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Beyond Brexit… What comes next ?

By Occitanie
This article is published on: 4th March 2021

Welcome to the ninth edition of our newsletter ‘Spectrum in Occitanie, Finance in Focus’, brought to you by your Occitanie team of advisers Derek Winsland, Philip Oxley and Sue Regan, with Rob Hesketh now consulting from the UK.

In this our first newsletter of the year, it is appropriate we say a fervent goodbye to 2020 and look forward to what we all hope will be a better and much kinder year. Although we are heartily sick of hearing the B-word, we can’t let the passing of the UK’s exit from the European Union pass without addressing the question “where do we stand now?” We also invite our investment partners to give their views on the markets for the coming year.

Post Brexit Situation
As far as financial services are concerned, it is (at this stage) a no-deal Brexit. Financial services in the UK employs 1.1 million people, yet so far more time has been spent negotiating fishing rights than financial markets access between Europe and the UK. This financial services relationship between the two sides will be discussed and negotiated over the coming months. What does this currently mean for us expats? We have already seen:

  • Banks threatening to close down bank accounts, because they struggle to find solutions for the ongoing servicing of non-UK resident account holders.
  • Financial institutions no longer being allowed to ‘passport’ their services into Europe – UK based investment managers, and Independent Financial Advisers (IFAs) being just two examples of this. To continue to offer services, each must now open European offices and apply to be regulated through the relevant EU regulatory system
  • We’ve seen the application of duties to goods imported from the UK from online shopping, a totally new concept for most of us
  • The need to apply for a French Driving Licence

These are but a few of the bureaucratic changes brought about by Britain’s exit from the EU.

We have covered some of these Brexit consequences in previous editions of our newsletter, but there is perhaps a more serious implication for those who hold UK investment bonds.

Why are UK Investment Bonds a problem?
Prior to Brexit, as investment bonds issued in an EU country, UK bonds were treated in the same way as assurance vie policies, with only the gain element of the investment subject to income tax and social charges. How quickly your local tax office recognises that this situation has now changed will vary, but in time it is inevitable that questions will start to be asked regarding those withdrawals that you are taking to support your lifestyle.

Why should that bother me?
As a non-EU qualifying bond, your local tax office could, as a worst-case scenario, treat the whole of any withdrawal as taxable income unless the split between capital and gain can be proved. It is more likely, however, that withdrawals from UK bonds will still only be taxable on the gain element, but the taxpayer will no longer benefit from the favourable tax treatment that the assurance vie enjoys, such as the annual tax-free allowance of €4,600 (€9,200 for a couple) after 8 years and the preferential 7.5% rate of income tax. We urge all our readers to assess their current savings and investments, to ensure that they are all France tax compliant. We can help you with those assessments.

investment manager

What can we expect from investment markets this year?
We have invited one of our investment partners to give us their Investment Outlook for 2021. These are the views of Tilney Smith & Williamson that we would like to share with you.

A review of a tumultuous 2020
The investment landscape in 2020 has been dominated by the COVID-19 virus, lockdowns and unprecedented policy easing by Central Banks and governments around the globe. The US election and UK-EU negotiations provided further risks to markets. The pandemic led to a global economic shock that established new multi-generational records. For instance, UK GDP fell by over 11% in 2020, the biggest decline since the Great Frost of 1709 (1).

In financial markets (2), the MSCI All Country World equity index fell 32% in total return terms (including dividends) once COVID-19 new cases spread outside China, while government bonds outperformed as investors became more risk averse. The low point came on the 23 March prompting the Fed to say that it was prepared to buy US corporate bonds as part of a new round of quantitative easing (e.g., asset purchases). Global equities then went on to rally 63% from the trough, supported by – at various points – fiscal and monetary stimulus, economic recovery and hopes of a successful vaccine rollout, to close out the year up 15%.

The main winners of 2020 were ‘growth’ equities and direct COVID beneficiaries such as Big Tech, following widespread adoption of e-commerce and working from home practices. Long-term government bonds benefited from central bank asset purchases. In turn, gold gained from concerns about the debasement of the fiat currency system from money printing: the US created 21% more dollars in 2020 than existed previously. Despite the virus originating in Wuhan, China was one of the quickest economies to re-open and MSCI China equities rose 28%. China’s economy benefitted from lockdowns in the West, since services were restricted, but buying goods was not. China even managed to boost its share of global merchandise exports, driven by stimulus in the West creating demand. The biggest losing sectors were energy (-32%), real estate (-9%) and banks (-11%), with the COVID-exposed UK and Eurozone the laggards in geographical terms.

Be positive

Reasons to be optimistic in 2021

We maintain an optimistic outlook for equities for several reasons. First, the rollout of vaccines and a gradual opening up of economies from lockdowns should encourage households to run down savings rates to sustain consumption.

Second, we expect a synchronised broad-based global economic recovery that supports company earnings. The IMF forecasts that a record 79% of nearly 200 economies will experience growth higher than 3% (3) this year. Not only would this recover much of the lost output last year, but it adds support to consensus global Earnings per Share growth of 28% expected in 2021.

Third, central bank liquidity is still projected to remain highly accommodative. The ECB topped up its pandemic emergency purchase program by €500bn in December to €1,850bn and extended the horizon of net bond purchases to the end of March 2022 (4). In a major policy change in September, the Fed made clear that it intended to “run hot” with regards to maintaining easy monetary policy in order to achieve above 2% inflation (5). Morgan Stanley forecasts that the combined balance sheet of G4 central bank assets will rise by $3.4trn by the end of 2021(6).

The UK and Brexit
Despite the widespread recovery in global risk assets, all UK equity indices were laggards, handicapped by the ongoing Brexit uncertainties and a compositional skew towards value orientated economically sensitive businesses. Should current assumptions over a vaccine inspired economic rebound prove correct, it seems probable that this skew, allied to the removal of Brexit trade uncertainties, could give rise to some relative recovery in UK equity valuations. However, with the longer term balance sheet impact of the Covid lockdowns still to be fully understood, remaining focused on the fundamental quality of the businesses selected, even in an ostensibly cheap market remains paramount.

Investment Risk

Risks to the outlook
In terms of the risks, we continue to monitor: i) a sudden removal of accommodative policy, perhaps if inflation returns at a pace that exceeds central bankers’ expectations, ii) fears of another COVID-19 surge, or a disappointment in the effectiveness in vaccines/a mutation to a more virulent virus, iii) social unrest in the politically polarised United States, and iv) extended valuations in some sectors triggering a broader market rout.

As a reminder to our readers, Spectrum is a registered French company, regulated in France. We are not passported in from the UK, so for us it’s business as usual.

For those of you who still have investments in the UK, whether they be stocks and shares ISAs, investment bonds, pension funds or other investment portfolios, now would be a good time to review these and discuss with your provider as to whether they will be able to continue advising you in a post-Brexit world. Even if your UK provider will be able to continue advising you, they may not be familiar with the French taxation framework and the investments you hold may not be tax efficient in France. We can advise you on investment products that are suitable and tax-efficient for living in France and provide you with ongoing advice to ensure that your financial plan remains on track as your situation and attitude to risk change over time.

Please do not forget that, although we may be restricted on where we can travel at present, we are here and have the technology to undertake your regular reviews and financial health checks remotely. If you would like a review of your situation, please do not hesitate to get in touch with your Spectrum adviser or via the contact link below.

We would love to hear from you with any comments and/or questions, as well as suggestions as to future topics for our newsletter. Please feel free to pass this on to any friends or contacts who you think might find it interesting.

Article by Occitanie

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