Brexit, US Election & Exchange Rates
By Spectrum IFA
This article is published on: 7th November 2016
There are so many things that I could write about this month and it’s difficult to choose one above the others. So a quick summary of what’s topical might help.
What an interesting conundrum that the UK government is faced with now! Actually not just the government, but the MPs who personally wanted to remain in – or leave – the EU, before the Referendum took place, but represent constituencies that voted in a different way to those MPs personally want.
Will MPs put their personal feeling aside and vote according to what their constituents want? Would this effectively change the result of the Referendum. At the very least, MPs should ensure that their constituents are provided with sufficient information on all of the issues that can arise if the UK leaves the EU. Constituents can then make an informed decision, if given the opportunity to express their opinion to their MP.
It’s interesting that the Court’s decision was based on the argument that the government cannot use executive powers to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty because it would effectively mean overturning an act of Parliament. However, Parliament is sovereign – it can create laws and only Parliament can take these away, not the government. The interesting word here is “sovereign” because this is exactly what the Brexitiers want to get back from the EU.
It’s well known that Theresa May still wants to push forward with triggering Article 50 by the end of March 2017. However, unless the government wins its appeal against the Court’s decision, she may not get her wish.
Despite the ‘certainty’ in law of the Court’s decision, the result creates more uncertainty at this point, as to whether or not Article 50 will ever be invoked. This is likely to continue to create pressure on Sterling (more on this below), and market volatility, until such time as when the process has either been completed or dropped altogether.
On the bright side, if MPs are to debate the terms of what the UK should negotiate from its withdrawal from the EU, before Article 50 is invoked, perhaps we may have some idea of what the outcome of a Brexit may look like. However, it’s a ‘catch 22 situation’, as the EU will not negotiate terms with the UK until Article 50 is invoked and so there is no guarantee that the UK will get what it wants – whatever the outcome of the Parliamentary debates.
So Brexit may not now mean Brexit, but at the very least, it may be further away than we thought.
US Presidential Election
I am writing this article a few days before the election. It seems that both candidates may have skeletons in their closet – Clinton with her emails and Trump with his tax returns. During the last few days, Trump went ahead in the polls and now Clinton has pipped ahead again. In reality, the polls are too close to call and the last time that I wrote that was just before the EU Referendum. Look what happened there!
Markets are beginning to price in the possibility of a Trump win. If it becomes a reality, there is likely to be a large sell-off in US equities (and it can’t be ruled out that this may ripple through to other markets). This is contrary to what would usually happen after a Republican victory, but then, Trump has contrarian views to those of the normal Republican policies.
However, as markets begin to reflect on positive tax changes and the looser regulatory environment that Trump supports, we might see a V-shaped turn, perhaps a repeat of what happened after the Brexit vote.
If the odds continue to move against Clinton in the final days approaching the election, the markets are likely to move further downwards. However, if the outcome is a Clinton win, then it could bring with it a bounce back in markets.
Longer-term market views of a Clinton win are positive, but not so for a Trump win. There is a high possibility that his anti-trade policies with the rest of the world would cause a large slowdown in growth. Unlike the UK that wishes to close its borders to immigrants, but still wants to trade with the world, Trump seems to be determined to curtail imports through a variety of policies, all of which are within the power of a president, with or without the support of Congress. As a result, a Trump trade-led recession could even tip Europe back into full-blown recession, which would likely precipitate a serious European banking crisis, something which is already a concern. Additionally, the effect on emerging markets could be very negative.
By the time you read this article, we may know the results, or will do shortly after. In the meantime, I am very much hoping that the American people do the right thing on the day.
Sterling Exchange Rate
Can it get worse? Well yes, it can and yes, I think it will. I would not be surprised to see Sterling reach parity with the Euro and lately, I have started to think that it could go even lower. Unfortunately, the downward pressure on Sterling is likely to continue until Brexit is over
If you are retired and receiving UK pensions, then you will be feeling the difference. Even with the little bounce back after the Court’s decision, Sterling has still fallen around 16% since the day following the EU Referendum and around 25% over the last year – so in other words, that’s 25% reduction in your pension income. If you also have investment income in Sterling, this means that your capital has to earn 25% more than it did a year ago, just to maintain the same rate of return relative to Euro. Even worse, your Sterling capital has lost 25% of its value in Euro terms.
