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Taking a closer look at tech stocks

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Tech stocks have led the global equity market recovery since the spring. Some argue that valuations are becoming stretched, but this doesn’t look like a repeat of the dotcom bubble in 2000.

 

It has been a colossal, if uneven, year for the world’s largest technology companies. The NASDAQ index, home to America’s most prominent tech names, has increased by more than 30% since the beginning of 2020, consolidating a rise of more than 400% over the past decade. And, in what’s been an extremely turbulent year for most companies, the continued strong performance of tech giants such as Apple and Microsoft have been a major reason why the headline US S&P 500 index remains in positive territory over the year to date. Apple’s share price has doubled in value in the past six months, and with the valuation of the company passing $2tn USD in August, the company is worth more than the UK’s 100 biggest companies combined.

It is not hard to see why tech stocks have done so well this year. Lockdown has caused significant changes to people’s lifestyles, and accelerated trends that were already well underway. As well as spending large amounts of time in front of their phones, computers and tv screens, people are shopping online more, storing their personal and business information remotely in the cloud, and companies are increasingly relying on data to make their business decisions. These areas were already expanding rapidly before the coronavirus lockdowns forced people to stay at home, and businesses to rapidly alter their working practices.

In a period when a large number of sectors of the economy have seen profits shrink and businesses come under pressure, tech stocks, along with pharmaceuticals and household goods, are sectors that have continued to see growth.

 

The rally heats up during the summer

During the summer, tech stocks enjoyed a renewed surge, with a number of additional factors contributing to the outperformance. One reason appears to be the actions of Softbank, a tech-driven investment company in Japan which took large derivative positions in seven of the most high-profile tech stocks (Facebook, Microsoft, Salesforce, Netflix, Alphabet, Adobe and Amazon). Softbank apparently carried out a series of enormous, aggressive trades, costing an estimated $50 billion, that drove up valuations during August and whipped up investor appetite.

Another reason for the rise of tech stocks during the summer, although this one is more open to speculation, is that they were due in part to the numbers of ‘day traders’ in the US. These were people who had considerably more time on their hands to play the stock markets during the summer – the high number of coronavirus cases in the US caused a number of strict lockdowns across most states – and opted to make short-term bets on tech stocks.

After the strong gains seen this year, it was, therefore, not unexpected to see some consolidation in the tech sector over recent weeks, with some profit taking in companies such as Tesla, which have enjoyed a stellar performance this year. That said, US software stock Snowflake attracted significant demand at its initial public offering in September, rising substantially above the expected offer price amidst interest from Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. This can be viewed as a positive sign that momentum in the sector remains intact.

 

Are we seeing a replay of the dotcom bubble?

Some people have drawn unfavourable comparisons of the performance of tech stocks over the last year to the dotcom ‘boom and bust’ that took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Back then, excessive speculation and wild valuations for internet-based start-ups such as pets.com, boo.com and lastminute.com helped to cause a huge market crash that cost investors more than $5 trillion.

But one of the biggest differences between then and now is that today’s tech companies are established names, not ambitious start-ups. Even if valuations appear stretched, their popularity is based on their widespread adoption globally, and they are already making huge profits, and should these profits continue to increase over future years, current valuations may be justified.

 

Political headwinds ahead for ‘Big Tech’

One of the biggest issues facing tech companies is that some of them are now just too big. In the US and Europe, politicians have expressed concerns that companies such as Facebook and Amazon are too dominant in their sectors, and may have to have their activities curbed and their monopolies broken up in the interests of fair competition and stronger rights for consumers and smaller businesses. These concerns have been overtaken by COVID-19 this year, but could return and have an impact on the value of affected tech stocks now that the US presidential election has passed.

 

What should investors think or do?

No one can predict with any certainty what is going to happen to tech stocks in the next five years. But if you believe in the long-term case for technology companies, one of the better ways to invest is to spread the investment risk by choosing a dedicated technology fund that offers a blend of established names and future potential winners. That way, even if some of the larger tech names underperform, newer entrants could still do well. Active fund managers are well aware of the speculation over the future of tech stocks and will be positioning their portfolios to ensure they don’t rely too heavily on a concentrated pool of companies. As always, our experienced financial planners can help to find the right fund to help you take advantage of the investment opportunities out there.

 

If you are interested in discussing your financial plan or investment 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.

Commercial property fund_FAS

The lowdown on UK commercial property funds

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Commercial property funds have been the subject of dealing restrictions since March, with investors unable to make withdrawals or redeem their investment. But as more commercial property funds start to reopen, are they still a good long-term investment?

 

When did commercial property funds get popular?

For individual investors, the concept of investing in commercial property as an asset class of its own first became popular in the late 1990s. They have grown in popularity over the next couple of decades, as investors welcomed the prospect of gaining exposure to an ‘alternative’ asset class that behaved differently to equities, bonds, and cash, offering an attractive income yield and relative capital stability.

 

Why do commercial property funds behave differently?

