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Coronavirus – and the markets’ volatility

Archive for March, 2020

Coronavirus – and the markets’ volatility

Wednesday, March 18th, 2020

With billions being wiped off the stock market due to the coronavirus outbreak, it’s hard for investors not to panic. Markets are extremely volatile, despite measures taken by central banks around the world, including the Bank of England, to try and reduce the impact of the pandemic.   

There are, however, a few key principles to bear in mind regarding your finances:

Stay invested

The main advice is to hold your nerve. Don’t get distracted by all the ‘noise’ of the markets lurching up and down. If, for example, you see the market jump up 600 points, only to witness it lose 1400 points and then rise another 800 points in the course of a week or even a day, you know emotion has taken over from all rational thought. In such circumstances, it’s better to wait until things calm down, no matter how long that may be.      

It would be impossible to predict the bottom of the curve so it’s better to keep your funds invested. Otherwise, by taking your money out, you could risk being out of the market on the very days it recovers and does well.  

Think long term 

The coronavirus situation is without doubt unprecedented, fast moving and deeply concerning. Yet although we might not have gone through anything like it in our lifetime, the stock market has experienced crises before and recovered. Just think of both World Wars, the Gulf War, oil shortages, the 2008 financial crisis and recession. So while in the short term your investments are likely to be affected, anyone investing in the stock market knows they should be thinking about a five to ten year period. Coronavirus will continue to unsettle the markets but volatility will always be a part of investing.   

Diversify, diversify  

It’s a good idea to use this time to review your portfolio carefully. Consider whether it is still in line with your attitude to risk. Is it balanced with a mix of different investments, including shares, government and corporate bonds, property and cash? Ask yourself if it is still in tune with your long-term goals?   

Moving money into an ISA means you don’t have to invest the money all at once and can drip-feed amounts into the markets when things may be less turbulent. Try and build some protection into your portfolio by ensuring it has a mix of cash, gold or short-dated government bonds. Make sure it’s not too concentrated on just a few funds, or on one or two particular countries or industries that could be most hard hit. 

Don’t check obsessively   

The best advice at times like these is not to sit there checking your investments on your phone, tablet or desktop all the time. Switch off your notifications as it will only make you anxious and could tempt you into making a knee-jerk reaction.  

There’s a lot to be said for the sentiment expressed in Kipling’s poem, “ If you can keep your head when all about you…” particularly when markets are plummeting.

How to get your child on the property ladder

Wednesday, March 11th, 2020

It’s a tough environment for first time buyers. Rising house prices and stagnant wage growth have pushed up the average age of buying a first property to 33. What’s more, first time buyers need to borrow 18 times more than those in the 1970s.

Given this context, it’s unsurprising that more and more parents and grandparents are giving their loved ones a helping hand to get on the property ladder. However, because there are several ways of doing this – all with their distinct advantages and disadvantages – it can be hard to find the right way to help out. Here is a breakdown of a few common ways of giving the next generation some extra support:

Gifting a deposit

Gifting a deposit might seem like the most straightforward way of helping your child, but there could be unexpected tax implications. For instance, cash gifts of over £3,000 in one year may be subject to inheritance tax, if you die within seven years of making the gift. 

If you do think gifting a deposit could be a good option, you might want to act sooner rather than later. A cross-party group of MPs is currently proposing an overhaul of the IHT system where all gifts over £30,000 will be subject to a flat 10% tax rate.

Guarantor mortgages

A common alternative to directly gifting cash is to use a guarantor mortgage. These mortgages are sometimes referred to as 100% mortgages because they don’t require the borrower to put down a deposit. Rather, a parent will lock up cash in a savings account with a lender or agree to use their property as collateral if the buyer defaults on repayments.

If you use savings as security, you’d normally need to place either 5% or 10% of the cost of a new property into a savings account with the lender for several years (three or five years are the standard). The interest returned varies from lender to lender, with some not paying any at all.

Joint mortgages

These mortgages allow you to buy a property together with your child. Notably, this option increases your child’s chance of getting a mortgage in the first place as your income will be taken into account. 

However, it can be expensive and risky. As your name will be on the deeds of your child’s home, you’ll need to pay the stamp duty surcharge if you already own a property. What’s more, you’ll be jointly responsible for repayments. 

Are we heading towards a cashless society?

Wednesday, March 11th, 2020

A new polymer ‘‘Turner’’ £20 note entered circulation at the end of February which the Bank of England claims is its most secure banknote ever. The new note replaces the ‘’Adam Smith’’ £20 note that has been in circulation since 2007.

Artist JMW Turner is the new face of the £20 note. He is considered one of the finest British artists of all time and painted The Fighting Temeraire which was voted the nation’s favourite painting in a BBC Radio 4 poll.

Security on the new note is tight – £20 notes are the most commonly forged banknote, accounting for 88% of detected forgeries in the first half of last year.

Enhanced security features include a large see-through window with a depiction of the Margate Lighthouse and the Turner Contemporary, Turner’s self-portrait and a metallic hologram which changes between the words “pounds” and “twenty” depending on how the note is tilted. The notes also have a purple foil patch containing the letter “T”, a nod to the Tate Britain where many of Turner’s paintings are displayed.

Sarah John, the Bank of England’s chief cashier, said: “Moving the £20 note to polymer marks a major step forward in our fight against counterfeiting.” There are currently two billion £20 notes in circulation so replacing them all is no mean feat. The Bank estimated, however, that half of all ATMs across the UK would be distributing the new notes within just two weeks of the launch.  Old notes, however, will remain valid legal tender for six months.

