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What’s happening to the tapered annual allowance?

Archive for the ‘Pensions’ Category

What’s happening to the tapered annual allowance?

Thursday, February 6th, 2020

There has been much talk in the financial press recently of proposed changes to the threshold for the tapered annual allowance from £110,000 to £150,000.

The taper was introduced in 2016 and gradually reduces the annual allowance for those on high incomes. For every £2 of adjusted income above £150,000 a year, £1 of annual allowance is lost. 

It has proved unpopular as individuals in that earnings bracket can have their annual tax-free pension savings allowance reduced from £40,000 to as little as £10,000. They are also at risk of  receiving a lifetime allowance tax charge on their benefits.

The situation gets confusing because it hinges on adjusted and threshold income. Adjusted income includes all pension contributions (including any employer contributions) while threshold income excludes them.

To make matters worse, HMRC start with ‘net income’ but do not just mean ‘income after tax’. In this context, they count all taxable income less various deductions, such as member contributions to an occupational pension scheme under the net pay arrangement. 

The sponsoring employer of the pension scheme will deduct employee contributions before deducting tax under PAYE. These can be higher for many NHS workers compared with the private sector, as they are saving into a ‘defined benefit’ scheme.

This is why the taper threshold has caused particular problems for the medical profession.   Many doctors have been forced to limit the work they do in an attempt to avoid significant charges on their pension. The system has reduced any incentive in accepting promotions and has encouraged many to consider early retirement.      

As a result of the pension crisis in the NHS, the Treasury has outlined plans to address the taper and increase the tax relief. The average earnings for a consultant are £112,000 so an estimated 90% would fall under the new limit of £150,000.   

However, representatives of the British Medical Association (BMA) state that the proposals do not go far enough and will in fact cause even more of a ‘tax cliff’. Just increasing the threshold  will do nothing, they feel, to reduce the complexity of the taper.           

Pension specialist, Helen Morrissey, calls for the taper to be scrapped altogether, describing the plan as a sticking plaster when major surgery is required.             

It’s a topic to watch carefully. HMRC face a substantial decrease in revenue if they do make changes to the annual tapered allowance but the government has pledged to try and solve the crisis.

If you have any queries about how an increase in the threshold would affect you, do get in touch.

Why Business Owners Fail to Plan their Retirement

Wednesday, January 29th, 2020

Company directors and owners of SMEs make plans and do forecasts all the time. Cash flow forecasts, SWOT analyses, plans for renewals and refurbishment; there’s hardly a day when they’re not eyeball to eyeball with a spreadsheet.

So why do so many of them fail to plan their own retirements properly? In our experience company directors and owners of SMEs are so wrapped up running their business that they often forget their own financial planning – or simply don’t see it as a priority. There is clearly a need for more directors to plan properly: why do so many of them fail to do so?

Over the years we’ve probably been given half a dozen answers when we’ve asked that question. As you’ll see, none of them really hold water…

“I haven’t got time.” The simple fact is that no one ever has time. And yet planning your retirement is one of the most important jobs you’ll ever do. As the old saying goes, a director or owner of a small business will either walk out of his business or be carried out of it. Assuming your preferred course of action is the former, then there needs to be enough money waiting when you do eventually walk out – and the only way you can make sure of that is to plan for it.

“It’s too early/too late.” It’s not too early if you’re in your twenties or thirties and it isn’t too late if you’re in your fifties or sixties. We know that in your twenties and thirties you’re working all the hours in the day to build your business: but trust me, you will get older – rather more quickly than you think. And yes, of course it’s easier to achieve savings targets if you have more time but the simple fact is that there is need for financial planning at all ages, as personal circumstances and financial planning goals are always changing.

“I’m going to keep working.” There seems to be a trend amongst some business owners and directors at the moment to declare that they’ll never stop working, that nothing is as satisfying as working so why would you ever want to stop? Unfortunately your health, your family and your competitors may eventually play a part in this decision. In our experience, there comes a time for every entrepreneur and director when ‘enough is enough’ and when that time comes it needs to have been planned for.

