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Investments

Man and woman at tablet device reviewing finances

The importance of keeping your portfolio under review

By | Investments

Investing for the long term is a mantra that most investors understand, and therefore selecting good performing investments, and deciding on an appropriate asset allocation at the outset of any investment strategy, are fundamental to how the portfolio will perform in the early stages.

However, whilst the initial portfolio may well be appropriate for the conditions of the day, the world keeps turning. As the saying goes “nothing ever stays the same” and that is certainly true for investment markets. It is also the case for our lives, where our priorities, goals, and objectives change over time. For these reasons, reviewing an investment portfolio and strategy on a regular basis is key to ensuring the strategy remains current and appropriate in achieving those objectives.

 

Investment cycles

One of the main reasons we recommend regular reviews is that market economies revolve around an investment cycle, which means that underlying investment conditions are always evolving. In very simple terms, economies start to grow and move out of recession and then expand to a peak. At this point, the economy becomes overheated leading to a downturn, and eventually falls back into recession and then the cycle starts again. Of course, the mechanics of market economics are far more involved than this, and many factors can affect the length of each economic cycle, the severity of a recession, or the pace of growth during the boom years.

Think back over the last 25 years, and the different market conditions we have seen over that period, from the over-exuberance of the Dot Com boom at the turn of the Millennium to the depths of the Financial Crisis of 2007-2008. Over this time, we have seen very different conditions, from periods that are friendly to risk assets, to times where taking a more risk-averse approach is appropriate to protect portfolio values. And these can change at varying speeds, with the rapid plunge into recession at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic being a recent example.

Clearly, any given investment portfolio is unlikely to perform well in all of these different conditions, and therefore it is important to make sure your portfolio structure is well suited to the conditions of the day and those that are expected to follow, by reviewing the investment mix, structure, and assets held. Simply holding the same basket of investments during all these conditions is unlikely to be optimal and could lead to underperformance over time, together with exposure to higher levels of risk.

 

Keeping peak performance

Just like economic trends, choosing the right investments is a decision that needs to be revisited regularly, particularly when funds are actively managed. Over the years, fund managers’ reputations are built on their performance, and some achieve star status, having outperformed a particular sector consistently or achieving a stellar performance over a short period of time. But reputations can be damaged just as quickly, and the fund management industry is littered with names of former star managers who have fallen out of favour with investors. Similarly, individual fund managers often move between fund houses and fund objectives can alter significantly over time from their initial brief. In short, following an individual fund irrespective of performance is not likely to achieve a good outcome, and by regularly reviewing your choice of investment funds, underperformance can be weeded out with better performing funds taking their place.

 

What is your goal?

Every investor has a goal at the outset of an investment strategy. They could be looking to build a long-term investment fund towards retirement, start saving for children’s university costs, or generating an income in retirement. Each of these life stages has different priorities and a single investment approach is unlikely to be suitable for each stage. By keeping the investment strategy, fund choice and approach under regular review, you can help ensure that the appropriate funds are held in your portfolio to help achieve the goal at that particular stage in life.

 

Tax rules

Over the years, successive governments have made significant changes to the way investments are taxed, and introduced several different tax wrappers, from the TESSA to the ISA, Junior ISA, and Lifetime ISA. By regularly reviewing the structure of your portfolio, as well as the investments, you can take advantage of the most tax advantageous investment approach or undertake a re-structure to make a portfolio more tax-efficient in light of changes to rules and legislation.

 

Achieve your (re)balance

In a well-tended garden, plants that thrive begin to dominate their space and encroach on others. This is why regularly pruning and re-shaping is needed to keep the space tidy. The same is true for investment portfolios, where funds that perform well get bigger and take on a greater proportion of the portfolio. This can often lead to an increase in risk, and portfolios can quickly move out of line with the original goals and objectives.

By ‘rebalancing’ a portfolio, any positions that have grown too big can be pruned back into shape; however, a good rebalancing exercise needs to adopt a methodical approach, taking into account relevant factors before deciding to proceed.

 

Time for a review?

Many factors, such as underlying economic conditions, individual fund performance, and changes in circumstances, can knock a particular strategy off course; however, reviewing investment portfolios and strategies regularly can be beneficial in helping you to achieve those ultimate goals and objectives.

 

If you are interested in arranging a review of your existing investment portfolio or strategy with one of our experienced financial planners at FAS, please get in touch here.

 

This content is for information purposes only. It does not constitute investment advice or financial advice.

Female small business owner

Why smaller companies can mean big rewards for investors

By | Investments

If you are considering adding extra growth potential to your investment portfolio, it’s worth taking a look at UK smaller companies. Smaller companies offer greater potential for long-term growth than their larger counterparts, although this potential does come with greater investment risk.

A few years back, the then Prime Minister David Cameron called small companies “the lifeblood of the UK economy”. It’s not hard to see why. While large companies dominate the headlines, small businesses drive growth, create employment and encourage competition through innovation and disruption. According to the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, small and medium-sized businesses (businesses with less than 250 employees) make up three-fifths of the employment and around half of the turnover in the UK private sector.

One of the key attractions of investing in smaller companies is their ability to adapt quickly to change. The events of the last 18 months have seen UK smaller companies stay resilient during the heightened uncertainty caused by Brexit and the Coronavirus pandemic. Even more crucially, because of their size, smaller companies are typically more innovative and agile. This means that they can rapidly adapt to new distribution methods or respond to changing customer needs. If they spot an opportunity, they can quickly capitalise on it.

 

The Alternative Investment Market

Of course, one of the challenges with trying to invest in smaller companies is that it is much harder to know where to find them. The London Stock Exchange is the natural location for larger, more established companies to list their shares, but if you are interested in investing in outstanding – but less well known – British smaller companies, the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) is really the best place to start.

