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Who owns your bank?

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Who owns your bank?

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

Following the financial crisis of 2008 when a number of big British banks came close to collapsing, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) was strengthened by the government. As such, the FSCS 100% guarantees the first £85,000 of a person’s cash savings per banking licence in total, including interest. This means that a couple with a joint account holding up to £170,000 will have every penny of this covered.

But what does ‘per banking licence’ mean? Simply put, one banking licence can cover a number of different banks, building societies or brands. It’s important therefore to spread your cash across more than one provider, as it could mean some of your hard-earned money isn’t as safe as you think in the event of a future collapse.

With that in mind, below is a list of the biggest banks and building societies in the UK and all the brands which fall under their banking licence. That means if you hold more than £85,000 across different brands but under the same licence, you could be in a position to lose out should the worst happen.

HBOS (Halifax/Bank of Scotland group):

  • AA
  • Bank of Scotland
  • Birmingham Midshires
  • Halifax
  • Intelligent Finance
  • Saga

Lloyds Banking Group*:

  • Cheltenham and Gloucester
  • Lloyds Bank

*HBOS was acquired by Lloyds Bank, but both HBOS and Lloyds Banking Group have continued to operate under separate banking licences.

TSB:

  • TSB

Barclays:

  • Barclays
  • Barclays Direct (formerly ING Direct)
  • Standard Life
  • Woolwich

HSBC:

  • First Direct
  • HSBC

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS)**:

  • RBS

NatWest:

  • NatWest

Ulster Bank:

  • Ulster Bank

Coutts & Co:

  • Coutts

**NatWest, Ulster Bank and Coutts are all subsidiaries of RBS, but have their own separate banking licences. As such, someone with accounts in each of these banks would be covered for up to £85,000 in each bank.

Santander UK:

  • Cahoot
  • Santander

The Co-operative Bank:

  • Britannia BS
  • Smile
  • The Co-operative Bank

Bank of Ireland UK:

  • Bank of Ireland UK
  • Post Office

Clydesdale Bank PLC:

  • Clydesdale Bank
  • Yorkshire Bank

Sainsbury’s Bank:

  • Sainsbury’s Bank

Tesco Bank:

  • Tesco Bank

Virgin Money:

  • Virgin Money

Nationwide BS:

  • Cheshire BS
  • Derbyshire BS
  • Dunfermline BS
  • Nationwide BS

Yorkshire BS:

  • Barnsley BS
  • Chelsea BS
  • Egg
  • Norwich and Peterborough BS
  • Yorkshire BS

Coventry BS:

  • Coventry BS
  • Stroud and Swindon BS

Skipton BS:

  • Chesham BS (renamed Skipton BS)
  • Scarborough BS (renamed Skipton BS)
  • Skipton BS

So, what about banks outside the UK? Whilst most banks which accept British savings are not covered by the FSCS, some within the European Economic Area are covered by their home country’s compensation scheme through the ‘savings passport’ scheme. One of the most prominent examples is Triodos Bank in the Netherlands, which is covered by the Dutch equivalent of the FSCS up to €100,000 per person. There are also some international banks which are covered by the FSCS, including:

  • Axis Bank UK
  • ICICI Bank UK
  • State Bank of India UK

National Savings & Investments (NS&I) is also covered by the FSCS – but as it’s owned by the government, the expectation is that all deposits into NS&I (both up to and over £85,000) would be covered apart from in the most extreme financial circumstances.

January market commentary

Thursday, January 4th, 2018

Another year seems to have flown by in the space of about five months. December, in particular, seemed to go past in a blur.

It was, however, the month when some progress was – finally – made in the Brexit negotiations. It was also the month when Scotland used its tax-raising powers to increase income tax, when Germany worried about Chinese spies using fake LinkedIn profiles and when yet more sanctions were heaped on the North Korean regime – which were predictably condemned as an ‘act of war’.

Half of the major stock markets we cover in this commentary rose in the month and overall 2017 was a good year for world markets: the Hong Kong market led the way with a rise of 36% and only the Russian index fell significantly during the year.

UK
The month didn’t get off to the best of starts in the UK as once again UK retail was facing problems. RBS announced that it would close one in four of its branches – totalling 259 and inevitably having an effect on the national high street – and Toys R Us narrowly avoided having to close its UK branches as it reached an 11th hour agreement with creditors and the Pension Protection Fund.