Commercial property funds, that invest primarily in ‘bricks and mortar’ property assets (as opposed to equities or investment trusts that hold property) behave differently to other quoted assets for a number of reasons. Firstly, the valuation method of commercial properties is different. Whereas traded securities (such as shares) are priced at a mid-point between the price at which buyers are willing to pay, and sellers willing to sell at, commercial property is valued by specialist valuers, who factor in demand, yield, location, and economic viability of the potential tenant, to derive a value. This valuation clearly cannot take place daily, and there is therefore a lag between the price of a commercial property fund and the underlying value of the portfolio. This can lead to ‘material uncertainty’ that the value placed on each asset held in the portfolio is fair.

The other significant difference that sets commercial property funds apart is that they are often far less ‘liquid’ than other investments available to other investors. Depending on the composition of the portfolio, a period of high redemption requests may force property funds to sell assets rapidly, potentially at a sub-optimal price, and these transactions can take time. For this reason, most property funds carry a balance in cash, but sometimes these cash reserves become depleted, which can lead to a suspension of dealing whilst property fund managers realise assets to replenish the cash reserves.

These suspensions, which have been in place since March 2020, have also occurred on a number of occasions over recent years. The first time it happened was in 2008, when the global financial crisis prompted an exodus from investors. The second time that the UK commercial property sector shut up shop came shortly after the Brexit referendum. The same thing happened again in December 2019, when a small number of managers suspended their commercial property funds by invoking material uncertainty clauses that said it was impossible to get fair valuations for their property portfolios. This time, the reasons given included continued Brexit uncertainty, as well as significant weaknesses for the UK retail sector, caused by the collapse of the UK high street and the continued boom of online retailers.

 

What has happened this year?

The coronavirus outbreak has had a significant impact on the UK commercial property sector. Back in March, many commercial property owners were forced to give their business tenants rent payment holidays. Some premises have been empty, and a number of businesses have become insolvent or downsized their operations significantly. With the UK on the brink of a possible second ‘winter’ lockdown, and with office workers being encouraged to work from home again, the sector continues to face several headwinds and a heightened state of uncertainty about the future.

In September, valuers cleared the way for commercial property funds to begin to reopen after recommending a ‘general lifting’ of material uncertainty clauses on the valuation of most UK real estate assets. In other words, valuers now believe it is now possible to ascertain an accurate valuation of the properties held within these funds, thus allowing some commercial property funds to lift suspensions and recommence dealing.

That said, there is no regulatory requirement to reopen funds that are currently suspended and many fund managers are wary of reopening their commercial property funds too early. If investors are still determined to sell their holdings, many funds could find themselves without enough liquidity to satisfy the demand and could be forced to suspend redemptions yet again.

 

What could the future look like?

Aware of the growing frustration among investors who cannot access their money, and fund managers who worry that large-scale redemptions could damage the long term strategy within their portfolios, the Financial Conduct Authority is looking at proposals that would establish a ‘notice period’ of several months between the investor requesting a fund redemption and having their investment returned to them.

The premise is that this would hopefully give fund managers enough time to ensure they had enough cash available to meet the redemption, and would also discourage short-term investors from investing in an asset class that doesn’t offer them daily liquidity. Pension funds and financial institutions are most likely to remain investors, for now at least.

 

But are commercial property funds still a sound investment?

It is clear that the commercial property landscape has changed as a result of Covid-19. For example, City centre office space may well see decreased demand due to changes in working patterns and similarly, in the short term, hotels may continue to struggle without the traditional influx of business passengers arriving from overseas to attend meetings.

At the same time, commercial property is a broad and varied sector. There is likely to be increased demand for industrial buildings and warehouses that can accommodate a greater reliance on online shopping for groceries and other goods. So, there will be some winners as well as losers within the UK commercial property funds universe.

But at the end of the day, individual investors need to think about whether they really want to hold an investment that they may not be able to access for months on end. Whatever your view, commercial property investments are certainly becoming a more complex proposition for individual investors.

 

This content is for information purposes only. It does not constitute investment advice or financial advice. If you are interested in discussing your financial plans or investment strategy with one of our experienced financial planners at FAS, please get in touch here.

Signing a will

Trustees’ duties and powers when making investment decisions

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The role of a trustee is one that should not be entered into lightly, as it carries risks and responsibilities. Whether appointed as a trustee under a will or standing as a trustee of a trust established during an individual’s lifetime, there are specific duties that trustees must comply with.

In this article, we will consider those duties and responsibilities in more detail and specific requirements in respect of trust investments.

 

How is a trustee appointed?

In the case of will trusts, unless otherwise stated in the will, the executors of the will also act as trustee of any trusts that are established by the will. In other trust matters, such as where funds are set aside for a child under the age of 18 via a trust investment or insurance policy, then parents, close family or trusted friends are often invited to stand as a trustee. It is recommended that there are at least two trustees appointed, although in the case of land, a maximum of four trustees can stand. All trustees need to act unanimously in their decision making, and therefore the greater the number of trustees, the greater the possibility of disagreement.

 

What are the duties of a trustee?

The primary responsibility of a trustee is that he or she owes duties of honesty, integrity, loyalty, and good faith to the beneficiaries of the trust.

To comply with legislation, trustees must understand and observe the terms of the trust. These are set out in the trust deed, which is often a will, or other trust instrument, such as an insurance company deed, and establish who the beneficiaries are, what assets are to be held within the trust, and any other instructions that the trustees need to follow. The trust deed may confer powers on the trustees to carry out actions, which are also defined by law.