AIM was established in 1995 as a route to market for smaller, growing companies seeking access to capital. Over the years, it has become home to a broad and diverse range of smaller companies operating in a variety of different sectors and at different stages in their own development. Today, AIM is widely recognised as the best smaller companies market in the world – home to innovative, entrepreneurial companies that are challenging their large cap competitors.

 

Smaller doesn’t always mean small

Despite the name, most smaller companies are probably much larger than you think. For example, companies listed on AIM include well-established household names such as Hotel Chocolat, Naked Wines, and Fever Tree. Although the regulatory requirements for AIM are less stringent than for LSE-listed companies, it is still a highly-regulated market, and companies hoping to list on AIM must meet certain strict criteria before being granted a listing.

Investing in AIM also offers exposure to lots of innovative and fast-growing sectors, including  healthcare and bioscience, media, technology, and financial services.

 

Are smaller companies more risky?

Because of their high-growth nature, smaller companies, including those listed on AIM, are considered at the higher end of the risk/return investment spectrum. Their shares can be more volatile, particularly during general stock market downturns, and carry a higher risk of company failure. Smaller company shares can also be harder to buy and sell, as the market for the shares is considerably smaller. Because of this, AIM is considered as a market that requires an appropriate amount of investment knowledge and equity trading experience.

So, when we talk to clients about the investment potential available from smaller companies, we tell them that investing in AIM is better suited to investors who have a longer-term investment horizon, and are prepared to have their money invested for several years. Investors also need to be mentally prepared for the likelihood that some companies will not succeed, and that they are willing to accept the higher risks associated with investing in such companies.

 

What else should investors know?

For those investors prepared to accept the higher risks associated with investing in AIM-listed smaller companies, there are tax benefits to consider. For example, AIM shares can be held in an Individual Savings Account (ISA), and there’s no stamp duty to pay on AIM shares, whether they are held in an ISA or not. Also, most companies on AIM benefit from a government-approved tax incentive known as Business Relief, which means that the value of the shares in these companies should become exempt from inheritance tax when the investor dies, subject to minimum holding periods. However, as we’ve noted, investors should remember these tax incentives are intended to offset some of the risks of investing in AIM-listed companies. In other words, investors should think of the tax benefits as an added bonus, not the only reason to invest.

 

Is now a good time to invest in UK smaller companies?

There are lots of reasons to be positive on the future for UK smaller companies. With most of the world still recovering from the pandemic, central banks and governments are still providing support for their respective economies. As a result, there’s a good chance of a stronger recovery for the rest of this year, and into 2022 and beyond.

And as we have seen over the last 18 months, the pandemic has helped to accelerate a lot of the changing trends in society, increasing the need for remote working, more efficient technology, and a greater focus on health. These are all important trends that smaller companies are arguably best placed to capitalise on. Another important aspect to consider is that lots of successful smaller companies could get ‘snapped up’ by larger competitors, which could greatly increase the value of their shares. Of course, given the higher failure rate of smaller companies, it’s a good idea to find  a dedicated portfolio manager who is able to spot those smaller companies with potential and that stand the best chance of long-term success.

 

Final thought

Investing in smaller companies is a great way to add a dash of excitement and high-growth potential to an investment portfolio. Within the smaller companies universe, especially on the Alternative Investment Market, there are lots of outstanding companies – and entrepreneurs –that are on an exciting growth journey, and would welcome further investment to realise their ambitions. But it’s important to recognise the risks, and to appreciate that not all these great British companies will prove to be great investments. When it comes to smaller companies, finding the right companies is an art in itself.

If you are interested in discussing investments with one of our experienced financial planners at FAS, please get in touch here.

This content is for information purposes only. It does not constitute investment advice or financial advice.

High rise commercial properties

Is commercial property about to have a new lease of life?

By | Investments

It has been a difficult period for commercial property funds. According to data company Morningstar, the value of the property funds sector has almost halved in value since 2019. The troubles for the sector began immediately after the Brexit vote in 2016, when most property funds suspended dealing due to sustained withdrawal requests in the wake of the decision to leave the EU, and difficulties in accurately valuing property portfolios at the time. This suspension was relatively short lived, and most funds had reopened by the end of 2016.

Fast forward to December 2019, when a small number of funds again suspended trading just a few days before the last General Election. For example, M&G suspended its’ Property Portfolio – which invested in commercial retail parks and offices across the UK – after blaming “unusually high and sustained outflows” caused by Brexit uncertainty and the struggles of the beleaguered UK retail sector.

Next up came COVID of course, with the uncertainty created by the pandemic leading to a suspension of all property funds, as material uncertainty over the accuracy of the value of property portfolios, and lack of liquidity in some funds, forced a longer suspension. Whilst the largest players in the sector resumed dealing again in October 2020, several funds, including funds from AEGON and Aviva, have announced that they will be wound down and will return money to investors, although investors may have to wait more than a year to get their money back. So, what has caused so much damage to commercial property funds? The answer is in the fact that property behaves differently to other types of investment asset.

 

The reasons why commercial property funds are different

First, portfolios of ‘bricks and mortar’ properties are far less ‘liquid’ than other investments. If you own a large portion of a commercial property fund and you want to sell your investment, It is likely that the fund manager will have to sell some buildings to have enough money to pay back your investment. In periods of market volatility, this can cause huge problems. This is why a handful of commercial property fund managers were so quick to ‘shutter’ their funds back in December 2019, because they feared the sudden rush of investors looking for their money back would make them forced sellers of their best assets.

Another important reason behind the closure of several commercial property funds is that the assets held within them are valued significantly lower than they were before the pandemic. You don’t have to be an investment genius to work out that changes to the way people live and work – especially with more flexible options for people who can work from home – mean that demand for office buildings could be considerably lower in future.