Sterling is undervalued and there is no doubt that it will eventually rise from the ashes. But when and what do people do in the meantime?
If you are using a bank to transfer Sterling to Euros, you are likely to be receiving a very poor rate of exchange. Hence, it is worth looking at using a forex company for your currency transfers, as the exchange rate that the companies offer is usually higher than the banks. If you do not already have an account with a forex company and you would like to know more about this, please contact me. Even if you already have an account, it can be worth shopping around and we can refer you to a reputable company.
If you are lucky enough to have some capital in Euros already, it might be worthwhile using this, in lieu of your normal Sterling source of income, or at least for part of your income needs. However, everyone’s situation is different and so it is very important to take advice before doing this to make sure that your longer-term objectives are not put at risk.
It is at times like this that people need financial advice, more than ever. Hence, if you would like to have a confidential discussion about your situation, or any other aspect of retirement or inheritance planning, you can contact me by e-mail at email@example.com or by telephone on 04 68 20 30 17 to make an appointment. Alternatively, if you are in Limoux, call by our office at 2 Place du Général Leclerc, 11300 Limoux, to see if an adviser is available immediately for an initial discussion.
The above outline is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute advice or a recommendation from The Spectrum IFA Group to take any particular action on the subject of pensions, investment of financial assets or on the mitigation of taxes.
The Spectrum IFA Group advisers do not charge any fees directly to clients for their time or for advice given, as can be seen from our Client Charter.
Can you make decent profits without a degree of market risk?
By Spectrum IFA
This article is published on: 22nd October 2015
My article last month focussed on types of risk that that can present danger to the unwary investor. My top two risk types were Institutional Risk and Market Risk, but I concentrated mainly on my third risk factor – Foreign Exchange, largely because of my previous experience in this field. I was quite surprised by the interest the article produced, partly because the people who commented weren’t really ‘grabbed’ by F/X risk; but rather more interested in the other two categories. Can the modern investor really fall foul of institutional risk? Is anyone really daft enough to think that you can have decent profits or returns without taking on some degree of market risk? Unfortunately, the answer to both those last two questions is yes. I thought you might be entertained if I gave you some examples that hopefully won’t ring too many bells from your own experiences…
In 2009 I met a very interesting lady who was referred to me by a colleague in Spain, not that that is particularly relevant, but I did end up wondering if she’d had too much sun. All I knew before I met her was that she was due to receive a large sum shortly, and she wanted some investment advice. I spent ninety minutes with her, most of which was taken up with a battle of hope over reality. This unfortunate lady had been investing for a number of years with an organisation called The Liberty Wealth Club, and was 100% confident that she would be receiving a pay-out of $150,000 from the club in a matter of weeks. The more I listened, the more appalled I became, for this was truly a forerunner of a ‘Ponzi’ scam, labelled and outlawed in the UK as a Multi-Level Marketing scheme. Nothing I could say to her would make her listen. In the end, I told her that I would be delighted to help her invest her funds when they arrived, and we agreed to meet again on that basis. I never heard from her again.
A year or so later I took on a new client with a much more understandable problem. He had bought an apartment in Spain ‘off-plan’, with a view to selling it on before completion, at a healthy profit. As far as I’m aware, to this day he is still the legal owner of this apartment, although he returned the keys and stopped paying the mortgage years ago. It is a nightmare waiting to revisit him.
Another client with a similar problem bought a flat in Budapest, again unbuilt and ‘off plan’. The amount invested was sizeable, and it took four years for a brick to be laid. In desperation he eventually managed to sell it at a 60% loss.
Undeterred, this same client, before I met him I might add, then decided to invest in a forestry scheme designed to give him a regular income payment for the rest of his life. Unfortunately a drought seems to have interfered badly enough for the income to have dried up (sorry) completely.
Recently I have come across a mind-boggling concept called GCR – Global Currency Reset. Please, please, do not let anyone persuade you to invest any of your hard earned cash building up reserves in currencies such as the Iraqi Dinar or the Vietnamese Dong in the expectation that they will soon be revalued overnight and make your fortune. Believe me, this is not going to happen.
