Millennials and second homes

Over one in ten people across Britain own second homes, buy-to-let and overseas properties worth £941 billion, according to new research published by the Resolution Foundation. Game of Homes – a report funded by the Nuffield Foundation – looks at the growth of additional property wealth over the last two decades, who owns it, and what it means for wealth gaps across Britain.
The report shows that rising additional property wealth since 2001 has been the flipside of falling home ownership. The latest data (for 2014-16) shows that 5.5 million people reported additional property wealth, up 53 per cent since 2001. The value of additional property wealth has increased from around £610 billion in 2001 to £941 billion over the same period (both in 2018-19 prices). Game of Homes finds that, like most other forms of wealth, additional property wealth is accumulated over time, and is therefore most common among older generations.
Around one in six people born in the 1950s report additional property wealth, the highest of any cohort. The report notes that younger generations are failing to match the home ownership rates of previous generations, with 37% of people born in the 1980s having property wealth at age 29, compared to 50% of people born in the 1960s. However, it finds that younger generations are matching the additional property ownership rates of previous generations, with seven per cent of those born in the 1960s and 1980s having additional property wealth by the age of 29.
This suggests that millennial property wealth is being increasingly concentrated among rich households, says the Foundation. Looking at the kinds of additional property wealth that people own, the report shows that buy-to-let property is now by far the most common form, having grown by 58% since 2006-08. 1.9 million people have buy-to-let property wealth, compared to 970,000 people owning overseas property (which has not grown since 2008). The Resolution Foundation says that big income transfers in the buy-to-let market are currently taking place between generations. Younger private renters tend to transfer money to older landlords, with baby boomers receiving more than half of all rental income in the UK.

Equity Release

Regardless of the inevitable peaks and troughs, the value of property in the UK has increased significantly over the years and the long-term trend has largely been upwards. With continuing under-provision for retirement and property forming (for many) the greatest part of their wealth, raising cash by releasing equity from a home is becoming more and more popular. In addition to this, people are living longer and staying fitter. Consequently, for many who are over the age of 60 and are asset rich but cash poor using their home to provide a source of income is becoming popular.
Increased property prices have also contributed to interest in planning strategies that can help reduce inheritance tax (IHT) without diminishing security and with the owner continuing in rent free occupation of the property.
As for any financial strategy incorporating the assumption of debt, it is essential that a full and rigorous assessment of suitability is made before any form of recommendation for equity release is considered. The client needs to fully understand all the implications and the whole advice process needs to be fully recorded.

Workplace Pension Participation and Savings Trends 2008-2018

The DWP has published their finding on workplace pension savings in the document Workplace Pension Participation and trends of eligible employees 2008 – 2018. These official statistics provide breakdowns of two key measures for evaluating the progress of automatic enrolment implementation: increasing the number of savers, by monitoring trends in workplace pension participation and persistency of saving; and increasing the amount of savings, by monitoring trends in workplace pension saving.
The main findings were:
72% of eligible employees have saved into a workplace pension in at least three of the last four years, the DWP’s measure of persistency of saving;
The annual total amount saved by eligible savers stood at £90.4bn in 2018; and
87% of eligible employees were in a workplace pension in 2018.

Weekly Market Commentary – 23rd August 2019

Businesses Expecting a Recession
This week there were no end of strange headlines, from Trump tries to buy Greenland to Trump declares himself the chosen one, but its likely they were all an attempt to obscure the one headline that really mattered; the latest survey of purchasing managers that suggests US businesses are expecting a recession. The PMI survey is an indicator of sentiment, but if enough people believe there will be a recession it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The markets and industry are now expecting a recession, if this pessimism spreads to the consumer, one could be here sooner than we think.

Elsewhere another strange headline has been spreading suggesting that Angela Merkel has given Boris Johnson 30 days to figure out the Irish Border issue in order to drop the backstop. It’s odd because anyone who has read the transcript knows she said nothing of the sort and the issue is as intractable as ever. It’s spread might well be connected to the fact that Boris Johnson keeps saying it despite it being obvious nonsense. Any Brexit negotiations now are probably just theatre and designed to help in the inevitable general election campaign.

Italy: Populist Coalition Collapses
Giuseppe Conte resigned as Italy’s Prime Minister this week bringing an end to a coalition between far-right Eurosceptic party the “League” and the anti-establishment party “Five Star Movement”. Conte, leader of Five Star, blamed deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini of putting his own and party’s interest ahead of the country’s as the reason for resigning. Salvini’s popularity has been on an upward trajectory after he refused to comply with the EU’s plans on curbing the country’s budget deficit. With Salvini starting to push for a new election to capitalise on his party’s growing popularity, Conte avoided a no-confidence vote.

It’s now up to President Sergio Mattarella to form a government. Potential scenarios include a tie up between centre left Democrats and Five Star, or if there is no political will to form one, a snap election will be called which would favour the League potentially creating the second most hard right, Eurosceptic party in Europe. Italy’s sovereign yields marginally rallied this week despite the political crisis.