“It’s boring/not worth it.” In some ways this is one of the easiest objections to understand. Many directors and entrepreneurs – especially younger ones – have seen their own parents dutifully save for retirement and then not be very well off when they do finish work. Unfortunately, everyone now working faces a very simple fact: the population is getting older and the Government simply won’t be able to fund the retirement you want.

“The numbers are too big/too frightening.” Sadly, this is a reflection of proper financial planning. If we’re going to plan for the retirement you really want then the numbers will be big – and they will be challenging. But there is no point in us preparing a financial plan which provides less than you want – and it’s surprising what can be achieved if you save consistently and keep your savings and investments under regular review.

“My business is my pension.” Despite the fact that virtually no businesses are sold at exactly the right time for exactly the right amount of money, many directors and business owners still say this. Of course the answer is to build your business but you also need to build cash outside your business as well. That’s what gives you choice and control and, ultimately, that’s what allows you to dictate the timing and the quality of your retirement.

We’re always happy to talk about a client’s retirement planning. Directors and business owners can plan for their retirement very tax efficiently – and they enjoy flexibility which certainly isn’t available to normal employees. It makes sense to explore the options: we promise you that it isn’t too late and we’ll do our best not to be boring!

The election result and your finances.

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020

With the Conservative’s having won their largest majority since 1987, we thought now would be a good time to reflect on some of the pledges made during the election campaign. How will the promised reforms affect you and your finances? 

Increase of the National Insurance threshold

The NIC threshold is set to rise from £8,632 to £9,500, which will lead to savings of around £100 a year for the 31 million workers who earn above that amount. Over the long term, the Conservatives have set an ambitious £12,500 threshold which would result in a tax reduction of £500 for those who earn over that figure.  

State pension triple lock

The state pension lock is set to be maintained, which is unsurprising, particularly after Theresa May’s plans to change the system cost her voters back in 2017. Currently, under the triple lock the state pension increases year on year, in line with whichever is the highest of these three measurements: the average earnings increase, the rate of inflation or 2.5%.

Further pension pledges

The government has pledged to address a separate pension anomaly which can result in people earning under £12,500 to be denied pension tax relief, if their provider uses the ‘net pay arrangement’ approach as opposed to the ’relief at source’ method. 

The government has also mentioned that it will address the ‘taper tax’ issue that is causing many senior NHS medical professionals to turn down work and overtime, rather than risk a retrospective pension tax charge. 

Steve Webb, director of policy at Royal London, raises the concern that there is a “lack of detail” in the suggested reforms, mentioning that “the measure proposed is far too narrow and may not even work. The tapered allowance affects far more people than senior NHS clinicians and creates complexity and uncertainty in the tax system.”

More will be revealed, no doubt, when Sajid Javid delivers his budget on 11 March.  

Income tax

When he was battling for leadership of the Conservatives, Boris Johnson promised to reduce Britain’s tax burden, making the bold statement that he would raise the threshold for the 40% higher-rate income tax band from £50,000 to £80,000. This would have resulted in serious tax savings for the top 10% of earners. It appears, however, that the plan has been shelved, at least for now. 

Rest assured, we’ll keep our ears to the ground and will update you of any significant policy changes in the budget that might affect your finances. In the meantime, if you have any queries, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Gender gap even affects children’s pensions

Thursday, December 5th, 2019

 We’re familiar with the gender gap in pensions for adults but there is evidence that this actually starts much earlier on. According to data from HMRC, parents and grandparents are more likely to save into a boy’s pension than a girl’s.

A Freedom of Information request by Hargreaves Lansdown revealed that 13,000 girls aged 15 or under had money paid into a pension for them in 2016/17 compared with 20,000 boys. The disparity means the pension gap can actually start from birth onwards. 

