Category

Investment Planning

How unemployment can affect your returns

By | Investment Planning

Most of us intuitively know that the wider UK economy affects investment returns. Interest rates, for instance, are set by the Bank of England (BoE) and can affect the stock market – providing downward pressure if rates go up (as ‘less- risk’ is perceived for higher short-term returns) and providing buoyancy when rates are lowered. One interesting relationship between investment returns and the economy concerns unemployment. For instance, does it help – or hinder – the stock market if more people are in stable, paid work? Below, our financial planning team at WMM offers some reflections.

 

How unemployment affects the economy

It is, firstly, important to define what unemployment is and how it is measured. Broadly speaking, unemployment refers to the percentage of a workforce that is actively looking for paid work – but unable to find it. Already, this raises questions. In particular, how do you determine whether someone without a job is looking for one? After all, many people are highly employable but might want a “career break” (e.g. 1-2 years) before trying something new.

The UK government defines unemployment as “The number of unemployed people divided by the economically active population”. This is based on the Labour Force Survey which asks 40,000 households every month about their employment status. To count as an “unemployed” person, a jobless interviewee must state that either:

  • They have found a new job which they plan to start within the next 2 weeks. Or;
  • They have looked for work in the last 4 weeks and can start work in the next 2 weeks.

Generally, the UK government seeks to keep unemployment as low as possible. This is partly for political reasons, so they can boast about their record (particularly in the run-up to elections). However, it is also for economic reasons. For instance, more people in paid work means more wages that can be taxed – providing more revenue for the treasury.

 

Unemployment and investments

Fewer people in work means less money coming to the government, and perhaps more going out (in the form of state benefits). Yet unemployment also means less money for people to go out and spend on products/services offered by businesses. This means less sales and lower profits, which applies downward pressure to growth and, by extension, company valuations (unwelcome news for shareholders).

In an economy with high unemployment, even those with jobs are often less likely to spend money. After all, job security seems less certain in such an environment – so people tend to save more in case they come upon hard times. This is partly the reason why the UK national savings rate rose so much higher after COVID-19 hit the UK, since many people feared that their job might not be there when lockdown was lifted (although lockdown, itself, prevented spending in the wider economy – e.g. on the high street).

At this point, investors may rightly ask: “What is the state of UK employment right now, and where could things go in the near future?” Currently, employment is standing very high (in historical terms) at 75.6%. This is not quite the high of March 2020 (when it was 76.6%), but figures are not far off. This is good news for the stock market, although other forces – such as rising UK inflation – are pulling equities in other directions. 

The future, of course, is uncertain. Whilst the UK appears to be on a journey of economic recovery from COVID-19, events could undermine efforts to build on this. A new variant may arrive – bringing a return to lockdown. Wars can also disrupt the global economy and unsettle markets. Here at WMM, we are here to help guide your financial decisions and build in greater security when events – such as a job loss or damage in the wider economy – might affect your financial plan. 

 

Invitation

Interested in finding out how we can optimise your financial plan and investment strategy? Get in touch today to arrange a free, no-commitment consultation with a member of our team here at WMM. 

You can call us on 01869 331469 

 

This content is for information and inspiration purposes only. It should not be taken as financial or investment advice. To receive personalised, regulated financial advice regarding your affairs please consult us here at WMM (financial planning in Oxfordshire).

 

What is the role of bonds within a portfolio?

By | Investment Planning

Have you wondered what it might be like to “be the bank”, when lending money? With bonds, you can do just that. In effect, when you buy a bond, you lend to a Government (or business) on the understanding that they will repay you at the maturity date (e.g. in 10 years’ time). In the meantime, you receive interest payments (“coupons”) periodically – say, once every 6 months. 

For many investors, this asset class is an attractive option when building a portfolio. Yet what are the different types of bonds, and how do they work? How can bonds feature within a wider investment strategy? Let’s turn to these questions below.