There was, however, plenty of good news for the UK in December, although wages continue to lag behind inflation, a situation which looks set to continue throughout 2018.

UK factory activity grew at its fastest pace for more than four years in November, with the Purchasing Managers’ Index hitting 58.2 – its best level for 51 months. Separate official data for 2016 showed that inward investment into the UK had also hit a record $145bn, although this was boosted by some large takeover deals. UK manufacturing also expanded for the sixth month in a row, helped by record car production.

Unemployment was down again, falling by 26,000 to 1.43m, with the jobless rate remaining unchanged at 4.3%. In addition, the UK economy was shown to have grown at a faster rate than had previously been thought. Revised figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that the economy had grown by 1.7% in the third quarter, compared to the original estimate of 1.5%.

To cap a good month for those whose glass is half full, the UK was named the best place in the world for business by the US media group Forbes. In the annual ranking the UK leapt from fifth to first, scoring especially well on technological readiness and the education of its workforce.

How did all this translate onto the stock market? The FTSE-100 index of leading shares started the year at 7,143 and ended it up 8% at a new record high of 7,688. The market was up 5% in December, fuelled by the now-traditional ‘Santa rally.’ The pound also enjoyed a good year: it was largely unchanged against the dollar in December but rose 9% over the course of the year to $1.3504.

Brexit
As we noted in the introduction, December was the month when some progress finally appeared to have been made on the Brexit negotiations as the UK’s ‘divorce bill’ seemed to have been agreed. You don’t have to look far to find a high ranking official (on both sides) who will ominously mutter, ‘Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,’ but – to use Churchill’s phrase – while this may not be the beginning of the end, it may just be the end of the beginning.

By the end of this year the UK will – in theory – be just 88 days away from leaving the EU. But over the course of the next 12 months there will unquestionably be plenty of twists, turns and bumps in the road for this section of the commentary to report on.

Europe
As we mentioned in the introduction, December was the month when Germany voiced its concerns over possible Chinese spying using the social/business network LinkedIn. The German intelligence agency BfV is worried about the Chinese using fake profiles to target up to 10,000 German politicians, business leaders and officials. China – which has denied similar accusations in the past – did not respond to the German allegations.

But there was better news of other EU/Far East relationships as a trade deal was tied up between the EU and Japan which will – subject to ratification by EU members – create the world’s largest open economic area. The agreement is seen as a challenge to the protectionism of Donald Trump, with a joint statement saying that the EU and Japan are “committed to keeping the world economy working on the basis of free, open and fair markets … fighting the temptation of protectionism”.

…And in a bid to track down those people who have been protecting their money from the taxman, the EU published its first blacklist of tax havens, naming 17 territories including St. Lucia, Barbados and South Korea.

What of European stock markets in December and 2017 as a whole? Both the German and French indices drifted down 1% in the month, but overall they enjoyed a good year. The German DAX index was up 13% in 2017 to end the year at 12,918 while the French stock market rose 9% to 5,313. An honourable mention also goes to Greece: the debt-ridden country staggered through another year and the Athens stock market duly rose 25% in 2017 to close at 802.

US
There were two major pieces of news in the United States, with the Federal Reserve once again raising interest rates and a programme of major tax cuts being passed by Congress.

The Fed raised rates by a further 0.25% – the third rise in 2017 – as it projected growth of 2.5% for 2017 and 2018, expecting the US economy to be stimulated by the President’s tax cuts. At the moment the Fed is targeting a range of 1.25% to 1.5% for US interest rates, but further rises are expected next year, with most forecasters expecting a base rate of around 2%.

The tax cuts – agreed by both houses of Congress – have been described as the biggest overhaul of the US tax system for 30 years, with corporation tax falling from 35% to 21% and the highest rate of individual income tax coming down from 39.6% to 37%. Democrats have argued that the cuts will only favour the rich, while the Joint Committee on Taxation has suggested they will add $1.4tn to the $20tn US national debt over the next 10 years. But right now what the President wants the President gets, and he wanted swingeing tax cuts…

There was also good news for the US economy, with the November jobs figures showing 228,000 jobs created against expectations of 200,000. The unemployment rate held steady at 4.1% as firms appeared to hire seasonal workers earlier than usual.

On Wall Street, 2017 was a good year for the Dow Jones index. Having started the year at 19,763, it finished up 25% at 24,719 having risen 2% in December.