Whether you are talking about offices, warehouses, shops or industrial locations, the value of the underlying assets (the buildings) is dependent on the demand for that type of property. This is determined by economic growth and the economic viability of the businesses who might want to use those buildings. Other factors, such as the quality and location of the building, also help to determine the yield (rental value) that the building can achieve.

At the same time, commercial property is a broad and varied sector. While shops and traditional office buildings were hit hardest by the lockdown restrictions, there was vastly increased demand for industrial buildings and warehouses linked to e-commerce and distribution. It is therefore highly likely that those remaining open-ended funds will gradually adapt to the new normal and take advantage of the different types of properties that are increasingly in demand.

 

Is the worst over for UK property?

Just because some commercial property funds have closed, it doesn’t mean that the sector itself is about to collapse. In fact, most funds in the sector are in positive territory for the year so far, and the current economic conditions could leave them well-positioned to benefit from the theme of inflation that is dominating investor sentiment. Real estate in all its forms tends to do well during periods of inflation. This is because as the economy expands and the demand for goods and services increases, rents tend to grow. In addition, many leases on commercial property are linked to inflation, which ensures the owners of the buildings receive a higher income should the cost of living rise.

 

Regulation, Regulation, Regulation

The suspensions within the property sector caught the attention of the regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), who launched a consultation in August 2020 to consider proposals to try and avoid a repeat of the suspensions that were seen in the property sector after the start of the pandemic. The FCA have proposed that investors would need to give notice of withdrawal from funds – of between 90 and 180 days – so that property fund managers are aware of withdrawal requests and could manage their property portfolio more effectively, to ensure liquidity is sufficiently available to meet the expected withdrawal demands.

The consultation period has now ended, and an announcement is due later in the year. Amongst the current issues that need to be resolved include the ability to continue to hold property funds in an ISA (as the withdrawal notice would be incompatible with existing ISA rules) and the difficulties platforms and providers would have in managing withdrawal requests.

We await the outcome of the consultation to see the impact of any new rules introduced. Nevertheless, we feel it is clear that commercial property remains a varied and diverse asset class, that could benefit from the prevailing economic conditions and opportunities the new way of working could present.

 

If you are interested in discussing your investments with one of our experienced financial planners at FAS, please get in touch here.

 

This content is for information purposes only. It does not constitute investment advice or financial advice.

wooden block letters spelling out fixed income with a pile of coins either side

Why fixed income assets still deserve a place in portfolios

By | Investments

Bonds have a reputation for being boring. But sometimes boring is just what’s needed, especially in a well-diversified investment portfolio.

When most people consider an investment strategy, they are naturally attracted to those markets and sectors that are likely to produce the best performance. Generally, over time, growth in the value of company shares would outperform other asset classes, and it is, therefore, this asset class that tends to get the most attention. But higher returns often come at a cost, in terms of additional risk and volatility.

To dampen the overall risk of an investment portfolio, to provide a solution for those who are not necessarily looking for the highest returns, or to satisfy investors who want to limit the level of risk they are taking, introducing bonds to a portfolio is often the answer. Yes, they may have a boring reputation, but they are a key component that really cannot be overlooked.

 

So, what is fixed income investing?

Fixed income is an investment approach that prizes capital preservation and a steady stream of income above all other considerations. Within the world of fixed income, you can invest in government bonds (bonds issued by governments, such as UK Gilts or US Treasury Bonds) or corporate bonds (bonds issued by companies), along with other investments that pay a fixed income, such as certificates of deposit and money market funds.

 

How do bonds work?

The easiest way to think of bonds is to consider them as an IOU between a borrower (so, a government or company) and the lender (the investor). As an example, let’s say the borrower wants to borrow £10,000. They can issue a bond for that amount and agree to pay the lender interest at 3% per year for ten years. The investor knows that they will earn £300 a year in interest, and get their original £10,000 back in ten years’ time. If the borrower does not pay the loan back, or fails to make any of the interest payments, it is considered to be ‘in default’. Of course, some borrowers are a bigger credit risk than others, which is why bond issuers all have a credit rating to demonstrate their credit worthiness. Generally speaking, the lower the borrower’s credit rating the higher the rate of interest they will have to pay to investors.

 

Still with us? Good…

The most important point to remember is that fixed income assets such as bonds behave very differently to other types of assets, such as equities. This makes them a valuable asset to hold within an investment portfolio, for several reasons.

First, fixed income assets are generally considered to be lower risk when compared to equities. That’s because a bond is a promise from the borrower to repay the interest and the principal over time. Defaults within the fixed income world are relatively uncommon events, in particular for investment grade issues. In addition, a bond holder usually ranks ahead of ordinary shareholders in the event of a company falling into liquidation, meaning that they are further up the queue to receive a payment from the sale of assets held by the company.

Second, fixed income assets behave differently to other types of assets. For example, they are generally less sensitive to market risks, such as economic downturns and geopolitical events. This makes them useful to hold within an investment portfolio, because holding fixed income assets means you can potentially offset losses when stock markets are falling, and your equity investments are not doing so well. Instead, bond prices usually rise or fall in value in anticipation of changes in interest rates and inflation.

Third, as they are less volatile than equities investments, they are an ideal anchor for a portfolio, to reduce the overall portfolio risk. Investors who are closer to retirement usually aim to switch more of their investment portfolios or pension into fixed income assets, because this is a better way to preserve capital than staying invested in more volatile equities.

And fourth, fixed income investments can be relied upon to deliver a steady – and known – stream of income. Again, this is particularly valuable for those who are entering retirement or are already retired, and want to prioritise getting a reliable, regular return from their investments over more risky growth strategies. However, investors should always be careful that inflation does not cause their fixed income investments to lose value over time.

 

Those are the benefits, but what about the risks?