 

Types of bonds

Bonds can be divided into various different categories. First of all, there is, of course, a lending risk for the investor which may be lower/greater depending on who is asking for the money. This is where credit agencies come in – such as Standard & Poor’s (S&P), Moody’s Investor Services (Moody’s), and Fitch IBCA (Fitch). These companies “rate” different bond issuers to indicate the level of risk involved for investors. For instance, a “AAA” rating is considered the best, whilst “C” rated bonds are regarded as higher risk (and so are often called “junk” bonds”).

Secondly, bond issuers can be divided into corporate and governmental. The former are issued by companies and the latter by national governments. Neither is inherently more risky than the other. Indeed, certain companies may have a better bond repayment track record than many governments! The major difference is that Governments can print money or raise taxes to repay debt, whereas Corporates cannot. Bonds can be bought individually by investors or collectively, via bond funds. Most retail investors will purchase the latter when including bonds in a portfolio.

Finally, bonds can be classed either as “normal” or “inflation-linked”. An illustrative example can help show the differences, here. With the former, suppose you bought a 30-year bond in 1998 for £100, with a 5% coupon (paid twice per year). In 2028, when the bond matures, you will get your £100 back and, twice per year in the interim, you get a fixed £5 coupon. However, with an inflation-linked bond, differences would include the coupon rate (i.e. it would be lower) and the semi-annual coupons would rise/fall with the rate of inflation. When you get the principal back in 2028, moreover, this will also rise with inflation so you get your £100 back, in “real value”).

 

Bonds & investment strategy

These features raise a number of additional questions for investors. What percentage of your portfolio should comprise bonds (versus, say, equities)? Which types of bonds should you put inside? Here, two crucial factors are your risk tolerance and your investment horizon.

Concerning the former, if you feel highly averse to the idea of your investments going up and down a lot in a short period of time, then bonds can hold a lot of appeal. Whilst stock market investments tend to offer better (i.e. higher) long-term returns, they are often volatile in the short term. Bonds tend to be much more stable in the short-term. 

On the latter, you need to consider how long you plan to invest (and how this relates to your goals). For instance, if you are nearing retirement then you likely want to focus more on wealth preservation rather than growth. Moreover, you may also want some of your portfolio to produce a regular income. In which case, bonds can be an attractive option. However, if you are early in your career and want to build wealth over, say, 30+ years then holding lots of your portfolio in bonds may not be a “bold” enough investment strategy. Instead, high-growth-potential equities may be a better route to reach your goals (assuming you are happy with the risk involved).

 

Invitation

Interested in finding out how we can optimise your financial plan and investment strategy? Get in touch today to arrange a free, no-commitment consultation with a member of our team here at WMM. 

You can call us on 01869 331469 

 

This content is for information and inspiration purposes only. It should not be taken as financial or investment advice. To receive personalised, regulated financial advice regarding your affairs please consult us here at WMM (financial planning in Oxfordshire).

 

Should I overpay my mortgage, or invest?

By | Investment Planning

We have all been through unusual times lately, with COVID-19 since 2020, rising inflation and now conflict in Ukraine. These – and other – events are having knock-on effects onto the wider economy and markets. Under “normal” times, the “invest vs overpay mortgage” debate is an interesting one – but has this new landscape changed things? Below, we address this question in light of recent trends and developments.

 

Putting excess cash to work

Interest rates on cash savings accounts have been at historic lows for some time now. It is hard to beat 1% on easy-access, for instance. Those with spare cash, therefore, typically have two other options: repay debts or invest. The first is almost always worth prioritising if the debt has a high interest rate, such as personal loans and credit cards. However, with a mortgage, it is not always clear whether the savings you’d make from overpaying would beat the returns you could get from investing. Here, you need to factor in the prevailing economic environment.

 

Overpaying vs. investing in 2022

The main incentive to overpaying your mortgage is that you repay the debt faster, meaning that you can own your home outright, faster. If this is your primary goal (rather than building wealth), then this is understandable. For those whose main objective is to grow their wealth, however, the question of overpaying vs investing relies heavily on interest rates and inflation.

