Investors were clearly relieved that the result of the election meant that pro-business policies would be maintained and personal aspiration continue to be encouraged.
There are good reasons to be cheerful. One of the Conservatives’ pre-election promises was that there would be no increase in income tax, National Insurance or VAT during their term in office, and a commitment was also made that the tax-free personal allowance would be increased from the current £10,000 to £12,500 by 2020.
In addition, the higher rate tax threshold, above which 40% income tax becomes payable, is to be increased from its current £42,385 to £50,000, again in the longer-term.
There could also be good news on the inheritance tax front. The Conservatives’ pledge has been to take most people’s homes out of the charge to inheritance tax by increasing the tax-free allowance enjoyed by married couples and civil partners from £650,000 (£325,000 for each partner) to £1 million (£500,000 each).
It is not yet clear how this might be done, but one possibility would be to provide an extra allowance of £350,000 (£175,000 per partner) to set against the value of their home.
The recent dramatic changes to pensions taxation are less likely to be disturbed than if a government of a different hue had come to power, though further restrictions on contributions by higher earners are being mooted and sceptics are already wondering whether the new ability to cascade pension wealth down through the generations, free of inheritance tax, will be permitted to continue indefinitely.
One of the more recent proposals was that people who had already bought pension annuities should be allowed to sell these to a commercial third party in exchange for cash or a more flexible income. This proposal is subject to consultation, but the proponent of the change was Steve Webb, a Lib Dem minister who has been deposed, and there may now be some question as to whether it will go ahead.
As far as investments are concerned, two major issues overhang the UK stock market, namely the UK’s relationship with the EU and the threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom posed by the Scottish Nationalists.
However, there are again some reasons to be cheerful, in that Officials in both Brussels and Berlin have made clear their wish to retain the UK in the EU, and it might be that a new deal for the UK could leave an independent Scotland out in the cold.
The other cloud on the investment horizon is the effect on the corporate and government bond markets of the withdrawal of the “quantitative easing” stimulus provided by central banks in the wake of the financial crisis. The best answer for the fixed interest element in a portfolio could be strategic bond funds, which can switch between market sectors both in the UK and internationally.
Tax on pension withdrawals
Concerns have been raised over the taxation of lump sum pension fund withdrawals over and above the 25% tax-free allowance. Unless the planholder supplies to their pension provider a P45 form obtained from their employer, HM Revenue and Customs will apply emergency coding which will assume that payments of the same magnitude will continue to be made on a regular basis and tax calculated accordingly.
The overpaid tax would usually be reclaimed subsequently through self-assessment or PAYE, but HMRC has now issued a new form P55 which should ensure that repayment is made within 5 working weeks. Despite confusion over the wording of this form, it has been established that it can be used when more than one lump sum withdrawal is made during the course of a year.
Tax on disposal of businesses
Subject to complying with a number of conditions, small business owners who sell their businesses may be entitled to Entrepreneurs’ Relief on any profit made on the sale, which would reduce the capital gains tax charge from a potential 28% to 10%.
If, instead of selling out, the business owner were to transfer the shares in the business within the family – perhaps to a son or daughter – the value would be subject to capital gains tax, but this could be deferred by claiming “holdover relief”, which would permit the profit to avoid tax until such time as the shares might be sold on by the family member, when tax would be payable on the accumulated gains.
If the owner were to die within seven years of making the transfer, Inheritance tax might potentially be payable, but in the case of a sole owner of shares in an unquoted company, 100% ‘business property relief’ should be available.
If so, then provided that the transferee retains the shares until the death of the original owner and provided that the shares still qualify for relief, no inheritance tax would be payable.
The other option would be for the owner to leave the shares to the family member in his or her Will. Again, business property relief should be available to eliminate any charge to inheritance tax; and for the purposes of capital gains tax the value would be re-set at the date of death, with previous gains ignored.
Finally, if instead of transferring shares within the family the owner were to sell the shares and invest the proceeds in a fund or company which qualified for business property relief, for example an investment in the Alternative Investment Market (‘AIM’), this investment would become exempt from inheritance tax after two years.
Our reason for showing these graphs is to highlight that the VIX index is trading back at 2007 levels of low volatility while stock markets are at all-time highs. We can no more see the future than anyone else but we do know that when it comes to investing, the most money is often made when every sinew in your body is screaming that it is madness to invest, and that sometimes the opposite is true.
It has been a strong start to the year for investment portfolios, mostly driven by signs of continued strength in the US Economy and the promise of more to come under the Trump presidency. Markets always move ahead of the economy so to make money, investors will position portfolios to benefit from what they think is around the corner. But what if the promise does not materialise? One fund manager described this recent wave of enthusiasm as the “Trump Bump” and that this may well be followed by the “Trump Dump” if the new President is unable to deliver on his campaign promises due to lack of support from political colleagues. In this respect, it seems that the failed repeal of Obamacare has given investors pause for thought over the last week or so.
While some asset classes are looking expensive, on an individual basis, there remains optimism amongst fund managers. Those who particularly seek to invest in undervalued, unloved but robust companies can see plenty of scope for increased valuations in their investment pool.
Eight years have now passed since the FTSE 100 hit its Credit Crunch low point. In investor memory, particularly among younger investors, we are getting to the point when the slide that started in summer 2007 down to its nadir risks being forgotten. We don’t know what the future holds but the past tells us that investing needs time on your hands to ride out the tough times. We’re confident that investing remains the best long term strategy for your money but make sure that you understand the strategy you are taking and that your portfolio is right for your attitude to investment risk and your time frame.
Markets made a much better start to the year compared to this time last year. However, investors remain wary of problems that are likely to rear their heads later in the year and so, in general, markets have paused for now. Politics seems likely to dominate sentiment again this year, with a number of key general elections to be fought in Europe, most notably in France and Germany. Volatility is likely to spike during these events. However, market volatility can be the friend of the active fund manager and in recent meetings and conference calls with managers many have expressed the view that there are plenty of good opportunities and are generally cautiously optimistic about prospects for the year as a whole.
Our view is that the strong equity returns we saw in the second half of 2016 are “in the bank”, as it were, so if markets do sell off at some point in the next few months, these profits can be eroded before we are worse off than we were before the EU referendum on 23rd June 2016.
The prospect of a protectionist Trump presidency and actions to spend their way to economic growth have led to a swing in investor sentiment towards those companies that will benefit from the US finally entering a period of strong economic growth.
ASIA & EMERGING MARKETS
What do we think?
Talk of the UK Government’s stance to not join the Single Market has weakened the pound further in recent weeks, leading to a continuation in the increase in the value of the overseas assets in portfolios and the earnings expectations of UK companies with overseas earnings.
This has been a bizarre bull run in investments since the October 2008 Credit Crunch, as price rises have been focussed on safe and secure investments, while the riskier investments that often trigger the exuberance at the end of an investment cycle have largely been ignored. The movement towards those stocks has seen some of the reliable heavyweight fund managers underperform of late with their riskier counterparts finally being rewarded. That this rotation into these stocks has been due to the promises of The Donald should give us all good reason to tread carefully.
Date of next meeting: 21st February 2017