This only exacerbates the situation as women are likely to have less in their pension due to the gender pay gap. Nest found men are twice as likely to be in the highest income bracket and women are three times as likely to be earning less than £10,000 per year, which is the auto enrolment threshold for a single job.

Women are also more likely to take career breaks or work part-time to bring up a family. Added to which, they are more likely to live longer and spend longer in retirement so, in reality, will need more in their pension pot than men.       

Research in 2017/18 by the union Prospect found that the pensions gender gap equated to 39.9 per cent or a £7,000 gap in retirement income between women and men.  

Hargreaves Lansdown has calculated that paying £100 per month into a child’s pension until the child reaches 18 can increase their savings by as much as £130,000 by retirement. Yet the cost is only £21,600 plus tax relief of £5,400. Forward planning pays off!

Someone without any earnings can pay up to £2,880 each year into a pension and receive 20 per cent tax relief (up to £720) so it’s possible for parents and grandparents to make a significant difference to a young person’s financial future by starting a plan early. An added advantage is that once the money is in a pension, it can grow without attracting capital gains tax.              

It’s unclear why the anomaly between paying into boys’ and girls’ pensions has existed in the past. Some feel it may be because gifting has traditionally come from the baby boomer’s generation where men were more likely to have had the greater share of pension in retirement. 

Whatever the reason historically, the current message is to use children’s pensions to give the younger generation a helping hand but to do it equally.

How to retain your lifestyle in retirement

Wednesday, October 30th, 2019

Do you feel like you just go to work day in, day out, with the weeks quickly turning to months and the months to years?    

If that’s the case, you may be going through life with a vague notion that your pension contributions will be enough to give you a comfortable retirement without having done any precise calculations of late.      

Unfortunately, this means you could be on track for a significant shortfall. 

The pension and investment provider, Aegon, warns that members of Defined Contribution (DC) schemes will find that their retirement income will fall short of their expectations if they simply rely on the minimum automatic enrolment contributions and the state pension (currently £8,767). 

According to the insurer’s findings, most DC savers will need to increase their contributions to ensure they enjoy a similar lifestyle in retirement to their current one. It’s, therefore, worth taking stock as early as possible to find out how much more money you need to save.     

The figures Aegon used came from the government’s 2017 auto-enrolment review and highlighted broad target replacement rates (the percentage of an employee’s pre-retirement monthly income that they receive each month after retiring).          

Someone earning an average salary of £27,000 would need a 67 per cent replacement rate to maintain their lifestyle from pension savings of £303,900. They would require an income of approx £18,000 per annum in today’s money to continue to live in the way they were accustomed.    

On top of the state pension of £168.60 a week, a 22-year old earning £27,000 would need to contribute an additional 4 per cent to the current 8 per cent minimum combined contribution to reach their required monthly income. Failure to do so could result in a shortfall of £106,500. The extra contribution required would increase with age to:  

  • 13 per cent more for a 35-year old 
  • 29 per cent more for a 45-year old 

These figures are based on individuals just being in auto-enrolment schemes and having no existing pension pot. The additional percentages may sound steep but, with tax relief from your own employee contributions, it could cost as little as 1.6 per cent from your take home pay to reach the 4 per cent specified.

The key message is to take stock now. Think realistically about how much you will need to get close to maintaining your lifestyle once you retire. If a shortfall looks likely, explore the option of  paying more than the automatic minimum as early as possible. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to catch up.

How to keep track of your pensions

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019

A recent study has revealed the worrying statistic that over a fifth of all people with multiple pensions have lost track of at least one, with some admitting to have forgotten the details of all of them. With around two thirds of UK residents having more than one pension, this amounts to approximately 6.6 million people with no idea how much they’ve put away for their retirement. Double the amount of people admit to not knowing how much their pensions are worth.