US: Retail Earnings Remain Robust
Retail earnings this week proved US consumer spending is still going strong despite global headwinds. Following on from last week’s robust US retail sales report and Walmart (a bellwether of consumer spending) beating market expectations, this week both clothing store Target and home improvement chain Lowe’s followed up with more positive news. Target beat every earnings estimate with quarterly profit up 17 per cent driven by growth in same-day fulfilment services. Meanwhile, Lowe’s managed to minimise both the impact of a fall in lumber prices and mixed weather by “capitalising well on spring demand”.

Elsewhere, Federal Reserve (Fed) minutes published this week didn’t offer any clue as to whether the central bank will cut rates further at the next meeting in September. It did however show a growing divergence in opinions amongst committee members with some having preferred a cut twice as deep last July and others resisting any change at all. With trade tensions rising back up again, it is unclear if Jerome Powell will cut rates further.

UK: Turkish Pension Fund Set to Rescue British Steel
This week, Oyak, the Turkish Armed Forces Assistance Fund announced its intentions to buy British Steel, which currently languishes in compulsory administration, by the end of the year. The deal could save 5000 British Steel jobs and also ensure minimal disruption to another 20,000 jobs in the supply chain. Although there are conflicting reports stating that the pension fund could cut hundreds of jobs as the group look to boost productivity.

Oyak confirmed it will plan to boost steel production to 3m tonnes a year as well as seeking taxpayers support to push steel production from a coal to hydrogen gas-based model.  Elsewhere and with a few months to go before the Brexit deadline, the UK has signed a “continuity” trade deal with South Korea. Trade between the UK and South Korea was worth £14.6bn last year. The terms of the agreement remain mostly the same as the existing agreement between the EU and South Korea.

Stamp duty dodge thrown out of court

A tribunal has thrown out an appeal by a property tax expert who claimed he did not need to pay stamp duty on a house purchase, as he paid the vendors through an annuity. The purchaser, David Hannah, runs a tax advice firm called Cornerstone Tax. He bought the property in 2011 with a deposit of £38,250, with the rest to be paid through an annuity. Under the original terms of the annuity, the sellers would be paid £383 a year, meaning it would take the best part of 2,000 years in order to pay off the full balance, according to the tribunal documents.
However, responsibility for paying the annuity was then transferred to a firm in the British Virgin Islands, which paid the full amount when it was called in by the vendor’s own lawyers. Hannah claimed the structure of the deal meant it fell within the zero per cent stamp duty threshold, but the taxman disagreed, leading to demands for the £30,600 in unpaid stamp duty, plus interest, as well as individual penalties against Hannah and his wife. The courts have found against his appeal, however. The tribunal judge stated that he “knowingly provided” HMRC with a document that contained an error “with the intention that HMRC should rely upon it as an accurate document”.

Card identity fraud on the rise

Identity fraud has risen in 2018 with over-60s and those aged 21 and under becoming prime targets. That’s according to the latest annual report from UK fraud prevention service Cifas, which revealed a dramatic 34% spike in identity fraud victims among the over-60s to over 33,000. This represents a significant jump compared to an overall 6% rise in cases recorded by Cifas.
As older people are perceived to be more likely to be approved for credit, they have found themselves increasingly targeted. Pensioners are not the only targets as the number of identity fraud victims aged 21 and under have soared by 26% over the same period. Commentators believe the continuing increase in the number of young victims of identity fraud is a clear signal that the need for education on the risks of fraud is pressing. According to the report, identity fraud cases hit a record high of 189,000 in 2018, with plastic cards in particular being targeted by fraudsters.
“Identity fraud to obtain a plastic card account, more than nine in 10 of which were personal credit cards, increased by 41% in 2018 to more than 82,000 reported cases,” comments Cifas. Misuse of facility fraud also rose significantly last year, increasing 10% and accounting for a quarter of all reported fraud cases. Cifas says this type of fraud happens when an account, policy or product is misused.

Funds vs Trusts

Both funds and trusts are collective, or pooled investments; that is, they pool the money of large numbers of individual investors to create a much larger amount of money which can then be invested. Also, they both use a fund manager to decide which companies to buy with the investors’ money. Funds are also known as open ended investment companies, or OEICs, and unit trusts in the UK. By definition they are open ended companies. That means when new investors come along with money to invest, new units in the fund are created and the fund grows.
Similarly, when investors want their money back, the fund shrinks as the units are cancelled. Investment trusts are different in that in principle there are a fixed number of shares in issue, so in order for an investor to buy shares another investor must be prepared to sell. This is the main difference.
So, what’s the impact of the closed- and open-ended structure for investors? Firstly, in extreme market conditions, investors often want to move into cash. Managers of funds sell assets to achieve this and if they need to sell at a loss, returns for investors are affected. Investment trusts, on the other hand, match sellers to buyers so the manager can avoid being forced to sell investments in a falling market. A trust can also borrow money or ‘gear’ to enhance returns in a rising market. Investment funds cannot don’t normally do this.
Gearing allows the manager to take advantage of opportunities he would otherwise be able to access, but he must ensure that the return he gets from that opportunity outweighs the cost of borrowing the money in the first place. Finally, investment trusts can retain up to 15% of the income they get as dividends from the companies in which they are invested whereas funds have to pay out all the income they receive. This means investment trusts can smooth out the paying of income by keeping back money to pay out in years when they don’t get so much money in.

