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Sensible Investing

Why market timing is futile and it’s time in the market that counts

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There’s a lot for investors to worry about.  High market valuations, rising interest rates, the prospect of a no-deal Brexit and escalating trade tensions fuelled by Donald Trump, all raise the likelihood of greater market volatility.

When markets are more volatile and investor sentiment turns negative, resulting in short-term falls in value, it can be tempting to try and time the markets.  Timing the markets involves attempting to sell before equity markets hit the bottom and then buying before they start to rise.  This sounds good in theory but, in practice, it doesn’t usually work out that way.  Instead, investors can find themselves selling low and buying high!  If investors repeat this process enough times they will soon run out of money to invest.  At the very least, the value of their portfolios will take a big hit.

One of the biggest problems with attempting to time the market is that you can easily miss out on a few of the best days of returns.  Do this, and your overall long-term returns will be significantly worse.  According to a study from Fidelity International a couple of years ago, an investor who invested £1,000 in the FTSE All-Share index 30 years ago, but missed the best 10 days in the market, would have achieved an annualised return of 7.09% and ended up with a total investment of £7,811.55.  This compares with an annualised return of 9.38% and an investment worth £14,733.64 if they had stayed in the market the whole time – an opportunity loss of £6,922.09.  If an investor had missed the best 20 days, their annualised return would be 5.55%, which would have resulted in an even worse shortfall of £9,676.56.

This research should remind us that volatility is the price we pay as investors, for long-term outperformance from equities, relative to other investment asset classes.  The potential for long-term returns comes from risk in the form of market volatility.

There are significant risks associated with trying to time the markets.  This is because it is so difficult to predict the best time to get out and then get back in to equity markets, during periods of market volatility.  These risks are magnified by the impact of the very best and worst days of market performance tending to be grouped together during periods of increased market volatility.

A more sensible approach to investing is to keep your money exposed to the markets throughout the entire market cycle, during the ups and the downs.  There’s an old stock market adage which says time in the market matters more than timing the market.  At Wells Gibson, we would tend to agree.

When markets are especially volatile, the value we add as financial planners, is to guide our clients and keep them focused on their long-term, lifestyle, financial and investment objectives.  Furthermore, because we can demonstrate the value of time in the market, and the futility of market timing, we are able to secure the best long-term results for our clients.

If you have been tempted to try market timing in the past or perhaps, during the current bout of market volatility, why not give us a call and see if we can keep you on the right track.

Is the tax tail of EIS and VCT investment wagging the investment dog?

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Enterprise Investment Schemes (EIS) and Venture Capital Trusts (VCTs) represent tax-advantaged opportunities to invest equity capital into very small and often very early stage, or even start-up, privately held businesses.  The words ‘equity’, ‘privately held’, ‘small’ and ‘early stage’ immediately point out some of the risks.

There is a certain human appeal towards investing in the next potential Google or similar tech start-up or to own a share of a biotech firm commercialising some aspect of research for the good of mankind.  Intuitively, one knows that this is a risky, dice-rolling business and that for every winner there are bound to be some losers and some also-rans.  However, the tax breaks afforded by HM Government, for these schemes, risk clouding the due diligence that these investments duly deserve.

It is a mistake to think that these tax breaks are noble in nature.  Their purpose is to encourage the supply of capital to these companies in the hope that they will employ more people, who will pay income tax, make NI contributions (individual and company) and pay VAT on goods bought with their wages – and that they will generate higher corporate earnings on which corporation tax can be charged.  The tax breaks are provided to improve the risk-return relationship that potential investors in these companies face.

EIS was launched in 1993-1994, as an evolution of the Business Expansion Scheme that went before it.  Since it began, it has raised billions of pounds for thousands of small companies.  In fact, according to the EIS Association, the official trade body for the Enterprise Investment Scheme, in May 2018, HMRC released the first of its estimates in respect of the number of companies raising funds and the amounts raised through EIS for 2016-17:  3,470 companies raised a total of £1.8mn of funds under the EIS scheme in 2016/17.  Remember this is an estimate and judging by previous years, we can expect these numbers to increase.

The VCT scheme was first introduced in 1995.  VCTs are similar to investment trusts, raising capital by the sale of shares in the trust, which is then invested into qualifying trading companies.