It’s an undesirable side effect of the modern working world. Whereas in previous generations someone might stay at a single employer for their entire working life, the typical worker today will hold eleven different jobs throughout their career, which could potentially mean opting into the same number of pensions through as many different providers. The new legal requirement for all employers to offer a pension scheme through auto-enrolment is likely to add further complexities.

As a result, the Pensions Dashboard is set to launch in 2019 in the hope that it will make it easier for savers to keep track of their pensions in one place. Until then, however, there are four relatively simple steps to help you track down information on any pensions you’ve forgotten about:

  1. Find your pension using the DWP Pensions tracing service at www.gov.uk/find-pension-contact-details. Start by entering the name of your former employer to discover the current contact address for them. You’ll then need to write to them providing your name (plus any previous names), your current and previous addresses and your National Insurance number.
  2. In the case of a pension scheme which hasn’t been updated for a while, you’ll be required to fill out an online form to receive contact details. You’ll be required to give your name, email address and any relevant information to help track down your pension details. This could include your National Insurance number and the dates you worked for the company.
  3. You can also receive a forecast of your State pension either online or in paper format by going to www.gov.uk/check-state-pension. After entering a few details to confirm your identity, you’ll be told the date you can access your State pension and how much you’ll receive.
  4. Finally, and most importantly, once you’ve managed to track down all of your pension information, get some advice. Consolidating your pensions might be tempting to make managing your savings easier, but you also want to make sure you don’t lose out on any benefits by doing so. Before you make any decisions regarding your pensions, seek professional independent advice on what to do next.

Retire a little later?

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019

This may seem a surprising suggestion. Surely most people are eagerly looking forward to early retirement, not thinking about postponing it? More time to travel the world, spend on the golf course or help out with the grandchildren sounds an enticing prospect rather than more years at work.

But times have changed significantly since the state old age pension was first introduced in 1909. In those days, it was paid to those aged 70 or more and people weren’t expected to live many years beyond that.           

Nowadays, the state pension can be taken at 65 (66 next year), although this does depend on gender and date of birth. Yet, at the same time, life expectancy has increased. People live on average at least another fifteen years beyond their three score years and ten. 

Back in 1948, a 65-year-old would expect to take their pension for about 13.5 years, equating to 23% of their adult life. This has risen steadily. Figures in 2017 showed that a 65-year-old would expect to live for another 22.8 years, or 33.6% of their adult life.

A significant number of people even live to 100 these days. So much so that the Queen has had to expand her centenarian letter writing team to cope with the number of people requiring a 100th birthday message from the Palace.       

According to the Office of National Statistics, the number of centenarians in the UK has increased by 85% over the last 15 years.This trend is set to continue so that by 2080 it is anticipated there will be over 21,000.

In recognition of the fact that people are living longer and spending a larger proportion of their adult life in retirement, a government review will consider increasing the state pension age to 68 between 2037 and 2039.  

Currently, if someone retires at 65 and lives to 100 it makes for a long retirement. Not only is it  expensive for the state to maintain, the individual is worried about outliving their finances rather than being able to get on and enjoy their retirement. The state pension was not designed to support a long period of limbo. 

Against such a backdrop, it makes sense for some individuals, if they are fit, healthy and capable, to consider working beyond their pension age. There is no longer any default retirement age at 65, so it is perfectly possible to do this.  

The older generation also have a great deal to contribute to an employer in terms of experience and commitment. In addition, it’s well known that going to work each day gives some people a reason to get up in the morning and also to keep young. There are many unfortunate cases where someone has worked all their life, looking forward to their retirement, only to fall seriously ill or die the moment they stop work.    

The number of 70 year olds in full or part-time employment has been steadily increasing year on year for the past decade, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. This hit a peak of 497,946 in the first quarter of 2019, an increase of 135% since 2009. 

So rather than just worry about whether you will have enough for your retirement, maybe it makes sense to keep working a little bit longer.  