Of course, all investments come with an element of risk, and fixed income is no exception. There are three key risks to be aware of. As we have already mentioned, interest rate risk is worth keeping an eye on. We have been living in a low interest rate environment for over a decade now – which has been very positive for bond investors. But when interest rates rise, bond prices tend to perform less well. Interest rate movements are the major cause of price volatility in bond markets.

The second key risk to bear in mind is inflation risk. In periods when inflation (the rate at which the price of things goes up or down) is on the rise, this makes the fixed amount of income paid by bonds and other fixed income assets worth less than it was. If the rate of inflation is higher than the rate of income paid out, bonds become much less attractive from an investment perspective.

The third most important risk for fixed income investors is default risk, also known as credit risk. This is the risk that the issuer will not repay the principal at the maturity date and therefore default on its debt obligation.

Should fixed income investors be worried about inflation?

Inflation has become a hot topic this year, as prices for goods and services have been pushed up following the coronavirus pandemic. This has caused some people to question the long-term value of fixed income assets, which is understandable. However, this doesn’t mean fixed income assets have become poor value overnight. They should still be considered as a key element within an investment portfolio, especially if you’re looking for income, lower volatility, or much-needed diversification that spreads the risk.

They may not be the raciest of investments, but they are a sensible way to take some of the uncertainty and volatility out of investing and should be considered as a key component in most diversified strategies.

If you are interested in discussing the above with one of our experienced financial planners at FAS, please get in touch here.

This content is for information purposes only. It does not constitute investment advice or financial advice.

Digital globe

Why it’s essential to have a globally diversified portfolio

By | Investments

When it comes to investing, British isn’t always best. To get the most consistent portfolio returns, it’s important to have a spread of investments across multiple regions and locations.

As independent financial planners, one of the tasks we are often asked to perform for new clients is to review their existing investment portfolios and to recommend any necessary changes. In almost all cases, a common theme is for portfolios to have a significant bias towards UK investments, rather than holding a more well-diversified spread of global investments. In recent years, this would often lead to underperformance.

 

Why is diversification so important?

As most investors are aware, diversification is one of the most important principles of modern investing. And it’s another name for making sure you don’t have all your eggs in one basket. And from a consumer’s point of view, diversification makes sense. After all, most of us don’t only buy UK products at the expense of products from other countries, so why would we limit our investment portfolios to just UK companies?

Even so, most investors still tend to gravitate towards investments in UK companies, or in funds that are weighted towards the UK. While it’s understandable to prefer to invest in the location you know best, no one can know which markets will do well from year to year. By choosing to hold a globally diversified portfolio, investors are giving themselves the best possible chance to capture investment returns wherever they occur, and gain exposure to some of the world’s largest companies.

 

The need for geographical diversification

A diversified investment strategy is one that aims to ensure your portfolio has the right balance between risk and return. And right now, global diversification is of particular importance for investors.

You don’t need us to tell you that the COVID-19 pandemic has been responsible for the largest and most abrupt shock to global growth in modern times – and the deepest global recession on record. But the timing and the sweeping nature of the pandemic means it has had an uneven – and at times unpredictable – impact on various countries and regions of the world.

While some areas were affected earlier, particularly China and the Far East, and have since by and large recovered, other areas, most notably the US, Europe, and the UK, are still dealing with the crisis. Some countries have emerged relatively unscathed, while others thought they had seen the worst of the pandemic pass, only to experience second (and third) waves. While countries continue to roll out their own vaccination programmes, there continues to be plenty of uncertainty, particularly around the potential for virus variants to continue to spread throughout the world. This uncertainty means volatility will likely remain high as the global economy and markets throughout the world continue to recover from the impact of the pandemic at their own pace.

So, from an investment perspective, the best way to deal with this uncertainty is to spread investments across different regions and within different asset classes. This approach could help to reduce the impact of volatility in specific regions or markets and to help to diversify returns across all areas.

Looking at historic returns over the last decade, it is clear that no single investment region has consistently outperformed others, although research reveals that a diversified portfolio, with allocations to all geographic locations, demonstrates less portfolio volatility than just investing in one or a handful of asset classes or markets.

 

Size is everything?

Within the UK, investors can hold stakes in household names such as Unilever, AstraZeneca and Royal Dutch Shell, which are familiar to UK investors. However, it is important to remember these companies are tiny compared to the market capitalisation of the largest stocks listed in the US, China and Europe. By way of example, in March 2021, the capitalisation of Apple, the world’s largest company was $2,051bn, closely followed by Microsoft ($1,778bn) and Amazon ($1,558bn). China’s largest companies, Tencent and Alibaba, also rank in the top 10 companies by capitalisation. In stark contrast, the UK’s largest holding by capitalisation was Unilever at just $147bn, leaving it ranking 85th in the world in terms of size.

What is crucial is that those largest global mega-cap stocks, such as Apple and Amazon, have performed well over the course of the pandemic, and their stock price performance has made a significant contribution to the overall recovery seen in global markets since last March. By not holding a suitably diversified global portfolio, and focusing on UK companies, you are limiting your exposure to these potentially strong performing global giants.

 

Global diversification is key to long-term success

As the past 18 months have shown, life is unpredictable – and so are investment markets. Uncertainties are bound to continue, and it is very difficult to predict how events will play out. This makes it even more important to have a globally diversified investment portfolio that balances out those risks. And, while it’s good to back British businesses and invest in ways that help to support the UK economy, it’s also equally important to make sure your investment portfolio is positioned as well as it can be to deal with the ups and downs or markets, without putting all your eggs in one basket.

 

If you are interested in discussing your investments with one of our experienced financial planners at FAS, please get in touch here.

 

This content is for information purposes only. It does not constitute investment advice or financial advice.

stock market background

Index funds are useful, but they shouldn’t dominate your investment portfolio

By | Investments

Ever since index tracking funds overtook active funds in popularity with UK investors more than two decades ago, there has been a continuous debate over which approach is better. But while index funds are an essential investment tool, we don’t believe they should be replacing active funds just yet.