Far East
For once, the month in the Far East wasn’t dominated by stories of North Korean rockets. That is not to say that tension in the area will disappear in 2018: North Korea may be sending a team to the Winter Olympics in South Korea, but in his Christmas message Kim Jong-un stressed the fact that the nuclear button “is always on my desk”.

In China, there was a small rise in bank base rates following the rise in the US, but for once it was Japan that was really making the news in the region. The country is enjoying its longest period of sustained economic growth since 1994 – admittedly, thanks to four years of economic stimulus from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – and growth for the three months to September was revised upwards to 2.5%, well ahead of initial estimates of 1.4%.

In another sign of what we can look forward to in the near future, Nissan announced that it would start trialling driverless taxis from March next year. The plan is that passengers will be able to summon the cars using an app, with free trials due to take place in Yokohama.

There was more turbulence for crypto-currency Bitcoin as the South Korean authorities – worried about Bitcoin being used for money laundering – announced a crackdown on anonymous trading accounts and said they would close exchanges if necessary.

On exchanges that were very much open, 2017 was an excellent year for all the major Far Eastern stock markets. China was virtually unchanged in December but ended the year up 7% at 3,307. Similarly both the Japanese and South Korean markets were quiet in December, but closed 2017 up 19% and 22% respectively, with the Japanese Nikkei Dow closing at 22,765 and the South Korean market at 2,467. Pride of place though, went to Hong Kong, the best performing market of those we cover in this commentary. The stock market there rose 3% in December to end the month at 29,919 – up 36% for the year as a whole.

Emerging Markets
As we have already seen, December was a volatile month for Bitcoin, but this didn’t stop crisis-hit Venezuela from grasping at a virtual straw as President Nicolas Maduro announced the creation of a new currency in a bid to ease the country’s economic crisis. A new virtual currency – the Petro – will apparently be backed by Venezuela’s oil, gas and diamond reserves. Opposition leaders poured scorn on the plan, pointing out that the President had already mortgaged the reserves several times over. It seems a fairly safe prediction that the country with the largest oil reserves in the world will continue to lurch from crisis to crisis in the coming year.

A country emphatically not lurching from crisis to crisis is India, with forecasts suggesting that it will overtake the UK and France to become the 5th largest economy in the world in 2018. According to World Bank data for 2016 India’s GDP, at $2.26tn (£1.69tn) was the 7th largest in dollar terms: the forecasts are that 2018 will see it overtake the UK (with GDP of $2.65tn) and France ($2.47tn).

This was reflected on the Indian stock market, up 3% in December (and 28% for the year as a whole) to finish 2017 at 34,057. The Brazilian market also enjoyed an excellent year, rising by 27%: in December it rose 6% to close the month at 76,402. The Russian market was virtually unchanged in December and ended the month at 2,109: this meant that it fell by 6% for 2017 as a whole, with the damage really being done in the first six months of the year.

And finally
2017 was, by any standards, a vintage year for the ‘And Finally’ section of this commentary. In March, we had the ‘Temple of Heaven’ – the public park in Beijing which installed facial recognition software to dispense loo roll because visitors were taking it home with them.

July brought us the Texan maintenance engineer, who on a bright and sunny day set out to change the lock on a Bank of America ATM. Unfortunately, while performing this routine task our hero (understandably he preferred not to be named) trapped himself inside the ATM. He was only rescued when a customer tried to withdraw $100 and instead received a note saying, ‘Please help, I’m stuck in here.’ The customer naturally thought it was a joke, but on failing to spot any TV cameras and hearing a faint voice coming from the hole in the wall, decided to call the police…

So what of December? The month did not let us down…

Counterfeit goods now account for perhaps 4% of the world economy. So there was good news at the beginning of the month for HM Border Force and the Intellectual Property Office as they seized 82,320 pairs of fake Calvin Klein underpants worth a reputed £1.5m.

Along with the fake boxers, they also grabbed Gillette Mach 3 razor blades, Nike Vapormax trainers and 379 Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund football shirts. If that sounds suspiciously like your Christmas presents you may want to have a word with your relatives.