Five million pension savers at risk from scammers

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

A joint warning from The Pensions Regulator (TPR) and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) says that five million pension savers could be risking their retirement pots due to scammers. Which has left people feeling, as you can imagine, a little bit worried. 

The regulators’ warning came after research revealed that 42% of pension savers could be at risk of falling for common tactics used by scammers. The survey questioned more than 2,000 adults aged 45 to 65 and came up with some rather astonishing results. 

The research suggested that cold calls, exotic investments and early access to cash are among the most effective tactics utilised by scammers. It later found that 60% of those who are actively looking for ways to boost their retirement income are likely to be hooked by a scam. 

Further to this, the survey found that 23% of those enrolled in pension schemes would pursue high risk, exotic opportunities if offered to them, while 17% said they would be interested in early access. Of all respondents, 23% said that they’d actually discuss their pension plans with a cold caller. 

Pensions and financial inclusion minister, Guy Opperman, said that scammers were, “nothing short of despicable.

“We know we can beat these callous crooks, because the message out there does work. Last year’s pension scams awareness campaign prevented hundreds of people from losing as much as £34m, and I’m backing this year’s efforts to be bigger and better.” 

Mark Steward, Executive Director of Enforcement and Market Oversight at the FCA, said: “It doesn’t matter the size of your pension pot – scammers are after your savings. Get to know the warning signs, and before making any decision about your pension, be ScamSmart and check you are dealing with an FCA authorised firm.“

The warning comes after the FCA revealed more than £197m was lost to scams in 2018. Two victims even lost more than £1m each! 

You can check out information on how to stop scammers on the FCA’s ScamSmart website

If you have any concerns about a phone call you’ve received or any other communications from an unfamiliar source, get in contact and we’ll make sure to steer you away from any scams. 

July Market Commentary

Thursday, July 4th, 2019

Introduction

Many of you will know the old stock market adage: ‘Sell in May and go away, and come on back on St. Leger’s Day.’ 

The theory was that with everyone out of London for the summer season there was little business to be done and the stock market drifted lower. These days, of course, we live in a very different, very connected world where the London stock market is affected far more by relations between the US and China than it is by deals done at Royal Ascot and Henley. And if you had ‘sold in May and gone away’ then you’d have missed out on an excellent month: with just one exception, all the world’s leading stock markets rose in June, some of them by significant amounts. 

This was despite June being another month where the US/China trade tensions continued to simmer, where Chinese industrial output fell to a 17-year low and where India also faced tariffs from the US President – and inevitably responded in kind. Although there was a glimmer of light at the G20 summit at the end of the month, as the US and China agreed to a pause in hostilities, with talks on solving the trade dispute set to resume.

Stock markets also overcame gloomy news from the World Bank, which had opened the month by suggesting that the global economy was weakening. It was now predicting global growth of just 2.6% in 2019, and a very slight increase to 2.7% in 2020. Inevitably ‘international trade tensions’ were to blame. 

There was also a bleak long term forecast on jobs. Oxford Economics forecast that up to 20m manufacturing jobs around the world could be lost to robots and automation by 2030, with the people replaced by the robots finding that comparable roles in the service sector had also been squeezed by AI. 

One job up for grabs is, of course, that of the UK Prime Minister. The battle to succeed Theresa May has been fought down to two – Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt. We will have a decision by the end of July: whether the winner will be able to command a working majority in Parliament will be a different matter.

UK

For a change, the UK section of these notes is not awash with ‘retail gloom.’ No doubt that will return, for now let’s start with the good news…

Despite all the uncertainty, UK consumer confidence hit an eight month high in May, with unemployment continuing at a record low level and wages growing faster than expected in the three months from February to April. 

Wage growth for the period was 3.4% with official figures confirming wage growth of 1.4% after inflation had been taken into account. Despite this, though, many people continue to need more than one job to make ends meet, with estimates from the TUC released at the end of the month suggesting 1-in-3 people are now working in the ‘gig economy.’ 