Capital gains tax (CGT)

The annual CGT exemption for individuals and personal representatives increased by £300 to £12,000 for 2019/20. The exempt amount for most trusts is £6,000.
There were no changes to any of the CGT rates. Taxable capital gains are added to the investor’s other taxable income to determine the rate of CGT they pay. To the extent they fall within their basic rate tax band they are taxed at 10%. To the extent they exceed it, they are taxed at 20%. Capital gains linked to residential property are, however, still taxed at 18% and 28% (as appropriate).

Weekly Market Commentary – 16th August 2019

Markets Amplify Global Headwinds
This week was another eventful one for global markets. They fell at the start of the week on news that Trump was going to ramp up his trade war with China, rose when he decided not to and then plummeted again when weak data out of China and Germany stoked fears of a global recession. So far global GDP is slowing rather than falling, but markets worry that a slow to act Fed and a needlessly disruptive trade policy will make the difference between stalling and falling. Hence the extreme reaction to every bit of news in either direction.

Elsewhere, although not unrelated, markets have also begun fretting about negative interest rates. While they aren’t exactly new, the Swedish central bank has pursued a negative rate policy since 2015, they are uncommon. With a possible recession on the way and most interest rates at or near zero already, we might see a much wider adoption. How effective they’ll be is still unknown, however, while the central bank might be willing to directly pay people to borrow, the same is unlikely to be true of your mortgage lender.

EM: Peso Plummets Following Surprise Election Poll Results
Argentina has a turbulent economic history. It’s a nation which experienced rapid development at the start of the 20th century but suffered a reversal in fortune by the end of it. Since the 70’s, the nation has undergone two sovereign debt defaults, periods of chronic inflation and a succession of governments who have had debatable impact on the country’s economic growth.

This week, a new chapter was written when the Buenos Aires stock exchange’s main index the Merval plunged to record lows. The Merval fell 37 per cent in local terms in one day triggered by opposition candidate Alberto Fernandez’s strong showing against President Macri in the primary elections over the weekend. Markets believe an impending victory for Fernandez will see much of Macri’s previous work to transform Argentina come undone. More troubling is the renewed volatility in the Peso, further depreciation could impact its debts of which 80 per cent is denominated in foreign currency, raising the possibility of another sovereign default.

Companies: Will Uber ever become profitable?
Uber’s share price tumbled ten per cent this week after the company’s earnings result failed to live up to market expectations. Following Lyft’s beating revenue expectations as well as trimming costs last week, it was hoped that Uber would do the same. Instead the company posted a quarterly loss of £4.3bn and costs grew by 147 per cent signalling that the company is still very much stuck in traffic. The bulk of the losses stemmed from stock compensation following the IPO in May.

It is understandable that growing companies will need to be given time to become profitable – it took Amazon 14 years to turn green post IPO. What is worrying investors is that the company’s growth has almost stalled. Uber’s core ride sharing business only grew by two per cent compared to the same quarter last year. One bright spot was Uber Eats whose revenues jumped up 72 per cent (year-on-year).

Global: Yield curve inverts for the first time in over a decade
This week a major part of the yield curve inverted for the first time in over a decade, when the rate on 10 year US Treasuries briefly dropped below the rate on 2 year bond. A yield curve inversion has historically been used as a warning of an impending recession. The curve threatened to invert last year and came very close over the Christmas break, but just about managed to avoid it, suggesting markets believe we’ve been close to a recession for a while.

Economic data seems to support the case. Following on from weak industrial production data, it wasn’t surprising to see Germany’s economy contract last quarter but more troublingly, Singapore, a nation which acts as a bellwether for global growth given that international trade dominates its domestic economy downgraded their GDP growth figures for the year. The US is also starting to feel the pinch. Manufacturing fell 0.4 per cent for the month of July.

FCA cracking down on pensions advice

Bumper pension scheme transfer values have encouraged thousands of savers to trade in their valuable final salary pensions in recent years. But the city regulator has said it is ‘deeply concerning and disappointing’ that most savers who seek advice about transferring their final salary pensions are told to ditch them. More than two thirds of savers are told by advisers to transfer out of their final salary or defined benefit (DB) pension schemes, according to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), despite its stance that transfers are likely to be unsuitable for most clients.
Megan Butler, executive director of supervision, wholesale and specialists at the FCA said: “It is deeply concerning and disappointing to see that transfers are still being recommended at the levels we have seen. The FCA surveyed 3,015 financial advice firms and found that between April 2015 and September 2018, 2,426 firms had provided advice on transferring their DB pension.
Of the 234,951 scheme members who received advice on transferring, 162,047 were told to transfer out. The total value of DB pensions where transfer advice has been provided was £82.8bn, with an average value of £352,303. The FCA has already started visiting firms to assess their approach to DB advice. It will also be writing to all firms where the potential for harm has been identified.