repay the billions of euros it owes.

Were it not for Italy that sort of news might make the headline writers turn to drink, but Italy seems to be a more than adequate stand-in.

For now, the country has a government. Giuseppe Conte, an academic and relative political novice, is the Prime Minister, heading a coalition of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and the far-right League party. It has been dismissed as ‘populist’ – which to this writer at least simply means it won the most votes in the election. It is, though, undeniably sceptical of the EU and how long a coalition between a party that believes in a universal basic income and another that believes in cuts to government expenditure can last is anyone’s guess.

Meanwhile, Spain was losing its Prime Minister after Mariano Rajoy lost a vote of no confidence following allegations of corruption. Plenty of drivers also expressed ‘no confidence’ in their BMW cars, which stalled while they were being driven, forcing the company to recall 300,000 vehicles. And there wasn’t much confidence behind Air France either, as another wave of strikes forced the country’s economy minister to warn that the airline could go out of business.

What of the main European stock markets? Like many markets in this month’s Bulletin, the German DAX index was virtually unchanged, falling just seven points in May to close the month at 12,605. The French market was down 2% at 5,398 but the Greek market tumbled dramatically, down 11% to 756. Does that suggest those debt inspectors may not like what they find?

US
The beginning of the month was ‘business as normal’ in the US. Apple showered its investors with cash as it announced plans for a $100bn (£75bn) share buyback – and said that it had sold 52.2m iPhones in the three months to March.

Legendary investor, Warren Buffet, liked what he saw and bought 75m shares in the company, sending the shares to a record high.

Over at Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, fresh from surviving the Congressional hearings, said that Facebook would be launching a dating service, and fellow billionaire Elon Musk remained optimistic about Tesla’s future – despite the company posting a record loss of $710m (£523m) for the three months to March. The company’s target is to produce 5,000 electric cars a week – so far, it is producing just 2,270 as it continues to burn cash at an alarming rate.

The wider US economy added 164,000 jobs in April. That was slightly below expectations, but it still saw US unemployment fall to 3.9% – the first time it has dipped below 4% since 2000.

…And then, right at the end of the month, President Trump announced tariffs on imports of steel and aluminium. Among the countries and trading blocs affected were the EU, Canada and Mexico, all of whom announced retaliatory measures. The President said that the move was to secure “‘fair trade” adding, “they are our allies but they take advantage of us economically.”

The retaliation from the EU saw tariffs imposed on a raft of US imports from Harley Davidson motorbikes to bourbon. There were no tariffs on Chinese goods as trade talks continued, but it now appears that the US will impose 25% tariffs on $50bn worth of Chinese imports shortly after mid-June, with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin saying that a final list of goods would be published by 15th June.

The Dow Jones index took all the news in its stride and – along with the UK – was the only other market we cover to rise during May. It was up by just 1% to close the month at 24,416.

Far East
There was bad news for the Japanese economy in May, with figures for the first quarter of 2018 showing that the economy had contracted by an annualised rate of 0.6%, worse than the expected contraction of 0.2%. This was the first time the Japanese economy had shrunk in two years, ending the longest stretch of economic growth since the 1980s.

‘Shrinking economy’ is a phrase which doesn’t appear to translate into Chinese, but the government there did finally agree to ‘significantly’ increase the number of goods it buys from the US. A joint statement between the US and China said the two countries had agreed to ‘a meaningful increase in US agriculture and energy exports.’

The White House added that the move would ‘substantially reduce’ the $335bn (£251bn) annual trade deficit the US has with China – although telling there was no mention of the $200bn (£150m) deficit reduction target that had previously been mentioned. And quite what impact June’s tariffs will have is anyone’s guess…

In company news, Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi (it’s pronounced ‘show-me’ and it is a brand name you’ll become increasingly familiar with) announced plans for a $10bn listing on the Hong Kong stock market, while TenCent – China’s biggest social media company and now worth more than Facebook – posted a 61% year-on-year jump in profits to $3.7bn (£2.7bn).

It was a quiet month on the region’s stock markets. China’s Shanghai Composite index was up just 13 points to 3,095 while the markets in Hong Kong and Japan both drifted down by 1% to 30,469 and 22,202 respectively. There was less good news in South Korea, where the stock market fell by 4% to end the month at 2,423.