Whilst following the terms of the trust, trustees need to show impartiality towards beneficiaries and cannot allow a beneficiary to suffer at the expense of another. This is particularly relevant where an individual beneficiary receives income from trust assets, and other beneficiaries receive capital.

It is important that trustees keep good records of decisions made and accurate and up to date accounts, so that beneficiaries can be provided with relevant information when it is requested.

 

Dealing with trust investments

The Trustee Act 2000 introduced updated default rules for investments made by trustees. Unless the powers conferred by the Act are over-ridden within the trust deed, the Act provides significantly wider investment powers than were previously in place, and gives trustees the power to invest the trust capital as if they were the absolute owners themselves.

A statutory duty of care applies to all trustees, whereby he or she must exercise such care and skill as ‘is reasonable in the circumstances’. A trustee acting in a professional capacity, or having special knowledge and experience, would be subject to a higher duty of care. This statutory duty applies to decisions taken when investments are made or reviewed, property or land is purchased, managed or insured, or a decision taken to appoint a third party to assist in the investment process.

The standard investment criteria set out in the Trustee Act 2000 stipulate three key elements that must be adhered to. Firstly, trustees need to ensure that the investments selected are suitable for the trust in question. Factors that trustees need to consider here is the objective of the trust and requirements of beneficiaries, the time horizon for investment, and the level of risk to which trust investments are exposed.

Secondly, investments need to show sufficient diversification, as appropriate to the trust in question. For the majority of cases, this means that the investment strategy needs to allocate funds across different assets (such as equities, fixed interest securities, property and cash) geographies and sectors. The precise level of diversification will need to pay due consideration to the terms of the trust. For example, in the case of a trust holding £5,000 for the benefit of a child who will be 18 in a year’s time, it is highly likely that a cash deposit would be appropriate and the need for diversification would be low. Conversely, a large trust fund providing income to a beneficiary and capital to residual beneficiaries in the future, would be expected to invest in an adequately diversified portfolio.

Thirdly, trustees need to keep investments under regular review. This is often overlooked by trustees, and the importance of this requirement cannot be overstated. In today’s rapidly changing investment landscape, arranging an investment portfolio and not reviewing the suitability and performance on a regular basis could lead to significant underperformance, and invite criticism from beneficiaries.

 

The need to obtain advice

The Trustee Act requires trustees obtain qualified investment advice when considering exercising the power of investment or reviewing existing trust investments. The only exclusion to this requirement is where trustees reasonably consider obtaining advice to be an unnecessary step, for example, where a trustee possesses the relevant skills to reach a decision. Given the potential risk of criticism or litigation from beneficiaries, we wouldn’t expect to see many trustees make decisions themselves without seeking appropriate advice.

To assist with the regular review of trust investments, trustees are able to delegate certain functions, for example, ongoing management of trust investments, to an agent, who acts on the trustees’ behalf. When delegating this responsibility to a professional, there needs to be firm agreement in place as to the objectives of the trust investments, the level of risk and any other guidance, such as the need to produce income, that is relevant.

Many trustees look to appoint an adviser who can manage funds on a discretionary basis, so that the trust portfolio is kept under close review and changes are made to the investment portfolio as appropriate. Our FAS Concepts discretionary managed service is an ideal solution for trustees to consider.

 

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.

woman hand holding red and green apple

Advisory vs discretionary investment management

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When appointing a wealth manager to provide advice on an investment portfolio, clients are often faced with the choice of selecting between an advisory and discretionary investment approach. We set out the key differences and highlight the potential benefits of model portfolios and our FAS Concepts investment approach, as opposed to traditional discretionary managed portfolios offered by fund houses and banks.

 

Advisory vs discretionary – what is the difference?

If a client selects advisory management, this is where the investment adviser makes recommendations based on the client’s individual circumstances needs and objectives, and attitude to investment risk. Should any changes to the portfolio be appropriate – for example to switch out of an underperforming investment or change asset allocation – then the express permission of the client is required before the adviser firm can make the changes.

By choosing discretionary management, the first part of the advice process remains the same. A portfolio of investments is established based on the client’s circumstances, attitude to risk and objectives. The main difference is by also establishing a risk profile, the advice firm can make changes to the portfolio within the defined boundaries of the risk profile without consulting the client first to gain their express approval.

Each of these options has advantages and drawbacks. Advisory portfolio management does allow a greater level of client engagement, as clients can get the opportunity of reviewing each suggested change recommended by their adviser. This does afford the client an element of control, although in practice, the majority of advisory clients tend to follow the advice given and accept the recommended changes. The downside of this approach is that it can be laborious and slow, which may not be best practice in today’s fast-moving investment markets.

The Discretionary route has the advantage of offering the potential for investment decisions to be placed in a timely manner, free from the delays introduced by the necessary client contact under Advisory management. That said, by handing over control under discretion, investors cannot dictate precise terms of the strategy adopted, or have an input prior to decisions being taken.

 

FAS Concepts

At FAS, we offer both advisory and discretionary portfolio options to our clients. We have historically acted for clients on an advisory basis but introduced our own discretionary managed portfolio service, FAS Concepts, to provide the full range of services to our clients.