The new banknote was produced in association with the Royal National Institute of Blind People, to make money more accessible for people with sight loss. There are three separate clusters of dots along the short side of the note to make handling cash easier. 

The new plastic £20 notes are longer lasting than the paper notes they are replacing. However, there are doubts about exactly how long these “long-lasting” notes will be used for as we move towards a cashless society. Contactless cards and quick online payments have revolutionised how we spend over the last decade.

The Financial Inclusion Commission estimates that cash payments will account for fewer than one in 10 payments by 2028. Campaigners warn that the UK is moving rapidly towards becoming a cashless society with little research into how this will affect the country.

In the last year alone, 13% of free-to-use UK cashpoints have closed and a quarter of all machines now charge people to withdraw their cash. Campaign groups are calling for legislation that will force banks to provide cash access to curb this trend.

IR35 – ready, steady…not ready?

Wednesday, March 4th, 2020

The big issue which has been dominating the accounting world in recent months is IR35. Will businesses be ready when the reforms come in on 6th April? 

The overwhelming view expressed by representatives from various accountancy bodies is that they will most certainly not be, not least because legislation is still not finalised.         

IR35 was introduced in 2000 as an anti-tax avoidance rule, aimed at freelancers or contractors who were deemed by HMRC to be, in effect, working as employees. Under the new rules, every medium and large private sector business in the UK will be responsible for determining the tax status of any contractor they use. This has already been the case in the public sector since 2017.

HMRC is adamant that the reforms should go ahead in order to tackle the ‘fundamental unfairness’ surrounding the current non-compliance with the rules, which it believes could cost the Exchequer more than £1.3bn by 2023-24.   

However, the investigation by the House of Lords finance sub committee has revealed that there are still many uncertainties and unanswered questions. Despite the impending start date, the actual implementation rules are still being set out by HMRC. There is also concern that the CEST tool, which checks someone’s employment status, is still not up to the job.

Julia Kermode, chief executive of the Freelancer & Contractor Services Association, commented that there was mounting evidence that clients had been unable to fully prepare in advance of the April 2020 changes. She explained that a number of businesses were only just finding out about their new liabilities as HMRC’s education programme was delayed to do the general election. 

While large employers, who have in-house tax teams, may have been able to make some preparations, smaller businesses are thought to be less ready as they don’t have the expertise to understand the intricacies of the off-payroll reforms. And even if larger companies are in better shape, the view is that no one is truly prepared.

Businesses are disappointed that their calls for the reforms to be postponed have been ignored and feel that the review by the Treasury didn’t go far enough. They feel that the issues experienced by the public sector since 2017, with many contractors simply leaving and working elsewhere, have not been heeded. This has caused major problems with resourcing and recruitment in organisations like the NHS. There is also concern that some large companies will react by simply issuing a blanket ban and not hiring contractors at all. 

Although experts have welcomed the fact that the Treasury has promised a ‘soft landing’ in the first year of the reforms, they have warned that businesses in the private sector shouldn’t be complacent. The ‘light touch’ will still mean that HMRC will impose penalties if there is thought to have been deliberate non-compliance.   

The impact of coronavirus on stock markets

Wednesday, March 4th, 2020

Stock markets across the world have fallen sharply because of fears over the economic impact of the coronavirus as the number of cases continues to rise. The situation is changing rapidly all the time but at the time of writing the virus that started in China has spread to more than 50 countries, including the UK.

The Dow Jones was hit by its biggest ever daily points drop of 4.4% on 27th February and the main European markets also fell dramatically, with London’s FTSE 100 index down more than 3%. Shares lost almost 13% of their value, wiping £200bn from the value of companies on the index. This made it one of the worst weeks for the global markets since the financial crisis in 2008. There has been some limited recovery in the last few days but significant volatility remains likely.

Investors are concerned the situation could spark a global recession, while Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, has already warned that the outbreak could result in the UK’s economic growth prospects being downgraded. 

Sectors most affected 

Not surprisingly, shares in airlines and travel companies have dropped significantly. EasyJet fell by 16.7% in the FTSE 100, while Tui and British Airways owner IAG both dropped by more than 9%. Oil prices have plummeted, with the price of Brent crude being at its lowest since 2016.    

Firms that rely on goods from China, like the car manufacturer, Jaguar Land Rover, have highlighted that they could soon run out of parts. Companies such as Nike, Apple and Walt Disney have been badly hit, with shares down more than 4%.

The prognosis

Although stock markets may be reliving the financial crisis of 2008, there is no way of knowing how the situation will play out. Previous epidemics such as SARS and MERS had a significant impact on the economy but the effect was transient. Even the worst-hit stock recovered within a year.        

Sonja Laud, chief investment officer at Legal & General Investment Management, explains that,

“What markets are trying to digest is how long this is going to go on and what the economic damage will be.” The situation may look as if it is going to go wider and deeper than investors  originally assumed but acting in panic will not help.

On the plus side, these sudden falls have come after a very strong period for shares in 2019.  So while they may appear dramatic in the short term, the starting point for quite a few markets was an all-time high.  

The best course of action?  

With sensationalist headlines in the media, panic can quickly spread. There are undoubtedly going to be mixed messages. You’ll hear some people saying it’s a good time to buy shares while they are dipping, while others will recommend you sell your shares quickly and buy government bonds instead.

It may sound like a cliché but it is a case of weathering the storm. Rather than make any sudden decisions, try and stick to your long-term investment plan. As the saying goes, it’s about time in the markets rather than timing the market. So while the dips may seem acute now, the picture could look very different over a ten or fifteen year timeframe.

If you do have any particular concerns about your investment strategy at the current time, do not hesitate to get in touch.