…And if you like your glass half-empty, the rest of the month’s news would have been just what you were looking for. 

UK house prices slipped in May in a subdued market and – not helped by car plant shutdowns – figures showed that the UK economy had contracted by 0.4% in April. Car manufacturing fell by 24% in that month, with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders saying that production is now 45% down on a year ago. 

With the continued uncertainty over Brexit and the ongoing global trade tensions, audit firm KPMG forecast that UK GDP growth will be 1.4% in 2019, falling to 1.3% in 2020, with both figures 0.2% down on the firm’s forecasts in March. 

Hand in hand with the race to succeed Theresa May – covered below – went the ongoing debate on the future of HS2. Boris Johnson has admitted to ‘serious doubts’ but leading business groups (including the CBI and the IoD) have urged the Government to commit to the project, arguing it is vital for the UK’s infrastructure. 

By the end of the month the gloom-mongers had won the battle, with the consumer confidence that had been so high in May turning a complete 180 degrees. By the end of June consumers were feeling negative about both their personal finances and the general outlook for the UK. 

Fortunately this view was not shared by the FTSE 100 index of leading shares, which rose 4% in the month to close June at 7,426. The pound survived the buffeting of bad news to end the month unchanged in percentage terms, trading at $1.2696. 

Brexit 

As we mentioned in the introduction, the race to succeed Theresa May is now down to two – former Foreign Secretary and ex-Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and the current Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt. The final decision will be taken by Conservative Party members, with the result announced on Tuesday 23rd July. 

All the indications at the moment are that Boris Johnson will win – he is an overwhelming favourite with the bookmakers – so what does he have to say about Brexit?  

Part of the reason he is such a firm favourite is that he has given a commitment that the UK will – deal or no deal – leave the EU on 31st. With so many top positions in the EU currently changing, and with many heads of government – Ireland’s Leo Varadkar is the latest – resolutely trumpeting the ‘no re-negotiation’ line, leaving without a deal is becoming a real possibility. Whether you see this as ‘crashing out’ or very sensibly moving to World Trade Organisation terms probably depends on whether you voted Remain or Leave. 

What a Johnson victory may well mean is an early Budget. At the moment the Budget is scheduled for November. However, Boris Johnson is reported to want to give the economy a real shot in the arm before the UK leaves the EU, so there could well be a tax cutting Budget in September, with cuts to both higher rate tax and stamp duty. 

Europe 

Among a media storm questioning her health after being seen shaking, German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed that her coalition government will continue. This despite the surprise resignation of Andrea Nahles, leader of the coalition’s junior partner, the Social Democratic Party. 

If the political clouds are gathering over Mrs Merkel, the economic ones may be gathering over Germany as a whole following the release of more gloomy financial news. 

Industrial production in April was down by 1.9% compared to the previous month, with exports 0.5% lower than the same period in 2018. The Bundesbank – Germany’s central bank – is now predicting growth of just 0.6% this year, compared to a forecast of 1.6% growth it made in December. 

Clearly this is bad news not just for Germany but for the whole of Europe, as the slowdown in China and the US/China trade dispute continue to impact the German economy. 

There was more bad news in the car industry as Volkswagen announced plans to cut ‘thousands’ of jobs as part of a modernisation drive. Meanwhile BMW joined forces with Jaguar Land Rover to co-operate on electric cars as the traditional car makers continued to battle against new entrants to the market. 

There was more bad news on jobs as Deutsche Bank revealed plans to cut 15-20,000 jobs – although those would be worldwide cuts, not just in Germany. Meanwhile in the wider European economy the ECB said that it would keep interest rates on hold at the current record low levels until at least the middle of 2020, as it continues to try and spark some life into the Eurozone economy. 