When we devised our FAS Concepts investment approach, we were very keen to differentiate our discretionary service from the services offered by large fund houses, banks and other institutions that offer discretionary management. We have undertaken countless reviews of discretionary portfolios managed by some of the UK’s largest institutions and found a number of areas where we feel our FAS Concepts approach offers a significant advantage.

The first of these advantages is cost. We tend to find discretionary portfolios to be expensive when you factor in the cost of management, and the cost of the underlying investments themselves. These charges have a cumulative effect over time and dampen returns.

Secondly, many discretionary fund managers build portfolios that feature very similar investment approaches, and indeed similar stocks and funds, to each other. In our many years of experience, we have noticed a trend when reviewing discretionary portfolios that performance across different managers closely correlate with each other and appear to be more focused on relative index performance than achieving strong absolute returns.

Thirdly, traditional discretionary management is often concentrated on UK investments, with heavy exposure to UK directly held Equities and Gilts. We have long been advocates of global investing, and we feel that the current economic and market conditions will continue to favour this approach.

 

FAS Concepts for individuals and trustees

The FAS Concepts service is a model portfolio service that provides a range of discretionary managed portfolios designed to fit common client needs and objectives. Each portfolio has a stated objective, either providing capital growth or a mix of growth and natural income, and a risk level based on asset allocation.

Our in-house investment committee meets at least four times a year, and following the decisions taken by the committee, changes are made to each model portfolio, either replacing funds where appropriate or rebalancing positions to keep the portfolio within closely defined risk parameters. As all portfolios aligned to a model are changed at the same time, this provides consistency of performance.

In addition to providing a cost effective and responsive discretionary approach to individuals, our FAS Concepts service is an ideal solution for trust investments. Through our regular review of the investment portfolios, and automatic changes based on market conditions and investment performance, this can help ensure trustees meet their obligations under the Trustee Act to keep the trust investment portfolio under review.

Our professional trustee clients have told us that using the discretionary approach alleviates the need for busy professionals to be dealing with recommendations and documents that require a signature under an advisory portfolio service.

Finally, we can assist trustees in meeting their reporting duties through our detailed investment reports, which include relevant industry benchmark performance for comparison purposes.

We are proud of how cost competitive the FAS Concepts service is when compared to traditional discretionary fund management. By working closely with platforms, partners and individual fund houses, and using a blend of actively managed and passive funds, we aim to ensure that the FAS Concepts service is keenly priced.

 

If you would like more information regarding our FAS Concepts service, please do get in touch with us here.

 

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

Sustainable development

Is Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) effective?

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As we enter a new decade, the environmental impact of the way we live is in sharp focus. As a result, more investors are considering the construction of their portfolio, to see whether it aligns with their core values in respect of the environment and social responsibility. According to the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance, as at the end of 2018, over $30tn was invested globally in responsible investment strategies, a significant jump of 34% over a period of two years.

In this article, we look at the increasing popularity of SRI investment, ways to access portfolios designed to meet SRI criteria, and whether these portfolios can deliver strong returns for investors.

 

What is SRI investing?

SRI investing aims to invest money in companies and funds that have positive social impacts. Each investment fund with a stated SRI objective will set out its own criteria as to how investment positions are selected; however, most SRI investment funds will automatically exclude investment in companies involved in tobacco, alcohol, and gambling, and will often also exclude companies whose activities are in fossil fuels, weaponry, and animal testing.

SRI managers can select investments via a negative or positive screening method. The former seeks to eliminate those companies engaged in activities listed above, whilst the latter may include a company where the board is gender-diverse or is making strides towards improving its environmental impact. As a result, positive screening tends to allow a wide range of companies from which the manager can construct a portfolio but potentially may carry investments that sit outside of an individual’s ethical preference. These screening methods are sometimes referred to as ‘light’ or ‘dark’ green, to signify the strictness of the criteria used.

SRI investments are often spoken about at the same time as ESG investing. ESG stands for Environmental, Social and Governance, and ESG investment strategies will consider the impact of these three key areas – the environmental impact of a company’s operations, social risks (such as health and safety and human rights), and standards in the way companies are run.

Where ESG and SRI differ is that a company which has a positive ESG score, and therefore may be included in a fund using ESG criteria, could be involved in an area that is precluded from SRI investment as being unethical, for example, a company involved in fossil fuels may pass ESG filters, but not be considered for SRI investment.

 

The SRI Market in 2020

The first UK investment funds with a mandate to invest in a responsible manner were launched in the 1980s. Early adoption of this investment strategy posed significant issues, in that fund managers were selecting from a very small pool of investments that met the necessary criteria. As a result, performance from SRI funds has, historically, fallen behind more traditional investment management without SRI filters, and investors that chose to invest ‘ethically’ had to make a decision whether their core beliefs justified the potential for underperformance over the longer term.

With an increasing number of companies now meeting SRI criteria, fund managers of SRI portfolios now have a much wider range from which to construct portfolios, and the gap in performance between traditional investment portfolios and constructed SRI portfolios has now narrowed significantly. Indeed, over the last year, we have found that SRI portfolios have outperformed traditional investment strategies, and we feel this is a result of a combination of two factors.

Firstly, many companies are themselves gravitating towards social responsibility, and therefore the range of companies available for investment within an SRI orientated fund has increased. With a greater number of companies that pass the screening methods, active fund managers can select from an increased range, which can lead to better outcomes. Secondly, many traditional industries that SRI funds would avoid, such as gambling and fossil fuels, have struggled over the course of last year, whereas technology and pharmaceuticals, which generally pass SRI filters, have outperformed.