 

What is an index fund?

As the name suggests, an index fund is an investment created with one objective in mind – to track the performance of an index. An index fund is also known as a passive investment because there are no active investment decisions to be made. For example, a FTSE 100 index tracking fund will feature the same 100 companies as are listed at any given time on the FTSE 100 index. Should the companies featured in the FTSE 100 change, so too will the companies featured in the index fund.

 

Why choose an index fund?

There are several reasons why it makes sense to invest in an index fund. Firstly, an index fund is a relatively inexpensive way for an investor to gain exposure to a particular asset class or market. Because there are no fund manager salaries to pay, the cost of owning an index fund is considerably less expensive than the management fees you would expect to pay for owning an actively managed fund.

Second, an index fund will invariably cost less in transaction charges. While an active fund manager is free to buy and sell investments as often as they think is suitable for their portfolio, an index tracking fund will only buy and sell when index constituents are reshuffled (as an example, the companies in the FTSE 100 are reviewed every quarter to determine whether they still merit a place in the index).

Finally, investing in an index fund is a good way to invest if you plan on staying invested for the long term, or if you don’t want to keep actively monitoring your investments regularly. You can simply buy shares in the index fund and hold them for as long as you choose to.

 

What are the disadvantages of index funds?

While index funds definitely have their advantages, there are some important disadvantages that investors should also be aware of.

 

Underperformance

The first is that index funds – by their very nature – will only ever deliver an underperformance. That’s because passive investments are not designed to beat the performance of the market they focus on, they can only track it. And, when you add in the cost of investing in an index fund, this means it will always fall slightly short of the market’s returns once those fees are paid. The advantage of an active manager is that their goal is to outperform the market they invest in, by making decisions – but of course, attempting to achieve greater rewards carries greater risk too.

 

Lack of protection during the bad times

If you’re invested in an index fund, your investment is heavily dependent on the fortunes of the market your fund is invested in. While stock markets have proven to be a good investment over the long term (by this we mean at least ten years), they can be much more volatile over shorter periods. Investing in an index fund means that your investment will do well when the market is doing well, but will invariably suffer when markets are facing difficult conditions.

 

Lack of choice or control over the investments you hold

An index fund is a ready-built portfolio featuring all of the constituents of a particular market or index. So, if you own a FTSE 100 index fund, this means you own a small percentage in 100 different companies. You have no control over the companies you ‘own’, and you do not get a say on whether you believe those companies are in line with your personal principles or not (tobacco companies, oil companies, or weapons manufacturers, for example). The components of any index fund are effectively out of your hands.

 

Lack of flexibility

Another point worth mentioning is that investing in an index removes the opportunity for ‘advantageous behaviour’ or what is known as “buy low, sell high”. The downside of owning an index fund is that if a stock within the index becomes overvalued, it starts to carry more weight within the index, and your fund will be forced to purchase more of it, at the higher price. So, even if you have a personal view that a particular stock is overvalued or undervalued, by investing solely through an index fund, you do not have the ability to act on that knowledge, and nor can a fund manager do so on your behalf.

Here is an interesting example of how index investments can sometimes work against investors. When Tesla was admitted into the S&P 500 index in November 2020, within a matter of weeks it had already overtaken Facebook to become the fifth-largest company in the index. Once it gained entry into the S&P 500 index, every S&P 500 Index tracker automatically had to include Tesla as a new constituent, and this ‘forced buying’ helped to propel the Tesla share price upwards.

Why is this important? Well, Tesla had been close to gaining entry to the S&P 500 previously, meaning that many active fund managers made big profits by owning Tesla shares bought in advance knowing that once it entered the S&P 500, index tracking funds would have to start buying the shares at inflated prices. In the case of a company like Tesla, active fund managers had the maneuverability to make a smart rational decision, and this left them able to make a profit at the expense of index funds and, ultimately, their investors.

 

Overview

The debate over whether active or passive funds offer the best value for investors will no doubt rumble on. But investors do not need to see it is a decision to adopt either one approach or the other. A better way is to consider them both as valuable tools that deserve their place within a well-built investment portfolio. We believe that holding a blend of both actively managed funds as well as a carefully chosen selection of index tracking funds, is the best way to build a well-balanced, cost-effective, and risk-managed investment portfolio.

 

If you are interested in discussing your investment portfolio with one of the experienced financial planners here at FAS, please get in touch here.

 

This content is for information purposes only. It does not constitute investment advice or financial advice.

Bird and worm next to a clock representing early bird catches the worm

Why early-bird ISA investors may catch the best returns

By | Investments

Now that the new tax year has started, people often ask us whether they should use their Individual Savings Account (ISA) tax allowance early, or wait until the end of the year? While many people leave it to the last minute, there are several reasons why it makes sense to invest early instead.

 

There is nothing like a hard deadline to focus the mind. It’s why tax year-end has traditionally been the busiest time of year for financial planners, as we work with clients to ensure they make the most of any available tax allowances. One area that is always busy for us is helping people with their ISA subscriptions.

 

ISAs remain popular with savers and investors

ISAs have become one of the most important building blocks for anyone looking to invest for their future. After all, ISAs allow you to shelter any investment gains or interest earned from the taxman, which means any money held within the ISA wrapper has the potential to grow more quickly.

As a reminder, you can save up to £20,000 annually into an ISA in each tax year. This limit applies to Stocks and Shares ISAs, Cash ISAs, and Innovative Finance (also known as peer-to-peer) ISAs, so there are plenty of options to choose from, and you can spread your ISA allowance between different ISA types. But ISA allowances operate on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis. In other words, if you do not make an ISA investment during a particular tax year, you cannot ‘roll-over’ the allowance to the next one. So, it makes sense to leave using up your ISA allowance at the very last minute, rather than to not use it at all.