And, as they say, all good things come to those who wait. After 20 years of negotiation it was finally announced that the EU had agreed a trade deal with Mercosur – the South American trade bloc which includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro called it “one of the most important trade deals of all time.” Whether Irish beef farmers, suddenly facing competition from South American imports, will agree is another matter…

There was plenty of ‘beef’ in European stock markets in June, as both the German and French indices rose by 6% in the month, to close at 12,399 and 5,539 respectively. 

US 

The month did not get off to a good start in the US, as figures showed that the economy had only added 75,000 jobs in May, far fewer than the 180,000 analysts had been predicting. It is possible that another month of poor figures could see a cut in interest rates from the Federal Reserve – something the President has long called for. 

The figures showed that wage growth was also sluggish, although US unemployment remains at a 50 year low of 3.6%. 

Something that wasn’t sluggish – and hasn’t been sluggish through much of 2019 – was the performance of the virtual currency Bitcoin, which has risen from £3,133 at the end of March to £9,335 by the end of June. Bitcoin is, of course, a virtual (or crypto) currency and in June, Facebook announced that it would be launching a virtual currency of its own – the Libra – in 2020. 

This virtual currency already has the apparent backing of Uber, Spotify and Visa and with bank JP Morgan also creating its own currency – the JPM Coin – June 2019 may turn out to be the month when virtual currencies took a major step forward. 

Staying in cyberspace there was bad news for two US cities as Lake City in Florida followed Riviera Beach in paying a ransom (in Bitcoin, inevitably) to hackers after their computers had been offline for two weeks. According to reports, workers in Lake City disconnected computers within minutes of the attack but it was too late: they were locked out of email accounts and residents were unable to make payments and access online services. The ransom was reported as $500,000 (£394,000) and it is surely only a matter of time before the same thing happens to a local council in the UK. 

Fortunately Wall Street was not held to ransom and, in line with virtually every other major world stock market, the Dow Jones index enjoyed a good month, rising by 7% to close June at 26,600. 

Far East 

We have covered the US/China trade row above – at least the month ended with a commitment to restart the talks aimed at ending the dispute. But in June it was the China/Hong Kong row that really made the headlines, as the Hong Kong legislature sought to allow extraditions to mainland China, arguing that it “would keep Hong Kong a safe city for residents and business.” 

This sparked huge protests and some of the worst violence seen in decades, with protesters worried ‘keeping the city safe’ will inevitably come to mean ‘not criticising the Chinese government.’ 

There are also worries that the proposed legislation might damage Hong Kong’s status as a global financial centre. “The proposed legislation would undermine Hong Kong as a hub for multinational firms [and] as a global financial centre,” said a Washington-based think tank. Despite the protests, the legislation is likely to go ahead at some point. 

Another long term worry for China is the spread of its deserts, apparently caused by global warming, deforestation and overgrazing. At least in June it took comfort in the arms of Japan as Shinzo Abe and Xi Jinping had what appeared to be a friendly meeting ahead of the G20 summit, with the US/China trade wars and tensions about North Korea seemingly bringing the two countries closer together. 

All the leading Far Eastern stock markets were up in the month. Despite the protests Hong Kong led the way, rising 6% to 28,543. The South Korean market was up by 4% to 2,131 while China’s Shanghai Composite Index and Japan’s Nikkei Dow were both up by 3%, to end the month at 2,979 and 21,276 respectively. 

Emerging Markets 

If the US economy got off to a bad start with the jobs figures, the Indian economy got off to an even worse start in June as it lost the ‘fastest growing economy’ title to China. 

Figures for the first quarter showed the economy growing at 5.8% – mightily impressive compared to economies in Western Europe, but below the 6.6% recorded in the previous quarter and below the 6.4% posted by China. 

Worse was to follow a few days later as the US imposed a 10% tariff on a series of Indian imports including imitation jewellery, building materials, solar cells and processed food. Inevitably this led to fears of job losses and – equally inevitably – India was quick to retaliate as it imposed tariffs on 28 US products, some as high as 70%. 