 

The Future of SRI investing

It is clear from the trends we are seeing that SRI investing is here to stay. Recent analysis shows that one dollar in every four dollars invested in the US is made into SRI or ESG funds.

Given that many companies now issue their own sustainability report, it is likely that those companies that do not embrace SRI issues and take them seriously may find themselves cast adrift, not only from investors but also from doing business with companies who take their responsibility seriously and do not wish to tarnish their reputation. As a result, we expect to see more companies striving to meet sustainability targets.

In addition to actively managed SRI funds, passive investment options have also emerged over recent years, offering access to Global Index funds that meet SRI criteria. This offers a low-cost way of investing in Global Equities, and an increasing range of Ethical Bond funds now provide the opportunities for Fixed Interest investors to gain access to good performing funds that only lend to those companies who meet SRI criteria.

Finally, younger generations, who are generally more conscious of ethical investment themes, will enter the investment world through pensions and other long-term investment plans. We feel this will increase the demand for SRI compliant portfolios.

 

Accessing SRI investments through FAS Concepts

At FAS, we have devised two discretionary managed investment portfolios that meet SRI criteria. Since launch, these have proved popular, and provide access to global investment markets by selecting investment funds that both pass our standard in-house analysis, but also meet necessary SRI criteria.

 

If you would like to discuss SRI investing or would prefer an existing investment portfolio managed elsewhere to be managed in a responsible manner, then please get in touch, here.

 

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

volunteers packing donation boxes in charity food bank.

Investing for charities

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One of the biggest responsibilities facing charity trustees is how to invest donations and other financial support received in an appropriate manner. In this article, we explain why charities should look to invest funds, some of the issues that need due consideration, and how FAS can assist in this process.

 

Why should charities invest?

Charity trustees need to consider investing the funds they receive, rather than leaving large amounts on cash deposit, to try and achieve a better return on the monies held, to further the aims of the charity. This return could be in the form of growth, which allows greater charitable work to be carried out in the future, or to provide an income to support the charity’s ongoing operations. Furthermore, trustees need to consider the eroding effects of inflation on funds held, as keeping significant sums on cash deposit is likely to see the real value of funds fall over time.

 

What can charities invest in?

Charity trustees have a wide range of investment options open to them. In addition to straightforward cash deposits, charities can invest in shares of listed companies (Equities), interest-bearing loans (Gilts and Corporate Bonds), property or land, and Collective Investments (which may invest in one or more of these main asset classes). Not all of these asset classes will be appropriate to all charity situations and independent financial advice should be sought before charity trustees make any investment decision.

In all cases, trustees must consider the suitability of any investment for their charity. This will be influenced by the agreed level of risk and other factors, such as the size of the investment fund and the aims and objectives of the charity, together with the need to diversify the investment portfolio.

 

Considerations for trustees

When beginning the process of deciding how best to deal with charity funds, the first consideration is to assess the overall financial position of the charity and determine any immediate financial needs. Appropriate levels of funds should be held as cash to cover these short-term requirements, and these should be kept separate from funds that can be considered for longer-term investment. A breakdown of expected income should also be prepared, to ascertain whether the income the charity expects to receive is sufficient to meet planned expenditure, or whether investment income or withdrawals will be needed.

For funds that are not needed in the short-term, trustees can move on to consider an investment strategy. Helpfully, there is government guidance set out to assist trustees in the investment process.

By law, trustees need to act within the charity investment powers, exercise care and skill where making decisions, and diversify investments wherever possible.  Charity trustees must also consider the risk of any investment made and limit this risk to an acceptable level. The Charity Commission recommends that trustees should decide on an overall investment policy and agree on the balance of risk and reward that is right for the charity; naturally, the aims, objectives of the charity, and size of the funds available for investment will all have a bearing on these decisions.

In addition, trustees also need to ensure that investments align with any environmental, social, and governance factors that are pertinent to the charity’s ethos and values. An example of where this can produce an adverse public reaction was the decision by the Church of England investment managers to invest part of their funds in one of the key backers of payday lender Wonga. Whilst this position was quickly rectified once the link was discovered, it is a good reminder of the importance of looking very carefully at the investment portfolio and determining whether the investment policy conflicts with the ethical stance taken.

 

The value of advice – how can FAS assist with charitable investments?

Given the high degree of responsibility placed on trustees to make appropriate investment decisions with charity funds, it is vital that trustees consider taking investment advice as set out in the Charity Commission guidance. Naturally, the board of trustees may have individuals with some investment experience, although even in this case, we would suggest that an external view from an independent professional could offer an objective opinion.

In addition to obtaining initial advice as to how charity funds are invested, keeping those investments under regular review is crucially important. In addition, where charity investments are already in place, trustees should be considering the following points:

  • Are the investments performing well compared to markets and recognised benchmarks?
  • Does the asset allocation of the portfolio continue to fit with the trustees’ preference for investment risk?
  • Does the portfolio continue to fit with the ethos and values of the charity?
  • Are there external economic factors that could affect the portfolio in the medium and long term?
  • Are there any short-term funding requirements where decisions to realise investments are needed?