In recent years, mortgage rates have been historically very low. In fact, in 2021 some lenders were even offering sub-1% deals to certain customers. This means less interest for borrowers to repay over the mortgage lifetime. Overpaying on such a deal would likely be far less optimal compared to investing, where annual average real returns of 5% – or more – should be realistic.

Lately however, mortgage deals have been getting more expensive. This is mainly due to the Bank of England (BoE) raising its base rate, twice (from 0.10% to 0.25% in late 2021, then up to 0.5% in early 2022 and more recently up to 0.75%). Since lenders set their rates above the base rate, this has already led to several deals getting pulled from the market. 

The average 2-year fixed loan now sits at 2.65%. For a 5-year deal, the interest sits closer to 2.88%. For many investors, it may now be more of a toss-up between overpaying the mortgage and investing – especially for those with a more cautious risk appetite (leading to a preference for assets with a relatively safe, but low, level of return – like bonds).

 

Wider questions to consider

Here, it is important to remember that you do not necessarily have to choose between investing and overpaying a mortgage. It is often possible to do both. Yet it helps to ask yourself: “Why do I want to invest?”, and “Why should I overpay my mortgage?” This can help you shed light on the right course for your financial plan.

First of all, check whether you can overpay your mortgage. Some lenders may not let you, and most put a cap (e.g. 10%) on how much you can overpay. Those on a standard variable rate (SVR) can usually overpay as much as they like, but SVRs are usually more costly than fixed rate deals. Secondly, consider the horizon in front of you. How long do you have to invest until you might need the money (e.g. during retirement)? How many years until your mortgage is paid without making extra payments?

For instance, if you are near your mortgage end, then the advantages of overpaying usually go down. This is because interest forms a lower proportion of your monthly repayments. As a rule, therefore, it is usually better to overpay a mortgage earlier in its lifetime. Moreover, if you only have, say, 5 years to invest, then you may need to focus on lower-risk assets which offer lower potential returns. 

 

Invitation

Interested in finding out how we can optimise your financial plan and investment strategy? Get in touch today to arrange a free, no-commitment consultation with a member of our team here at WMM. 

You can call us on 01869 331469 

 

This content is for information and inspiration purposes only. It should not be taken as financial or investment advice. To receive personalised, regulated financial advice regarding your affairs please consult us here at WMM (financial planning in Oxfordshire).

 

Ukraine: how war can affect investments

By | Investment Planning

Recent events in Ukraine have brought widespread shock – including in the markets, which initially dipped after hearing about the Russian invasion. The 24/7 media coverage often focuses on the increased short term volatility, of companies, stocks, bonds or commodities, which is the result of new information arising which impacts prices, until ‘new’ news brings about further adjustment. At times like this, we strongly encourage you to stick with your long-term financial planning strategy, and trust markets to work on your behalf. Avoid making short-term investment decisions, as volatility is always in the markets.

As a form of context, below we look at some historical examples of how markets react to war, and whether this affects the longer term growth trend.

 

What is happening in Ukraine?

Events are moving quickly in the region. At the time of writing, Russia had invaded Ukraine 13 days prior – receiving widespread international condemnation. At least 2m refugees have fled so far, and Ukrainian forces have put up fierce resistance despite being hugely outnumbered. 

The US, UK and EU have responded with heavy sanctions on Russia, which has refused to open its stock market. Both US and UK imports of Russian oil have now been banned, leading to further global rises in energy prices as supply struggles to meet demand. 

So far, the invasion has not sparked a sustained dip in global stock markets – although it is adding to existing inflationary pressures in the Western World.

 

Historical precedence

The impact of war on stock markets is not universal. It is complex and varies depending on the players, motives and actions concerned. The Swiss Finance Institute, for instance, published research on the US stock market since WWII and found that stock markets tend to fall in the “pre-war” phase (when uncertainty about the conflict prevails), but usually rise once war breaks out. The explanation is unclear, but perhaps partly this is because war typically creates the new, defining narrative for a nation, its markets and investors. 