 

Making the best use of your annual ISA allowance

Human nature being what it is, lots of people leave it until the last minute (11.59 on 5 April, to be precise) to get their ISA application completed. And then they tend to forget about their ISA for 12 months before repeating the process all over again.

Many people make the mistake of leaving their ISA investment until the end of March, perhaps because they are focused more on the tax benefits associated with an ISA, instead of thinking about it as an investment vehicle. While there is a strong temptation to wait, knowing that you have a full year to make the most of your ISA allowances, it is important to remember that investments need time to grow, so the more time you give them, the better the potential outcome.

 

Investing for income and growth

As an example, this year the FTSE 100 index is expected to generate an average dividend yield of 3.8%, which is an improvement on last year’s historic yield of 3.2%. If you hold off investing until close to the end of the tax year, your investment has missed out on a whole year of tax-free income. More importantly, your ISA will also be missing out on the potential of tax-free growth on the value of the shares in your ISA portfolio. Growth cannot be guaranteed, of course, but the theory is that the more time you leave your ISA invested, the longer it has to potentially grow, and the larger your investment pot will ultimately be.

 

‘Averaging in’ with regular investments

Starting your investment sooner means you could boost your overall ISA pot in the longer term, but not everyone is able to invest the full £20,000 ISA allowance at the beginning of every new tax year. So, instead of investing the whole amount into your ISA at the last possible minute, you might want to consider spreading regular amounts across the 12 month-period instead. Investors call this ‘pound-cost averaging’ because paying in regular amounts reduces the overall volatility of your investment.

How does pound-cost averaging work? Well, imagine if you pay £20,000 into your ISA in March, just before the tax year end. That money will be used to invest in different funds or stocks and shares at a set date in March when your investment will be subject to how overall stock markets are performing at that point in time. If valuations are high at that point, you will end up paying more for your investments than you would have had you invested at a different time.

It can be particularly painful to invest a large amount into your ISA, only to see stock markets take a tumble soon after, which means your investment is already in negative territory. ‘Timing the market’ is very difficult to get right. But by paying into your ISA regularly, using your regular amounts to purchase assets at different times and at different prices, you eliminate the possibility that the whole value of the ISA subscription will be bought when markets are at their peak. It is a simple way of taking the guesswork out of investing, avoiding uncomfortable market highs and lows, and spreading the risk out over a full year instead.

One final point to remember is that using your ISA allowance at the beginning of the tax year, instead of at the end, gives you the advantage of time, which is always the most precious commodity. Using your ISA allowance early can make a real difference to the returns on your investment, and give you the best possible chance to grow your wealth over the longer term.

 

If you are interested in discussing your ISA or investment portfolio with one of our experienced financial planners here at FAS, please get in touch here.

 

This content is for information purposes only. It does not constitute investment advice or financial advice.

Silhouette of man's head with brain highlighted in white with a pound symbol

The psychology of investing – knowing when to cut your losses

By | Investments

Sometimes, investors can be their own worst enemies. As Warren Buffett once said: “If you cannot control your emotions, you cannot control your money”. We explore the emotional side of investing, identify some of the negative behaviours that frequently trip people up, and we also give some advice on keeping emotion out of your investments.

 

Recognising and understanding investor behaviour

It is worth remembering that money is an incredibly emotional subject for people. People’s relationship with money usually begins at a very early age, and emotional responses can often overpower rational thinking when things are not going as well as a person had hoped.

Perhaps the biggest challenge investors must come to terms with is their own attitude towards investing. Studies have shown that it is more painful to lose money than it is pleasurable to win money – even when the amount is the same. Many investors find this aspect about themselves hard to come to terms with. Ingrained attitudes often make people too risk-averse when it comes to investing, which can often mean they miss out on significant returns over the longer term. To avoid this, you should think about some of your own personal psychological biases before deciding whether to buy or sell any investment.

 

Pride and prejudice

It is also common for investors to feel unable to admit when they’ve made a mistake. One of the most frequent examples of this we see is where investors continue to hold on to the shares in a failing company, in the hope that it will eventually recover. The old investment wisdom is to “run your profits and cut your losses”, but most people tend to do the opposite. They sell their profitable investments too soon and they let their loss-making investments keep going while they wait for a change in fortune.

People often let emotions sway their investment decisions because they have a personal attachment to the investments they own. Perhaps these investments were left to you by a relative, or they did particularly well in the early years after you first bought them. We often make the point that investments or companies don’t have feelings or attachments to you, so why have feelings or attachments to them? Taking a personally detached view from your investments is a good way to start making better investment decisions overall.

 

Forgetting that past performance is no guide to the future

Every investment comes with the warning that past performance is no guide to the future, but it remains a warning that most people struggle to heed. It’s far too easy to fall into the trap of ‘outcome bias’, which is the tendency to evaluate a decision based on the outcome of previous events, without giving enough consideration to how those past events developed.

To put it another way, you may decide to back the same horse in the Grand National that won last year’s race. But all of the factors that resulted in that horse winning (the condition of the horse on the day, the ground conditions, the weather, how competitor horses fared, and on and on) are not going to be replicated identically this year. Even if the same horse does in fact win again, it will have faced different conditions when achieving victory this time around.

Simply relying on the past to do the hard work for you, instead of carrying out helpful research and finding the right investment for right now, is unlikely to lead to positive investment results over the longer term.

 

Poor timing

Emotional investing is often an exercise in bad market timing. Greed and fear are powerful motivators, and one of the main reasons why investors lose money is they execute an investment decision out of greed or fear (or both), at a time when it is not in their best interest to do so. Examples of the greed/fear dynamic at work include:

  • Seeing others making large profits on an investment and jumping in without thinking about the risks involved. This is also the “fear of missing out” (Bitcoin is a good example of this).
  • During periods of market volatility, investors often sell their investments while values are falling, thereby crystalising their losses and potentially missing out on any recovery.
  • Following the herd, and simply doing whatever the rest of the market is doing.