Obtaining independent advice may well be of benefit in considering these and other points. FAS is a chartered, independent practice, that can give an impartial and unbiased view on existing investment portfolios, or to trustees looking to establish a new investment portfolio.

FAS Concepts, our discretionary management service, is an ideal solution to assist charity trustees. We have devised socially responsible investment portfolios that meet stated ethical criteria, enabling trustees to invest in a managed portfolio of assets that fit with the aims and policies of the charity, whilst seeking to limit volatility.

Our discretionary managed portfolios are reviewed at least four times a year and changes made to the portfolio based on individual fund performance and prevailing economic conditions. These regular reviews will fulfill the requirement for charity trustees to review the investments in place and save time and cost compared to an advisory investment process. Lastly, our comprehensive reporting package provides clear information on portfolio performance, including performance measurement against recognised benchmarks, further assisting trustees in compliance with the requirements.

 

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.

China stock market graph ticker

China is constantly in the headlines – but is it a sound investment?

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Some of the recent headlines coming out of China have been troubling, to say the least. But if you’re looking for growth, there are plenty of good reasons to invest in the world’s second-largest economy. Here we outline some of the arguments for and against investing in China.

One of the hottest – and most hotly debated – investment topics of this year has been China. The world’s second-largest economy rarely seems to be out of the headlines, and most of them are disturbing. Back in June, the new security law imposed on Hong Kong, removing the region’s autonomy, was considered to have been China’s boldest – and most worrying – political manoeuvre in years. And just last month, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab accused China of human rights abuses against its Uighur population, suggesting that sanctions from the UK government could follow.

Donald Trump’s favourite enemy

That’s not to mention the ongoing trade war between China and the US, and seemingly endless headlines expressing concern over state-controlled businesses such as Huawei and even TikTok (if you haven’t heard of TikTok, we suggest you ask your children or grandkids).

So perhaps the bigger question is, what is it about investing in China that makes it worth the risk? And would investors be better off avoiding the region altogether?

There are plenty of reasons why investing in China is a good idea

In pure investment terms, investing in Chinese markets can be a valuable way to diversify your investment portfolio. It has been one of the few regions to have performed well during the pandemic this year, and the returns from Chinese stock markets are not closely correlated to British or American stock markets. That’s a definite plus point during volatile times.

And there are longer-term reasons to be keen on China. As well as being the world’s largest exporter, China has a huge domestic market, and is home to some of the world’s largest companies that you may, or may not have heard of – like Alibaba, TenCent, PetroChina and Xiaomi. However, it is worth noting that Chinese companies don’t have a tradition of paying dividends, unlike companies in the UK. Investors look to China for growth, rather than income.

China drives the global economy

In many respects, China’s economy, which emerged from lockdown just as the rest of the world was entering, has a head-start on the rest of the world, and this is an advantage China intends to keep. And, for all the bad press China has been receiving recently, its exports seem to be relatively unaffected. China is tightly weaved into the fabric of the global economy, which has begun whirring again, so China is pushing its inventory stock out and increasing exports dramatically.

But China’s politics are leaving it with fewer friends

However, political risks around China appear to have increased dramatically – there has even been some talk of a new ‘cold war’ between the US and China. But President Trump’s bluster might quieten down if the US economy doesn’t recover enough to improve his election chances in November. And, with governments all over the world desperate to avoid a lengthy and damaging economic downturn, they may have no choice but to deal with Chinese businesses for the foreseeable future. Even so, the threat of wider-reaching sanctions, or stealth sanctions in the form of red tape and regulation changes, remain a threat.

What does the investment community think of China?

When it comes to China, two so-called inevitabilities are often taken for granted. First, that China’s economy will one day inevitably overtake the US economy to become the world’s largest. And second, that China’s investment universe will inevitably one day become fully integrated into the financial systems we enjoy here in the west. But both of those outcomes will only happen if China maintains good relationships with the rest of the world. Even with China’s impressive recent strengthening of its domestic economy, the stellar growth seen over the last two decades cannot continue if it becomes decoupled from its major trading partners. It won’t matter how valuable Chinese companies are if trade wars and sanctions make China an international pariah. And, while there has been huge demand for Chinese domestic assets from overseas investors recently, that demand could be dented if those assets come with big political risks, or could even result in capital invested in China being frozen as part of escalating sanctions.

For now, investors continue to back Chinese stocks, despite the rising geopolitical tensions. But at what point will the political uncertainties overtake the investment case? Recent events have shown that investors are justified in questioning the ethics of owning Chinese stocks. China’s economy is the second-largest in the world, but is easily the most controversial. It is perfectly reasonable for investors to now consider investing in China on a par with investing in other countries with poor human rights records, or non-ethical investment sectors such as tobacco, military-grade weapons or oil companies.

Summary

Whatever your views on China and its politics, it is an investment market that is hard to ignore. The sheer size of China’s economy, its continued growth and ever-increasing global importance, are all very good reasons for investors to consider increasing their exposure to China when building a balanced investment portfolio. But whether you think China deserves a place in your investment portfolio has now become a highly personal and political decision.

If you are interested in discussing your financial plan or investment 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.