Sane people make these totally irrational investment decisions, albeit whilst temporality on the throes of some form of dangerous mental instability, as it is the only justification I can think of. Please do not be tempted to join this group of dramatic under-achievers. Sound financial advice may seem boring; much along the lines of ‘single digit gains’ and ‘realistic investment profiles’. Sound financial advice will however always save you from the nightmares that can result from your own flights of fancy, should you be that way inclined. And believe me, some of you are.
What are the main financial risks as an expat in France?
By Spectrum IFA
This article is published on: 29th September 2015
Age and wealth are often linked. One increases inexorably in a linear fashion, and the other tends also to increase over time, but always in a non-linear way. Following this traditional route, we tend to become more affluent as we get older, barring financial mishaps and accidents of course. This may have something to do with the notion that as we get older we become wiser. That may well also be true up to a point, but then it can occasionally go horribly wrong. Leaving that unfortunate possibility to one side, how can we expats best contribute to our own financial well-being?
All a bit deep that, but here is what I’m getting at. If I were to attempt to present a snapshot of my average client to you, it would be of a couple in their late 50’s to early 60’s who have retired early after successful careers and family building, based either on employment or their own business. Avid Francophiles, they are now ‘living the dream’ funded by the fruits of their former labours. All is well in their world; or at least that is how it appears on the surface. Underneath though, there are concerns, and these concerns are common to all of us. Age and money.
I think very few of us actually like getting older; I certainly don’t. It is becoming more and more difficult to ignore those ‘milestone’ anniversaries. I think of them more as millstones these days. As I suspect is the case with many of us, I tend these days to look my accumulated ‘wealth’ (cough), and wonder if it will last me out. I think it will, and I certainly hope it will, but I’m pragmatic enough to realise that it isn’t a ‘gimme’ (in Solheim cup parlance).
So then I start to look at the variables. What can possibly go wrong? What can I do to defend myself against the risks? What are the risks? I am after all a financial adviser; all this should come naturally to me. To an extent it does, but knowing what is out there doesn’t mean that you necessarily know how to beat it. It does help though. Here is my top three on my list of risks to worry about:
Institutional Risk – Basically this means that you put all of your money under the floorboards in the attic, but next year your house burns down, floorboards and all.
Market Risk – How could putting all your money into VW shares possibly go wrong?
Exchange Rate Risk – This is where Murphy’s Law comes into play. Whatever the rate is; whatever you do will be wrong. Otherwise known as Sod’s Law.
Obviously, it is a good idea to work on avoiding these risks wherever possible. I thought long and hard before listing them in this order, but I do think that Institutional Risk stands out. After all, it can wipe you out completely. It can also be avoided completely. The other two cannot be eradicated, although some would argue about F/X risk.
Indeed there was a time when I would have argued that F/X risk can be avoided. In a former life (I’ve told you this before I know), I used to be a foreign exchange dealer in the world of international banking, before it became unfashionable. One of my jobs was to explain to corporate and private clients that F/X risk was the enemy, to be identified and eliminated at all costs; unless of course your job was to make money trading (gambling) in it.
Ten years ago I brought this dogma into my new career as an IFA in France. How long do you intend to stay in France? (forever). Where are your savings? (in the UK, in sterling)… Over the years, the subtleties started to emerge. The collapse of sterling against the Euro; the resulting exodus of thousands of UK ‘snow birds’ from Spain because their UK pensions wouldn’t support them anymore, and the growing realisation that our old enemy ‘age’ was always going to play its trump card; they all contributed to the much changed conversations that have with my clients these days. Strangely though, it is another banking term that now dominates my thinking, namely hedging. ‘Hedge your bets’. To be honest, I tend to question anyone these days who says that they will never return to the UK. Statistics show otherwise. We tend to base our current view on our current circumstances, preferring not to think about what will happen if we end up on our own. How many UK expats are there, I wonder, in French care homes?
Since the Euro came into existence the £/€ exchange rate has been as high as 1.7510 and as low as 1.0219. In anyone’s language that is an enormous range. Coincidentally we currently sit at almost exactly the half way point between those two extremes, but I don’t see that as any reason for complacency. We need to take this risk very seriously, especially if we accept the possibility that we will one day have no more use for Euros. I have a firm view on the best way to manage this risk, but I’ve run out of space in this edition. If you want to discuss it, you know where to find me.