There was also good and bad news for the Royal Navy in December as it took delivery of its new £3.1bn aircraft carrier ‘HMS Queen Elizabeth.’ But the bad news was that she (the boat, not Her Majesty) was leaking and taking in the small matter of 200 litres of sea water every hour. BBC Defence Correspondent Jonathan Beale said the leak was “highly embarrassing” for the Royal Navy, but dismissed rumours that the aircraft carrier would be renamed Leaky McLeakface…

Sources

5 financial resolutions for 2018

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

Whether or not you’re the kind of person who sees the start of January as the time to set yourself resolutions and stick to them, the period after the excesses of Christmas and New Year is arguably one of the best times to actively get your finances into shape. Here are five great money-related resolutions it’s definitely worth committing to in order to make 2018 the year you take control of your money.

  1. Start a budget – The secret to financial security isn’t making lots of money, but sensibly managing the money you have. A budget is the best way to start doing this, ensuring you know where your money is going and sticking to the plan you lay out for yourself. It can feel intimidating at first if you’ve never budgeted before, but it will undoubtedly help you to cut out overspending and reduce your money worries.
  2. Manage your debt – Getting out of debt can seem a long way off if you don’t make plans for how you’re going to become debt-free. There are no shortcuts – it takes both time and sacrifice – but once you do manage to clear your debts completely, it’s a liberating feeling and opens up many more opportunities to help you grow some savings.
  3. Start saving regularly – Once you’ve got your debts and spending under control, building your savings is essential. You should aim to save at least 10% of what you earn every month. Again, you may have to make a couple of sacrifices here and there in order to do this, but when you have those savings earning you money in your nest egg, missing the occasional night out or frivolous treat will feel completely worthwhile.
  4. Increase your financial knowledge – This can be as simple as finding a book, magazine or reputable website and dedicating a little time each week to increasing your money know-how. Anyone who has financial security hasn’t done it through luck, but through understanding what to do with their money, so the more you learn the more secure your finances are likely to be.
  5. Start investing – Making some sound investments is often the crucial step from financial security to prosperity and success. However, you should only invest when you’re ready (i.e. once you’ve achieved the previous four goals). It’s worth getting good independent financial advice as well to ensure you make the right investments for your personal circumstances.

One for the kids? Switching to a Lifetime ISA could boost savings.

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

If you’re saving for a home through a Help To Buy ISA or know someone who is, it’s worth being aware of a planning opportunity which could boost your savings by an additional £1,100. But anyone hoping to take advantage of this opportunity needs to be quick, as it will only be available for just under four months more.

Any savings in a Help To Buy ISA which are transferred to the new Lifetime ISA before 5th April 2018 will benefit from a top up of 25% from the government. The opportunity has arisen thanks to the Help To Buy ISA small print relating to the transfer of money saved before the launch of the Lifetime ISA on 6th April 2017.

Lifetime ISAs have an annual limit of £4,000, which includes money transferred from another savings account. However, money transferred from a Help To Buy ISA within the first twelve months of Lifetime ISAs becoming available does not count towards the contribution limit for the 2017-2018 tax year. As such, any money transferred into the Lifetime ISA from the Help To Buy ISA will be boosted by the government top-up, potentially resulting in hundreds of pounds being added to your savings.

For example, someone who had saved the £4,400 maximum amount into a Help To Buy ISA before April 2017 could transfer this into a Lifetime ISA before 5th April 2018. As this wouldn’t contribute to their limit, they could then save a further £4,000 into the Lifetime ISA for a total of £8,400. The 25% bonus would then be added to the entire £8,400 in April next year, giving an additional £2,100. In any other year, the maximum top-up which could be earned from the Lifetime ISA would be £1,000.

So If you know anyone using a Help To Buy ISA to save towards a first home, transferring money to a Lifetime ISA to enjoy an additional top-up of up to £1,100 in April next year could make collecting the keys to their own place happen a little bit sooner.

Junior ISAs and what they offer

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

Junior ISAs (JISAs) have now been around for over six years and continue to grow in popularity. They allow parents to save money for their child, which will be accessed when they come of age. But, as with any savings product, there are pros and cons to saving for your son or daughter’s future using a JISA.

One of the key benefits of the account is the tax efficiency they offer. In the tax year 2017/18, the maximum that can be invested in a JISA is £4,128 and it was announced in the Autumn Budget that this will rise to £4,260 in April 2018. An account must be opened on the child’s behalf by a parent or legal guardian, but once it is open anyone can pay money in and any income or gains within the JISA are exempt from UK tax – no matter who makes the deposit.