 

So how can you stop being emotional with your investments?

Emotional investing usually takes place when events trigger our own individual responses to money and convince us that we should behave differently because the stakes are higher than we had expected. Sadly, there is not much that any of us can do about human behaviour, apart from being aware of it and learning to control it, rather have it control us.

But there are two ways to invest that help to lower the emotional stakes and reduce the risk of getting the timing of the investment wrong. The first of these is pound-cost averaging.

 

Pound-cost averaging

One of the most effective ways to remove emotion from investment decisions is to use pound-cost averaging. This is a strategy where you plan your investments in advance, and then invest regular amounts at set intervals. The benefit of this approach is that it removes the risk of regretting your investment. Instead, investing smaller amounts means that you get to buy fewer shares while the price is high, but more shares when the price is lower.

The key to the pound-cost averaging strategy is to stay the course and recognising that those periods when the value of your investment is lower can actually work in your favour over the longer term.

 

Diversification

The second most effective way to reduce the impact of emotion on your investments is through diversification. Holding a larger number of investments means that the impact of market volatility on your overall returns is more likely to diminish (as not all of your investments will behave in the same way). In normal market conditions, a well-diversified investment portfolio should offer some comfort that the losses suffered by some of your investments are offset by gains made in others.

However, it is important to understand what counts as true diversification. It’s not just about owning shares in a few different companies, or investment funds from different providers. At FAS, we can help you to create a diversified portfolio that invests across a wide range of different asset classes, geographical regions and industry sectors, as well as investments that invest for income or capital growth. An investment portfolio made up of all these various types of investments should offer increased protection that leaves your investments well-placed to cope with a range of different market conditions, and leaves you feeling much less stressed about what could go wrong.

 

Final thought

Investing without emotion is easier said than done. If it was easy, there would be far fewer headlines of stock market tumbles. But just because other investors struggle to keep their emotions in check, this doesn’t mean you have to follow them. An understanding of your own attitude towards money, and personal risk tolerance, is a good starting point.

It helps to be able to take a step back to see what is driving current market conditions and valuations. Once you can recognise that others are acting irrationally, you stand a better chance of leaving them to get on with it. Or, to use another Warren Buffet pearl of wisdom: “Outstanding long-term results are produced primarily by avoiding dumb decisions, rather than by making brilliant ones.”

 

If you are interested in discussing your investment portfolio with one of our experienced financial planners at FAS, please get in touch here.

 

This content is for information purposes only. It does not constitute investment advice or financial advice.

Senior woman in a wheelchair being cared for by nurse

Counting the cost of care: don’t leave it too late

By | Investments

With care home costs continuing to increase, and pensions struggling to keep up, it is essential to come up with a long-term investment strategy that aims to match the cost of long-term care to reduce the risk of you – or someone you love – running out of money during retirement.

A worrying number of British pensioners are struggling to pay for care during retirement, according to recent statistics. Analysis from Age UK published in 2020 revealed that, in just one year, the number of pensioners whose assets have been effectively ‘wiped out’ due to the cost of paying care home fees has risen by more than one-third. Putting it another way, care bills are wiping out the finances of 100 people in the UK every week of the year.

 

Care costs are rising

Anyone who has looked into the costs of long-term care, perhaps on behalf of a parent, knows just how expensive those costs can be. According to health data provider Laing Buisson, in 2019-20, the average cost of a residential care home for an older person in the UK increased to £672 a week. Or, put another way, that’s an average annual expense of £34,944. In most instances, a person’s pension will be just a fraction of that amount.

 And, for those who are in urgent need of being placed into a nursing home – offering round-the-clock care – the costs of care are even greater. Between 2019 and 2020, the UK average nursing home cost increased by 5% to £937 a week, or £48,724 a year. The fees a person can expect to pay for nursing home care are significantly higher in London and the South East.

 

Will you have to pay for your own care?

While healthcare is provided free by the NHS, most of us will be required to pay some or all of the costs of our own social care in later life. Local authorities will provide financial support for people whose assets and income are below a set amount, but broadly speaking, anyone with savings or assets worth more than £23,250 can expect to pay for their own care costs. Most people hope to pay for care by using income from their pension, savings, and investments or income generated by other assets, such as the sale proceeds from their main residence, or rental properties. But it’s important to make plans that determine the most cost-effective way to pay for care, which is where we can definitely help.

 

Optimising capital and income to pay for care home fees

At FAS, we often talk to families looking for advice on what to do when a parent or loved one needs to go into care. The first thing we point out is that when large fixed costs are being paid every month (such as care home costs of £5,000 per month), cash in the bank usually doesn’t last very long. So, instead of thinking about relying on savings or a pension to pay for care, we usually tell families that it’s a much better idea for us to help devise an investment strategy that will help to ensure all known fixed monthly costs can be covered for as long as possible.

 

How can an investment strategy help with care costs?

From our perspective, we know that good financial planning can make it possible to plan for care without fully eroding a person’s capital, whilst also effectively ring-fencing the family’s future inheritance. It starts with calculating the costs of care over the longer term and identifying suitable investments that have the right risk and return objectives.

By matching liabilities with income, we are able to find and recommend investments capable of growing at a rate of return that will aim to ensure the rising costs of care continue to be met. This really emphasises the importance of investing your money with the aim of generating a meaningful return, rather than leaving it sitting idle in cash. This is particularly relevant given that care costs have a tendency to rise by more than inflation each year, which means you need the income you generate from your investments to be able to do the same.