Emerging Markets
It was a quiet month for Emerging Markets news and – for two of the three major markets this section covers – a quiet month on the stock markets too. Both the Russian and Indian markets were unchanged in percentage terms, with the Russian market down just four points to 2,303 and the Indian stock market ending the month up 162 points at 35,322.

There was, though, no such calm in Brazil with the stock market falling 11% to 76,754 and undoing all the gains made so far in 2018.

And finally…
‘Close but no cigar’ probably sums up the final section of our commentary for May. There were some interesting stories but sadly, no security engineers locking themselves in ATM machines or cutting-edge AI robots drowning themselves in swimming pools…

Still, TSB boss Paul Pester would have had an easier month if he had locked himself inside one of the bank’s ATMs. ‘Computer chaos at TSB’ screamed the headlines, in a month which almost certainly saw the bank set a record for the number of times its customers heard, “Your call is important to us, but we are experiencing heavy call volumes at the moment.”

The chaos saw TSB customers given access to pretty much anyone’s account but their own, and one couple were actually able to see their life savings removed from their account while they were kept on hold.

Speaking to a committee of MPs, Mr Pester said that the migration to a new computer system had been “a terrible decision.” He would, he said charitably, be foregoing his £2m ‘integration bonus.’

There was bad news for all of us as the Great British Summer approaches. The cost of vanilla has sky-rocketed over the last two years, meaning that the cost of your ice-cream will be going up. At $600 (£450) per kilo vanilla now costs more than silver: it may be time to invest in mint chocolate chip shares…

In the ‘good news’ column a small town in Carmarthenshire has been named as one of the best places for coffee in the world. Coaltown Coffee in Ammanford (population 5,293) was named on Lonely Planet’s list of best roasteries. So wherever you are in the world, you’ll be able to enjoy Welsh coffee – at least until you-know-who imposes a tariff on it…

Jun 06

A cautionary tale: the Lazio case demonstrates who cyber criminals are targeting

Cyber-security is more important than ever before, as Serie A football club, Lazio, found out the hard way in March. After signing Dutch centre back Stefan de Vrij in 2014 from Feyenoord, Lazio agreed to pay his £6.8m fee in installments. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary when they received an email, including bank details, appearing to be from Feyenoord requesting the final payment of £1.75m, so they dutifully sent over the money. It wasn’t until later when Feyenoord hadn’t received the payment and, in fact, claimed to have no knowledge whatsoever of the email being sent, that alarm bells began to ring.

The money has since been traced to a Dutch bank account with no connection to Feyenoord at all. Somebody posing as the club with an official email signature had taken the money and run. Clearly this cyber attack, like most, was driven by the goal of monetary gain and so we can assume that it’s financial teams in organisations that are most at risk of being targeted. The most successful of these infiltration attempts are made by individuals hiding in plain sight, posing as legitimate and well established contacts and targeting more junior employees.

This is why it’s so important for organisations to be aware of these risks and to encourage a culture of education and communication that brings different teams together. An update in company culture and structure such as this needs to be instigated from the top. The Lazio case highlights the fact that financial directors and CFOs need to advocate a proactive discussion about cyber-security across finance and IT departments.

New technologies should also be embraced to help where possible. User and entity behaviour analytics (UEBA) is one example which captures user and login data to build up a profile of usual behaviour. This makes it much easier to recognise an irregularity or data breach, such as an external party getting hold of an employee’s login details.

Ultimately, human error will continue to be a factor so employees need to be made aware of just how easily simple mistakes can be made and what those errors can lead to. Some incidents will remain inevitable but the focus should be on learning and development rather than blame and punishment if companies and individuals are to move forward to a more protected and efficient environment.

Sources
https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/business/management-accounting/lazios-finance-team-scores-ps175m-own-goal?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=AWUKINS270418&utm_content=AWUKINS270418+Version+A+CID_fe8d82568e88e9d5c95079ddb

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2018/03/29/lazio-reportedly-fall-175m-email-scam-pay-transfer-instalment/

Jun 06

The financial advantages of saying ‘I do’

A marriage or civil partnership can be a beautiful union of minds and hearts, but there’s no reason why it should end there. There can also be financial benefits to being with your partner, and one of these is the Marriage Allowance. In the 2018-19 tax year, the Marriage Allowance lets you transfer up to £1,190 of your Personal Allowance to your partner, meaning a tax reduction of up to £238, as long as you meet a few requirements.