Two types of JISA have been available over the past six years, with Cash JISAs having proven far more popular than Stocks & Shares JISAs. It’s perhaps not surprising that parents have largely opted for the JISA which guarantees their child won’t lose money, rather than taking a risk with their investment and betting on the stock market.

Whilst those who have gone for the Stocks & Shares JISA have reaped the benefits over the last few years as the stock market has consistently outperformed cash savings, there’s no way they could have known this when opening the account. Despite the potential for greater returns, opting for a Stocks & Shares JISA will always be a gamble, one which you may not want to take with money intended for your child’s future.

Another aspect of JISAs worth considering is the restricted access they offer. Once money has been paid into a JISA it belongs to the child; whilst they can manage the account themselves from the age of sixteen, the child is unable to access their savings until their eighteenth birthday. Whilst this will be seen as a positive for some, ensuring the money can grow and teaching their child about the benefits of saving over time, others will undoubtedly want their child to be able to access their savings before they turn eighteen.

One alternative is a regular children’s savings account, some of which actually pay higher rates of interest than JISAs. However, ordinary savings accounts are subject to the ‘£100 rule’ – if money paid in as a gift from a parent generates over £100 of interest in a year, all the interest will be taxed as if it belongs to the parent. JISAs are not subject to this rule, leaving it up to the parent to weigh up which they value more for their child’s savings: easy access or tax-free interest.

Video: Understanding risk in relation to your investments

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

Watch our video 

How to track down a ‘zombie’ Child Trust Fund

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

Launched by the Labour government in 2005, A Child Trust Fund (CTF) was given to every child born on or after 1st September 2002 until just over nine years later at the start of 2011. CTFs were then replaced by Junior ISAs (JISAs) at the start of the austerity period. However, recent research has revealed that around 900,000 CTFs have since become ‘zombie’ accounts, lost and forgotten about in the intervening years.

If your child was born between 1st September 2002 and 1st January 2011, they will definitely have a CTF. How much is in there is dependent on a number of factors. At the start of the scheme, every child received a £250 voucher from the government, with children from lower income families receiving another £250 on top of that. This could be paid into either a cash account or an investment CTF by a parent. There was then a further government top-up when the child turned seven; friends and family could also pay into the CTF up to an annual limit, set at £4,128 in 2017/18.

The top up for seven-year-olds was axed and the initial voucher reduced to £50 in 2010, before the scheme was scrapped altogether the following year. How much is held in your child’s fund will therefore depend on when they were born during the CTF period, as well as how much growth the money has seen in the years since the money was paid in.

After sitting in limbo for a number of years since 2011, from April 2015 it’s been possible to transfer a CTF into a JISA, meaning that any money being held in your child’s name can now be invested as you see fit. If you have the paperwork for your child’s CTF you can contact the provider directly to start the process, otherwise you can use the Government website to locate any CTFs held by your children.

Once you’ve found your child’s fund, you’ll need to decide what to do with the money within it. One option is to move it into a JISA, which has the same annual investment limit as a CTF and protects your child’s money until they turn 18, at which point it becomes theirs. A JISA also has the added benefit of becoming an adult ISA once your child reaches their 18th birthday, whereas a CTF simply pays out a lump sum.

You’ll also need to choose whether to opt for a cash or stocks and shares JISA, so it’s a good idea to do some research into the best JISAs available on the market. If you’re unsure of what to go for, seeking professional financial advice is a good idea to ensure your child’s money is in the best place to grow for them. That way they’ll be able to see the value of good investment and enjoy a valuable nest egg as they enter adulthood – which is, of course, what the CTF was originally intended to do.

Too late to start saving?

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017

Not beginning to save towards your retirement until you reach your fifties would not so long ago have been considered leaving matters far too late to put anything meaningful away for your life after work. Previous generations saw building a pension as something to do over an entire career, with contributions throughout your working life coupled with investment growth being the only way to ensure your retirement pot was substantial enough to provide for you throughout your retirement.

However, whilst compound interest still means that anything put away at the start of your career will see some serious growth by the time you need it much later in your life, the reality today for many young people is that they simply have very little to invest when they first begin work. Many may find that they won’t be able to begin saving seriously until they reach middle age.