Will this mean a US/India trade dispute to mirror the US/China dispute? While it looks unlikely, India was the only one to fall in June, dropping 1% to end the month at 39,395. 

Meanwhile the markets in both Russia and Brazil moved up in the month: both markets were up by 4% in June, with the Russian market closing at 2,766 and the Brazilian market going through the 100,000 barrier to reach 100,967. 

There was clearly good news for the South American economy with the trade deal agreed with the EU which we have mentioned above. There was less good news for Argentina and Uruguay in the middle of the month. A massive power outage left both countries completely in the dark, wiping out power to tens of millions of people. Argentine President Mauricio Marci has promised a “full investigation.” As soon as he can find the light switch…

And finally…

We have mentioned cyber-attacks above and one company particularly badly hit was Norwegian aluminium producer Norsk Hydro, who saw 22,000 computers go offline in 170 locations around the world. The company refused to pay the ransom demanded and instead fought back against the hackers using the latest cutting edge technology: the pencil and paper. 

…And June really was nostalgia month as 1990s toys are apparently making a comeback on a wave of millennial nostalgia. If you were in a school playground in the 1990s – or your children were – you may remember Tamagotchi (digital pets) and they’re being re-joined on shelves by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers and Polly Pocket. There is also, according to analysts, an increasing market for the films of the same era as grown-up millennials feel nostalgic for their childhood.

If you haven’t made your fortune from your own version of Cash in the Attic, perhaps the answer is to get serious about Crazy Golf. You may have thought Crazy Golf was just a game to play at the seaside, but now the ‘sport’ is dreaming of Olympic recognition and hosting a series of championships up and down the UK. 

While Tiger Woods was pocketing $2m (£1.6m) for winning the US Masters, near-namesake Mark Wood, a local council finance manager, won £50 as he was crowned UK Crazy Gold champion. The secret? According to the sport’s insiders, it is to keep your ball safely tucked inside a sock. That way, it keeps an even temperature and rolls consistently. 

Get out there! With that vital piece of inside information there’s nothing to stop you…

Defined Contribution vs Defined Benefit

Wednesday, May 15th, 2019

As defined contribution pension plans overtake defined benefit (in terms of money paid into schemes) for the first time ever, more and more people are taking an interest in how the two differ and the relationship between them. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has reported that in 2018, employee contributions for defined contribution pension pots reached £4.1bn, compared to the £3.2bn that employees contributed to DB schemes.

With April 2019’s increase to minimum contributions for DC schemes seeing employer contribution hitting 3% and employees contributing 5% towards their pension, the trend of DC contribution increases in relation to DB isn’t set to slow any time soon.

So before DB Pensions become a distant memory, let’s take a look at exactly what they are. A defined benefit pension, which is sometimes referred to as a final salary pension scheme, promises to pay a guaranteed income to the scheme holder, for life, once they reach the age of retirement set by the scheme. Generally, the payout is based on an accrual rate; a fraction of the member’s terminal earnings (or final salary), which is then multiplied by the number of years the employee has been a scheme member.

A DB scheme is different from a DC scheme in that your payout is calculated by the contributions made to it by both yourself and your employer, and is dependent on how those contributions perform as an investment and the decisions you make upon retirement. The fund, made of contributions that the scheme member and their employer make, is usually invested in stocks and shares while the scheme member works. There is a level of risk, as with any investments, but the goal is to see the fund grow.

Upon retirement, the scheme member has a decision to make with how they access their pension. They can take their whole pension as a lump sum, with 25% being free from tax. They can take lump sums from their pension as and when they wish. They can take 25% of their pension tax free, receiving the remainder as regular taxable income for as long as it lasts, or they can take the 25% and convert the rest into an annuity.

One of the reasons for DB schemes becoming more scarce is that higher life expectancies mean employers face higher unpredictability and thus riskier, more expensive pensions. This is a trend that looks likely to continue. If you’re unsure of how to make the most of your pension plan, it’s recommended to consult with a professional.