For the couple to benefit, they must be married or in a civil partnership. The lower earner must have an income of £11,850 or less, and the higher earner must sit in the basic rate tax bracket of between £11,850 and £46,350. It’s worth noting that in Scotland, the higher earner’s salary must be less than £43,430 as the thresholds for basic rate payers differ.

Lower earners can transfer their unused tax-free allowances to their spouse, with the higher earning partner receiving a tax credit equal to the amount of Personal Allowance that has been transferred. The good news doesn’t end there either as the Marriage Allowance can be backdated as far as 5th April 2015. This means that, if you are eligible, you could claim 2015-16’s £212 allowance and 2016-17’s allowance of £220 in this tax year, leaving you with some free cash for you and your partner to treat yourselves.

If you’re currently receiving a pension or you live abroad, your application for the Marriage Allowance will not be affected, as long as you receive a Personal Allowance. However, if you or your partner were born before 6 April 1935, applying for the Married Couple’s Allowance might be more beneficial to you (you can’t claim both at once!).

Sources
https://www.gov.uk/marriage-allowance

https://www.which.co.uk/money/tax/income-tax/tax-rates-and-allowances/marriage-allowance-explained-a5zku9t98m3j

Jun 06

Why it pays to retire early

Sound financial planning is not only good for your bank account – it could actually improve your life expectancy. If you’re reading this then you probably don’t need to be convinced of the benefits of looking after your money, but here’s another reason to add to the list.

The idea of retiring early can be most appealing. For some, it will already be a reality, while wise saving and investment may mean it’s perfectly achievable for those at the consideration stage. Research now suggests that an early retirement can actually also lengthen your life. Economists from the University of Amsterdam published a 2017 study in the Journal of Health and Economics which confirmed that male Dutch civil servants over the age of 54 who retired early were 42% less likely to die over the subsequent five years, compared to those who continued working.

Researchers put this life-extending phenomenon down to two main factors. First, when you retire you have more time to invest in your health. Whether that means you find more time to sleep, more time to exercise or simply more time to visit a doctor when an issue arises, you’ll see the benefit.

Secondly, work can be a great contributor to stress, creating hypertension which is in turn a huge risk factor for potentially fatal conditions. In the study, retirees were shown to be significantly less likely to fall victim to cardiovascular diseases or strokes.

Of course, there can be benefits to staying in work too. Participating in a work environment is a good way of keeping your mind and body active. On top of that, being part of a team helps develop and maintain a sense of purpose and belonging that is essential to cognitive health and development.

That’s not to say that all these benefits can’t be achieved outside of work; the key is to find a hobby, interest or cause to involve yourself in. As is so often the case, there’s no single solution. It’s important to find the best path for you, whether that’s staying in work, retiring early or going part-time. Whatever you choose, spend your time wisely as it could have a major impact on how long your retirement turns out to be.

Sources
https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/27/how-research-shows-you-can-live-longer-if-you-retire-early.html

May 22

Record numbers make the most of pension freedoms

The people have spoken and they love freedom! Recent figures show withdrawals in the 2017-18 year were worth £6.7bn, the highest figure since the pension freedoms reforms were introduced in 2015.

Before the change in legislation, the majority of pensioners would purchase an annuity with their pension pot, which would guarantee them an income for life.The pension freedoms now mean that those over the age of 55 have access to their savings and more choice and flexibility over how they fund their retirement.

Clearly pensioners are beginning to embrace this opportunity, with a total of 220,000 making half a million withdrawals between them in the first quarter of 2018. That’s an increase of 20,000 from the previous quarter. Initially, there had been concern over isolated examples of pensioners blowing their entire savings on luxury goods and services, but responsible and widespread use of the reforms is now underway.

It’s true that although savers have more freedom and flexibility as a result of the reforms, it does mean they also have greater responsibility. This means that it’s more crucial than ever to follow sound financial advice. Samantha Seaton of Moneyhub, the budgeting app, shares this view stating, “While this flexibility is being embraced, it has also brought into sharp focus the importance of financial advice. But as customers find their finances increasingly fragmented across multiple providers, it can often be a real challenge for advisers to get a true picture of their clients’ financial situation.”