The reasons for this are several. First of all, your wages are statistically likely to reach their peak for women during their forties and for men in their fifties. Secondly, as the average mortgage term is twenty-five years, most people who bought their home in their twenties are likely to have finished paying it off by the time they reach their fifties. A third key reason is the declining cost of raising children. Whilst it’s unlikely that you’ll stop giving them financial support completely, if you’ve had kids in your twenties or thirties it’s probable that the cost of providing for them will have gone down a great deal by the time you’re heading towards 50.

With considerable tax relief on both ISA investments and pensions, it’s now possible to build a healthy retirement fund even if you only start saving in your fifties. For example, someone with no existing savings, earning £70,000 annually, who started saving the maximum permitted yearly amount of £40,000 at age 50 could amass a pension pot of £985,800 by the time they turn 67, assuming a 4% annual return after charges.

£40,000 a year might sound like a huge amount to save every year, but this amount includes the generous tax relief enjoyed by pension savings. Our £70,000 earner would only need to put away £27,000 of their own money in order to reach the £40,000 contribution, whilst a basic rate taxpayer would need to contribute £32,000 to achieve the same.

So, whilst it’s sensible to begin saving as early as you can, it is possible to begin putting money away when you reach middle age and ensure you have enough to provide for yourself later in life. The last ten years of your working life can reasonably be seen as some of the most important in terms of preparing for your retirement.

October market commentary

Wednesday, October 4th, 2017

Well, we’re still here. Despite the seemingly best efforts of the leaders of the United States and North Korea – the world is still turning. But September was a month of ‘another day, another North Korean rocket flying over Japan’ and it ended with Kim Jong-un threatening to explode a nuclear bomb over the Pacific. Small wonder that South Korea is creating a special military unit with only one aim, which does not bode well for Kim.

Meanwhile, central bankers have warned that, well… they seem to have lost $13tn. The Bank for International Settlements has warned that this amount may be missing from global balance sheets because, apparently, international standards do not require such a trifling sum to be included. The authors of the report say that the debt ‘remains obscured from view’ – which rather makes $13tn sound like your TV remote.

Throw in the devastating effects of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Jose and September was a month where it was difficult to find any good news. At least with it being Party conference season there may be some positive policies announced: although it could be said the Prime Minister is clinging to a life raft with the sharks circling, as she makes her major speech.

UK
September saw the Labour Party getting together in Brighton, which could either be viewed as a triumph for Jeremy Corbyn and his ‘government in waiting’ as they outlined a clear vision for a stronger, fairer Britain or a party that would bankrupt the country within three months of taking office, depending on your view.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives are in Manchester, as Theresa May seeks to re-assert her authority following the disastrous General Election campaign. Having spent virtually all the election campaign deriding Labour’s ‘magic money tree’ Theresa May seems to have, well, magically found one at the bottom of her garden. Student loans, Help to Buy, lifting the public sector pay cap, £1bn to keep the Democratic Unionists onside… Philip Hammond’s Autumn Budget – now scheduled for 22nd November – is certainly going to be interesting.

Away from the Westminster plans and plots, the month started well as figures for August showed that UK manufacturing had hit a four month high, and later in the month it was reported that it had moved up one place in the ‘league table’ to become the 8th largest in the world. Unfortunately, the service sector couldn’t match this progress as the August figures recorded the slowest growth for 11 months.

Nevertheless, UK unemployment continues to fall – it is now down to 4.3%, down from 4.4% in the previous quarter and the lowest level since 1975. However, wages continue to stagnate, and with inflation hitting 2.9% many people are still seeing a fall in real wages.

What of interest rates? The month started with a suggestion from the Bank of England that there would be no rises for ‘at least a year:’ however by the end of the month Governor Mark Carney was expecting a rate rise “in the near term” – which could apparently be as early as November.

…And there was more gloom to end the month as credit ratings agency, Moody’s, downgraded the UK’s credit rating from Aa1 to Aa2, following earlier downgrades by the other major agencies. UK growth for the second quarter of the year was also revised down to 1.5% from an earlier 1.7%.

How did all this translate to the stock market? The FTSE 100 index of leading shares was down just 1% in September, opening the month at 7,431 and closing at 7,373.

Brexit
News for the Brexit part of the commentary this month wasn’t hard to come by. ‘Michel Barnier vows to ‘educate’ UK over consequences of leaving’: ‘May has accepted a £50bn exit bill’: ‘Europe to block Brexit trade talks until December’: ‘May goes to Canada to seek trade deal’… And so it goes on: but as in previous months, the end result seems to be very little progress, despite Theresa May’s speech in Florence.