Wars can bring short-term “shocks” to markets. The S&P 500 fell -3.8% in one day after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, and the North Korean invasion of the South in 1950 led to a -5.4% one-day fall. However, most of these shocks tend to recover well within a year.

 

The Russo-Ukraine conflict and your financial plan

Russia is the world’s 3rd biggest exporter of oil and the 2nd biggest supplier of natural gas. Any sanctions, therefore, are likely to drive up global energy prices. Already, in the UK we are facing higher inflation, so this plausibly means higher fuel and utility bills in 2022. Moreover, Russia provides 35% of the world’s palladium and 9% of its platinum. These precious metals are used in cars for catalytic converters. So, sectors such as the automotive industry (where we have already seen high inflation) could see further price increases for customers due to more limited supply. 

With all this said, be careful not to try and “time” commodity markets or build your investment strategy around conflicts (since their effects on markets are typically short-lived). Consider, for instance, that during the US War in Afghanistan (2001-2021) markets were volatile but those who committed to an S&P 500 index fund may have seen returns as high as 300% in that time (averaging 15% gains per year).  

Currently, oil and gold prices are soaring and many investors are tempted to take advantage. However, prices are moving constantly and things may take a sharp turn at any moment. Be vigilant to stick to your long-term strategy agreed with your financial planner, rather than taking needless risks with your investments. Remember, frequent active buying and selling in your portfolio can ramp up fees and has not been proven to increase returns compared to focusing on a “buy and hold” strategy.

 

The current conflict in Ukraine is coming at a humanitarian cost. It is also having big repercussions for the global economy. We all hope for a swift and peaceful resolution and it has been truly inspiring to see the efforts of every day people, charities and aid organisations.

Markets have been through many conflict-related events in the past such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the 2003 Iraq War and the Arab Spring (2011). In the long term, growth is the long term trend. There is no reason to suggest the current conflict – although deeply distressing – in terms of the markets, is any different. 

This content is for information purposes only. It should not be taken as financial or investment advice. 

5 investor biases to beware of in 2022

By | Investment Planning

Most investors tend to overestimate their own ability to generate high returns. Successful investors, however, tend to acknowledge their limitations and “biases” (i.e. psychological traits which can lead to errors of judgement). Learning to recognise and manage these biases is key, therefore, when following a long-term investment strategy. Here at WMM, in this article we share five common biases to be mindful of when investing.

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Investing in small vs large caps

By | Investment Planning

What are “small caps” and “large caps” when investing? Are there advantages to investing in one, versus the other? As financial planners, our role is to help people understand how these types of assets work and how they might feature in an investment strategy. Below, we explain the differences and how they can be used to diversify a portfolio.

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What is a realistic return on investment?

By | Investment Planning

When you put money into shares, bonds or real estate, what kind of return on investment (ROI) can be realistically expected? Moreover, what kinds of forces can eat into your returns – notably, fees and taxes? Below, our financial planning team at WMM here in Oxfordshire tackles these questions in more detail. We hope you find this useful and invite you to contact us if you’d like to discuss your own investment strategy.

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Cop26: how can I invest more sustainably?

By | Investment Planning

Climate change is top of the agenda as the Glasgow Climate Change Conference (COP 26) comes to an end. World leaders congregated to discuss how to limit emissions and develop more sustainable economies, with varying options on their success. Many people know that there are ways to live in a way that helps protect the environment such as recycling, limiting road and air travel and reducing meat consumption.

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Predicting a stock market crash

By | Investment Planning

Wouldn’t it be useful to know exactly when the stock market will rise and fall? Having this ability would allow us to sell at the “peak” and buy at the “trough” for each investment, allowing us to get the best returns. Unfortunately, no one has a crystal ball and it is unfeasible to predict what will happen. Given this situation, why do investors still try to “time the market”? Are there any “clues” about how the stock market might behave in the future, even if we cannot be completely certain? What does all of this mean for an investor’s strategy, going forwards?

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