Shifts In The Savings Landscape

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Government incentives to save – like ISAs – are valuable, but recent changes to the savings landscape have opened up new opportunities while closing down some old ones.

If you are aiming to buy your first home, investing in a Lifetime ISA (or LISA) could be a great help. The recent withdrawal of the Help to Buy ISA in December 2019 means that the LISA is now the only tax-incentivised savings plan for first-time buyers. Anyone who had already taken advantage of the Help to Buy ISA during the four years it was available can continue to contribute to it until November 2029.

You must be between the ages of 18 and 40 (inclusive) to open a LISA, and qualifying savers can invest up to £4,000 per tax year. Like other cash ISAs, it grows free of tax, but they also benefit from a 25% government bonus. This is added to the contributions – so for every £4,000 invested, the government adds another £1,000. Once you turn 50, however, you will not be able to pay into the LISA or earn the 25% bonus. This bonus is a major advantage of LISAs compared with the Help to Buy ISAs, where the bonus was capped at £3,000.

Beware of penalties

The trade-off, however, is a withdrawal charge if you cash-in or withdraw from your LISA before age 60 and you are not using the funds to buy your first home (there is an exception for those who are terminally ill).

Ordinarily, the charge is 25% of the amount withdrawn, which recovers the government bonus and applies an extra charge to the original savings. This can be a trap for savers, who could actually end up with less than they paid in, if their circumstances change and they need early access.

However, as of 5th May 2020, there has been a recent relaxing of the withdrawal rules by the Treasury to allow for the current situation – LISA holders who withdraw money will face no penalty until April 2021 as the previous 25% of the amount withdrawn has been cut to 20% until April 2021, which is the equivalent of the bonus being taken back.

 

Child Trust Funds mature

For even younger savers, the first Child Trust Fund (CTF) accounts reach maturity in September 2020. Launched in 2005, the government contributed for children born between 1 September 2002 and 3 January 2011, when the scheme was closed.

New regulations will ensure that the freedom from UK income tax and capital gains tax will continue once the CTF has matured at age 18, even if no action is taken by the now-adult account holder.

Both the maturity of CTFs and the complex LISA rules serve as reminders that financial advice is important wherever you are on your savings journey.

Levels and bases of taxation and tax reliefs are subject to change and their value depends on individual circumstances. The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate tax advice. Tax laws can change.

3 Reasons to Stay Globally Invested in 2020

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During March and April, we witnessed a considerable amount of global market volatility and instability, which is why we have been spending a lot of time proactively speaking to our clients in order to provide as much reassurance as possible. As the COVID-19 outbreak sweeps across the world and results in nationwide shutdowns, many UK investors are naturally worried about their portfolios as the markets have reacted.

On the 12th of March, for instance, the FTSE 100 recorded its worst performance since 1987, dropping over 10% following the U.S. announcement of restricted travel from mainland Europe. Indeed, by the end of the month, the index had recorded its largest quarterly fall since Black Monday in 1992.

However, Britain is not the only country to have been affected. We have noticed the effect of COVID-19 on virtually every major economy across the world. In the U.S., for example, the 1st of April logged the worst beginning to a business quarter in history for the S&P 500 and Dow Jones, with losses of at least 4.4%. European markets have also been hit, with the Stoxx Europe 600 finishing the first quarter at a 23% loss.

Given this widespread “bear market”, isn’t it safer to keep your investments confined to one country, just in case other countries are worse hit by COVID-19 than others?

In our professional experience, we would caution against dramatically changing a client’s investment strategy as a result of hitting harder times. Indeed, there are very good reasons to stay globally invested; three of which we share with you here.

 

#1 Unpredictability

The markets are never predictable, but this is especially true in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. Given the unknowns surrounding the virus, it’s still very difficult to anticipate how it might spread and affect different countries’ economies. This provides a strong reason for not placing all of your investment eggs in one basket, but instead, spread them out appropriately across different countries.

Consider the start of the outbreak. In early March, China seemed to be taking the brunt of the economic damage. Its city of Wuhan was the pandemic’s source, and the country faced strong widespread lockdown. Chinese production stalled, but markets in the Western world did not initially react. Fast forward to April 2020, however, China’s lockdown appears to be lifting and China has passed the U.S. as the world’s most popular venue for stock market listings in Q1, raising over $11bn in three months. The Western world, however, is now struggling.

Of course, everything could change again dramatically in the coming weeks and months. The lesson: don’t assume that one country is a “safe bet” for investments and write others off as unviable, leading to an under-diversified portfolio.

 

#2 Unavoidability

There is another important reason to include global investments in your portfolio; they cannot really be avoided! Consider that U.S. stocks comprise 54.4% of the world’s market capitalisation in April 2020, and many of these companies will have operations, supply chains and customers based overseas. Within the UK, moreover, many of the FTSE 100 companies also include foreign operations and revenue streams.

 

#3 Underexposure

Many nervous investors look at global investing and think they can avoid excessive damage to their portfolio during a down market, by keeping a “domestic focus”. There is another way of looking at this, however. By trying to confine your portfolio to one country, you could miss out on a range of investment opportunities which are only available elsewhere in the world.

Consider the effects of restricting your portfolio to the UK. As strong as the UK is for certain sectors (e.g. financial services, oil and gas), many industries/sectors are not represented well in our country. Most of the largest tech companies – such as Netflix and Facebook – are based overseas in the U.S., and many high-tech manufacturers are based in Japan (e.g. Hitachi).