It was thought that progress might well speed up after the German elections but as you will read below, these have been anything but decisive, and Angela Merkel will have plenty of domestic issues to consider before she thinks about Brexit.

In the same way that the Labour Party are now apparently ‘war-gaming’ a run on the pound should they come to power, so the Government are supposedly doing the same with the prospect of ‘no deal’ by March 2019. It is looking increasingly likely…

Europe
The big news in Europe was the German elections, held on the last Sunday in September. They were largely seen as rubber-stamping another four years as Chancellor for Angela Merkel: four more years with ‘Mutti’ leading Germany and – by extension – Europe.

In the event, the Christian Democrat vote was down nearly 10% to 32.9%: the Social Democrats recorded their worst result since the war, with just 20.5% of the vote, and in third – with 12.9% of the vote – was the right-wing anti-immigration party, Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD).

Where did that leave Merkel? Substantially weaker: the Social Democrats have gone into opposition to lick their wounds, and Merkel is likely to be left with what is scathingly referred to as ‘the Jamaica Coalition.’ Based on the colours of the respective parties, this is a coalition between the Christian Democrats, the Free Democrats (roughly equivalent to the Liberals in the UK) and the Green Party.

Will it work? There could be months of wrangling, with Greens leader Katrin Goring-Eckardt saying in a TV debate, “Naturally there’s a lot that divides us. I’m not sure that we will succeed.” Does this leave a vacancy for a new de facto leader of Europe? French President Emmanuel Macron certainly seems to think so…

Despite this uncertainty, there was good news as the ECB predicted the fastest Eurozone growth since 2007, forecasting economic growth of 2.2% for this year It’s unlikely this figure will be repeated at Ryanair as the company pulled off one of the biggest PR disasters of recent times, cancelling any number of flights thanks to not organising their pilots’ holidays properly. The bill won’t reach the $30bn that the emissions scandal has supposedly cost Volkswagen but you suspect that the company will take a long, long time to recover.

At least, there were no shades of Ryanair for Europe’s leading stock markets: the German DAX index closed September up 6% at 12,829 and the French market jogged happily along in its wake, rising 5% to finish at 5,330.

US
The damage done to the Caribbean and the southern states in the US by the recent hurricane season has been well-documented. One estimate now puts the repair bill in Texas at $180bn following Hurricane Harvey.

It seems heartless to turn from that to Facebook’s cash mountain – but I am duty bound to report that the company’s revenues and profits soared in the second quarter, with more than 2bn people now logging into the site each month. The firm’s revenues hit $9.3bn for the April to June period, up 45% year-on-year, as profits for the quarter rose to $3.9bn.

It was mixed news for Apple, as they suffered a ‘major data breach’ ahead of the launch of the iPhone X, but then unveiled a phone that was seen as a major leap forward and ‘the future of the mobile phone.’ Or in many cases, the future of parents asking their children for help…

Worryingly, Toys-R-Us filed for bankruptcy protection: with an increasing number of malls threatened with closure over the next five years, you have to ask if this is a straw in the wind – and whether Amazon and other online retailers will now do to out of town shopping what they have done to so many high streets in the US and the UK.

The Dow Jones Index chose to side with Facebook rather than Toys-R-Us, and it rose 2% in September to end the month at 22,405.

Far East
There were two significant events in the Far East in September. In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called a snap general election, looking to take advantage of opposition disarray and seeking support for his hard line against North Korea. Abe said the election would be a judgement on his spending plans and his handling of the Korean crisis. The election is due to be held on 22nd October and at the moment Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party have a comfortable lead in the polls. Then again we have seen other leaders with healthy poll leads call snap general elections…

We have written previously in this commentary about China’s mounting debt and credit problems, and in September credit ratings agency, Standard & Poor’s, cut China’s rating by one point from AA- to A+. This was down to worries about the build-up of debt in the country and puts China on the same level as Ireland and Chile.

The downgrade comes just a month before the Communist Party Congress, which is held only twice every decade and sets economic policy for the next five years: at the moment the Chinese Government has a target of 6.5% growth for this year.

Other than that, the rulers in Beijing were in the mood for banning things: bike sharing apps have now been banned in Beijing thanks to traffic chaos and safety concerns, and the government is also planning a ban on both petrol and diesel cars ‘in the near future’ as China looks to curb pollution and boost its electric cars industry.