Research has shown that some savers lack the knowledge to enable them to make the right decisions regarding their pension pot. Policymakers and the wider financial sector are now working to address this.

If you have any questions around this topic, please feel free to get in touch with us directly.

May 22

Cutting through the noise – how does a financial adviser help?

‘Stock market closing at an all time high’; ‘The bubble’s burst’; ‘The stock market is crashing’; ‘Shares have gone through the roof – how could they go any higher?’; ‘House prices plummet by 30%’; ‘UK economy in weakest growth’; ‘The end is near for the bear market’; ‘Stocks dangerously close to unique kind of bull market’; ‘Not seen such market volatility since the 1987 crash’; ‘Warnings of market correction ahead’.

Don’t worry, these are just examples taken at any point in time. But you know what it’s like – you listen to the radio and hear one thing, then open a newspaper and read the opposite. You go on social media and hear all manner of contradictory views and opinions. You chat with friends in the pub who’ve got as many different pieces of advice as there are types of beer or artisan gins on offer!

Noise, noise, noise!

Everyone’s an expert. Everyone’s telling you what to do. But how do you know who to trust?

The good news is that if you’re working with a financial adviser, you don’t need to listen to that all clamour around you. The right adviser will help you understand what you can control and give you a sense of perspective.

For example, a recent study showed that investors value the following from their relationships with their advisers:

  • 35% sense of security/peace of mind
  • 23% knowledge of personal financial situations
  • 20% progress towards their goals
  • 14% investment returns

As financial advisers, we’re only too aware that markets will go up and markets go down but we can help you take a long term view. By gaining an understanding of your overall goals and objectives, we can give you reassurance over short term fluctuations. We’ll discuss your risk profile with you and adjust it as market conditions and your own particular circumstances change. The regular reviews we’ll have with you will keep your plan on track. As a result, you’ll find that because your decisions are now part of a strategic financial plan instead of isolated choices, you won’t feel so bombarded by every single news item.

By working with a financial adviser, you’ll know that we can cut through the conflicting messages and help you see past the headlines to the hard facts you need. It’s our job to be able to give you a sense of perspective when the markets may seem in turmoil. So when others may be tempted to made sudden withdrawals or changes, we’ll give you the ressaurance to stay invested. Alternatively, when it’s right to move, we’ll give you the confidence to change. It’s this kind of discipline that can make all the difference in terms of investment performance.

So rather than being swayed by sensationalist headlines or being worried by the ups and downs of the markets, use your financial adviser to help you ‘keep your head when all about you are losing theirs’.

May 02

May Market Commentary

Introduction
It looked for a long time that the main headline for this commentary would be the opening salvos in a trade war between China and the USA. The International Monetary Fund published a bullish report on world trade, saying that global growth will hit a 7 year high of 3.9% this year – giving a stark warning at the same time that trade risked being ‘torn apart’ by a protracted trade war.

But then came the news of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s, historic visit to South Korea and his meeting with President Moon Jae-in. There followed a bromance which would have been impossible just a few months ago, and a commitment to rid the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons. The meeting would have been unthinkable at the beginning of the year when North Korea was boasting of being able to reach the US mainland with its rockets: now Pyongyang says it will invite US observers to witness the shutdown of its nuclear site in May.

By the end of the month even the China/US threats and counter-threats seemed to have receded a little and most of the major stock markets which we cover made up losses suffered early in the month on fears of a trade war. There was, however, one significant fly in the ointment as the price of oil continued to climb: Brent crude went past $72 a barrel in light of the continuing troubles in Syria and the instability in the region.

UK
Let’s start the UK section with some really good news: 2017 was a record year for the UK wine industry, as figures showed 64% more bottles of UK-made wine reached the market than in 2016. The Wine and Spirit Association said the industry was reaping the benefits of ‘huge’ investment over the last decade.