By investing globally, you can help to further diversify your portfolio by exposing it to a wider range of sectors. This can enhance balance amongst your investments and shield your portfolio from excessive damage, should certain sectors struggle, compared to others. Consider the impact of COVID-19 on different sectors by the end of March, which has hit sectors such as retail, aviation and hospitality the hardest. Other areas, however, actually seem to be experiencing a boom in business due to the outbreak such as digital streaming, food delivery and hand sanitiser producers.

As we keep saying, if at any point you wish to discuss your investment strategy in more detail, please do get in touch.

This content is for information purposes only. It does not constitute investment advice or financial advice. To receive bespoke, regulated advice regarding your own financial affairs, please contact us.

 

VCTs and EIS: How Can They Improve a Financial Plan?

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Looking ahead in 2020-21, how do you see your pension contributions and Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs) panning out? Some clients regret not considering these earlier in the 2019-20 financial year, to get a better deal out of their tax position. Provided your circumstances allow, you may wish to act sooner this tax year, to take advantage of the full range of tax planning tools available to you, including VCTs (Venture Capital Trusts) and EIS’ (Enterprise Investment Schemes).

These two options can be attractive to investors who want the opportunity of possibly generating stronger returns. However, they can also be great for some people who are likely to maximise their pension and ISA contributions during a tax year.

In this short 2020 guide, we outline some ideas how you can do this.

 

Overview of EIS & VCTs

In the 10 years preceding 2019, both EIS & VCTs markets have doubled in size. Since its inception in 1994, for instance, the EIS market has attracted more than £18bn of investment to over 27,905 companies. VCTs, moreover, have raised about £7bn since first launched in 1995.

Both EIS & VCTs are Government-run schemes intended to incentivise investment into innovative companies, which can spur economic growth and create jobs (thus creating more tax revenue). One reason they have proven popular with some investors is down to the tax reliefs on offer. In particular, both EIS & VCT investments allow you to claim back 30% of your investment against your Income Tax bill.

However, both EIS & VCTs have also come to the attention of pension savers, who have faced an increasing “squeeze” in recent years. Over ten years ago, for instance, you could put up to £255,000 per year into your pension. Today in 2020-21, you can only commit £40,000 per year (or up to 100% of your salary; whichever is lower). As a result, some clients now consider EIS & VCT investments as another way of supplementing existing retirement savings but of course they are more complex and need to be fully understood.

 

Case Scenario: EIS & VCTs “in play”

Suppose you earn £100,000 per year and want to continue saving and investing into your pension, despite nearly having used up your £1,073,100 Lifetime Allowance. What options do you have?

One idea to consider (which we recommend discussing with us first!) is to reduce your pension contributions (to keep within your Lifetime Allowance before you retire), and redirect some of this into VCT investments. This involves “buying” shares in one or more VCT companies on the London Stock Exchange (LSE), and you can commit up to £200,000 per year into these investments. From there, you could then claim back 30% of your VCT investment against your Income Tax, the following April. If you put £40,000 into VCT investments, for instance, then you could claim back £12,000.

Another option, however, would be to consider investing in some EIS-qualifying companies or EIS funds. With an EIS, you can invest up to £1m per tax year (i.e. 5 times more than VCTs), which can make it an attractive option if you have just sold a business or received a large bonus, and are wondering what to do with it. Again, you can claim back 30% of your EIS investment against your Income Tax bill.

 

Which is better?

The suitability of VCTs over EIS’ (and vice versa) depends on your individual financial objectives, needs and circumstances. One notable benefit of VCTs, for instance, is that they provide dividends which are paid completely free from tax. This can lead us to recommend VCTs as a useful tool for retirement planning, since they provide a regular tax-free yield. On the other hand, EIS investors can defer a Capital Gains Tax (CGT) liability, which can give you much more tax planning flexibility if you have suddenly received a large unexpected sum of money, such as an Inheritance.

It’s important to note, both EIS and VCT investments involve a higher level of investment risk when compared to the likes of other Equities, Bonds and Cash. The potential returns, of course, can be higher and thus worth the trade-off. Yet you should always discuss this with one of our experienced Financial Planners first, to ensure that any EIS or VCT investments sit appropriately within your investment risk profile.

Two notable benefits of EIS, nonetheless, are worth mentioning. First of all, you can claim loss relief on any EIS investment which fails, equivalent to your highest rate of Income Tax. In the case scenario above, for instance, a £100,000 earner would be in the 40% Higher Rate bracket in 2020-21. So, if he/she invested £10,000 into an EIS opportunity which failed, they’d “only” make a £4,200 loss. This is because 30% of the original investment would be claimed back against the Income Tax bill, meaning that the “at-risk” capital was £7,000. 40% “loss relief” on this amount is £2,800, resulting in a £4,200 loss. Secondly, any EIS shares held for at least two years are exempt from Inheritance Tax.

If you are interested in exploring this area of financial planning in more detail, please do give us a call or broach the subject with your Adviser when next reviewing your circumstances.

This content is for information purposes only. It does not constitute investment advice or financial advice. To receive bespoke, regulated advice regarding your own financial affairs, please contact us.