Boosted by the likely return to power of Shinzo Abe, the Japanese market led the way in the Far East, rising 4% in the month to 20,356. The South Korean market was also up, albeit by only 1% to 2,394, while China’s Shanghai Composite Index was virtually unchanged at 3,349. The Hong Kong market fell back by 1% to end the month at 27,554.

Emerging Markets
One of the interesting things about writing this commentary is how a story which seemed crucial at the beginning of the month has been almost completely forgotten about by the end of the month. So it was in Emerging Markets, as September started with the BRICS summit – a meeting of the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Chinese leader Xi Jinping told the delegates that an ‘open world economy’ was needed, with ever-increasing trade liberalisation. He told delegates that, “The development of emerging markets and developing countries won’t touch anyone’s cheese, but instead will diligently grow the world economic pie.” With China committed to massive investment in Pakistan you suspect that China and India may be squabbling over rather more important matters than pie and cheese in the long term…

Away from the kitchen and on the stock markets it was a good month for the Brazilian market, which was up another 5% to 74,294. The Russian index also did well as it attempts to regain some of the ground lost earlier in the year: it was up 3% in September to finish at 2,077. Not such a good month for the Indian market though, which closed down 1% at 31,284.

After an excellent year for the ‘And finally’ section of this report, September was a disappointing month. No-one accidentally locked himself in a cash machine, no Chinese toilets demanded facial recognition before they’d dispense loo roll and – only just back from holiday – there was no need for the new leader of Europe to spend thousands on make-up.

But there was an encouraging story from the world of technology, where the winner of the UK’s James Dyson Prize for Innovation was engineering graduate Ryan Yasin and his concept of ‘clothes that grow with your children.’ This is fantastic news for hard-pressed parents – and not just parents of toddlers. September is the month when many teenagers start university: they face the harsh reality of student loans and their parents face the equally harsh reality of ‘kitting them out’ with pots and pans and possibly even a textbook or two.

But at least new clothes won’t be an issue if Mr Yasin’s prototype clothes go into production. Freshers’ Week should be something to behold as everyone wanders round in their Thomas the Tank Engine tops and Mr Tickle trousers…

Kids off to Uni? But have you been saving enough?

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

Recent figures from the Institute of Fiscal Studies suggest that the average total debt incurred by today’s university students over the duration of their studies amounts to £51,000. The new figure comes as those in higher education see the interest rate on student loans rise to 6.1% in September, despite the Bank of England base rate remaining at its lowest ever figure of just 0.25%. The rise means that students will now typically have mounted up £5,800 of interest by the time they graduate. Total student debt in the UK has now risen to £100 billion, a figure higher than the nation’s total credit card debt.

The rising cost of higher education perhaps makes it unsurprising that 40% of parents are now beginning to save towards future university costs before their children have even been born, with one in five hoping to have saved £2,000 by the time the baby arrives. Frustratingly, however, around two thirds of those who are saving are doing so by simply placing the funds in an ordinary savings account, meaning their money is earning them very little in interest.

An alternative option to consider is a Junior ISA (JISA) in the child’s name, which they can then access when they turn 18. The account currently allows £4,128 to be saved every year, and the best rate market rate for a cash JISA offers 3.25%. Saving the maximum amount at that rate for ten years would result in a nest egg of £49,427 tax free to cover university fees with plenty left over for other expenses.

Whilst a cash JISA offers dependability, a stocks and shares JISA is also worth considering as the potential reward on your investment can be higher. Both types of JISA can be opened at the same time with the allowance shared between them, so spreading your savings between the two can pay off in the long run.

Using your pension to save towards your child’s university education is also an option, thanks to the pension freedoms of recent years. With the ability to take a lump sum to put towards fees and other costs when you turn 55, pensions offer a tax-efficient way of putting away for both your child’s future and your own. This is an option which needs careful planning, however, as you’ll need to make sure you have enough for your retirement before paying for your child’s education.

For those able to do so, it may also be worth speaking to your own parents about helping towards their grandchildren’s university costs. Rather than leaving money to a grandchild in their will, a grandparent might consider gifting towards fees and other expenses or placing the money in a trust, reducing their inheritance tax liability and allowing their grandchild to benefit from their legacy when they really need it.