Researchpoints out that around three quarters of advisers recommend EIS investments and a great majority of these advisers stated that tax benefits were one of the main reasons why they recommend EIS to clients. These findings are surprising and even alarming to us.  The tax tail seems to be wagging the investment dog, particularly because a majority believe these investments should be considered before other more mainstream tax breaks (e.g. ISA and pension) have been fully utilised.

Furthermore, it seems a high percentage of private investors who regard themselves as sophisticated or experienced hold EIS investments and an even greater percentage had considered them.  When choosing an investment, a high percentage stated that the expected level of return was one of the most important criteria.  This alarms us.  Even self-selected ‘sophisticated’ investors would appear to be taking far higher risks than they are aware of, not least the risk of real disappointment that returns are poor (or their capital is lost entirely, before the tax breaks they receive).

The fees on EIS and VCT funds are, as one might expect, high in comparison to passive or systematic mutual funds.  Annual management charges in the region of 2% to 3% and around 3.5% in terms of total costs strip out considerable upside, and that is before any form of performance fee is deducted.  Don’t forget that there are often arrangement fees representing around 2% of each transaction.  In the end, investors only receive returns net of costs.  When costs are high as they are in this case, intermediaries take an unjustified share of the upside.  The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

The risks of EIS and VCT investments are varied and considerable as they both invest in very small unquoted companies.  It is our belief that many investors do not have a clear insight into the risk they are taking on.  These range from the risk of failure, to owning minority stakes in illiquid private businesses and the risk of changes in the tax regime that may affect the attractiveness of the tax breaks on offer.

The conclusion that we arrive at is that we would not recommend EIS and VCT investments in the event that a client’s other tax reliefs (e.g. pension, ISA, CGT) have not yet been fully utilised.  When it comes to investing, diversification, keeping costs low and only taking risks supported by evidence is what matters, yet EIS and VCT products don’t tick these boxes!

These high-risk, tax planning products should only be considered and recommended in very client specific circumstances where all other avenues have been explored, and only for those clients who meet stringent net worth and investor sophistication criteria.

Is the tax tail wagging the investment dog in the UK?  From what we can see the answer is yes.

Investing can bring you closer to your financial goals than cash

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Should you invest your money to achieve long-term financial goals or keep the money safely in cash?

This is a common dilemma and can be a difficult decision, especially for first-time investors who are yet to experience the ups and downs of stock market investing.  Yet, history tells us that investments typically outperform cash over longer periods of time.

New research has shown that those who invested in a stocks and shares Individual Savings Account (ISA) 15 years ago could have enjoyed gains of almost double those experienced by individuals leaving money in cash over the same period.  The research from Fidelity International also pointed out a gender difference when it comes to the preference to invest or leave money in cash.  Almost half of women prefer to save in cash, which could be detrimental to achieving their long-term financial goals.

This is supported by new figures from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) which show more women subscribing to cash ISAs than men.  More men than women were shown to invest their ISAs than open a cash ISA.

Fidelity carried out the analysis based on using the full ISA allowance invested in an index tracker fund which aimed to track the performance of the FTSE All Share and compared this to average cash savings rates over 5, 10 and 15 years.  This analysis demonstrates the cost of cash, with the investment worth £20,174 more over 5 years, £55,541 more over 10 years and £104,217 more over 15 years.  They concluded that, by investing in the stock market, women (and men) can reach their financial goals sooner.  These financial goals might include building up a deposit for a first home, paying school fees or saving for retirement.

Earlier research from Fidelity in their Financial Power of Women report found that 43% of women were likely to save using a cash ISA in the next two years compared to the 19% who said they would invest via a stocks and shares ISA.  This finding was based on a survey of more than 1,000 men and 1,000 women, who were asked about their views on money and investing.

Maike Currie, Investment Director at Fidelity International, said:

“Many women will have long-term goals and diligently stick to these whether saving for a child’s education or putting something away for a comfortable retirement.  But while we tend to be diligent and committed savers, we often steer clear of the stock market altogether.