…But if April brought good news for wine, it brought yet more bad news for retail as the wet Easter proved a washout for the UK high street, following the bad weather which kept shoppers at home in March. Carpetright announced the closure of 92 stores – and you have to think that the merger of Asda and Sainsbury’s, announced at the end of the month, will ultimately lead to store closures and job losses. There have been plenty of warm words from both sides but it is hard to see that the merger can be good for jobs or, in the long term, for consumers as the number of big supermarket groups in the UK reduces from four to three.

We have commented above on the IMF forecast for world trade: that same forecast included a prediction that UK growth this year would be 0.1% higher than originally thought at 1.6%. HSBC also predicted that UK exports would rise this year by their fastest rate since 2011.

Other numbers for the UK made mixed reading: a slowdown in construction and the effects of the ‘Beast from the East’ meant that UK growth in the first quarter of the year was just 0.1% – the lowest figure since 2012. Mortgage lending was also down, as figures for March showed it falling 2.3% to £20.5bn.

There were some positive figures: wages finally climbed above inflation as the year long squeeze on pay showed signs of ending earlier than expected, and unemployment fell to 4.2% – its lowest level since 1975. And London was voted the world’s top financial centre, finally climbing above New York for the first time in five years.

The vote was presumably taken without reference to TSB: April ended with TSB taking the phrase ‘banking chaos’ to a whole new level. The bank upgraded its systems – inevitably in order ‘to improve customer service’ – and ended up seemingly giving customers access to anyone’s account except their own.

Fortunately, there was no such chaos for the FT-SE 100 index of leading shares. After some lacklustre months, it rose 6% in April to end the month at 7,509. As so often happens, the pound went in the opposite direction, falling 2% to end the month trading at $1.3754.

Brexit
Throughout April, the debate raged about whether the UK should stay in some sort of customs union with the EU after March next year. Doing so would avoid a ‘hard border’ between Northern Ireland and Eire – but would severely limit the UK’s ability to do trade deals with countries outside the EU.

It would, sadly, be possible to write an entire 2,500-word commentary on the various models of customs union – or partnerships – that are currently being discussed: we will attempt to do it in less than 200.

The first option – favoured by the Brexit supporters and known in Whitehall as ‘Max Fac’ (short for Maximum Facilitation) would see the UK and EU agree to minimise all checks, using smart technology and building on best practice from around the world (for example, the USA and Canada do not have a customs union). This means that there would be a border between the UK and the EU, but it would be as light touch as possible.

The second option is a hybrid model – the Customs Partnership – which rests on the EU recognising UK customs checks as equivalent to their own, so that goods entering the EU at say, Rotterdam, could in theory travel on to the EU without further checks.

This appears to be Theresa May’s favoured option, but has been described by hard right Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg, as ‘cretinous’ while the International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, has come out firmly against any form of customs union. With eleven months to go until March 2019, the debate will undoubtedly rumble on: but we have reached the 200 word limit, we promised. Don’t worry, the politicians will undoubtedly still be discussing it next month…

Europe
April was a busy month for French President Emmanuel Macron, who made a high-profile visit to Washington and, earlier in the month, made a speech in Strasbourg calling for ever-closer union between the EU’s member states and, as the EU faced up to the loss of the UK’s contribution, more tax and revenue raising powers for the EU.

Many commentators perceived this as Macron’s bid for the de facto leadership of the EU, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel widely seen to be in a weaker position following her eventual coalition agreement with the Social Democrats. German dominance no longer a safe bet, ran a headline in City AM.

Away from the corridors of power and in the banking halls, the European Central Bank announced it would leave interest rates unchanged, despite the pace of growth in the Eurozone starting to slow. There was bad news from Deutsche Bank, which announced ‘significant’ job cuts as it scaled back its corporate and investment banking operations. Christian Sewing, the new CEO of Germany’s biggest lender, said that the cuts were ‘painful but unavoidable’ as the bank reported a sharp drop in first quarter corporate and investment banking revenues.

Fortunately, there was no pain on the German stock market, as the DAX climbed 4% in the month to end April at 12,612. The French stock market had an even better month as it rose 7% to 5,520 – and there was even good news from Greece, with the Athens stock market up 10% to 858.