 

Buying care insurance

As a last resort, another area where we might be able to help is with arranging care insurance. This insurance (also known as an ‘immediate needs annuity’ or ‘immediate care plan’) will automatically cover the cost of care fees for the rest of a person’s life, in exchange for a one-off lump sum payment. Just as with pension annuities, care insurance payments can be set to provide a flat payment monthly, or arranged to rise in line with inflation. However, these types of policies are only available to those with a restricted life expectancy.

 

Summary

No one should be left to worry about how to pay for a loved one’s long-term care. And, with careful planning, it should be possible to structure someone’s finances to ensure care fees can be paid for as long as required, without the money running out. If you’re in this position, talk to us. Our knowledge of this complex market means we have considerable experience of coming up with tailored care funding strategies designed to suit individual needs. The sooner you get in touch, the more peace of mind you will have.

 

If you are interested in discussing the above with one of our experienced financial planners at FAS, please get in touch here.

 

This content is for information purposes only. It does not constitute investment advice or financial advice.

Bitcoin on motherboard

Beware the ‘irrational exuberance’ behind Bitcoin

By | Investments

The spectacular rise in the value of Bitcoin is prompting more investors to get involved. But as with any investment, would-be investors need to delve a bit deeper into why these assets are attracting attention, as well as understanding the significant risks involved.

 

After a strong performance over the second half of 2020, global investment markets have been treading water for the last couple of months. In investors’ minds, a tug of war is developing between the much-anticipated post-coronavirus economic recovery and the need for central banks worldwide to keep financial conditions loose. The fear among investors is that inflation is poised to make a big comeback, and this has resulted in the share price of many of 2020’s biggest winners, technology stocks in particular, seeing bouts of profit-taking.

At the same time, Bitcoin seems to be going from strength to strength, raising speculation that the “Bitcoin bubble” shows no sign of bursting just yet. The value of an individual Bitcoin hit an all-time high of $57,489 on 21 February (around £41,000 in sterling), but how much a Bitcoin is worth by the time you read this is anyone’s guess. Bitcoin is an incredibly volatile asset, underlined by the fact that it was valued at just $9,668 (£7,462) on the same day last year.

 

Why has the value of Bitcoin risen so dramatically?

After many years of being treated with distrust and disdain by the financial world, Bitcoin is becoming an accepted part of the modern world. This year, major financial institutions such as BNY Mellon and Mastercard announced they would begin integrating Bitcoin into their payment systems. The reputation of the most well-known cryptocurrency was given another almighty boost after electric car manufacturer Tesla announced it had bought $1.5 billion of Bitcoin for its corporate treasury and would accept Bitcoin as payment for its cars. These announcements helped drive up the price of a single Bitcoin to record levels, and the value of Bitcoin has remained fairly strong even while equity market values have taken a hit.

The complication of Bitcoin is that it is not just a method of payment; it is also an asset class. So, somewhat unsurprisingly, the runaway rise of Bitcoin is leading to more talk of an asset ‘bubble’, drawing comparisons to the famous tulip mania of the 17th century. As with all asset bubbles, the value of the asset reaches unrealistic, even extraordinary, levels because people think it is going to be worth more tomorrow than they were prepared to pay for it today. Once that ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) dries up, the value comes crashing back down.

One of the biggest challenges around Bitcoin is that it is supposed to be considered as a valid currency, one that will soon become more mainstream, rather than as purely a speculative asset class or investment. But the volatility associated with Bitcoin makes it almost impossible to use as a currency. Nobody wants to be that unfortunate person who, in 2010, spent $30 worth of Bitcoin to buy a pizza, who would have been sitting on a $350 million fortune today if he had used cash instead.

 

Bitcoin is a huge energy drain

One of the biggest issues is that the process of mining Bitcoins consumes vast amounts of energy. This is because blockchain technology requires a vast network of computers and, as Bitcoin gets more valuable, the sheer effort expended on creating and maintaining it – as well as the amount of energy consumed – also increases. According to research from the University of Cambridge, Bitcoin uses more electricity annually than the whole of Argentina. Bitcoin’s annual total energy consumption is somewhere between 40 and 445 annualised terawatt-hours (TWh).

By comparison, here in the UK, our total electricity consumption is a little over 300 TWh a year. This also brings into question Tesla’s decision to back Bitcoin so heavily, and so publicly, as doing so appears to fly in the face of its environmentally green credentials.

So, taken in total, Bitcoin is a mass of contradictions. It is an investment that is highly volatile, a currency that you would be very fearful of spending, it is burning up fossil fuels at a very troubling rate, and its value is only whatever the market says it is on any given day. In other words, the value of Bitcoin appears to be maintained almost purely on speculation, meaning the bubble could burst any time.

 

An unregulated minefield

It is crucial to bear in mind that cryptocurrency is an unregulated investment. As with all high-risk, speculative investments, it is vital that investors fully understand what they are investing in, the risks associated with investing, and any regulatory protections that apply.

For crypto-asset-related investments, consumers are unlikely to have access to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) or the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) if something goes wrong, potentially leaving investors without recourse if an investment were to fail.

Furthermore, increased dangers of criminal activity have been associated with cryptocurrency, such as ransomware and other attacks, which appear to have increased during the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

Importance of diversification

When clients talk to us about Bitcoin, we always start by reminding them of the risks that we have outlined above. But it is also important to recognise that cryptocurrencies are a very new (and very volatile) asset class, and it is impossible to know where it could go from here.

Our suggestion is that if you are aware of the risks and the contradictions surrounding Bitcoin, and you still believe they are an asset that is worth holding, then only put in what you can absolutely afford to lose, bearing in mind that trends wear out and most bubbles do eventually burst.


If you are interested in discussing your investment portfolio with one of our experienced financial planners at FAS, please get in touch here.

This content is for information purposes only. It does not constitute investment advice or financial advice.