“Factors such as the gender pay gap, time off work to cover childcare and more women engaged in part-time work already contribute to a significant gap in women’s’ earnings versus their male counterparts.  That’s why it’s important not to put yourself at a further disadvantage by not making your money work as hard as you are.  With interest rates at record lows for almost a decade now and inflation rapidly rising, anyone holding an investment in cash will struggle to achieve a decent real return – that’s a return that keeps abreast of rising prices.

“Granted, the stock market is a riskier option than cash, but it is a well-established fact that over the long-term equities tend to outperform cash.  Women risk falling into a glaring ‘investment gap’ by leaving their money languishing in cash.  Don’t lose out over the long term and run the risk of missing out on your long term financial goals – take the plunge and get invested.”

There is of course an important role for cash in long-term financial planning.  It’s usually recommended to hold a short-term cash emergency savings fund in order to cover between three to six months essential expenditure.  Cash is also often preferable to investments where there is a short time horizon for your financial goals, such as buying a property in the next few years.

As investments can go down as well as up in value, the certainty of cash is important where a known amount of money is required in the short-term however, for longer-term financial goals, including retirement planning, the buying power of cash will typically be eroded by price inflation over time.

Investing money does involve risk and exposure to volatility, so you need to have sufficient tolerance for risk, capacity for any losses and the need to experience investment returns to achieve your financial goals.

Please get in touch if you would like to talk about the difference between saving in cash and investing your money, and how to determine a suitable allocation of cash and investments within your portfolio.

Cost of pension and investment advice revealed

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What does it cost to get professional financial advice in respect of your pension pot or investments?

According to some new research, the average cost of pension financial advice is close to £3,000.  The research, carried out by consumer group Which?, looked at the fees charged by more than 100 financial advisers.  Its findings tell us about the typical cost of pension financial advice but also about the range of charging structures used by different financial advisers.

In order to carry out the research, Which? presented five different advice scenarios to 102 different independent financial advisers.

According to their research, it costs an average of £2,897 to get advice on the consolidation of a number of pension pots worth a total of £150,000 into a single pension plan.  This average covers a wide range of different charging levels for the same activity, with the highest fee quoted at £6,000.

For retirement advice on a pension pot worth £100,000, the average cost of advice was £1,837. Which? found the lowest price quoted for this type of advice was £300 and the highest was £4,000.

In respect of taking tax-free cash from a pension pot worth £150,000 and then entering into a drawdown plan, the average price quoted was £2,383.

The average advice charged quoted for investing an inheritance worth £60,000 was £1,472, and the advisers surveyed quoted an average of £524 for an annual review of a portfolio of investment funds valued at £60,000.

Which? also found that only one in five of the advisers they looked at published full details of their advice charges on their websites, in respect of the five different advice scenarios they considered. This meant the researchers had to call the advisers to determine the level of fees that would be charged.  They found that a further 34% of advisers had published a rough indication of costs on their websites, or alternatively had published their key facts document which details of some fees and charges.  However, nearly half of adviser websites contained no information about advice fees.

Calling the advisers who were included in the survey resulted in a better experience, with 87% of those called prepared to offer a rough idea of the charges involved for a scenario during an initial telephone conversation.  Most of the advisers called offered this price information without being specifically asked.

In terms of advice charging structures, which differ between advisers, the survey found that most advisers are charging an upfront fee which is calculated as a percentage of the amount to be invested. In fact, 79% of the independent financial advisers charged a fee on this basis.  The average upfront fee being charged was 2.9% of the amount invested which incidentally compares to Wells Gibson’s typical initial charge of 1%.

Which? found that a similar proportion of advisers were using this same method of charging for ongoing advice and annual reviews, with 87% charging based on a percentage of assets under advice.  The average rate being charged for ongoing advice and annual reviews was 1.3% and this compares to Wells Gibson’s typical ongoing charge of 1% for comprehensive Wealth Planning.

When considering financial advice costs, it’s important to keep in mind the value it can bring especially if your financial adviser or planner stops you making the wrong decisions, at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons!  There are some free alternatives, including the government-backed Pension Wise service but these can only offer information or guidance, rather that financial planning and advice which is tailored to your personal and financial position and lifestyle, financial and investment goals.

Pensions can be complex, with a wide range of choices and options to consider.  When you have worked hard and saved money for your entire working life, making the best possible decisions about your pension pots is essential.