US
All the attention at the beginning of the month focused on the war of words – and potential trade war – between the US and China. It ended with the historic meeting in Korea and South Korean President Moon Jae-in suggesting that Donald Trump be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Away from that potential plaudit, the US President had some troubling numbers to contend with. The US trade deficit widened in February to $57.6bn (£42bn) and there are suggestions that the US could have a trade deficit of a trillion dollars a year by 2020.

Jobs growth slowed in March, with just 103,000 jobs created in the month, and there were disappointing figures for the first quarter, as annualised growth slowed to 2.3%. Those figures are unlikely to be helped by suggestions that the US could get as many as four interest rate rises this year, as the Federal Reserve pursues a more aggressive line in a bid to keep inflation under control.

April was, however, a good month for both Alphabet (the parent company of Google) and Amazon as their sales and profits surged ahead. But it was a lot less fun for Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg: he endured an uncomfortable month as he apologised for his company’s massive data breach at a Congressional hearing. Not a good month for Wells Fargo either, as the bank was fined a record $1bn (£730m) for failing to resolve investigations into car insurance and mortgage lending breaches.

What did the Dow Jones index make of it all? Virtually nothing. Having opened the month at 24,103, the Dow closed April up just 60 points at 24,163.

Far East
The news from the Korean border rather overshadowed China’s news in the month – specifically that the country had seen its economy grow at 6.8% in the first quarter, ahead of the government’s growth target for the year of ‘around 6.5%’ – although obviously, this figure would be under pressure from a prolonged trade war with the US.

In Chinese company news, Didi Chuxing, China’s equivalent of Uber, the world’s largest ride-hailing app and currently reckoned to be worth nearly £40bn, announced modest plans for world-wide expansion.

The Economist Intelligence Unit published an interesting article, listing the countries which were most ready for the robotics revolution: South Korea headed the list, with Japan and Singapore joining it in the top four. (The UK was in 8th place, just ahead of the USA.)

Obviously, the news of the détente between North and South Korea had a positive influence on the region’s stock markets. Only China – perhaps still worrying about a possible trade war – saw its stock market fall during the month, with the Shanghai Composite down 3% at 3,082. Hong Kong went in the opposite direction, up 2% to 30,808 and the South Korean market rose 3% to 2,515. Japan, free of the worry of North Korean missiles flying over its islands, saw the Nikkei Dow rise 5% to close April at 22,468.

Emerging Markets
US sanctions hit Russian shares said a BBC headline in the middle of the month, reporting that sanctions imposed by the US had hit the shares of companies controlled by Russian oligarchs, ‘as the Russian stock market tumbled in the wake of the sanctions.’ This followed the diplomatic crisis sparked by the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, and President Trump’s threats of tariffs on aluminium and steel.

Well, sanctions or no sanctions the Russian stock market had recovered by the end of month, closing April up 2% at 2,307. There was an even better performance from the Indian stock market, up 7% in April to end the month at 35,160 – and Brazil completed our Emerging Markets hat-trick as the market there rose 1% to close at 86,115.

And finally…
April was a good month for the ‘And finally’ section of the commentary – but we start with something that is probably best not read while you are eating breakfast.

NASA, America’s space agency has been looking for a material that can be transported into space and used for the spare parts that are inevitably needed on a long space mission. The idea is that the parts would be made using a 3D printer: but what material to use? The rocket scientists at NASA have decided that, well… human waste would be ideal. Transported into space and put to use: that’s an idea that Major Tom never discussed with ground control…

There had been widespread rumours of an exodus of London’s leading bankers after Brexit. Apparently, that is not now going to happen. A report in Politico said that the bankers’ wives – and one husband – had been to inspect Frankfurt, the rumoured new banking capital of Europe, and found it to be ‘dark, grey and dull’. So there you are: David Davis and Michel Barnier can huff and puff all they like – in the end it looks like bankers’ wives will decide the shape of Brexit.

Sadly, one wife who had rather less influence was the wife of Tanzanian gambler, Amani Stanley. So sure was Amani that his beloved Manchester City would clinch the Premier League title by beating Manchester United at home that he bet his wife on the result. All was looking good when City were leading 2-0 at half-time. Unfortunately, United stormed back in the second half to win 3-2 and Amani lost his wife for a week to his United supporting friend Shilla Tony. As yet there is no news on her husband’s gambling from Mrs Stanley…

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